The latest episode in the semi-fictional biography of Joshua Bateman Arnold.
by Dave Riley
IT WAS A LAZY SATURDAY MORNING, and, as we frequently do, Mrs. R. and I, along with our neighbor Arnie, who has been enjoying an extended vacation from this blog, were sitting in the backyard reading. Mrs. R. was perusing a last year’s Atlantic that she’d gotten at her dentist’s office. He’s too cheap to pay for magazine subscriptions, so every week or two he goes to our local Green Center and does some reverse recycling. Instead of turning in magazines, he takes some back for the office.
Mrs. R., knowing that the skinflint didn’t pay a nickel for any of them, isn’t above bringing several of them home if they have a really interesting article or two. Then she takes the magazine back to recycling whence they came in the first place.
Arnie had a copy of something called Senior Musings, which is another magazine Mrs. R. brought home from the dentist. I was in the business section of our newspaper trying to calculate how rich I’d be if I had taken my broker’s advice and bought 4,000 shares of Apple at $4 a pop back in 1997. But I didn’t, so here I sit with a liquid net worth several dozen freeway rest stops south of $2,000,000.
“Soledad Mexia died recently,” Arnie said.
Mrs. R. and I exchanged questioning glances. Finally, she said, “Who?”
“Soledad Mexia. She was the oldest person born in Mexico and the oldest living Californian.” He looked at the magazine again. “No wait, this magazine is two years old. She died a couple of years ago.”
We both shrugged and went back to our reading. After a long silence, Arnie picked up the narrative. “Come on!” he scolded. “That’s important. She was 114.”
I put down my paper. “Why is that important?” I asked.
“IT SHOWS WE’RE LIVING LONGER. Man is improving. Why Matthew down the street told me he expects his two boys, Joshua and Jonas, to live to be 150. He said it real matter of fact, like it was a done deal.”
“There’s a good chance they will,” Mrs. R. said, “In the 20th century the average life span increased 30 years. And in the 21st century the increase may be dramatically greater.”
“I think that’s great,” Arnie said. “I want to live forever. I’m like that guy Pancho what’s-his-face that chased around Florida hunting for the Garden of Eden.”
”Actually it was Ponce de Leon and I think he was hunting for the Fountain of Eternal Youth,” I said.
“Whatever. I want it.”
“But suppose it turns out to be the Fountain of Eternal Arthritis,” I said. “Would you still want it?”
“Arnie, my mom, who passed away in 1971, told me a number of times that she wanted to,make it to 70. Dying in one’s 60’s isn’t quite respectable, she said. Couldn’t you be like her and just pick a reasonable goal like, say, 85 or 90, and do your best to live that long?”
“Nosirree,” he said. “I want it all!”
“You know,” Mrs. R. said, raising one finger skyward and pausing for exaggerated dramatic effect, “not everybody is happy about the idea of us all living a lot longer.”
“Like who?” Arnie said.
“Like bioethicists,” she said.
“What’s a biowhosits?”
“They’re sort of like referees in the world of medicine,” I said. “They try to guide the rest of us on what’s okay to do and what isn’t.”
“Lordy them colleges got a degree for everything these days.”
“THIS IS SERIOUS BUSINESS,” Mrs. R. said. “Let me quote from this article I’m reading; ‘As funding for anti-aging research has exploded, bioethicists have expressed alarm, reasoning that extreme longevity could have disastrous social effects.’ In other words, if we all live a lot longer, there may not be enough food and water and livestock. Pretty soon wars will break out over who gets the limited resources. A hundred years ago there were only about a billion people on earth. Today there are more than six billion. If that doubled, how would we feed everyone?”
Arnie looked stunned. “Meals on Wheels?” he said.
“The idea is that we shouldn’t tinker with evolution,” Mrs. R. said. “It’s done pretty well by us so far. If we mess with natural selection, we do it at our own peril.”
“Phooey on evolution, “ Arnie said. “I don’t believe in that. Anyway, I still want to live forever.”
“Arthritis and all?” Mrs. R. said.
“You guys are such spoilsports.”
“Your mom made it to 70, didn’t she,” Mrs. R. said to me.
I beamed. “I am proud to say that she did — 70 years and several months. And in so doing she didn’t take any food off anyone else’s table.”