Ah, me. Here I sit in my recliner, hairy golden Lhasa Apso Noga under my right elbow. I’m sixty years old. Sixty years old! The half-way point. How did that happen?
It happened long, and it happened fast. I have lived very fast. I have lived several lives in tandem. If you added it up, I’d be at least 180. So I shouldn’t complain about a bit of arthritis here and there, and that my skin seems to be attempting to slide off my bones onto the floor.
Yeah. I was watching G4 skiing the other day. I never watch TV unless I’m at my parents’. For one thing, I don’t have one. For another, I think it’s a waste of my time. I have books to write, blogs to write, paperwork not to get done.
Where was I? Ah yes, G4 in Park City, Utah. I lived in northern Utah for two years. It was heaven, in a way. Everyone walked around in spurs, like Chester in Gunsmoke. Jingle, jingle. I walked around in spurs too. Don’t ever squat with your spurs on!
I brought four of my 19 horses with me when we moved from the horse farm in Ohio out to Utah. We lived in a suburban neighborhood. Instead of manicured back yards people had barns and horse corrals. Us too. You’d look out the window and see somebody riding a horse down the street. It was surreal. Pretty soon I was doing it myself.
Everyone but us was Mormon. I’m used to being the only Hebrew in a Christian environment, but I have never lived in a completely homogeneous population before. It was like a pure culture. That was their intention. They were fascinating people, and I learned a lot from them.
One of the things I learned about was a little-known ski area that was just for the locals. It had over 4000 acres of skiable terrain, 2200 of which were groomed. The rest back bowl.
I started on the Bunny Hill. I learned by watching the three-year-olds fearlessly snowplowing around, without poles. Then I decided to take a lesson.
The instructor took me right up to the top of the mountain. You had to ride three different ski lifts to get there. It was snowing so hard I couldn’t see my skis hanging on the footrest.
I had never been on a real ski lift before, only rope tows. A real ski lift requires swift and precise action to get on and off, if one does not want to find oneself face down in the snow. Getting on was terrifying; getting off, heart-stopping. Every time.
I got addicted and ended up skiing five days a week, from 11 to 2, during ski season, which goes from late September to June, sometimes July, there. Nothing like it. No-thing. Like. It. It’s like flying, falling down a hill standing up (mostly).
What does this have to do with being at the crossroads of everything? We Hebes, when someone has a birthday, we say “Ad Meah v’Esrim” which means “you should live to be a hundred and twenty,” which is the age Moses lived to be. I always add, “B’simcha ve’rav bri’ut,” “with happiness and abundant good health.” So here I sit at sixty. The half-way point between zero and 120. And I wonder what will be. Could it be a new beginning? Or the beginning of the end?
It says in the Torah that Moses retained the strength of a youth until his dying day.
Well, I am sad to say that ain’t the case with me.
Some of it’s my own fault, because lately I have become a lazy slug. When I wasn’t a lazy slug, I was tearing around on skis and horses and acquiring my share of bangs, biffs, knees surgeries, wrist surgeries, oh hell, I get bored with the list. A good deal of my physical debility is due to some weird autoimmune plague that has not been pinned down, but several doctors have told me that whatever it is has to be autoimmune. OK. I don’t give a rat’s ass what’s causing my immune system to crash and burn–I am the only person I know who has had FIVE HIV tests–all of them negative. I just want to be able to pick myself up and do whatever I want to, like I used to.
If I could just wake up and see that ol’ chair lift coming at me right at waist level, I’d know I was dead and jump right on that thing. Woo-hoo! Take me to the blue slopes, please, the blacks hurt my knees.
So who the hell cares about skiing but me? Who cares about Latin dancing, camping trips on horseback in Montana, Idaho, Colorado, Utah…who cares about that shit besides me? Probably nobody.
I really don’t want to live to 120. I think 74 is a good age to go. The Vedic astrologer (we Hebes are not supposed to go in for things that belong to other religions, but hey, I’m an anthropologist and besides I’m not so observant as I once was)– the Vedic astrologer who did my chart when I was in India gave me between 72 and 74.
That would be fine. I don’t want to live a real long time, because the toll this disease has taken on my body and my mind makes me weary. What can I do to break out of this state of the doldrums?
I guess I could get another horse; but it has to be a Peruvian Paso like the one I used to have, Joe Crow. Man, he was an equine ATV. One time we got chased by a Basque shepherd in the High Uintas range in Utah. The Uintas are one of the very few mountain ranges that run East-West. Anyway, I was riding Joe with my 130 lb. German Shepherd, Nero, by my side. We came upon a herd of sheep, guarded by two enormous Great Pyrenees dogs. They’re pure white, about the size of a St. Bernard, and they take their job as herd guardians seriously.
