I’m not sure what Al is trying to do to me. Our paths crossed in the hall yesterday. He spotted a bench, said he was tired and sat down. He asked me if I had a few minutes to bullshit. I did, and he proceeded to quiz me about my condition.
“Can you get up?” he asked.
“I’ve got a walker in the apartment,” I told him. “I use it when I need to go to the bathroom. And every other day or so, I use it to go out on the porch and water my plant.”
“How far can you walk with it?” he wanted to know.
“Not very,” I said. “Across the room, not much farther.”
“We’ve got to get you up and walking again.”
A woman came by, and Al said “hello” to her. There was nothing unusual about the woman. She was nicely dressed, and her gray hair neatly coifed. She used a cane but stepped out more smartly than most people here. She conversed with gusto and didn’t seem to have difficulty hearing what Al said. I would have guessed she was in her late seventies. I would have been wrong. She is 101. For many years, I have thought of Alma, a retired Ash/Craft secretary, as the most youthful old person I’ve ever known. But no more. Even Al, a young whippersnapper of eighty-eight, is in awe of the woman’s energy and admitted he couldn’t keep up with her.
Al said his niece has been asking him if he’d tell her all his stories if she came down. She wants to publish them.
“I talk too much as it is,” he said. “And nobody would be interested in them.”
“I’d be interested,” I said. “I think you should tell her all your stories. It would be a fascinating book.”
He mumbled something and shifted the subject back to my ailments. Al is a voracious reader, and he has a stack of newsletters from the Harvard medical school.
“If I find anything about your problems, I’ll pass it along,” he said. “They say now that red wine is good for you. Red wine and black coffee. I read an article that said if you drink three cups of black coffee and two glasses of red wine a day you can live damn near forever.”
“I’ve got the black coffee covered,” I said.
“Don’t you drink, Tom?”
“Not much these days.”
“Dammit, Tom, you don’t know what you’re missing. You’ve got to come up to my room some time. I’ve got beer, wine, some scotch, a little whiskey and a bottle of gin that I’ve had for six years. And if you don’t want that, we can smoke some marijuana, or I can give you some marinol. It will take you to the most wonderful, peaceful place. But you won’t remember it when you come back down.”
That’s when I began to wonder. Al began the conversation by asking if I could walk at all and what could be done to restore my ability to walk. And he ended it by encouraging me to drink more. Should a genie grant those two wishes, someday I’ll walk into his apartment, but I won’t be able to walk out.
On my way to dinner last night, I spotted Al coming out of the activity room with a glass of red wine.
“What’s going?” I asked.
“A reception for the new residents,” he said, holding up his glass. “You ought to get yourself some.”
Occasionally all this leads to a cartoon moment, with Al hovering around one ear, urging me to drink more, while Catherine is on my other shoulder, telling me to thirst after righteousness. She came by this morning ostensibly to give me the phone number of her dentist. But her real purpose, I think, was to give me a copy of Jesus’ Claims – Our Promises: A Study of the “I Am” Sayings of Jesus. “You’re going to need the Lord,” she said.