Sugar Water: Love and Death

Written by Current Events, Sugar Water

Actor Bruce Willis turned 54 on March 19, the same day famous friend David Letterman married Regina Lasko, his girlfriend of 23 years. Two days later Willis married Emma Heming, a former Victoria’s Secret model who was seven years old when Letterman and Lasko began dating and Willis was becoming a star on ABC’s Moonlighting.

The Associated Press article about Willis and Heming’s nuptials included a picture of them at last summer’s premiere of The House Bunny, a comedy costarring Willis’s 20-year-old daughter, Rumer. All of a sudden the star of the four Die Hard movies looked — God forbid! — mortal, mostly because of the lines around his eyes. I’m 33, so I have lines around my eyes too, but I’ve gotten used to seeing myself age. (My conscience would like to interrupt this column with an important announcement: “Robert is a terrible liar.”) But childhood heroes from movies and TV? That’s something else.

Metaphorically speaking, they’ll never die, thanks to home video and syndicated reruns, but even Hollywood types know that nothing lasts forever, unless we’re talking about The Simpsons. That’s why it’s important for stars like Willis to acknowledge that they’re no longer spring chickens; once that’s accomplished, they can proceed to marry a spring chicken who models underwear. Midlife crisis? No — midlife bonus.

I told my longtime girlfriend, Aimiee, that if I could just find a woman 24 years my junior to marry me, I wouldn’t feel so old myself. I meant it as a joke, but since she’d just returned home from a long afternoon of shopping for her third bridesmaid dress of the upcoming wedding season, she wasn’t in the mood to laugh. And that’s when it hit me — if I married a woman 24 years younger than me, she’d be a nine-year-old girl.

But then it hit me that things like that really shouldn’t be the primary thing hitting me when my girlfriend is standing right in front of me talking about bridesmaid dresses with a quiet note of resignation in her voice. Aimiee is a beautiful, strong, intelligent woman, but do I ever mention those qualities in my columns? No. I just mention the bad things, which I then exaggerate, and that’s only when I’m not taking previously published material and passing it off as my own, with Aimiee’s name substituting for Charles Manson’s.

She deserves better, and neither of us is getting any younger. That’s why I’ve asked Harrison Ford, another childhood hero, to take Aimiee off my hands and give her the rich, rugged husband she deserves. See, it was reported on Monday that Ford proposed to his longtime girlfriend, Calista Flockhart, on Valentine’s Day weekend. He’s 66, she’s 44. Bad move, Mr. Ford — at that age she’s already acquired too much wisdom. Abort! Abort! Meanwhile, Aimiee’s still in her early 30s. Think about it, sir, and leave your decision in the comments section below once you’ve made up your mind.

Mortality may or may not have factored into Willis’s desire to get married for a second time — his first wife, Demi Moore, is married to Ashton Kutcher, who’s 15 years younger than her; both attended Willis and Heming’s wedding — but it’s harder and harder to ignore the older one gets. On that note, I’ve rounded up all the death-related clippings I’ve collected in the past year or so. By the time I’m finished with this edition of Sugar Water, I hope to have discovered the meaning of life, and it’d better not just be “the short-but-still-pretty-long thing that comes before death.”

On July 12 of last year, the world’s oldest blogger died. When I saw Agence France Presse’s headline I thought it was saying that the person with the world’s oldest blog had passed away (which made me wonder how old the oldest blog is, and it turns out it’s 21 — have a cheap domestic beer on me, rec.humor.funny!), but the blogger in question was a 108-year-old Australian woman named Olive Riley. Born October 20, 1899, Riley posted 70 entries on her blog starting in February 2007, and the response it got from people as far away as Russia and the U.S. “kept her mind fresh,” her great-grandson Darren Stone told AFP. Riley was living in Woy Woy at the time of her death; the Australian town’s name sounds like “Why Why” in an American accent, but there really isn’t any need to scream that sort of thing at God when someone as old as 108 goes to the great barrier reef in the sky.

Riley may have been the world’s oldest blogger, but the world’s oldest person, Edna Parker, was 115 when she died on November 26 in a nursing home in Shelbyville, Indiana. Parker’s husband died of a heart attack in 1939, and she’d been a widow ever since, living in their farmhouse by herself until she was 100, at which point she moved in with one of her sons. When she died last fall the record for the world’s oldest person went to Portugal’s Maria de Jesus, who had youth on her side — she was five months younger than Parker — but you can probably tell by my use of past tense that De Jesus is no longer with us either — she died on January 2, having held the record for five weeks. Now it belongs to Gertrude Baines, who lives in Los Angeles and turns 115 on April 6.

