I stopped by to visit an old friend in Chicago last Sunday, and by "old" I mean 96 years but with all his faculties intact, which makes him a natural wonder you could exhibit on the carnival circuit for two bucks a head, children under 10 admitted free with a parent: SEE MAN BORN ON DAY TITANIC WENT DOWN HE TALKS, HE MAKES SENSE.
The Wonder was sitting in a deep chair under an Einsteinean burst of white hair, nibbling blueberries, his walker handy and a bottle of J&B, when I arrived around noon. Newspapers were strewn on the floor which the Wonder reads to keep close tabs on the Cubs and Barack Obama. I offered to show him how to read the paper online. "That'd be like trying to bounce a meatball," said his son, across the room. "You think Obama can do it?" the Wonder asked me. "It's in the bag," I said. He frowned. He's worried. Too good to be true. I got the idea that he was planning to hang on until November and find out for himself.
How does it feel to be 96? "Lousy!" says the guy who knows. "I'd like to check out." His legs are gone, his bowels are cranky, and all his old friends are dead. But he still has plenty to say, which is good if you're deaf and can't tune in to the conversation. You had better seize the floor, otherwise you'll turn into a potted palm. So he was recalling with relish the days of Prohibition when Capone and Bugs Moran ran Chicago and a cop wouldn't bother you if you slipped him a tenner and a Smith & Wesson was considered standard wearing apparel. That was the modus operandi. The old man loved to say "modus operandi" and drew out the syllables in a style suggestive of Edward G. Robinson. He had Robinson nailed.
As he yakked, I studied him to see what 96 is like since I'm thinking about going there myself and not stop along the way. All the folks who hang out in gyms ought to stop in at the Wonder's house and pay the two bucks and have a look. He'd tell them how much he loves cigars and Scotch, and that his only exercise was sex and carrying a suitcase. The irony is that when you're old you feast on your memories and if you spend too much time on exercise, you may get old and not have many.