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Living with Brain Dandruff

The Journal of Prevarication
By Jim Cook
Official State Liar of Arizona

The late Frank Snell, a prominent Phoenix lawyer, told of the two elderly men who met on the street.  One asked the other, “Your brother died?”


The first man asked, “Which one are you?” 

When Snell was 92, he urged me to put together a book of old-folks jokes. He said I’d make a killing. 

I started collecting geriatric gags. Then e-mail came along, and you didn’t need a book to find old-folks jokes. My contemporaries (69 to 100, and still breathing) keep me well supplied: funny jokes, off-color jokes, boastful lies about the glories of aging, anything to disguise the fact that we’re wearing out.

If you’re lucky enough to live this long,  you start to acquire an education in geriatrics, whether you want it or not.  

The quote “If I’d known I’d live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself” has been attributed to everyone from Methuselah to Mickey Mantle. (Mark Twain didn’t say it, although he admitted  before he died that he had a “tobacco heart.”  Reports of the things Twain said have been greatly exaggerated.)

The slogan has been adopted by many,  in an age of medical mechanics that didn’t exist when we were younger.   At the pharmacy, a fellow customer will say, “If I’d known I’d live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself,” like he just thought of it.

I am a creature of good genes, but bad habits.  I don’t drink anymore, or smoke, and I’m a recovering Republican. Given past wear and tear, I’m a monument to the miracles of modern medicine.

I have the heart of a grizzly bear, the soul of a 17-year-old, the mind of an international spy,  the lungs of a coal miner and the upper body strength of a 98-year-old woman.

For the first twenty years of my life, I rarely saw a doctor.  We lived in remote locations where there were no doctors, and small towns where there were few sober doctors. Money was scarce, so most times, we just got well.

Around age 40, my bad habits started catching up with me. In   recent years, I have spent more time in doctors’ offices, hospitals,  clinics and twelve-step programs than I spent in the sixth grade. 

I watch TV commercials pushing drugs for exotic diseases, and hear of bizarre ailments that afflict friends, and I think, “Thank God I haven’t caught that–yet.”   

Not long ago, I was back at Good Samaritan Hospital, where I was born almost 73 years ago. A nurse was taking my medical history.  I was self-conscious about all the things I’m being treated for.  She was counting the things that aren’t wrong with me, and finally declared, “You’re pretty healthy.”  Hold that thought. 

In the past nine months, I’ve had a stent installed in my heart.  I had cataracts removed from both eyes, after I thought I saw a rattlesnake on the patio, and beheaded my garden hose.

The south end of my body has been subjected to various indignities. There is no prettier word than “benign.” 

Dementia has not yet reared its ugly…say, is that a chicken on your shoulder? 

Doctors say there’s no known cure for my newest ailment, cerebral psuedo exfoliation.  In layman’s terms, that’s brain dandruff.

Brain dandruff is not fatal, but it is becoming more common. Doctors assure me that pharmaceutical companies will surely seize the chance to sell more drugs. I can’t wait to hear the breathless legal disclaimer at the end of the commercials: “Side effects may include blindness, incontinence, embarrassing  rashes, rabies, a chicken on your shoulder, and in rare cases, the loss of one or more limbs.”

Brain dandruff is merely clutter, detritus that accumulates with age. Like most of my other ailments, it’s self-inflicted.  I’m a news junkie, and a political junkie, and I love to look up trivial facts on the Internet. I have dealt with information all my life, and I’m pretty good at knowing the difference between misinformation (bull dandruff) and real information.

All of this data and misdata has fallen into the crack between my left brain and my right brain. The two have stopped communicating with each other, much like Congress.

I hope that Merck or Pfizer will come up with something that acts like a mental purgative, so that my synapses will begin synapsing again.  And I hope Medicare covers it.

Last 5 posts by Jim Cook

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