It was around 10 years ago, after my father's funeral, that a group of us filed silently into one of his favorite restaurants in Gainesville.
A woman in the group reached casually across the table and knocked the salt shaker over.
There were smiles and a chuckle or two … leaving me mystified.
My father and I had not seen a lot of each other over the years, and generally ate together only once or twice a year.
"Oh," the woman said, noticing my puzzled look, "that's because by now Jimmy would have knocked the salt shaker, or something else, over, so we used to just do it as soon as we sat down. It's sort of a tradition."
I thought I got it that day. Now, at the age of 66, I am sure I got it — both the joke and an alarming tendency to spill things, drop things and knock things over.
When I sit with several friends at a large table in a local tavern, the seat across from me is always conspicuously vacant. Not a tradition in my honor, just common sense, my friends explain.
Coasters don't help. They just provide an uneven surface that makes it even more likely I will spill something.
I tried to thread a needle recently, and it was a dead heat between my eyes and my fingers as to which would make it less likely that I would ever get to sew that button on my favorite Jimmy Buffett shirt.
(At this writing the button is still missing, but I have plans to get it sewn on soon.)
I can still tie my shoes, most of the time. For some reason they began coming untied regularly, and finally my wife asked me one day why I didn't tie them with double bows. She showed me how, and it turned out that I had a completely different concept of how to do that … hers, of course, being the correct one. Nonetheless, as my fingers become less agile, I am starting to look longingly at the shoes with Velcro closures and I wear my slip-on Crocs long, long after the tread wears off and makes them dangerously slippery.
I guess some of the problem is arthritis. My fingers don't hurt, they just feel like they are kielbasas. And I have been blaming bifocals for years for everything from bad pool-playing to falling down stairs.
I have to go back and correct a lot of my typing. I used to type about 80 words per minute. Now I type a few words and then go back and fix the typos. I have actually incorporated that into what passes for my writing style, saying the pause gives me time to think about what to write next.
I can't blame my handwriting on age. It has always been illegible and I spent my entire journalistic career hoping a grand jury would someday subpoena my notes so they would learn that neither they (nor I, if the notes were a couple of days old) could read them.
My wife refuses to believe that my inability to deposit silverware in the correct sections of the divided drawer is a Zen philosophical statement about how all compounds break and how disorder is inherent in existence and all systems tend toward chaos.
She learned a few years back not to put anything delicate on the shelves of cabinets near doorways as I tend to lurch from side to side as I leave or enter. And friends know that it is better to invite me to tour their gardens than to look at their collections of Hummel figurines or (God forbid!) guns. None of my neighbors has loaned me a tool since the late 1980s.
I have found, however, that if I ask to borrow, say, a pipe wrench, someone will ask me what it is for and then say, "Hey, I'm not doing anything, why don't you just let me install that new toilet for you?"
And the latest news from the geezer front is that I have developed the inability to tell blue from black, even in direct sunlight. It results in the occasional fashion faux pas, but since I wear mostly tie-dye and denim, it doesn't make a lot of difference. I just try to frequent places where everyone is my age and nobody seems to notice.
My eye doctor says that I am getting the beginnings of cataracts and that is what is causing the trouble. He says he will be happy to operate whenever I feel I need the surgery.
I probably will eventually, but I'm holding off for when I decide to make a late-life career change and become a neurosurgeon, ballet dancer, diamond cutter or professional baseball umpire overseeing the pitching of a perfect game.
You know, those jobs where people like to hear you say, "Ooops!"