The Old Gray Stallion Ain
The Old Gray Stallion Ain't What He Used to Be
The orthopedist thought he was reassuring me. I had gone to him with a bump on my left shoulder, a small deformity that had only recently appeared. On first seeing it in the hot tub my dear wife squealed, "What's that!" That, the good doctor tells me, is old age. He didn't say it quite like that. What he said by way of diagnosis was, "It's an arthritic cist." Ganglia gone bad.
I first blamed it on too many push-ups thrice weekly. Then it dawned on me that it might be a late-appearing consequence of that fall in May outside the U. S. Law Tennis Association building in Flushing meadow, the night the Mets beat the Yankees. That mishap did lacerate my temple and bruise my eyebrow.
But, no, I'm just growing older. No sense in doing anything about the bump: lance it and it will return. Best just to admit I'm seventy-five and shelve the vanity. And be grateful the swelling is asymptomatic and merely unsightly.
Coincidentally I've been reading Cervantes' Don Quixote again, in preparation for a Road Scholar class at Williams College next week. The knight errant in an unchivalrous age sallied forth to right wrongs astride his inglorious mount, Rozinante. The old sway-backed steed is described thus: "he had more corners than a rial" which, a footnote explains, "is a coin of very irregular shape... [because the horse's] bones stuck out like the corners of a Spanish rial."
Rozinante is my cousin in irregular corners. Waiting (interminably, it seemed) in the orthopedist's office I toted up the wounds suffered and bones broken or otherwise compromised during my own jousts on this journey from and toward eternity. The two knees you know about, or should, since I have frequently bored you with accounts of my bilateral surgery, the half-century old injuries necessitating it and the miraculous consequences following it. But I fear I have insufficiently bored you with the details of: thrice torn ligaments in my right ankle, a busted right thumb, a green-stick fracture of the right wrist, and a a torn right bicep.
It's a wonder I can still stand, let alone climb a ladder. Naked I am shaped like a Spanish rial. Like Rozinante.
Years and years ago Cardinal Cushing (remember him?), JFK's Boston Irish spiritual advisor, likened himself to a beast of burden. Right: a jackass. I had no luck in a cursory search on Google for confirmation of the forthcoming anecdote, but it has the ring of truth considering the cardinal's fey sense of humor. The occasion for the quote was probably Palm Sunday when Jesus' entry into Jerusalem is sometimes reenacted by dramatically-inclined Christians. (Friend Austin Armitstead has participated in such events on the streets of Jackson Heights.) Cushing drew a parallel between the first Palm Sunday and the observance in his moment, noting that both times the Lord arrived on a jackass, then on a donkey co-opted for the occasion, this time using an archbishop. The observation was at once funny, humble, and accurate.
And it's a notion truer to the Gospel vision of Jesus than most of the supercharged depictions of the Galilean, as if he were one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse and not (what he was... and is) the Son of man who had nowhere to lay his head.
When I stand in front of the mirror in all of my naked unglory, as I am occasioned to do thrice weekly at the gym following a shower, I shall henceforth take stock of my many-cornered, battered and beaten, swollen and scarred physique, smile, and whisper, "Ah, Rozinante," a tender reminder of my own fifty years of jackasshood for Jesus.