Read Old Man Scanlon

Gold Watch

20 April 2017

My barber admits he’s tired. His quote retirement unquote has been to work four days a week instead of six, and now he’s cutting down to three. It’s his first day back after a couple of months off—heart attack, grueling, sleepless days in the hospital—and has returned a week earlier than his doctor recommends. We admire from a safe distance the virtue of a work ethic like his, or at least acknowledge its rarity, and say, all pious, that the world would be a better place if it were universal. But every month I catch a glimpse that makes me think that his vocation is not the sole source of meaning in his life. His wife tends a garden in front of his shop. He walks his dog between haircuts, indulging it like a grandchild, travels, maintains his property. I judge that he’s not going to be one of those sad cases whose existence unravels when he ceases work and dies within a year, yet the reduction in hours troubles me. It diminishes him.

He and I are of an age. Our bodily infirmity thwarts our will more often than our will masters our body. We prevail only temporarily. Each encounter with mortality weakens us, each rebound is not as high as the last. Only a youngster’s damn fool fantasy, playing off his delusion of invulnerability, holds that what doesn’t kill him makes him stronger. When the old Azorean scuffs around the chair, barely resisting gravity, I hear death.