Bernard Welt - Day Three

  The great American writer, director, comedian Mel Brooks at the age of 90, one night when my husband and I were waiting in line at a ramen place and our friend Diane noticed that Mel Brooks was waiting for his Chinese food order next door.    Left to right: the author; MEL FREAKING BROOKS, the husband

The great American writer, director, comedian Mel Brooks at the age of 90, one night when my husband and I were waiting in line at a ramen place and our friend Diane noticed that Mel Brooks was waiting for his Chinese food order next door.

Left to right: the author; MEL FREAKING BROOKS, the husband

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Like most writers, I am almost unbelievably lazy. I don’t know what it is: compared to musicians, visual artists, dancers (yeah, comparing us to dancers is not going to turn out well), many writers I know are capable of summoning up a level of inertia seldom seen among the living. (Maybe we unconsciously aspire to the condition of cadavers because we’re aware of those rare instances where a writer finds renown after death, and we’re thinking, well, that’s as good a shot for me as anything I’ve come up with so far.)

I can construe almost any activity as crucial to my work—my WORK!, do you understand me?!—as a writer, as long as it requires less mental effort and, let’s face it, emotional risk than actually sitting down and coming up with somewhat original thought in somewhat appealing language. I call reading the comics research. I call tumbling heedless, headfirst, down some social-media rabbit hole digital research. I call texting my friends about premium cable mysteries, deviled-eggs I can’t forget weeks after they were served to me (and goddammit, I didn’t get nearly enough), and cute boys who almost eye-flirted with me on the subway--or I dunno, maybe I had Korean-chicken grease in my beard and they just couldn’t look away; it’s happened before--consulting with my professional colleagues.

Often I avoid actual writing by means of quotation and citation. I select my quotes with care and congratulate myself on my unusual capacity to find brilliant material I can steal appropriate contextualize for my eager readers. I assemble these quotes with something like the pride I would feel if I had actually written anything of comparable value myself. It is what we call curating these days, and it comes to much the same thing as in the visual arts: taking credit for the work of other people.

As it happens, not only do I read some holy-cow goddam-great writing as part of my highly professional rituals of procrastination, but a certain amount of that fine writing originates with my personal friends. (I have amazing karma, for whatever reason, and one way the cosmos rewards me is by promiscuously throwing terrific creative-type people at me and hypnotizing them, somehow, into accepting my shy, almost maidenly offers of friendship.)

I submitted my Medicare application last week. (It seems to have been accepted, although I know the folks at the Social Security office had a little trouble at first believing I was 65, because I look amazing.)

I have thought a bit about setting down my thoughts and feelings on aging. It seems hard. But my friend Jeff Weinstein makes it look easy: Jeff Weinstein: Dinner At Eighty

So that’s one set of things I’d say about aging the week after I submitted my Medicare application, and if I did sit down to write about it, I’m sure I’d produce something as moving and insightful as Jeff did. Yep. I sure would.

While I have you on the line, I’d like to tell you two of my favorite jokes:

1. Well, not a joke, a witticism. The comedian George Burns was asked in an interview on the occasion of his 95th birthday if, after his amazing career, featuring three or four separate comeback periods, there was anything he’d like to do that he still hadn’t done. He thought a minute. “I’d like to kick myself in the back of the head,” he said.

2. The great director and writer Billy Wilder attended a grand dinner in his honor on his 90th birthday. After listening to tributes from friends and admirers, when it came time for him to address the adoring crowd, he rose and said, without introduction or preamble:

“Man goes to the doctor. ‘Doctor,’ he says, ‘I can’t pee.’
“Doctor says, ‘How old are you, sir?’
“Man says, ‘Thanks to God, next Tuesday, I’ll be 90 years old.’
“Doctor says, ‘Eh, you’ve peed enough.’”

Not my joke, but I think it’s pretty impressive I could still pull that out of my head at my age.