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Uncle Joe

Photo by Kyle Wagner on Unsplash

A guy my age is going to be president in a few weeks, a cheerful guy, not a scowly one, and I think it’s going to be an instructive four years for the nation. Growing old is, along with marriage and religious faith and hiking the Grand Canyon, one of life’s fascinating experiences, one to look forward to. It is the reason your mother told you to look both ways before crossing the street and to chew your food thirty times before swallowing. It’s the reason I stopped smoking: after twenty years of cigarettes, you’ve pretty much exhausted the possibilities, time to move on. And now here I am, floating along at 78, an age at which the obituaries are becoming more and more interesting.

It’s pleasant to be an alien, which an old guy is. I don’t watch TV anymore because I can’t figure out how to work the tuner. I don’t read novels anymore because they’re all about somebody’s tragic disability and there are no recognizable landscapes. My disability is that I’m emotionally distant, but so is everyone else, it being a pandemic and all. For a writer, quarantine is a rare opportunity. A half-hour of contemplation easily turns into a nap. I don’t complain about this or anything else. I didn’t complain to Delta for putting a plastic stirrer in the cup of coffee they brought me, a stirrer that went up my left nostril. Not a word. People ask me, “How are you?” I say, “Fine,” even if I just read an article on bipolar and everything felt terribly familiar.

My disability is that I’m emotionally distant, but so is everyone else, it being a pandemic and all.

A young waiter brings me a glass of water, I say, “Thank you.” He says: “No problem.” What happened to “You’re welcome” or “My pleasure”? I don’t complain because I don’t want to be a cranky old man, I want to be a kindly old man who tells people stories about olden times but the people I know are all attached to their smartphones.

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As am I. My phone is my friend. I press the Map app and a blinking blue dot shows me where I am, and I can type “Mailbox” into the Search bar and it shows me where the corner mailbox is. It is 200 feet away. I already knew that but if dementia suddenly strikes I could still mail the letter to my daughter. And I could write on the flap, “Darling, I have —” and then google “mental confusion” and get the word “dementia.”

So many things we have now that we didn’t used to have. Rollerball pens, YouTube, Kindle, Alexa who when I say “Alexa, play the Rolling Stones’ ‘Brown Sugar,’” she does it. I can get the Stones on YouTube but when I do, I have to watch a commercial first — for a retirement community, a laxative, or Viagra. And what about the tremendous variety of coffee cups now? We didn’t used to have this. We got our coffee cups as premiums at the gas station and they were all the same pastel yellow and now we have cups with sayings on them, landscapes, Monet’s water lilies, an Emily Dickinson poem, you choose a cup that expresses who you are.

I get less exercise than a house cat and my daily water intake is less than that of a small lizard, and yet I feel pretty darned good, thanks to excellent medical care. I looked through the yellow pages and eliminated the doctors with WASPy names like Postlethwaite or Dimbleby-Pritchett and ones whose secretary put me on Hold and I had to listen to flute music. I chose women doctors, knowing that women have to be smarter to get ahead in medicine. And what Jane tells me is that your most crucial health decision is the choice of your parents and I chose two who believed in longevity.

Old age is good. That’s why Uncle Joe smiles so much. When you’re 78, your embarrassments are way in the past. It’s different for a billionaire. You grimace knowing everybody’s against you, the IRS, the press, the election judges, the deep state, the European allies, the socialists who want to throw open the borders and let truckloads of drugs come through.

GARRISON KEILLOR

But Joe has his wife, Jill, his phone, his Alexa, his personal coffee cup, and he shows us a big grin of gratitude and I’m grateful for him. Thank you, Lord. “No problem,” says the Lord. “No problem at all.”