"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Monday, July 19, 2021

How Much Tread Left On The Tires? Joe Biden Pushing 80, Hoping To Keep The Rubber On The Road

Melvin Hatch was about to reach his eightieth birthday - an unwelcome milestone after which the road would surely be gravelly, rutted, and without issue.

“Oh, no”, said his wife of many years who all-suffering still loved him and said, “Numbers can lie”. Since his hemoglobin, PSA, LDL, heart rate, pulse, and lipids were in the good range, he had many long, productive years ahead of him.

Of course when he woke up every morning, faced with the reality of the few actuarial years ahead of him, and depressed and unencouraged by any counsel, there was only the undeniable fact that he was on his way to nowhere.

Hindus had their existential ducks lined up properly from the very beginning – the world was nothing but illusion, maya, not to be trusted and to be ignored.  The only true purpose in life was spiritual development and enlightenment.  Secular ends and the compromising means to attain them were frivolous deceptions. Better to live life simply, piously, and attentively to one’s soul.  

Yet despite years in India, praying on the banks of the Ganges at Hardwar, performing pujas at the ancient Trilok Sundar Mandir temple, and trekking to the holiest of holies shrine at Sarnath, Melvin was no nearer enlightenment than he was when he was selling clothes at Bernstein’s.

Image result for Images Dancing Shiva. Size: 189 x 106. Source: www.youtube.com

One morning, deep in an existential, actuarial funk, Melvin saw the President on the morning news – vacant stare, pasted on smile, Nixonian celebratory wave – and said, “He’s my age.”

Melvin could never imagine himself back in the men’s department let alone on a Presidential podium.  His days of selling two-pants suits, acrylic and plastic weave Armani knock-offs to Patterson matrons were over and done with. Retirement in Mantoloking  – a chaise lounge recliner in the backyard, a Mets game on the radio, Schlitz in the cooler, and Ball Park franks on the grill - was nothing to write home about, but at least it was a reasonably just reward. Imagine having to focus on interest rates, court decisions, and the Taliban! What was Biden thinking?

Of course he wasn’t thinking.  Since Melvin found it difficult to remember who played for whom, whose single drove in what runs, and who was on first, he could imagine the President’s fog when sorting out which Syrian rebel group belonged to Iran and which to Turkey.  

Just as he had no clue what OBP, WHIP and any of the other, new baseball metrics meant, he was sure that the President mixed up orbital accelerated thrust with grade inflation.

Not only that, he wondered how the President could keep his mind from the great unknown, the void, the dark end of the tunnel – a preoccupation which usually edged everything aside. That must be the reason why he is president, Melvin concluded.

Of course he had no idea how the President got through his day.  Biden indeed woke up with the same, nagging, existential thoughts of the Beyond, but was so hurriedly hustled through his toilette that he had no time to linger.  Before he knew it, he was face to face with ‘that woman’ who was coiffed, made up, rouged, and lipsticked, ready to face the day.  “And how are we today?”, she asked. 

Image result for images kamala harris big laugh

He thought of LBJ who held advisory meetings on the toilet, squeezing out a hard one while considering Hanoi, so confident and self-assured was he that no one, nothing, or no way could intimidate him; and there was Biden sitting in the bed in front of that woman.

Ivan Ilyich, the main character in Tolstoy’s short story of the same name, faced death with unsettling fear.  Once he accepted the fact that his days on earth were numbered, he had to face the fact that not only had his life been not worth a sou, but he had no idea whatever what was coming next.  He had never had time or interest to think about death or the afterlife.  He had been too busy, too immersed in his life of marriage, family friends, and occupation to let his mind wander to unsubstantial, far off concerns.  Now with his death as certain as a cold rain and his expectations about God frighteningly nil, it was time to wake up and die right.  Yet, he had no idea how. 

Image result for images tolstoy story ivan ilyich

Melvin was in the same boat. He had spent his entire life scratching and scrambling to get ahead, floor manager perhaps or even higher, but so hemmed in by piles of double-knits and ersatz wool suits that he couldn’t make heads nor tails of his occupational trajectory let alone death.

There was the President, Melvin thought, on the red carpet, at the podium, ready to speak to the crowd, while here he was looking for his slippers.

The President gave his signature smile, adjusted his aviator sunglasses, looked out at the ten deep crowd, and began.  “My fellow Americans”, he said, “It is indeed a pleasure….”; but just as he waved to the crowd, serious buzzing could be heard under the soundstage – a buzzing which quickly turned to snapping and crackling and then to a fiery banging and popping.  

Now, Kennedy would have laughed, joked, and emerged from the Sturm und Drang a hero – an unshakable man, the equal of any event or enemy; but Biden looked like a deer caught in the headlights, stunned, perplexed, and overcome.  He waited for his handlers who were now scurrying for cover; but only found himself surrounded by the Secret Service until the Vice President scrambled up the steps, took the dead microphone from the President’s grip, and reassured the crowd.  “Everything is under control”, she said. 

Image result for images deer in the headlights look

The President was whisked off the stage, hustled into the Presidential limo, and the scene was left to the Vice President whom CNN praised for her quick thinking and take-charge presence.

“What would I have done?”, wondered Melvin as he changed the channel, returning to thoughts of being 80 and finding his slippers.  “Not my problem”, he thought as he rummaged under the bed.

Life was actually quite good for the President, Melvin considered.  Around the bend, not sure of what’s what, unpreoccupied with either existential doubt or national interests, he was eating filet mignon, slipping under silk sheets at night, warmly awakened by is courtiers at his levee, eating  properly poached eggs and toast, and having others attend to business. At that rate, the years would pass quickly and pleasantly and before he knew it, the President would be back on his chaise lounge on a Rehoboth beach.

In the final accounting the two men were not that dissimilar, particularly since they were ending up in the same place.  Wobbly, forgetful, patchy memory, lack of concentration, overweening love for their grandchildren, and unaware of little else.

The Jews thought they had it right when they penned the famous aphorism, ‘Too soon old, too late schmart’, but they were wrong.  There was nothing to be smart about, nothing at all.

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