Museums. What a peculiar thing it is, to save up so many oddments and display them.

Does any other creature in the animal kingdom do this? Enshrine the things they no longer use? Do our ancestors, if they can see us from their heavenly vantage point, think us silly, to preserve all their old stuff? I can just hear my pragmatic grandmother saying, "Why do you want that? It never worked right even when it was new."

We preserve in museums old clothes that we don't wear anymore. You don't see snakes preserving shed skins for the sake of posterity. Perhaps they would, if they evolved to change their color scheme every century or so. ("Yes, my daughter, the rattlers of the 19th century had much better fashion-sense.")



Along the same lines: Why do we fight so hard to preserve old buildings? In Europe, they even preserve the ruins, the remnants, of old buildings. Is it a manifestation of our desire to preserve our own selves from decay? I can't remember who said this: "A house is our larger self."

This is one thing I hate about getting old. I can't always place a quote like I used to. I was at a picnic last month, and so help me, it took three of us to finally get the right lead-up and punch line to a joke. Pathetic. That's probably why Phyllis Diller had a big smile on her face when she died. She could still remember all the great jokes. Maybe she died laughing. I hope that I go like that, remembering a punch line.

I read how T.E. Lawrence was overwhelmed upon setting foot in the Parthenon. Does its power lie in the stone itself? Or in the minds of those who walk there, imagining the countless others who, down through the ages, walked there before them?



Why does it comfort us, and sometimes awe us, to touch a structure centuries old? Can we sense the faint imprint of the souls that dwelt there? Do we hope to imbue it with our own life force, so our descendants can sense us? Old buildings stretch beyond our selves in both directions: built before we were born, the best-built are likely to still be standing after we're gone.

Or is it simple discontent with the plain, unromantic present moment? "We look before and after; we pine for what is not." (Ah hah - Shelley. Gotcha.)

I like old buildings. I like old stuff in general. I like medieval and Renaissance clothing. I like old books. I like my old pillow. I like using candles in the winter darkness. I like my old wind-up wristwatch. I like my old 1960-something recurve bow (which has lain idle too long), given to me by a friend. No sights, no scopes, no wind-resistance do-dads, just a stick, a shelf and a string. The way God intended it.



Simplicity. I used to live in a house where there was a humongous peony patch, and one day I was wondering aloud if anyone still made the old-fashioned scythes (aka, "Death's Little Helper"), and this very kind gentleman said that he had one in his barn, and he gave it to me. I love it. It is so much nicer than the noisy, motor-powered chopping devices.



There's just something elegant about the motion of a big, old, wood-handled scythe, even if you're only five feet tall yourself. Swoosh - one swath down. Swoosh - another. It's great. I no longer live in a house with a yard that needs a scythe, but I still have it anyway. It is way too cool to let it go, and you never know when someone might have an emergency peony attack.

Oh dear. I think I know how museums get started ...



DENIAL DENIAL

There's obesity denial; alcoholism denial; nicotine-addiction denial; and then there's denial denial: I take a "don't ask don't tell" approach toward my body.

I refuse to get routine check-ups because I don't want to know. I believe that what I don't know is less likely to kill me than the anxiety over whatever the doctor might find. I am one of those people who does not need any encouragement to panic.

When I was young and some old person died of something "preventable," I would say, with the know-it-all attitude so typical of youth, "Well, that was dumb. Why didn't he go see a doctor sooner?"

Now I'm 53. I know why. It's because half the time the doctor can't help you anyway because it's all part of getting old (or a virus), and the other half of the time, whatever your problem is would require 12 surgeries, 11 physical therapists, 10 thousand dollars, 9 years of battling the insurance companies, 8 pills a day and a partridge in a pear tree. As a New York mobster would say, "Fuggedaboutit."

Caveat: This is not the approach to take if you have dependents. I'm just saying.

Oh, and in the "What Fresh Hell is This?" Department: Is it right and fair for my preferred health clinic to charge me a $50 "new patient" charge when I've been a patient of one of their doctors for about 17 years? The fact that I had not darkened their door for three years (because I had been ailment-free) was their justification for this. I guess they thought I was "like a new patient."

Dude, that's like Madonna singing, "Like a Virgin." I don't feel like a new patient. In fact, I feel like a pretty old patient, and annoyance at such silliness as this just ages me more.