Monday, January 31, 2011

Old People Say the Darndest Things
Episode 4: And Then This Happened

Man on Bike

My senior citizen Scrabble friend was showing me things. This is usually how our times together unfold: I arrive at her apartment, she offers me tea and/or an orange, she shows me stuff (newspaper clippings, the latest biography checked out from the library, new additions to her recycled Christmas card project, etc.), and then we play a game or two of Scrabble.

On this particular visit, she was showing me pictures she’d cut from Time magazine over the years – pictures she thought were interesting or pretty or otherwise worth saving. Like one of President Clinton, in his younger years, shaking hands with President Kennedy. Or the sepia-toned photo of an African-American man in a 1960's-cut suit, smiling at someone off-camera.

“I used to have such a crush on him,” my Scrabble friend said, “You know who that is?”

I didn’t. “Ummmm….Harry Belafonte?” I guessed.

“No, he was an activist. A civil rights activist.”

I took a closer look. And then I recognized him. “Is it Julian Bond?”

“Yes! You know who that is?”

And I told her I certainly did: He was one of my professors in college.

She thought that was a mildly interesting coincidence, but didn’t get too excited over it. She doesn’t get excited over much.

(With the possible exception of ticker-tape parades.  She gets real riled up about ticker-tape parades, because she thinks they're wasteful. Fortunately, they don't come up all that often in daily conversation.)

Later she brought out an album of black-and-white photos.  She wanted to show me pictures of her friend, Gertie, about whom I had heard many stories. There was one shot, probably taken in the 1940's or 50's, of Gertie and a man, dressed for an evening out on the town.  Gertie was wearing a fur-lined coat and looking away from the camera; the man next to her was in a tuxedo, flashing the photographer a confident smile.

And then this happened:

Me: Is that her husband? He looks very dashing.
Scrabble Friend: He had ambiguous genitalia.
Me: WHAT!?...How do you know that?
Scrabble Friend: I saw it.
Me: WHAT!?...How did you see it?
Scrabble Friend: He fell one time a few years back, and Gertie asked me to come over to help, and he was wearing a robe, and the robe was open, and I saw it.

She relayed this bit of news in the same matter-of-fact manner that someone might use to mention that paper towels were on sale at Duane Reade, or that it was going to be cloudy tomorrow.  I can't decide if her unwavering equanimity stems from being zen or being jaded, whether it's an admirable attribute or something to fight against.

In any case.  My Scrabble Friend may not be surprised by much, but I'm thankful that I'm usually surprised by her.

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