Of course, if I had to pick an all-time favorite centenarian — a special thanks goes out to former Today Show weatherman Willard Scott for letting me borrow his birthday calendar — it would be Jeanne Calment, a French woman who passed away on August 4, 1997, at the age of 122, making her the longest-living person in history aside from Methuselah. I still have a clipping of an AP story about Calment from December 1995, which states, “Andre-Francois Raffray thought he had a great deal 30 years ago: He would pay a 90-year-old woman $500 a month until she died, then move into her grand apartment in a town Vincent van Gogh once roamed. But this Christmas, Raffray died at age 77, having forked over $184,000 for an apartment he never got to live in.”

On Calment’s 120th birthday earlier that year, Raffray was quoted as saying, “In life, one sometimes makes bad deals.” An attorney who succumbed to cancer, he was reincarnated last year as a Lehman Brothers executive.

Getting back to more recent inductees in the triple-digit club, another centenarian who was in the news last year was Johannes Heesters, a Dutch entertainer who became popular in Nazi Germany during World War II. Heesters is now 105, but he still had enough fire left in him last November to file a lawsuit against German author Volker Kuehn, who claimed that Heesters performed for Nazi troops at the Dachau concentration camp near Munich in 1941. Heesters says he merely visited the camp as part of a PR move engineered by the Nazi regime: according to his attorney, “It is well known that sort of thing happened, where people were brought in to give a positive picture — prominent people who could then go and tell their impressions to others.”

So it’s a lie that Heesters sang for the Nazis at Dachau, but it’s not a lie that he visited the place and then lied about what he saw to make people think Jewish prisoners weren’t dying there? I’m confused, but Heesters is 105, so I’ll bet he’s really confused.

Death itself can be confusing. Take, for example, United Feature Syndicate’s Mr. Know-It-All, a.k.a. Gary Lee Clothier. He was asked by “B.G.” from Dickson, Tennessee, last fall about stage actress Ruby Keeler, who was thought to have retired prior to the 1970s. Clothier wrote that Keeler retired “sometime after 1941” upon marrying her second husband but came out of retirement in ’71 to star in the Broadway revival of No, No, Nanette. Clothier’s answer ends with this puzzler, however: “She died in 1969.”

A simple typo, or a third-act plot twist worthy of M. Night Shyamalan in his prime? You be the judge — it’ll free up Death to be the executioner, a role it relishes.

Let’s not forget that the end can be a relief, even for God’s smallest creatures. Back in November, Gus died of cancer. Tragically, he was only nine years old.

A Chinese crested dog — hairless, y’all — Gus had one eye and three legs, attributes that helped him paw his way to the top of the 2008 World’s Ugliest Dog contest, proving you can simultaneously win some and lose some. May he rest in peace with all of his reunited pieces.

French movie star Gerard Depardieu’s son Guillaume, who was also an actor, died last October at the age of 37 after developing a sudden case of pneumonia, according to the AP. Its obituary mentioned that he’d been convicted as a young adult for “traffic violations, insults and narcotics.”

Now I’m curious to know how one gets convicted for insults in France. Does claiming that The Birdcage is superior to La Cage aux Folles count as an insult? What if you say you don’t give a merde about Jerry Lewis’s entire body of work? If you tell a French waiter that the French fries and French toast you ordered aren’t up to American standards, will that persuade the prosecuting judge to give you a life sentence? What if you top it all off by giving him a French kiss? I have a feeling that when French people are rude to American tourists, the cops tend to look the other way, probably with an official excuse like “Ze stupid American has to know he is being insulted for it to count as an insult.”

I guess the meaning of life is that none of us know it all, even Mr. Know-It-All, and since we can’t reverse the clock, we’d better embrace life while we still have it. If anyone insults us by saying we’re ugly in our old age, we should use our weathered visage to our advantage by winning contests, just as we should make friends with French policemen so we can get those who insult us thrown in prison across the Atlantic. (But if we’re ever accused of singing for the guards at that prison, we’ll sue.) It also doesn’t hurt if we can find a hot young underwear model who wants to marry us for our warmth, intelligence, and humor, not the millions of dollars we’ve earned over the years. None of us will live forever, but if we can make it to 122 like Jeanne Calment did, we’ll probably realize we accomplished all we ever needed to accomplish by, say, 119.

Life may be fleeting, but I think its meaning can be found in a person’s smile — or smirk, in Bruce Willis’s case — whether they’re one or one hundred. Aimiee’s smile may have dimmed somewhat in the last few years because of my romantic inertia, but it can still light up a room, which definitely came in handy during the massive east-coast blackout I caused in 2003.

Therefore I’m rescinding my offer, Mr. Ford. With any luck, by the time I publish my next Sugar Water column Aimiee and I will have made it official. I can’t waste another second (except when it comes to writing my next Sugar Water column, but you knew that already)!

Patton Oswalt, “You Are Allowed 20 Birthday Parties” (from 2007’s Werewolves and Lollipops)