Recently I hosted a dinner and book signing at a friend’s restaurant in Charlotte. Me and Tom Condron, the Chef/Owner go way back. So after everyone had a glass of wine and a few hors d’oeuvre in them they sat down. We were all in a great mood, it was a Saturday night and a delightful evening was in front of us. Of the 40 guests in the room, only four had finished the book, five were in the process and some of them were probably there for a little something different on a Saturday night. I gave a quick introduction, talked about what sent me down a writer’s path then told a couple of quick stories about me and Tom and soon everyone was laughing and toasting their glasses. Then I read the first page of my novel:
If I had to name the most infuriating part of being this old, I would have to say that first and foremost, it’s the crumbs. I cannot seem to control the food crumbs. They pile up on the edges of my mouth, the tip of my chin, and are scattered from the top of my shirt to the edges of my lap, often giving me the appearance of a wheelchair-bound Santa at the bottom of a snow globe before he gets shaken up. I would wipe them away, but in order to do that one needs to be able to control their own hands, and on some days my hands shake so bad I can’t even hold a napkin. Today the service staff at this over-priced retirement community has more pressing business than to bother with the crumbs on an old man’s shirt. I’m rolling down the hallway after a messy breakfast so I can continue shaking behind closed doors, when the prettiest woman I have seen in years comes into focus. She is maybe five feet, eight inches tall with shoulder length brown hair, high cheeks and green eyes behind thin eyeglasses. She smiles at me. It is an absolutely gorgeous smile, and I’m covered in flecks of grits and toast, sausage grease and a smear of grape jelly, a rolling menu that my fellow residents can practically place their own orders from. If she stops to talk to me, there will be no limit to my humiliation.
I’m a retired fire fighter. In my day, I stood six feet, four inches tall and my chest and biceps crowded the fullest shirts. Even the most sophisticated women – such as this young lady in front of me – would routinely be reduced to smiles, incomplete sentences and nervous giggles when I showed up at their minor kitchen fires, usually created by their fumbling children or inept husband’s attempt at a Mother’s Day breakfast. My guys at the station house called my ability to render women incapable of uttering a coherent sentence the “Bannon Effect.” The reports filed after minor fires often read something like: The homeowner attempted to provide a statement at the scene. However, the trauma associated with the incident coupled with the Bannon Effect provided by the Station Captain prevented the homeowner from offering a reasonable statement regarding said incident. And now, old age has reduced me to a 225-pound crumb-covered and palsied burden that even I cannot be bothered to care for. Please God, let this woman walk past me.
The once celebratory crowd was silent. After a few seconds a gentleman spoke up and said, “So this isn’t a cookbook?”
Good writing should make a personal connection with you, grab you and hold onto you. And that night in my audience maybe half of these people were over 60 years old and I’m certain they were thinking “Good God, in a few years that could be me in that wheelchair.”
When our restaurant was open I had posted an essay on our website, a story about our wonderful Jack Russell terrier, Bonnie, and the trauma involved with having to put her down after agonizing over the decision. She was 15 and her condition had deteriorated to the point that it was the only humane option left. A few days later I posted my story and within five days we had received dozens of sympathy cards in the mail. I was hurting and my friends wanted me to know that they cared and that they had endured similar decisions with their pets. I had really made a personal connection with my readers and customers, much like I had last Saturday night.
I would imagine all of us would like to grow old amongst our families, so that when we begin to lose control of our faculties, we are surrounded by people that love and care for us, however the reality could be the opposite. If we end up in a retirement home, no matter how pricey that home is, will we have someone to wipe the crumbs off of our chins, not because they’re paid to, but because it’s the right thing to do? I pray that the answer is yes.