Shut up and deal

I take pills—six daily, seven on Fridays—that keep me alive. They constitute the gentlest and least intrusive of medical regimens, for they have no obvious side effects, and I can skip them for days at a time without immediately dire consequences. It’s absurd of me to resent them. Yet I do, on occasion intensely so, and I know why: as King Lear said, they smell of mortality.

RoadToNoTo be sure, I also know that I’m fifty-eight years old, and I don’t have a problem with that undeniable fact. (Well, not much of one.) But I do have a great big problem with the fact that I’m going to die sooner or later, and having to take pills three times a day is like driving down a highway of indeterminate length along which billboards reading MEMENTO MORI are posted at hundred-mile intervals. No matter how pretty the scenery is, you’re bound to wonder how much gas is left in the tank, or whether you’ll be driving off an unmarked cliff up around the next bend.

All that said, it’s childish of me to object to my thrice-daily reminder of the Dark Encounter, just as it was childish for me to be irked when, a number of years ago, my dentist had to pull one of my back molars. It was a relatively painless ordeal of blessedly brief duration, but when it was over, there was a hole in my head where none had been before. An invisible hole, mind you, and nobody needs to tell me that I’m the furthest thing from beautiful, much less perfect. Still, it was there, and I hated it for that, though I forgot about it soon enough.

About my pills, by contrast, there can be no forgetting, and nobody needs to tell me that the only proper attitude to take toward them is a thoroughly dignified stoicism. But while stoicism seems admirable at first glance—Tom Wolfe preached its virtues quite memorably in A Man in Full—it fails, like light multi-grain English muffins, to convince. At best it reduces to the “gentleman’s code” of which Johnny Mercer made mention in “One for My Baby,” and the ultimate inadequacy of such codes was painfully well known to the narrator of that desperate song. It’s also been the subject of no small amount of cruel fun, of which this line from Dogville is noteworthy: “I’m going to break two of your figurines first, and if you can demonstrate your knowledge of the doctrine of stoicism by holding back your tears, I’ll stop. Have you got that?”

Even more to the point is this insufficiently remembered exchange between Jeeves and Bertie Wooster in The Mating Season:

“I was endeavouring to convey my appreciation of the fact that your position is in many respects somewhat difficult, sir. But I wonder if I might call your attention to an observation of the Emperor Marcus Aurelius? He said: ‘Does anything befall you? It is good. It is part of the destiny of the universe ordained for you from the beginning. All that befalls you is part of the great web.’”

I breathed a bit stertorously. “He said that, did he?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Well, you can tell him from me he’s an ass.”

NO-40520That he is—or He, if you prefer it that way. Nevertheless, it is ever and always juvenile to kick against the Big Prick of mortality, especially when you know people for whom the clock is ticking far faster than you. Taking pills three times a day beats the living hell out of chemotherapy, and though we have it on the very best of poetic authority that death is “no different whined at than withstood,” I know that nobody as lucky as I’ve been and (so far) continue to be has any business whining about anything at all, ever.

So shame on me for griping about the wholly unmixed blessing of being able to keep my hypertension under control without having to do anything more than take a modest handful of pills each week and see my doctor with reasonable regularity. You can consider this posting an act of public contrition, the postmodern equivalent of spending twenty minutes in the stocks, there to be pelted with rotten vegetables. Feel free to fling them enthusiastically and at will.

* * *

Frank Sinatra sings “One for My Baby” on The Frank Sinatra Show in 1958:

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So you want to see a show?

Here’s my list of recommended Broadway, off-Broadway, and out-of-town shows, updated weekly. In all cases, I gave these shows favorable reviews (if sometimes qualifiedly so) in The Wall Street Journal when they opened. For more information, click on the title.

BROADWAY:
Cabaret (musical, PG-13/R, nearly all performances sold out last week, closes Jan. 4, reviewed here)
A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder (musical, PG-13, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Oona Laurence in Matilda at the Sam S Shubert theatreMatilda (musical, G, all performances sold out last week, reviewed here)
Les Misérables (musical, G, too long and complicated for young children, reviewed here)
Once (musical, G/PG-13, reviewed here)

OFF BROADWAY:
The Fantasticks (musical, G, suitable for children capable of enjoying a love story, reviewed here)

IN NIAGARA-ON-THE-LAKE, ONTARIO:
Arms and the Man (comedy, G/PG-13, closes Oct. 18, reviewed here)
The Sea (black comedy, PG-13, closes Oct. 26, closes Oct. 12, reviewed here)
When We Are Married (comedy, PG-13, closes Oct. 26, reviewed here)

IN SPRING GREEN, WIS.:
The Doctor’s Dilemma (comedy, G/PG-13, closes Oct. 3, reviewed here)
The Seagull (drama, G/PG-13, closes Sept. 20, reviewed here)

CLOSING SUNDAY IN WESTPORT, CONN.:
Things We Do for Love (serious comedy, PG-13/R, reviewed here)

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Almanac: William Haggard on making the most of middle age

INK BOTTLE“He’d been thinking about late middle age, the years which a generous God and good health now offered. They could be fruitful years before death knocked, or a sterile barren decay before the cold. It all depended on how you handled them. It was absurd, no doubt, to pretend to be young: after thirty years of desk work it would be ludicrous to start waving guns. Charles Russell didn’t intend to. What he intended was a calculated avoidance, the avoidance of too much discipline and of over-rigid habits. At sixty one wasn’t elastic still, one had one’s little drills for things and was fully entitled to do so. They made life simpler, they spun out leisure, but what was very dangerous was when the drill became its own reward, not the muddle avoided, the moment saved, but the deadly satisfaction of having completed some trifle efficiently. If that was the trap of old age, its threshold, then Russell had seen it and wouldn’t step over.”

William Haggard, The Hardliners

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