06/20/2011 12:35 pm ET Updated Aug 20, 2011

Nothing Beats Beating the System

My parents have an unusual way of turning on the tube light bulb over their kitchen stove. When you flip the switch, the bulb flickers but doesn't quite go on.

So they rub their hands on their shirtfronts to build up a little static electricity, then gently massage the underside of the tube to complete the circuit.

And Just like that, there is light.

"Dad," I said when I first witnessed this seemingly perilous process, "when are you going to have that light fixed?"

He seemed puzzled by the question. "It's not broken," replied my 85-year-old father.


My mother's knee was hurting. She went to see a doctor. "It's time for a knee replacement," the doctor informed her.

"No, it isn't," said my 80-year-old mother. She limped home, went online, found some kind of supplement, started taking it and pronounced herself cured.

She walks five miles a day on that knee, so she may be right. She takes one of those pills a day. If she took two, she'd probably win the Preakness.

Another time my mother slashed her finger with a kitchen knife. It was bleeding profusely. Rather than take her to the hospital, my father called one of his pals, a retired veterinarian.

The vet sealed the cut with Krazy Glue.

"Hold her snout still," the vet said to my father before applying the glue.

Go ahead and laugh. It worked. No stitches, no daylong wait in an emergency room, no bill.

Here's my theory: eccentrics will outlive us all, because they have fun. They get a kick out of the way they beat the system time and again, and they bring rich flavor to the drudgery of life.

Waste money on gasoline to run a power lawnmower that fouls the air with its fumes? You've got to be kidding. My dad uses a push mower on his lawn -- one previous owner, Benjamin Franklin -- and if the zoning laws for livestock were loosened in the borough of Queens he'd probably have goats out on the grass, nibbling away and giving milk.

One more story. My father had a rusty metal toolbox. He wire-brushed it clean, painted it glossy green and proudly showed it to me.

"Looks good," I remarked. "Where'd you get that paint?"

"Found it in the basement when we moved here."

I had to sit down. My parents moved into their house in 1957. (Dwight D. Eisenhower was president of the United States at the time, just to give it a little perspective.)

"Dad," I gasped, "that's a 54-year-old can of paint!"

He shrugged. "Maybe older than that. It was half-empty when I found it."

I decided to call the paint company, thinking this would make a great advertisement for their product -- still good, after half a century!

Sadly, the company that produced that can of green paint had gone bust many years ago. I was disappointed, but my father didn't think the ancient paint can was such a big deal.

"If you seal the can properly, what can go wrong?" he asked.

My parents are children of the Great Depression, but they are two of the least depressing people you could ever hope to meet. They waste nothing, they laugh hard and if they want to do something or go somewhere, they do it and they go.

When it comes to the trick of living well, they truly have seen the light. It's right there over their kitchen stove. You just rub your hands on your shirtfront and give the bulb a little massage.

Charlie Carillo's latest novel is One Hit Wonder. His website is He's a producer for the TV show Inside Edition, and thanks to his never-waste-anything upbringing he can take a shower in one quart of warm water (rinse included).