Wednesday, July 10, 2002


In the village just one stop up the line, right near the train station, you know, across the street from the side of the store where they have that big sign on top you can see from the train, is the clinic where I get my leg galvanized.

I say galvanized because it reminds me of Galvani's experiment with the dead frog, the way it jumped around, proving as I recall that dead frogs can run on batteries. The doctor sticks a bunch of electric needles in my thigh and hooks them to a close-encounters-of-the-third-kind kind of machine that beeps and boops and wawas, then he turns it up and my leg does Afternoon of a Faun for fifteen or twenty minutes all on its own while I lay there not lifting a finger.

It's very entertaining in a bizarre way, dancing without dancing, gives me a new view on pain, that pain doesn't actually hurt, it's only an abstraction generated by a nerve that's trying to make you think the pain is real, so as long as you don't believe the nerve it doesn't hurt, which does wonders as long as it isn't something that really hurts.

Like this leg. Which came to require galvanization as a result of my tossing about full-length roofbeams as though I were still of roofbeam-tossing age and hadn't recently spent two decades tossing no roofbeams at all in an office chair, birthplace of the other-directed spinal disc. This isn't really relevant to what I'm trying to get at here except in that it points out the age-related stuff that awaits us all as we approach the nether gate with the gaudy wreaths and the portrait photograph we didn't like in life.

But before I get there, it's quite a revelation to find out that my own body, the very body with which only thirty years ago I laughed blithely among other ignorant youths at the idea of getting old, is now showing me in painstaking detail that I didn't know jack, and why grandpa walked the way he did, and how a cane can make a lot of sense. And I realize grandpa's patience in not moaning all the time, the way I do.

Anyway what I'm trying to get at here, if I can just get a word in edgewise, is that when I arrive at the clinic early on a Wednesday or Saturday, my regular galvanizing days, the waiting room is packed and I, at age 55, am far the youngest one there. The average age is maybe 80, both men and women, though mostly women, since men tend to burn out faster, having lifestyles more generally like mine; but this group is fun to be around. What energy! Much more purely i.e. cosmically focused energy than a bunch of 50 year-olds.

Two sweet, cute elderly country ladies sitting there, feet primly together, probably approaching ninety, been tots together at the dawn of the century, grew up together in what was then a remote little fishing village way across the mountains from big city Kyoto, shared 8 decades and more, now sitting there talking and laughing and carrying on and in comes another lady, one of their classmates, they used to hang around together on whatever was the equivalent of streetcorners in 1910 or so, and she comes and sits down and picks up the conversation right where it left off, they know EVERYTHING about each other, no need even to say hello, really, though they do, out of habit, then point to elbows and shoulders and knees and hips and backs, flexing and poking and talking about sleep and telling how it is since yesterday, and another day another lady in her 80's, a hearty laugh, cute as a netsuke and bright as a blossom, sat there hunched over in the waiting room squinting closeup at a video of the cataract surgical procedure she'd be going through in a day or two, nearby an elderly man she probably remembers as a dashing young eligible bachelor also watching saying you going to have surgery and she laughs says yes, I'll be able to see, laughs, what a laugh, laughs again, from the gut after 8 decades, what power, the size of her future has nothing to do with her joy, much more positive a feeling to me here in a roomful of physical complaints than dropping in at the local high school, where future is measured in centuries.

One farmer lady, must be close to 80, strong white real-teeth smile, black hair, skin like a baby, beautiful, what a knockout she must have been in the knockout days, that was the real strength of this country I guess all countries, these women and all they have wrought, of families and homes, childbearing and caring and gentle strength, yet despite it all so unsung now, even seen as a burden and put apart, unheeded by the new and flaccid young, who seem to want only each other.

Another couple, the Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas of the waiting room, Gertrude big and deep-voiced with natty tweed suitcoat, Alice slight with a man's haircut, vest and pants; they must be in their 70's, a lot of waiting roomers know them, especially the laughing old man, who says something funny at every breath I wish I could follow the 70-years-ago dialect he talks so fast, as the humorous do, and with all those antique curls and twangs and run-togethers no one around here talks like that now except those his age, so I miss the jokes but anyway get the laughter.

Bent of back and still smiling, what power they all have, and the all that they have seen, and what good fortune for their families to have them, for they've clearly come here from home, have them to give advice on the kids and how to make pickles and how it really was and how to do things the way time has taught, how to make it into the future and keep on laughing the way they've always done and why, and how sad for those who have no such elders around to wrap them in the arms of the past, give roots to the children, and one day it hit me why every time I went to the clinic I was feeling this rush, and I realized I had never maybe in my life been so much among so many elders at once, and that it seems they only hang around with each other anymore, and it's not fair that I and all of us have been deprived all these years of what these elders are meant to do and be for us, regardless of language; I have not been AMONG elders in so long, I hadn't known what a charge it would be, hadn't known what it meant, what was missing from my life; and these elders not even at their best but at the doctor's, probably actually an important part of the social circuit for folks their age; and as they get fewer, the happier they are to see each other.

They know what life means at last, and you've got to live it to find out. I've been so long among folks my own age, who don't know anything about the years that are coming, and these elders have already been there and gone, and are still smiling and laughing and having a grand time, and it's good to know that it can be done, even if I don't make it to the clinic in 2020.