01/09/2012 02:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Don't Worry, You Might Die


There's always a difference between what someone says and what you hear. Whatever the words are, they get filtered through your brain and distorted through however you perceive the "tone of voice" of the speaker.

Take today, for example -- I have a cold (thank you Delta Air Lines, and yes, it really is their fault) and I'm not good at being sick, even though I've had enough experience at it. Time tends to sludge by very slowly (except while I am watching Turner Classic Movies ("TCM"), always my best friend when ill), but unfortunately I can't motivate myself to do much more than press the volume button on the remote.

I finally got enough energy to pick up the phone to refill a prescription and was told that the doctor would have to refill it for the pharmacy. So, in another herculean effort, I held the receiver aloft and called a nurse, who said they'd already faxed it to the pharmacy, twice. Then, spent, I used the speakerphone to call the pharmacy again only to find out they still didn't have it.

Short of hiring homing pigeons to deliver the prescription, I wasn't sure what else I could do, and now I was getting angry because I was running out of the necessary drugs.

I used to avoid taking drugs of all kinds -- yes, even recreational ones. But as I've matured, I've said "F-it" and if drugs will help, I take them (if they won't, I take chocolate).

So I yelled, "I may run out of this," and I heard my wife say, "Don't worry, if you die of pneumonia then you won't need a refill."




I yelled back, "Oh, that's encouraging, thank you so very much... mutter... you're right, if I die I won't need more, that's a load off my mind."

She stared at me blankly. "What are you talking about?"

I said, "You said that if I die I won't need a refill!"

She said, "I didn't say that!"

I said, "That's what I heard!"

She said (not for the first time), "You need your head examined," to which I replied, "I know, it's all stopped up!" which I knew wasn't what she had in mind but was also true.

She said, "I said you should take some Imodium."

Really? How on earth did that translate into what I heard?

She said it so convincingly that I thought, "That's what she must have really said," though, of course, I still wonder.

Then again, I sometimes wonder if she isn't secretly poisoning me so she can have the house to herself. Or, at least that's what I think I heard her thinking.

Still, I can't argue with her logic. Why spend a lot of money on a prescription I might need if I'm going to die anyway. And, since we're all going to die anyway, why bother at all?

Really -- why bother at all about anything?

I know there's some big philosophical or theosophical or something-sopical word for this but I can't be bothered to think what it is.

Nihilism, that's probably it -- just came to mind, but, again, I can't be bothered to do a Wikipedia search and just have some vague idea of Nietzsche (whose name I could only spell by misspelling it in a Google search -- I only could be bothered with that because otherwise nobody would be able to figure out who "Nicha" was. So now I've googled him and learned something: he clearly cared about at least one thing, his gigantic moustache).

Then there's someone like Kirkagard (Kierkegaard) who I assume is like Captain Kirk is Star Trek on a bad day. Right?

OK, sorry, I got sucked into reading Wikipedia, which is right up there with TCM for things to do when you're too tired to move, and I've finally figured out how philosophers make a living: teaching. That makes sense. Pass that whole, "nothing matters" idea onto your previously happy-go-lucky students and watch them alchemically turn into philosophers themselves -- wheee!

I have no idea what I was talking about now. That is the other effect of illness on me, a kind of temporary whatever the word is where you can't remember words.

Luckily I have been writing this down rather than just thinking about it, so all I have to do is scroll up a few lines and read what I wrote and a very low-wattage candelabra light bulb goes off in my head and I think, "That's right, I'm going to die, don't need that prescription after all." And now, somehow, that thought is a relief.

Now I'm going to see how many words I've written, because, after all, I might die before I finish or it gets published, so what does it matter -- except I don't want this last piece to be embarrassingly short like, at the end, I had nothing to say.

I don't know -- all this death stuff seems rather final for a guy whose motto is "no sale is ever final at least if I have anything to do with it." This is why one buys one's shoes at Nordstrom's, just because, who knows, you might want to return them in three years.

And do I really want people going through "my things," all the many giant piles of them? While it would be nice for someone to finally get to that bookcase which is now somehow hidden behind a pile of blankets, I would prefer that person was me. Imagine all the exciting things I could find there -- like birthday cards from 15 years ago or perhaps a gift certificate to Sees Chocolates.

I'm also not a big fan of the whole "you can't take it with you," thing. I've spent many years collecting tchotchkes of all kinds, lots of rings and watches (some of which I've designed myself). Why do I suddenly feel so possessive, like I don't want other people having them (at least not for another thirty-some years)?

Oh, bother. I might as well live.