I think I can safely say that the most pathetic moment of my life occurred just a few weeks ago, specifically at 6:20 a.m. on Tuesday, July 22. I was standing in my front yard. A young woman was walking by.
“Excuse me, miss, can I ask a favor?”
“Can I trouble you to pick these up and hand them to me?”
I was gesturing toward copies of The Washington Post and the New York Times, each in its plastic sleeve, each in my yard on the grass about five feet from where I was standing.
Oh, I should point out that I was wearing only socks and a bathrobe. And my hair — more than a little fright-wiggish under the best of conditions — was still fizzing from the shower.
The woman looked me up and down. She appeared to be calculating risk factors. On one hand, I could easily be a flasher, or worse. On the other hand, it was already daylight. Finally, she reached a decision. I suspect she had observed the way I was standing — sort of cantilevered to the right, grandpappy style, supported by a bent elbow, hand on hip — and concluded (justifiably) that if I tried anything bad, she could take me down, easily.
She entered my yard and handed me the papers.
“Thank you,” I said. “Uh, I threw my back out.”
She smiled in a way that I am sure was intended to show sympathy for my misfortune, but it hid a bit of amusement. It was the way you might sympathetically smile at a dog wif a giant swollen mouf who has just had the misfortune of attempting to eat bees.
To a person older than 50, there is nothing like a lower backache to make you feel really old. For a period of several years, I had an actual fatal disease, but I felt and looked fine, and that allows your sense of denial to kick in. But lower back pain makes you walk like a codger, which makes you feel like a codger. You feel as though you really should be carrying around one of those giant ear trumpets and shaking your fist at durned youngsters who sass their elders, consarn it.
It also makes you aware of little annoyances you might otherwise never notice. For example, the CVS near my house, for some perverse reason, places its backache relief meds on the bottom shelf.
Also, you learn in an unfortunate way that the towel rack in the bathroom cannot structurally bear the load necessary to serve as a senior’s handrail.
Also, you discover that certain ordinary walking distances are suddenly insuperable, and adopt a pathetic type of resourcefulness to avoid them. For example, it is better to obtain a needed $23 by scrounging through every drawer and every pants and jacket pocket in every closet in one’s house than making the five-block march to the nearest ATM.
But mostly, it works out okay. In three days, I was much better, and extremely grateful for my agility, when it returned. And as it happens, a few days after that, the same woman was walking by as I got my papers.
I made a show of bending and retrieving and said, “See, all better now?”
Actually, maybe that was my most pathetic moment.
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