14) At the age of 59, I wish I hadn’t come up with the mathematical formula that being 60 is halfway between 40 and 80. Some things you are better off not knowing.
15) Sadly, my sense of humor isn’t always appreciated. Once, about three years ago, as my husband and I were driving into Dallas, my cell phone rang. Since I was driving, he answered. It was the friend we were staying with in Dallas. She and her husband were going to a Ravi Shankar concert that evening, so they wouldn’t be able to get together with us.
“Ravi Shankar?” I said, after my husband reported what she’d said. “He hasn’t done anything interesting since Norah Jones!”
“He hasn’t done anything interesting since Norah Jones,” my husband repeated into the phone.
After he hung up, I waited. And waited. Here, I was, driving 70 mph in city traffic and I’d still managed to come up with a semi-witticism. Where was the appreciation I was waiting for?
“Who’s Norah Jones?” my husband asked a couple of minutes later.
A few weeks later, I told this story to a younger friend. “Who’s Ravi Shankar?” he asked.
16) Once, when I was waiting for a therapy appointment, a young woman came in dressed as Little Red Riding Hood. (Maybe because it was Halloween — but still. For a therapy session?) Her therapist came into the waiting room to confer with her, since her scheduled appointment had been taken by someone else. “I don’t know who could have done it,” the therapist said, leafing through her scheduling book. I have always regretted not saying, “I believe the Wolf is at fault.”
17) When I was still smoking, the National Smokeout Day seemed to come around with depressing regularity. I was working at a public TV and radio station then, when the deranged personnel manager dropped off a couple of “Kiss Me, I’m a Non-Smoker” stickers at my smoke-shrouded office. I found the stickers fit perfectly well on each of my buttocks, where I wore them for the rest of the day.
18) I’ve always been haunted by the story about a continuing conversation between Dorothy Parker and Ernest Hemingway. Parker invariably swore she would never grow old, because she would kill herself. Hemingway, whose family included a number of suicides, insisted he would never take his own life. You know how it ends: Hemingway killed himself and Parker lived on to a ripe old age (is there anything more depressing than an elderly alcoholic?). Yes, you know how it ends. But why did it turn out that way?
19) As long as I’m yammering about death, I might as well mention another celebrity conversation I once read about (you can see how I spend my time) that also haunts me. Susan Sontag and Ingrid Bergman became friends in the 1970s, when they were both diagnosed with breast cancer. Bergman more or less surrendered to it, saying she’d had a wonderful, full life. Sontag raged that she wasn’t about to die. You probably know how this one ends, too: Bergman succumbed rather quickly and Sontag lived for another 25 years or more. At least this one makes a certain amount of sense. But, still: Who are the people who surrender and who are the ones who fight till the last breath? I don’t think either has the higher moral ground, but am fascinated by these profound differences in the human race.
20) In the midst of my hungry-for-beauty-at-any-cost teens, I once used an egg on my hair after I shampooed it. Unfortunately, the magazine article had failed to point out that cool water should be used to rinse out the egg. The hot water I used left little flecks of cooked egg white in my hair for days. Some beauty tip. It looked just like dandruff.
21) I know some religious people who are good, caring and humble. Others are self-righteous and evidently eager for the eternal damnation of the rest of the world that doesn’t believe as they do. Somehow, it seems to me, mean religious people are worse than mean atheists. But then, I never met Madalyn Murray O’Hair.
22) When I first played Scrabble with my husband and found myself with a horrible bunch of letters, I used to compensate by turning over a tile or two and claiming they were blanks. Unfortunately, this made me laugh so hard that he caught on quickly. People are so suspicious these days. Where did all the trust go?
23) When we lived in Charlottesville, Virginia, we were once visited by twin albino Mormon missionaries. No one believes this, but it’s true.
24) My second-grade teacher was a middle-aged woman named Mrs. Clark. She loved to make fun of one boy in the class, who was younger and more immature than the rest of us. His last name was Ray. One day, he cut up his Weekly Reader with his scissors. Mrs. Clark made him jerk his arm up and down, still grasping his scissors, while she encouraged the class to yell and call him “Baby Ray,” as she did. I know many teachers are near-saints — but over my childhood, experienced more than a few who were terrible bullies. Where did that savage anger in her come from? And what ever happened to that little boy, who, of course, would be in his late middle ages now? If I still vividly remember that scene — with the little boy with the silky hair and shiny glasses lifting his arm again and again, as he cried — what must it be like for him?
25) When I memorized the states and capitals as a child, I could have sworn that Wheeling was the capital of West Virginia. In fact, I once argued about it with a West Virginia native, who insisted Charleston is the capital. I went home and looked it up and she was right. So, did the capital change? Or was I simply misinformed? I suppose I could Google this, but often prefer to leave things as unknowable mysteries.
(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)