Arms and Hammond

We’ve all heard of Einstein’s relativity of time, but what exactly does it mean?

Simply put, time is relative to the person experiencing it. For example, the three hours you spend in a hangover go by a whole lot slower than the three hours you spent getting drunk.

And now that we’ve established that, I’d like to reveal Seidenstein’s relativity of age.

What does that mean?

Along the same lines, it means that how old someone is depends on who’s checking it out.

For example, according to the Social Security Administration, I’m 67. Meanwhile, I think I’m 55, though most of my peers think I’m 70. World War II vets think I’m 40, and my students think I’m old enough to be a WWII vet.

Most of this is harmless – unless, of course, the Social Security machers thought I was much younger and cut me out of my sultanic monthly allowance.

But what isn’t harmless is if I forget how old I am and think I’m the Dope I used to be. It’s easy enough, this self-deception. Say for example, I’ve got to schlep a bunch of foundation blocks from Point A to Point B. No sweat, I think. After all, the last time I did it, it was a breeze. Of course, that was also 10 years ago, but what’s a decade to a bull like me?

Once I start doing it, I find out exactly what a decade is. It’s the length of time it took for me to be able to schlep foundation blocks easily, to me being completely unable to schlep them any whichway.

My pal, Bob Hammond, learned a similar lesson.

Numb luck

Bob and his bride, Louise, are summer residents, having a place on Lower Saranac. A few years ago, at night, they’re in the living room when suddenly Bob doesn’t feel right. At first he doesn’t know what’s going on; then he figures it out: Both his arms have gone numb. He tells Louise.

“So what do you think it is?” she asks.

“Don’t know,” he says. “I never had this happen before.”

Then they do what most of us would – they wait to see if it goes away.

A half hour passes.

“So,” says Louise, “are they still numb?”

“Still numb,” Bob says. Then he adds, “Do you think it could be a stroke?”

“I don’t know,” she says. “But I know who does?”

“Who?”

“The people in the E.R.,” she says. “Let’s go.”

And they do.

The doctor examines Bob and then tells him, no, he is not having a stroke.

“So what’s causing the numbness?” asks Bob.

“Don’t know,” says the doctor. “But it’s not a stroke.”

A moment passes, then the doctor talks again.

“Did you do anything unusual today? Anything different from your routine? Anything strenuous?”

Bob thinks about his day, then shakes his head.

“No,” he says. “Didn’t do much of anything. Matter of fact, the only thing I did was clean the hull of the boat. But I do that every year and never had a problem after.”

The doctor, having eliminated any immediate danger to Bob, discharges him, and he goes home. The next day when he wakes up, the numbness is gone, and it never returns.

By the time the Hammonds come back the next summer, Bob’s arm numbness is long forgotten.

Or at least it’s long forgotten till a few weeks after they’re back, when late at night, his arms go numb again, just like the last time. And just like the last time, they go to the E.R.

Once again, he gets examined, and once again, there’s nothing they can find wrong with him.

After the doctor reassures Bob that nothing serious seems out of whack, he asks him if he did anything unusual lately.

“Not really,” says Bob. “Minor chores. A little raking, swept the walk, cleaned the boat hull “

And it hits him: Of course, he cleaned the boat. Did it last year, arms got numb. Did it this year, arms got numb. It’s such an obvious case of cause and effect that Bob starts thinking maybe he should go to medical school.

The next day, just like the previous year, when he gets up, the numbness is gone. And it doesn’t come back.

The following summer when Bob and Louise come back, they start getting the property in order, and at one point Bob announces he’s going to clean the boat. His announcement is met with a glacial reception.

“No,” says Louise. “You are not cleaning the boat. Ever. You are going to hire someone else, someone younger, to clean if for you.”

And how did Bob react?

Let me give you a little of Bob’s background. He’s a West Point graduate, an Army Ranger and a Vietnam veteran. And that means he’s a man who knows how to lead.

More background: He and Louise have been happily married for almost 50 years.

And that means he’s a man who also knows how to follow.