Uncle Al has long been looking forward to turning 75, because that will allow him to keep his shoes on at the airport. (At 74 there aren’t a whole lot of happy milestones to anticipate, so that has been a biggie.)
Now that he’s got that important birthday under his belt, so to speak (he’s pretty sure his big metal buckle will still be a TSA problem) he has to acknowledge that it’s been a fairly unsettling year so far — but he notes that there’s still plenty of time for it to get lots worse.
For starters, early this year he made one of those awkward physical movements that, in persons of a certain age, make those persons immediately recognize that almost any other physical movement would have been a better idea.
In this case he lifted a heavy bag of groceries from the passenger’s seat of his truck – by reaching backward across the armrest with his right arm. This brought to the immediate foreground of what might be called his mind a sudden and concentrated awareness of a group of shoulder tendons and muscles known to physicians and sports fans as the rotator cuff.
The physical therapist to whom he was directed confirmed that Uncle Al’s case was a classic rotator-cuff injury. Uncle Al actually did some of the recommended exercises, and the pain lessened a lot over time. But it annoyed him that this injury brought to a sudden end his chances for a major-league pitching career.
Admittedly, even long before sustaining this injury at age 74, Uncle Al’s chances of landing such a job weren’t great — although this year he might have had a shot with the Twins.
Meanwhile, until his shoulder began to heal, every time he tried to do anything awkward with his right arm he was notified that he should think again about that. So he quickly (and surprisingly easily) changed a number of habits, including reaching for the box of his breakfast cereal from atop the refrigerator with his left arm instead of his right, holding the leash of his swell used dog, Gus, in his left hand instead of his right, and shifting wallet and checkbook from the right rear pocket of his pants to the left rear.
(Yes, Uncle Al still carries a checkbook: If the entire global electronic payment network collapses one day while he is attempting to replenish his inventory of Little Debbie Nutty Bars, while everyone else waits for the credit-card readers to cease endlessly flashing “processing,” he can, with an air of poise and dignity he seldom manages to achieve, write a check instead.)
Uncle Al’s recovery has been more-or-less complete for some months, but out of either force of habit or wisdom (the smart money would bet on habit), Uncle Al has not attempted to once again use his right arm for any of the tasks he has reassigned to his left arm. Although it was surprisingly easy to make the changes, he’s doubtful that changing back would go as well, and he doesn’t relish the prospect of constant confusion about which arm to use for what.
The other significant development in Uncle Al’s lifestyle this year has been a somewhat disturbing increase in the number of items that he has either lost or misplaced. These are always disturbing in any case, as Uncle Al lives alone, so when he can’t find something, no matter what it is, he can’t even momentarily suspect that somebody else moved it. (Well, if he gets really desperate he can try to imagine what Gus would have done with the Phillips screwdriver, but he is aware that this line of inquiry is seldom productive.)
A few months ago, for example, he lost his checkbook. He had written a check for lunch the previous day, so the number of places it might have been left behind or somehow fallen out of his pocket was not large. First he went through the house: Not in the couch cushions, the bed, the basement, the garage, or the bathroom floor.
That afternoon he made the rounds of the places he had visited the afternoon or evening before. Apparently it hadn’t been turned in at either of the two stores he tried (although the concept of a checkbook was unfamiliar enough to the customer-service person at one store that she asked Uncle Al if his name was anywhere in the checkbook).
The next day, after another round of couch, bed, basement, etc., he told his lunch companions about it and was treated to an amused chorus of “Did you look next to your funnels?”* When he got home, after checking next to his (single remaining) funnel (nope), he called and stopped payment on the unwritten checks.
*As noted, the matter of lost items is not a new phenomenon for Uncle Al. Many years ago he spent weeks on and off looking for a funnel he knew he had — because it had replaced one he had previously lost. When he finally gave up and bought a new funnel, he brought it home and put it down next to . . . a funnel. He doesn’t know whether that one was the one he lost originally or the one he replaced it with (and then lost).**
Having made sure that the missing checks could not be used by any miscreants, Uncle Al knew that he had essentially taken care of the problem, still . . . . Where the hell was the ^$^#&* checkbook?
Several weeks later, while he helped Gus retrieve a treat that had bounced under the couch, Uncle Al’s flashlight revealed his checkbook — at least a foot and a half back. Nothing rational can explain that, and after a few days of distraction Uncle Al decided to put aside notions of extraterrestrial meddling in his personal affairs and get on with his life.
He’s pretty sure there have been several other peculiar developments since, but he failed to write them down, and things being where they are on the slope of his gradual descent into mental cottage-cheese, he no longer has any idea what they were.
Except for this one: At the supermarket recently, intending to pay with his credit card, he reached into his pocket for his wallet — and it was gone. His checkbook was there, and after an embarrassed pause he wrote a check for his groceries and hurried out into the parking lot, hoping to find his wallet in his truck. Nope. Next, he knew, would be a duplication of the lost-checkbook effort, beginning with checking and rechecking everywhere in the house.
On the way home he began to mentally assemble the list of places in the outside world that he would have to check if his wallet didn’t turn up at home. After a couple of rounds of couch-bed-basement — and a flashlight check way under the bed and the couch — he gave up for the evening, watched some TV, ate a few Little Debbie Nutty Bars, gave Gus a late-night walk and went upstairs to go to bed. Hanging up his pants, he was surprised to note that they weren’t any lighter than normal, despite the absence of his wallet.
That’s because his wallet was still there — in his right-rear pocket, where it used to belong.
Uncle Al hopes he never injures the rotator cuff in his left arm: He’d never have any idea where to find anything.
**The tale of the funnels is told at greater length (and greatly increased hilarity) in “Geezer Salad,” Uncle Al’s collection of peculiar essays previously published in the Star Tribune in Minneapolis.
If the possibility of acquiring this volume has swept you away, you can find “Geezer Salad” at Amazon, of course, at prices from $3.89 plus postage (used, very good) to $16.73 plus postage (new).
If the possibility of acquiring this volume has made you insane, other offers at Amazon range to $54.29 plus shipping (new) to $91.76 plus shipping (used, good).
If you’d like a brand-new copy from the author’s personal checkbookless, walletless basement for $10 plus shipping, leave a comment on this post and he’ll contact you to see whether you are able to assist in your own defense and whether you want an autograph (and for whom).
It should be noted that, although an author autograph sometimes increases the value of a book, in Uncle Al’s case the opposite is true.