Death Wishes


‘That’s a hell of an ambition, to be mellow. It’s like wanting to be senile.’ Randy Newman

If, opines my octogenarian acquaintance, after the age of 60 you wake up and the majority of your body is not in some way painful, there is only one answer: you are dead. I am in the zone: I hurt, therefore I am. My grandmother died at 80-odd. She lived with us and I still see her pink bloomers, unimaginably voluminous, the antithesis of lingerie, soggy and anaphrodisiac on the line. Forty years out of the old country she still worried as to the imminence of the Russian army, coming to drag her brothers to war and calculated distances in the fenland cathedral city in versts. Her husband had died a decade earlier; I was not aware of any search for a replacement. I would, I believe, have been shocked. She was not ‘grey’, nor ‘third age’, she was simply old. You didn’t do that kind of thing.

And you certainly didn’t do this:

SMART, SOPHISTICATED, AND PRETTY with trim, 5’5” athletic figure, great legs and beautiful shoulder-length hair. Lobbyist—non-profit and cultural. Worldly, articulate and curious live wire, gracious hostess. Unabashedly loyal, very able to poke fun at myself and believe nothing is better than a good laugh. Divorced, Jewish. Open and fun, good cook, passionate gardener, speak lousy French. Music-lover, dog person. Enjoy Beethoven, Haydn, nonfiction, B&B’s, politics, China, Prague, ice cream. Seeking wonderful man, 62–70, affectionate, non-smoking, successful.

Welcome, though many readers will already know it, to the personals column of that bastion of liberal intellect, the East Coast elite incarnate, the hand-garnered sea-salt in the Tea Party’s processed white sugar bowl, the New York Review of Books. Perhaps the most up-market small ads in the world. Shameless, self-promoting, almost tangibly hot to trot. Forget ‘grey panthers’, these are the ‘frisky cougars’, as one has styled herself. That most terrifying of species, Manhattan’s DJFs: the divorced Jewish female.

Sensual, slender, intellectually inquisitive and fun-loving they may be – and I do but quote – but they are not growing old gracefully. But who is. Old age is not for sissies as my friend the dealer (once drugs, then rugs, now . . . whatever) puts it. The cougars of Central Park maintain their claws.

Frankly, they scare me. All so perfect, so cultured, so athletic, so outgoing, such great cooks, travellers, conversationalists. And, read between those expensive lines (because this stuff doesn’t appear at a penny under six bucks a word and these ads are long), still ready for a little action between the sheets. Because they want, every one of them, a mensch. And a mensch, trust me, does not come without a schlong. And I look down the columns – how can one not – and I realise that at 62 I am in their crosshairs. OK, I’m 3000 miles away, and I’m a little young, but these girls gotta have fun.

OK, maybe they’re not all divorced, nor even ‘J’. But no matter. If they’re not divorced then they’re solo artistes, or widows as they don’t put it. WJFs. So where’s hubby. Maybe he preferred the next column across, the ‘Personal Services’ ads, the ‘aural erotica with a naughty raconteur’, the ‘erotic explosion’ that ‘blows your mind’. And died on the job, happy maybe, prematurely, no argument. Or was it all back home. Live with these women and forget the slippers and grandchildren: it’s kama sutra time every night and devil take your twingeing prostate. Or was it that other Yiddish word: balebuste, once used of a certain brand of wife. My dictionary tells me it means hausfrau or proprietress. It also means a female boss. To me it sounds like ball-buster.

Mellow fruitfulness? Enough already. Don’t look at me, girls: I’m a smoker.

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