Nero wanted to go confabulate with them a bit, but I could tell from the murderous looks in their eyes that that was not a good idea, so I called him back.
Just happened to be a shepherd on horseback around the bend, who heard me, and came after me with a lecherous look in his eye. The Basques don’t bring their women with them when they go out shepherding for weeks at a time, living in caravans that look like a wine cask stuck on the back of a truck. So when this one saw me, he came after me at a dead gallop.
Joe did his signature 180 turn and took off like the devil was after him (he was), and when we hit the trail into the forest, the one we had just come out of, Joe took a sharp right and went straight up the mountainside. Nero was right there with us. Joe stopped in a grove of trees, heaving, and we watched the shepherd try to get his horse to follow our trail straight up. If I hadn’t been so freaked out I would have laughed.
After a fruitless while, the shepherd desisted and meandered back toward his sheep, and Joe picked his way down the mountainside. Joe was a horse who could take over the wheel when need be.
We headed back toward camp at a fair clip, and my heart stopped pounding in my ears and went back down in my chest to pound. Suddenly Joe pulled up short and froze. There, in the middle of the trail at eye level, was the enormous head and rack of a bull moose. Do you know how deadly moose are? Cow moose with calves are the most dangerous, but a bull moose, especially in rutting season, is very happy to run you over like a locomotive.
Curiously, the moose and Joe seemed to be having a conversation. The moose was not at all interested in me. After they had talked over whatever it was, Mr. Moose courteously moved aside to let Joe, Nero and I pass. The rest of the trip was uneventful, thank God.
And do you know what? That was 15 years ago. 15 years ago I was in top physical condition, and I didn’t even know it. A lot of my energy was driven by hypomania, ah, that delightful state of feeling immortal! And of course I got myself fired from my job in Utah, and instead of doing what I should have done, which was to go into partnership with a couple in Park City (another ski town in Utah) when they invited me, I decided it was time to try living near my parents again, and came to North Carolina–the first time. That was in ’98.
But I could still do anything, anything at all, so I built a solo pediatrics practice from the ground up. I like to do that sort of thing. And I worked there in state somehow melding devastating depression and blissful contentment until a missionary group bought my hospital, and my building, and kicked me out, and I had a breakdown and had to go to the hospital and have never been the same since. That was in 2000.
So much has happened since–it does seem like several more lives have passed, some frenetic, some catatonic. Now I’m a card-carrying recluse. It suits my suddenly-elderly Aspie temperament. One small dog, no indoor plumbing, quiet except for the roar of the river on the small waterfall beneath my window, and the God-awful hooting of the damn trains that run on the other side of the river.
What’s going to happen next? Dad is nearing the end of his life. When he leaves the planet, then I have to do something with Mom and the museum that serves them for a house. And then, back Home. Jerusalem. My Home. But my faith is weak: what, I ask myself, if we lose Jerusalem once more, and then there is no more Home? What if my health betrays me, and I can’t manage the hard life there? Life in Israel is very rough. It’s unforgiving, physically, and the spiritual power that rests over all of it and especially Jerusalem, can either make you or break you. So far for me, it’s about Jerusalem 5, me 1, but at least I have a toehold.
And now I feel that I am standing at that ol’ Robert Johnson crossroads, looking the devilin the eye. They say that Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads, and made that “devil’s deal” with him: if you make me the best blues guitarist ever, then my soul is yours. The devil laughed, and made it so. Johnson rocketed from being a novice player to a master musician in two years (of course he practiced a lot ). Robert Johnson lived to be 27 years old, but according to Eric Clapton, who with his band Cream covered Crossroads, he was, by the time of his death from unclear yet certainly sinister causes, the greatest blues guitarist in history.
Standing at the crossroads, what will I do? We Hebrews do not believe in a “devil,” so to speak. I believe we live or die by our own hand: the “hand” we’re dealt at birth–genetics, temperament, intelligence, social situation, and so on–and our own “hand,” which is what we do with what we’ve been handed. The hotter the fire, the quicker the fuel is burned up. And my fire has burned mighty hot. I don’t feel like there’s much left in me. I feel as if my 120 year allotment has been folded in half, and I’m standing at the crossroads looking out into deep space, wondering what is going to happen to me.