Monday, August 16, 2010

An educative encounter

With August halfway through, thoughts turn to the start of school in September. My mind goes back to an incident recounted to me by someone I know well. Jan is a writer in her mid 60s who teaches general interest courses in writing. Last year she taught at a multi-service centre for seniors. Parking is limited so she often takes the bus and has a coffee before class.

One day the dining room was crowded so she went to a table where a dignified-looking elderly man was sitting, someone she'd never met before, and she asked if she could sit there.

"Of course," he said. "I'm Barkus." (not his real name. I've given him a name out of Dickens' David Copperfield) "I haven't seen you at the centre."

Jan explained that she taught a course there.

"I'm here for a medical appointment," he said. "I don't have a family doctor so I see the one who comes here. This spring I had a heart attack. I fell in the street and was taken to Emergency."

"That's awful!"

"I'm feeling better now but one of the results is that I'm impotent."

Jan willed herself not to react, and just sat there as he continued.

"I was telling this to some people who were sitting here a few minutes ago and one of the women was offended. She said it wasn't appropriate to talk of such things but in this day and age, why not? It was the topic on Dr. Oz just the other day. The people here are very conservative. But the heart attack caused a lot of changes in my life. My lady friend dropped me like a hot potato. Of course, I was paying her. But I get lonely. Maybe at 82 I'm wrong to want some warmth and affection."

Jan decided not to be shocked, but to handle this over-abundance of information the way she did in classes when would-be writers divulged personal matters. She clasped her hands on the table in front of her so that her wedding ring and diamond were visible to the weakest eyes.

"In your age group, women outnumber the men eight to one," she told him, "which means the odds are in your favour. If you're looking for a relationship rather than a hooker, you should shop around. Observe the women here and see if there's one you like."

She told him about her friend Eden's father, who as a widower in his mid-70s used to date two women. Dee liked to get dressed up elegantly and go out to dinner, while Myrt was very domestic and liked to cook dinner for him and watch TV with him. He divided his week between them.

"I have no idea what was involved in these relationships," Jan told her listener, "but the point is that he was more popular in his late 70s and early 80s than he'd been as a young man. So if I were you I would look at what's out there."

Then she excused herself and took her coffee to her classroom. She thought of one student in particular, a vivacious pretty widow in her eighties. Should she tell this lady that "Barkus is willing?" Not in a million years.

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