“I’m afraid I have bad news for you,” said Abe Silverman.
Uh, oh, I thought. What now? Abe and I were having lunch in our retirement community’s restaurant after our weekly pool game in the Lodge, center of the community’s activities. It was three weeks after our friend Sid Bernstein, our third pool player, had passed away, leaving Abe and I the only survivors of our pool-playing group, mostly old tennis players who couldn’t play tennis any more. Was Abe sick? I’d noticed him wincing several times that morning. Was it his heart? It couldn’t be that other killer, cancer, or could it?
“What?” I said.
“I don’t think I can play pool any more. It’s my back. It’s killing me. I’ve been taking Tylenols before playing but they don’t do any good. I’m going to have to stop.”
What could I say? I’d been thinking the same thing myself but hadn’t wanted to say anything. With me it wasn’t the back but my knees. They felt as achy after three games of pool as they used to feel after three sets of tennis. “That’s too bad, but if it’s too painful I guess we’ll have to stop.”
Abe shrugged. He and I were both from New York and it was a New York shrug. That’s the way life goes. “We’ve had a good run,” he said.
“Yes, we have. I guess we’re getting old.” Abe and I were both oldsters, getting uncomfortably close to 90.
“Who says they’re getting old?” said Sylvia, our veteran waitress who’d come to take our orders. “Don’t say that or I’ll think I’m getting old.” Sylvia had been serving us lunch for almost as long as we’d been in the retirement community, over 20 years.
“You’ll never get old,” Abe told her.
“Hah. The usuals?”
Abe always had the hamburger and I always had the French dip, with fries, and iced tea. Sylvia had brought our iced teas.
“Well,” said Abe. “Shall we drink to Sid, wherever he is, maybe in that pool hall in the sky?”
“Right. To Sid.”
We raised our glasses.
“How’s Sally?” asked Abe.
Sally was my wife. She was waiting to have knee replacement surgery. “Still waiting to get a surgery date,” I said. “I think I told you, she had that cortisone shot that didn’t work and they can’t do surgery until 90 days after because it might cause an infection. Of course, they didn’t tell us that when they gave her the shot.”
“Do you think she wouldn’t have gotten it then?”
I considered... “No, she probably would have gotten the shot and I would have agreed. Surgery is always a last resort. You know how horrible my gall bladder surgery was.”
“Yeah, you told me, in more detail than I wanted to know. How’s the bulge?”
The “bulge” was the incisional hernia that had occurred about six months after the surgery, or about two months ago. “Still there,” I said. “It’s not any bigger; at least, I don’t think so. It’s a common thing to happen, especially with us old guys. Of course, they didn’t tell me about that either.”
Sylvia brought us our orders. “Still talking about your ailments?’ she said.
“Sure,” I said. What else is so important?”
“I wish it was twenty years ago.”
“So do I,” said Abe.
“Me, too,” I said.
Abe raised his glass of ice tea and said, “Let’s drink to that.” We raised our glasses again.
“So, how about the circus in Washington?” said Abe. “Poor Kavanaugh. Nobody deserves to be put through that. How low can the Dems get?’
Abe was a Republican who’d once been a Democrat and, like many converts, was very rabid. He even thought Trump wasn’t that bad a president. I’d also been a Democrat once but no longer felt they represented anyone like me, an old white male, but I’d thought Trump was obnoxious since his first appearance and nothing since had caused me to change my mind. “Pretty low,” I said. “But then they’re the evil party and the Republicans are the stupid party.” The Republicans had once again agreed to a delay on Kavanaugh’s vote, this time for the FBI investigation the Democrats had been demanding and were already saying didn’t go far enough. I liked to tease Abe about how inept the Republicans were.
“We’re not stupid,” said Abe. “Well, not all of us are stupid. McConnel knows what’s going on. He says there’ll be a vote at the end of this week.”
“Didn’t he say that last week? And the week before?”
“The Dems got their FBI investigation. This time there’ll be a vote.”
“So, if there is, which I doubt, the odds are some two Republicans will vote No, that idiot Flake and probably that woman Senator from Alaska, and that dooms poor Kavanaugh.”
“I’m optimistic. I think he’ll get in.”
“I’ll bet you a lunch he won’t.”
“It’s a bet.”
When I got home Sally was sitting in her usual chair watching television. Her left leg, the one with the bad knee, was propped up on a foot stool. “How’s the knee doing?”
“The same. How was your lunch?”
“The lunch was good, but Abe says he can’t play any more. His back hurts too much.”
“Oh, that’s too bad. What will you do?”
“Nothing. I’m ready to stop playing, too. After all, both Abe and I are nearly 90.”
“But you can’t just stop doing everything.”
I shrugged. “Maybe we’ll take up chess.”
I retrieved the morning papers, the Sacramento Bee, the local paper that in the last few years had shrunk to half its size while doubling its subscription price, and the Wall Street Journal, which at least had some real news plus market reports, and retired to the bedroom. I turned on the bedroom TV to watch the so-called news, the usual regurgitation of the Washington circus antics that had been going on the last few weeks. I still cared about what was going on in the country, but not that much. I’d asked at lunch, what was more important than our ailments, and I was only half-joking. If a giant asteroid was hurtling toward earth, as a number of old movies and a current TV show told us was happening, I’d still be more concerned about Sally’s knee and my bulge.
I put down the newspaper and looked out the window. It was a nice fall day in the Sacramento Valley, after an average summer, hot with wild fires up and down the state whose smoke made its way to us so that we’d had scratchy throats, running noses and headaches. A year ago I’d have begun walking to the pond about twenty minutes away where I might see some wildlife, or in the retirement community’s nature area. Now I wasn’t sure I could make it to the pond any more and make it around the nature area path.
And no more even shooting pool with Abe. I guess it had to come sometime. It meant more time at home doing nothing. The truth was, that was okay with me. I knew that I had to get out of the house sometime, but I wouldn’t mind staying home just about all of the time. If we ate out at a restaurant and I had to sit in one of those straight-backed chairs more than an hour my back started to hurt. If I had to walk more than ten feet at a time my knees would start to ache. In a while, I’d have my afternoon lie-down, which eased my back, and, while the pundits on TV were mouthing their inanities I’d nap for half an hour or so. This might have become the best part of the day for me.
When I woke I looked out the window again. A small bird flew by, then another one. Maybe I’d try walking to the pond; I’d give it a try. I recalled Sally telling me that I couldn’t stop doing anything. I suppose she was right. I picked up the phone and called Abe. When he answered he sounded sleepy. I wondered if he’d also just had a nap. “What’s up?” he said.