01.09
Losing it

I used to be the answer to life, the universe and everything, but now I’m simply forty-three.

Had I been around in medieval times I would already have been dead eight years. Somewhat worryingly though, I’ve taken six years off my life simply by crossing the Atlantic. American men tend to die six years earlier than us Brits.

I know we’re made of hardy stuff, but I had expected the double benefit of no longer cycling around Marble Arch, together with the meticulous attention of a medical establishment keen to earn their insurance dues, to have led to a longer life. Here I am in a place that whipped out a lurking polyp in less than half the time it took the NHS to schedule an exploratory appointment. (I didn’t have the heart to tell dear old Dr Begg that I had moved on. Left in her hands I might not have had a heart, let alone a bowel, for much longer anyway). And yet, despite these life-prolonging interventions, I still find myself six years closer to mortality.

Perhaps my situation is similar to that of Dr Pangloss, whose condition deteriorated rapidly with the aid of medicine. What else could explain the paradox of better healthcare and reduced lifespan?

It’s certainly not for want of trying. As Terry Schivo found to her cost, Americans do everything to keep you alive here. Even those poor unforgiven souls are left in limbo on Death Row for perpetuity (or damn near as long). It’s got less to do with the sanctity of life than with the American obsession with numbers. They’re simply trying to get their average up. It must really bug them that they left our green and pleasant lands for a better life only to find themselves short-changed by six years. If you were to eavesdrop on a Christian fundamentalist at prayer you might be able to discern him manically reciting, “We’ve got to get our average up…we can’t be beat by those Limeys…. Dear God Almighty, Mr President, don’t let that brain-dead young lady down in Florida die, we can’t afford to slip any lower than twenty-sixth position in the life expectancy league table.” To the untutored ear it sounds as if they’re quoting the gospel, but listen carefully and this is what you’ll hear.

I don’t why life is so short here. But I do know, with complete lucidity, that I’m losing my mind.

The other evening I went to my weekly soccer (football) practice. On finding no one else there, and after waiting half an hour, I returned home. That I had gone to a different location to everyone else explained why they weren’t there. Why I had gone where I went is less easy to understand. Soccer practice was taking place in its normal place, but for some unfathomable reason I had gone somewhere else. Strangely this explanation didn’t occur to me as I waited patiently by an unfamiliar pitch for playmates who were where they always were on a Wednesday evening. Which was somewhere else from me. Surely a sign of madness if ever there was.

This month I lost my wallet, my iPod Shuffle, my Chelsea season ticket and my cell-phone (mobile to you and me).

The wallet disappeared at a cloistered private Darien club. No one could have stolen it. They wouldn’t know how. Darien doesn’t do crime. In our fourteen months here we haven’t had to lock our front door. And, anyway, no thief who happened to find himself in such a place could conceivably have chosen my rather shabby and threadbare affair over the extraordinary riches arrayed in front of him. Theft out of the question, the loss has to be chalked up to my diminishing mental capability. I must have dropped it down a drain, as one does when one is losing their fragile grasp on the fundamentals of basic living.

My iPod Shuffle disappeared for a whole desolate week. It eventually turned up in my dressing gown (not that they’re called dressing gowns over here. When I tried to buy one for Ros last Christmas I kept getting directed to ‘evening wear’, before finally deciding, ‘Sod it, she can make do with her old one’) pocket. I listen to my iPod in the car or when I’m out and about, never in my pyjamas. I can only have been sleep listening. It might explain some of those nightmares. They’ve been really vivid recently. A Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds soundtrack could so easily turn even the most innocuous of dreams into something altogether much more menacing. I was so pleased to be re-united with my most treasured possession. I recently read you can now get audio books through iTunes and have been looking forward to listening to War and Peace on Random Shuffle.

My Chelsea season ticket renewal application got lost in the post. You might question why I need a Chelsea season ticket, living, as I do, three thousand miles from Stamford Bridge, but if you did I would tell you, as I have patiently explained to Ros, that you don’t understand. A season ticket is part of one’s identity. If I didn’t have it I couldn’t tell people that I was a Chelsea season ticket holder. It’s irrelevant that I can’t get to the games. My ticket validates my claim to be an authentic supporter and proves that I haven’t just jumped on the bandwagon of Chelsea’s recent success. £1,500 well spent. Ros agrees. Fortunately the situation was rescued, but for a week I was bereft and diminished.

Then my cell-phone turned up in my wash-bag after a week AWOL. What state must I have been in to pack a telephone away between the toothpaste and replacement razor blades?

It doesn’t look good. I’m losing my mental faculties. I’ve only been Stateside fourteen months and I’m an idiot. Talking of American idiots I went to see Green Day last week – it was the first concert I’ve ever been to where I was a good thirty-five years older than many in the audience. It seems I may also be losing my youth.

In fact the only thing I’m not losing is my hair.

It struck me the other day that baldness is not an issue of hair loss, but one of slippage.

I was passing the hours on a golden Nantucket beach, gently barbequing my brains in the intense unfiltered August sun, when an early primate jogged past. Think Pete Sampras. It beggars belief that a nation that spawned Pete Sampras could deny Darwinism, as they’re currently trying to do. How could anyone possibly argue that we’re not directly descended from apes when confronted with such evidence? George Bush thinks that schools should teach what they’re calling ‘intelligent design’ as an alternative to evolution. I’m all for intelligent design when it comes with an Apple logo, but not when it’s taken to mean that God, rather than Jonathan Ive, is the master designer. Or that God, rather than evolution, should take all the credit for how we’ve turned out. No one who has seen some of those mid-west Christian fundamentalists could ever, by any stretch of imagination, describe their design as intelligent.

It occurred to me, as that early primate jogged by on the Nantucket sand, how men without much hair on top always seem to be carpeted with the stuff below the neckline. In some cases it’s even creeping up the neckline. I myself could plait six ponytails off each nipple and lose a small Yorkshire Terrier in the shag pile on my back. It never used to be like this. When my head was properly upholstered I only had the odd strand of chest hair. My insight under that midday sun was that baldness is nothing more than a redistribution of hair. Rather than any of those expensive hair restoration schemes that fill the advertising breaks over here, a much simpler solution would simply be to gently pull all the hair back through to its original position. A small knot could hold it in place.

So I’m not losing my hair, it has simply slipped. I didn’t lose my iPod shuffle. I still have my cell-phone. I remain a Chelsea season ticket holder. And I now have another wallet.

But I am undoubtedly losing my mind along with six years off my life expectancy.

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