Every now and then, though, the universe kicks me in the butt and says, "You ain't who you used to be, oh, formerly graceful one; runner and yoga master; judo, aikido and karate master (if pink belts count); great ballroom dancer; master of stage and podium."
A few summers ago, my wife and I took a trip to Salt Lake City, where my daughter, son-in-law and their dog, Joey, lived part of the year. She had asked us to bring wine because of the exorbitant costs in Utah. So, at the last stop before Utah, in Page, Ariz., I went into a supermarket to get her wine. I chose big jugs, about five of them, and proceeded with my post-Parkinson's gait (slow with a limp) to pay. A sympathetic young woman signaled me to her newly opening checkout stand. She looked at me sweetly, sympathetically, and then saw my purchase. Her smile froze, eye contact ceased and she got me outta there.
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Same trip, later that night, I realized I had forgotten the pack with the dog food and can opener, plus the eating utensils for us. Back at the store, I felt pretty clever finding two full-sized cans of Alpo with a pull top; no opener needed. I did buy some plastic forks, however. Once again, a sweet young thing opened her register just for me and asked me to be first in line. I was in the parking lot before I figured out what could have changed her face from smiley to sad: I had just purchased two cans of dog food and forks.
The real topper happened a few months later around Christmas time in Utah. I was waiting for my wife and daughter, perfectly content sitting in the car snoozing and listening to good radio. But I had to go the restroom, so I ventured into a nearby soup-and-salad buffet restaurant. A young employee stood at the buffet starting gate.
"Can I just get a cup of coffee?" I asked. "And drink it here?" After all, all I needed was the restroom, not to go through the buffet line.
The young man looked as if he was about to panic. "I don't know . . . I'll see." And he disappeared. When he returned, he told me there was a cup left in the back. He showed me where to sit and told me someone would bring the cup shortly. They did. I sneaked off to the restroom, and when I returned there was another cup on the table. I drank them both just before the young man approached my table and said softly, so only I could hear, "I just talked to the manager, and he says you can have a meal free."
I suppressed a laugh, left a $5 tip and shuffled out into the night.
Hale is associate professor emeritus from the Oregon Health and Science University. He lives in Altadena.