I recently had the pleasure of meeting an interesting fellow, a man I’ll call Ollie.
Ollie is short and stout and wears his pants with the waistband pulled to just above his portly belly where he cinches them tightly with an old and well-worn brown belt. He wears white socks, and black dress shoes shined to a glossy finish.
Most of my new friend’s hair left him some time ago, with the remainder circling the lower portion of his head like a wooly, gray inflatable pool float. Three or four rebellious sprigs of delicate hair, however, clung to the top of his slick sunburned scalp much as we’d expect palm trees on a tiny deserted island would appear to passing sea birds—sprouting up willy-nilly to sway in the breezes.
Ollie’s hands are liver-spotted and his achy and arthritic joints bring about groans and moans when he stands, sits, walks, or does anything that requires a moving body part. His knees pop and creak and a few of his teeth aren’t original equipment. His eyes are weak and rheumy and their lids droop a bit. Dark bags beneath his eyes hang there like pieces of overripe fruit.
He’s an educated man who’s well-spoken and enjoys spirited conversation and tale-telling.
He has a persistent phlegmy cough. There’s an open pack of non-filtered cigarettes in his shirt pocket.
With our howdy-do’s and a glad-to-meet-you behind us, we sat for a while discussing current events. But Ollie tended to drift back to earlier times, the days that seemed to bring him extreme joy and peace.
I listened with great interest as Ollie talked about the good old days, when his family used rotary telephones and watched television when thirteen channels were on the dial but the set only picked up five or six, and maybe seven, and that’s if the night was clear and the roof-mounted antennae was pointed just so. If not, he told me, you’d turn the dial on “the box” and watch and listen as it clicked the antennae into a new, better-suited position. Of course, the antennae almost always went past the optimal spot so you had to “click it’ back a few degrees in the opposite direction to bring Steamboat Willy or Walt Disney into focus.
Ollie told me about earning less than three-dollars an hour, and gas prices were under fifty-cents. Hot dogs at the drug store cost a quarter, fully loaded—coleslaw, mustard, and chili—and ice cream cones were ten cents per scoop. Comic books were also ten cents but rose to twelve, and when they did DC Comics posted a notice explaining to kids that the cost of everything had increased, including the price of soft drinks and those delicious hot dogs.
He reminisced about the days when JFK, MLK, John Lennon, and Elvis died. Jimi and Janis, too. He took me back to Sammy, Frank, and Dean. Martin and Lewis. The Stooges. Streisand and The Supremes. Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Manson. When FM radio stations first arrived. Buddy Rich and John Bonham. The Cowsills, The Mamas and Papas, Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Beatles, The Stones, Chubby Checker, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, and Blueberry Hill. His first car, using the outhouse, the time before computers and cell phones and “White Only” waiting rooms in the doctor’s office.
Finally, after many minutes had passed, with me not saying a single word, Ollie said, “Man, this really took me back, and I didn’t let you get a word in. Not one.”
“That’s all right, Ollie. I enjoyed listening,” I said.
Ollie stood to leave and as he did his knees popped. Then his brow creased into a deep “V” and he clinched his jaw. He placed a hand over his beachball-size gut and used the other to cover his mouth, stifling a burp that inflated both cheeks. “Sorry about that,” he said. “My doctor says I have acid reflux. Can’t eat a thing without belching for the next couple of hours. I’m lactose intolerant too. So don’t get me started on what dairy does to me. I’ll just say this…be glad I had the burritos without cheese. I passed on the sour cream as well.”
He groaned and moaned and grimaced and winced when he reached for his hat, and then more of the same when he straightened his back to once again stand upright.
Ollie placed the old porkpie on his head and after griping a bit about his sciatica, he said, “And then there’s the gout, a past-due hip replacement, two blown knees, rheumatoid arthritis, a hernia, high blood pressure, joint degeneration, I’m allergic to gluten, pet dander, dust, pollen, strawberries, and nuts. My eyesight is in the toilet and I wear a hearing aid when I remember to do so. I’ve had several cancerous moles removed and my sugar’s through the roof. My last colonoscopy showed “something” and I’m supposed to walk at least a mile each day because the old ticker’s been acting up.”
This pitiful and obviously unhealthy man, my brand new friend, took a deep breath and let it back out in the form of sad sigh accompanied by a slow side-to-side head shake. “And I can’t remember the last time when the wife and I…well, you know. The plumbing is out of order more times than not, so we stopped trying.”
He used one hand to adjust the position of his hat and the other to shake my hand. I again told him how much I enjoyed our conversation and listening to his tales of way back when.
Ollie placed a hand on my shoulder as we walked to his car. Then he stopped and turned to face me. “Someday you’ll understand, and you’ll do the same—tell the story of your own good old days. But you have a ways to go before you reach my age, so enjoy life while you can and while you’re able to,” he said. His lips split into a toothy (some his and some store-bought) grin. “Yep, one day you’ll be as old as I am and you’ll experience the same troubles.”
I looked on as Ollie groaned and moaned and grunted while sliding and pushing his way into the car seat. Finally, he switched on the ignition, gave the horn two quick toots, and drove away.
I smiled a smile of my own as he headed off toward the sunset. After all, I was already in elementary school the year Ollie was born. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him.
*This is a true story. The name was changed to protect the “youngster” who was merely ten-years-old when I was driving my very own car and working a steady job after school and on weekends. My job paid $1.68 per hour and the price of a gallon of gas was $.35. By the way, while Ollie was busy watching cartoons on TV, my after school job back then included installing rooftop TV antennas and those “clicking” boxes used to change their positions.