By Daniel Dunaief
Conversations with friends, relatives and neighbors have taken a turn into “The Twilight Zone” episodes recently.
Decades ago, when I spoke with my friends, we discussed our activities, ambitions and plans. We might have complained about our bosses, described a business trip, shared an encounter with a stranger on a plane or train, or described our frustrations with our favorite sports teams.
Sure, we still do that, but, as the years pass, the discussions drift. This is where I’d cue the music.
In Episode One, we have two college friends who shared a room for several years, who sweated through a spectacularly hot summer in Boston with no air conditioning, and who, over the decades, visited each other’s homes with and without our wives and children.
So, these two friends recently started catching up.
“I can’t stand the hair that’s coming out of my ears,” I offered. “It makes it harder to hear and to be taken seriously by anyone looking at me.”
“Yeah, that’s pretty unwelcome,” my friend laughed. “My back is killing me. I wake up every morning and it takes me a while to feel comfortable enough to stand and shuffle to the bathroom.”
“My hip has been a problem,” I reply.
“I also don’t see particularly well. I don’t like driving when it’s dark,” he added.
“My knee is sore,” I added, “but I think that’s from compensating for my hip.”
And so it went, for about 10 minutes, until we broke the description of all that ails us and transitioned to a discussion of all that inspires, and worries, us about our college-age children.
“I hope you feel better soon,” I offered as we got off the phone.
“At this point, I’d just take not feeling worse,” he said.
Okay, so that wasn’t too terrifying, right? Two 50-ish guys chatted and shared personal details about the aging vessels that carry us through life.
That takes us to Episode Two. Imagine, if you will, a group of older adults, representing the 50ish and the 80ish generation, chatting in person together.
“Have you been to the doctor recently?” one of the people asked.
“Which one? For what?” a second one replied.
“How many doctors do you have?” a third one asked.
And that is where the conversation became a competition. Each person, slowly and deliberately, shared the number of doctors he or she visits.
“I’ve had kidney stones, so I have a urologist,” I offered, as if I were recounting trophies on a shelf or comparing the number of friends I have with someone else in fourth grade rather than recalling a specialist who helped me deal with excruciating agony.
“Do you have an ENT doctor? I have one,” someone else said.
My competitive spirit again got the best of me.
“I have the best GI guy, who gave me a great colonoscopy. I had such a nice rest while I was under anesthesia,” I said.
I pictured a younger version of me, sitting with the group, staring, open-mouthed at the enthusiasm with which all of us, me included, counted our doctors and the reason we needed them.
In Episode Three, a man in his 30s walked his dog, limping along with a supportive black boot on his leg. Another man (me) appeared, pulled along by his oversized dog.
“Not to get too personal,” I said, “but your shoes don’t match.”
The good-natured man smiled and said he thought he had shin splints from running, but discovered he had a hairline fracture that required several weeks of rest in a boot.
“I went to my parents’ house in New Hampshire and ran over five miles on an uneven road. The next day, I could barely move. I have to rest it for six weeks,” he said.
I nodded and wished him a speedy recovery.
“Well, maybe it hurts just because I’m older,” he offered.
You have no idea, I thought, as I could feel the urge to hold back a clock that pushes each of us forward through time.
Cue the music.