Archive for May 2018


Stayin’ Alive

May 29th, 2018 — 3:28am

This afternoon a man comes in to split a triple decker BLT with his wife. Before long Candice comes to the bakery with the interesting information that he’ll be a hundred years old soon. I tell myself to leave him time to eat but within minutes I can’t resist him. I stop at their table as he’s just beginning to pull the top layer off his sandwich and confess I have questions. He is tall and lean and bright-eyed, neatly dressed and wearing a cap with a military insignia on it. He waves me into the booth beside him, slings an arm over my shoulder and pulls me close. Ask away, he says. What do you want to know?

I want to know his name and where he was born and when and where he lives now and how long he’s lived there and whether there’s a lot of longevity in his family. He tells me: Menzo Caswell, born downstate near Levering on October 22, 1918, lives in Newberry, right behind the school on Avenue B–you stop by any time–came north in the 1930s, and no, not particularly–mostly his kin only lived into their 80s.

I give him a look–is that all?–then ask as I always ask people over ninety, What is your secret?

Menzo’s grin is big and quick. Be an S.O.B.

I write it down on a napkin.

Meanwhile his wife of fourteen years, Sandy, twenty four years his junior and his equal in good humor grins her own grin and points at her chest. Me.

I write that down too.

He studies what I’ve got scrawled in purple ink, snuggles me closer. They always ask, how do you live so long and so well and I tell them, Who can say? Who knows? You can’t put a tag on it. All you can do–don’t worry. Take one day at a time. Take every day as it comes and be thankful for each one.

He tugs another chunk of bacon from the sandwich and takes a bite. I’m blessed, he says. That’s all there is to it, really. I’m one of the lucky ones.

We talk of his name–unusual now, but in his youth there were Almonzo’s and Allanzo’s and his mother did her own variation and burdened me with this, but at least when they call out Menzo you know who they’re talking to–and then I ask the other question I always ask the oldest people: what’s the biggest change in the world you’ve seen in your life, the worst one?

Menzo grimaces. I guess I have to say it’s all these damned little phones. He makes a motion like someone punching a number into a cell phone, then holds the invisible device up to his ear. Everyone has one, they’re always on them. Who’d have ever thought of such a thing happening?

My nod is avid; I write down all these damned little phones inside quote marks.

I have one, he admits. Out in the car. A little Tracfone. I use it when I’m traveling.

Me too, me too, I tell him. I use mine for traveling too.

Our talk drifts to general things. Their bill is paid by an adjoining table, Sandy gets up to stretch her legs, I ask if we can get our picture taken together, and Menzo, laughing, hugs me closer yet, talks low in my ear, shields me with his ball cap from time to time to impart some special piece of wisdom.

Later as I sweep the floor the Bee Gees come on Sirrius radio singing Stayin’ Alive. I turn it up loud and dance a little with the broom and Taylor goes out the bakery slider grinning in a forgiving way.

Menzo and me

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