At The End of August
When she and I bought that shiny-laminated geopolitical map of the world and hung it on the wall at the foot of her bed, the trip was still fantasy. Buying a map isn’t commitment. Sticking pushpins in the places you’d like to visit isn’t a commitment. Winding elastic string between the pins to show a twelve-month itinerary isn’t a commitment. Quitting your job and getting rabies shots, that’s a commitment. Recently, the pain of inoculation searing my left arm was a sort of monument to the paranoia of Western Medicine.
“Why aren’t you sleeping?” she says to me. We are bathed in the midnight yellow phosphors of the street lamps outside.
“My arm has polio. And the encephalitis.”
“I got those shots too but I’m sleeping, babe.”
“Well then, I guess you’re not a coward.”
The thing they didn’t tell me about the rabies shots is that they don’t actually do anything to prevent rabies. Only good decision-making can do that. Did you know this? You get three shots before you leave the country and then, when you are bitten by rabid, untethered bazaar monkeys, you need only get two shots from dirty third world needles, rather than five. Me, I’m not getting any more shots. A slow descent into the madness of rabid paralysis will greatly improve the selling power of my memoirs.
Months before that, however, I’m trying to cope with four months of retirement. I am a tottering 75 year-old who is inventing cute little jobs for himself. Between planning for the trip, which begins officially in January, I handwrite correspondence and then walk it to the post office, where I make pleasant midday conversation with other retirees. I ride my bike, on the sidewalk, to Goodwill, Walgreen’s and Rite Aid for some frugal shopping. I stand on my front lawn with my hands on my hips to deter littering middle school students between 3:00 and 4:00 pm. My car has never been cleaner, my lawn never shorter, and my clothes never more pressed, all to mask the anxiety and temper the excitement of this next thing.
It’s also early afternoon on a Wednesday, which means I’ve just finished watching the movie “Cocoon” on cable television. It’s a charming 1985 movie about old retirees in Florida who encounter a group of friendly scuba diving aliens with the ability to heal the sick and grant immortality. Steve Guttenberg is also involved. The old retirees are energized by bathing in the aliens’ magic swimming pool and begin learn valuable things about themselves; they openly acknowledge their fears of death, they make peace with regrets for things left undone and they remember that they’re pretty good at fun things, like driving fast, bowling and sex in the shower. Some of them learn simply to appreciate what they have left in life and some of them decide to take the biggest risk imaginable – they decide to drop everything and leave earth with the aliens. They’re the real heroes here. But what about Steve Guttenberg, you say? Unfortunately he doesn’t learn anything, but he does manage to “do it” with one of the lady aliens. Guttenberg! Will he ever learn? Anyway: Recommended.
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