Every now and then, though, the universe kicks me in the butt and says, "You ain't who you used to be, oh, formerly graceful one; runner and yoga master; judo, aikido and karate master (if pink belts count); great ballroom dancer; master of stage and podium."
Same trip, later that night, I realized I had forgotten the pack with the dog food and can opener, plus the eating utensils for us. Back at the store, I felt pretty clever finding two full-sized cans of Alpo with a pull top; no opener needed. I did buy some plastic forks, however. Once again, a sweet young thing opened her register just for me and asked me to be first in line. I was in the parking lot before I figured out what could have changed her face from smiley to sad: I had just purchased two cans of dog food and forks.
The real topper happened a few months later around Christmas time in Utah. I was waiting for my wife and daughter, perfectly content sitting in the car snoozing and listening to good radio. But I had to go the restroom, so I ventured into a nearby soup-and-salad buffet restaurant. A young employee stood at the buffet starting gate.
"Can I just get a cup of coffee?" I asked. "And drink it here?" After all, all I needed was the restroom, not to go through the buffet line.
The young man looked as if he was about to panic. "I don't know . . . I'll see." And he disappeared. When he returned, he told me there was a cup left in the back. He showed me where to sit and told me someone would bring the cup shortly. They did. I sneaked off to the restroom, and when I returned there was another cup on the table. I drank them both just before the young man approached my table and said softly, so only I could hear, "I just talked to the manager, and he says you can have a meal free."
I suppressed a laugh, left a $5 tip and shuffled out into the night.
Hale is associate professor emeritus from the Oregon Health and Science University. He lives in Altadena.