Sunday, December 09, 2007

‘Anyway, at least I’M still breathing!'

A strange yet unfortunately familiar incident occurred today.

My MP3 was cranked up to drown out the disgusting hip-hop playing on the gym’s loudspeakers when Roland, an 80-year-old Chinese-Irish-American retiree, who had just arrived for a workout, stood directly in front of me. His lips were moving so I knew he was probably speaking to me. Ronald Reaganesquely, I pointed to my earphones to beg deafness, but he insisted on continuing to get me to converse. The old fellow was not going to leave me alone, so I relented and took my earphones out. Normally he leaves me alone when I’m “not in the mood,” as signified by my wearing of earphone inserts.

“What’s up Roland?” I asked him.

“Heya Phil. You know Michael Barrett don’t you?”

“Maybe,” I responded. “What’s he look like?”

“You know; the older guy who walks with the bad limp.”

“Oh yeah. He drives that old brown Filipino-made jeep, and he always has a bit of body odor about him.”

“A little!?” Roland exclaimed.

“Well, you know,” I explained. “Sometimes I like to understate, especially because other than his stale smell, he seems like a nice guy.”

My old gym pal continued: “Well, the day before yesterday, he was in a barbershop getting his haircut…”

About then, I thought Roland was going to continue on with the body odor theme. He knows how much I hate to smell other people’s pits. I figured maybe Roland was about to tell me that the barber had a rude comment or something to say about Mr. Barrett’s BO. After all, Filipinos are as sensitive as I am about smelly unwashed armpit odor. I listened on.

“…So anyway, he fell out of the barber chair dead as a doornail!”

Immediately, I stopped doing my wimpy chest presses and cocked my head at Roland. “Roland! You jerk! Why the hell did you let me start talking sh*t about a guy that you KNEW just died?” Feigning anger, I raised my voice at him, “I don’t think I’m going to forgive you for that.”

Roland just grinned. “That’s okay. I thought it would increase the drama of what I was about to tell you.”

Then changing emotional gears on me, he reminisced, “You know, I was the only guy who called him Doctor Mike.”

I raised my head up from where I had been looking at the floor in disgust with Roland’s cute little ruse to make me look bad, while considering the old, now dead guy with the pronounced limp. I saw him in the gym virtually every day I’ve ever been in there. Unlike me, I doubt if he had ever missed even a day. Now, he was gone. In spite of myself, I had an image of him lying in his coffin, still and quiet. No more limping for him.

I asked Roland, “Why did you call him doctor? Don’t tell me he was a doctor!”

“Oh yeah, big time. He was a cosmetic surgeon for all the rich and famous jerks of Europe. In fact, he practiced out of Monte Carlo.”

“You’re kidding! I always took him for some ordinary pensioner out of Australia. He looked more like a sheep farmer than a physician.”

“Nope. Doctor Michael Barrett was a plastic surgeon and he was English.”

“I never would have guessed that. I don’t think I actually ever said anything to him, but if we passed and I had even a hint of a grin going he’d respond with a crooked smile of his own and a friendly nod. I never would have thought him a doctor, especially one that probably made a lot of bucks in his life. I mean, what the heck is he doing living here Roland?”

Roland laughed like the joker he always is, “Why are you here? Why am I here? Why are any of us here! I think you KNOW why!”

“How old was he?” I changed the subject. Roland can be irritating at times.

“Only 71.”

I kidded "old" Roland, “Whoa! He was WAY too young, wasn't he? How old are you now again, 80 is it? Heh. Heh.”

He laughed me off, “I hear you. Me and my one lung have at least a few years left. As long as I have my 19-year-old girlfriend to keep me happy, and as long as Pfizer stays in business, I’ll be around to make them BOTH a lot of money!”

“Good point old man... Oh well, I guess it’s just the end of another era. Seems like “another era” ends just about once a week around here anymore.”

I put my earphones back in and continued my workout.

Sighing, I thought, ‘Anyway, at least I’M still breathing! ...for now.'

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