Old people are interesting.
Take my great uncle, for example. He’s 91 — moved to America when he was about 60. For the past 30-some years, he’s watched every Kansas City Royals baseball game — 162 a year. He keeps score of the game in a little notepad made of old calendars; he hand-draws the box score. Sure, the Royals are the worst team in baseball but he still watches each game.
Baseball is a very controlled game. To quote a horrible baseball movie, “Fever Pitch,” baseball is orderly. “Win or lose, it’s fair. It all adds up. It’s, like, not as confusing or as ambiguous.”
My grandpa in Korea is the protective type. When my brother and I were young, we were playing in the yard when I spotted an iguana in the rose bush. I told my grandpa, and he pushed us inside. I peeked out the window: Grandpa grabbed the garden shears and stomped toward the iguana. When the shears came out of the rose bush, they were red — I never found out what he cut.
But he made us believe it was the iguana. He made us believe that he protected us, and that’s all he needed.
Last weekend, at my cousin Grace’s wedding, my cousin Jennifer walked down the aisle as a bridesmaid. Right as she passed us, my great aunt yelled, “Her boobs are so big!”
Of all the old people I know, my great aunt is the happiest when she sees me. She always says I’m her favorite and, to show me her love, she makes me fried dumplings — hundreds at a time. I like them OK, but I tell her I love them because I like to let her know she can make me happy. And she does.
Korean culture teaches that respect is gained by being old. So by sitting in your seat and aging, people will start serving your drinks and bowing at your feet every New Year’s Day. Maybe that’s why I’ve always been partial to the elderly — my parents always taught me they’re wise. So I’ve always listened closely to old people.
When I was editor of NYU’s student paper, I especially listened closely to our advisor. He was a nice old man named Dick Blood. I’m not sure if he ever realized how vulgar his name was, but everyone quickly forgot once he opened his mouth. He once told me, “Alvin, you have the wisdom of ancient Asia.”
When we laughed, he loved it.
Louise lives in my building on the fifth floor. Louise is 80-something, and she weighs about four times that — the sweet old woman reminds me a lot of Ziggy. My building has no elevator and the stairs are crooked so, being that shape, it takes Louise 30 minutes to come down from her apartment and 45 minutes to go back up. She rests at the bottom of each set of stairs. She refuses to go into a nursing home.
I want to help her but, once, I offered to help her up — maybe hold her hand or something. She said sarcastically, “You gonna carry me up?”
I think, as you get older, you generally start caring less about what other people think. My grandma was that way.
I stayed with her at the hospital a few times, and she couldn’t go to the bathroom by herself so the nurses came to help. At first, she was mad that they tried to help her do such basic things, but she eventually let them do whatever they wanted.
But that also meant that, in her own time, she’d do things that no one ever saw just for the sake of doing it. Occasionally, we’d stumble upon them and smile.
When she died last summer, we put her Bible in the casket. As we opened the Bible, a bookmark fell out — it was a picture of me.