The orthopedist just told me if I want the knee to quit giving me a fit, absolutely no yoga, Zumba, or hiking for three months, it’s enough already, I should grow up, act my age, forget about trying to be like my teen-age daughter, what’s next, he asks me, a stud in my nose and an Ed Hardy hoodie?Well I figure a vanilla venti quad-shot latte might console me however momentarily when I run into Noel. A regular at the Safeway Starbucks, he hits on me—as usual. And—as usual, I politely ignore his overture though I do tell him how sharp he seems for someone ninety-five.
“Honey,” he grins, “this here brain ain’t the only thing what’s still workin’, you see what I am sayin’!” He narrows his once-blue now-rheumy eyes at me. “I have always had a hankerin’ for Jewish gals and if you are, girlie, why, you’d better start a-runnin’!”
Noel is still well over six feet. He has baby-ass-smooth pink skin and a mane of thick ivory hair. I ask is it his own and he yanks at it proudly. “Walmart, five bucks!” he jokes, then smirks: “None of that fake stuff for me, Nosir, wouldn’t be caught dead lookin’ like Joe Biden or Billy Bob neither. Never see me, sistergirl, wearin’ a piece like that—humph! That Billy Bob, tryin’ to look all matinee idol-like in that Ball Monster movie carryin’ on something _awful _with that skinny colored gal!” He swigs his Gingerbread latte. “Think about it, honey, at my age, I am aimin’ to please! Plus, I got me swell genes!”
“Jewish gals, they talk too much but, honey!—they are smart!” Noel hoots at the Safeway Starbucks two days later. “So you’re Jewish, huh. Not that you look it, darlin’. You have your nose fixed?” he inquires, clearly disappointed when I say I haven’t. “Must be some Cossack come after your great-grandmamma on the Baltic Sea!” he cackles when I say my father’s family came from Latvia. “I know,” Noel says importantly, “cause my granddaddy, see, was part Russian and he told me how his ancestors used to chase after them Jewish gals cause they’s lots more interestin’, uh huh.”
Noel was a lawyer before retiring. Personal Injury. “Kind you practice,” Noel sniffs, “when you’re too goddamned greedy to do any other kind of law that’s more honorable!” He’s had five wives—divorced three, outlived two—and his current girlfriend Hilda, fourteen years Noel’s junior, has gone into a home down in Chandler. “Bah” he snuffles. “Shoulda never gotten mixed up with this one, can’t even make an omelet. Let me tell you, girlie, a decent omelet’s the mark of a good woman. Thanksgiving Day, why, Hilda, she goes and falls and breaks her hip, hell if I need that, sistergirl!”
A week later, I’m waiting for my daily high-octane fix when Noel’s son Vern walks over to say howdy. When I ask Vern where Noel is, Vern shakes his head. “Poor Dad.” he says. I wait as Vern explains. “Crazy old man, he wakes me up three AM. ‘Get up, boy! I want a second opinion!’ About what?” I ask Dad who answers: ‘About why I can’t drive _no more!’ I say, calmly as I can, Dad, you can’t drive because, well, for starters, you don’t even know where the _Wal-Mart is.” And Dad answers, ‘…what’s Wal-Mart…? Vern pauses. “You know Dad. Always joking.”
When Noel stops coming to the Safeway Starbucks, that’s the day I understand: the only constant in life is that there isn’t one and Noel’s swell genes turned out to be not so hot just like everybody else’s.
That night, after I filch my daughter’s Ed Hardy hoodie, I do a two-fer at the gym: Zumba back to back with Power Yoga.
A couple days later, at Noel’s Quaker celebration, safe behind pretentious, oversized sunglasses, I sing “Jerusalem, My Happy Home” with Vern and all the other mourners. And I pray that wherever Noel is, he can once again find the local Wal-Mart and maybe even a decent latte.