It was more than 20 years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday.
My friend Marvin and I were sitting at our favorite delicatessen on 7th Avenue. I was eating a turkey on rye. He was eating a pastrami and salami combo with side dishes of fries and beans.
“We’re having a baby,” he told me proudly.
I was just about to take a bite of my sandwich, but I put it back down on the plate and looked at him. “But Marvin,” I said, “you’re 60 years old.”
“Sixty-two, but Sarah’s only 40, and she couldn’t be more excited about it.”
I shook my head in disbelief. “Marvin,” I said, “when the kid’s 13 years old, you’ll be 75.”
“But,” he said, “a young, vibrant 75.”
“Your kids by your first marriage will be in their 50s. Your grandchildren will be older than this one.”
He smiled proudly. “Pretty good, eh? And you know something, older men with young kids is a very now thing. Tony Randall, Larry King, Woody Allen, Charlie Chaplin—all men over 60 who had little kids.
“And you know the singer Julio Iglesias?”
“Well, his father was 89 when Julio was born, and the next year his mother had another kid when his father was 90.”
“He sounds like a heck of a man.”
“He died right after the new kid was born.”
Sometime later, I got a birth announcement from Marvin. There it was, a picture of Marvin and Sarah holding an infant. My friend was beaming as if to say, “From these loins sprung this child.” The card revealed that the baby’s name was Lola and she weighed 7 pounds, 3 ounces.
I moved to California soon after that and didn’t see Marvin for nearly 14 years. We reunited at the same table in the same deli. I had the turkey sandwich. He had a bowl of chicken consommé with crackers.
“Did you notice I was limping when I came in?” he asked. I said I did. “We had a parents versus girls basketball game at her school last night, and I’m a little sore.”
“How’d you do?”
“I was 0 for 2 from the floor. Lola was guarding me.”
“How’d she do?”
“She scored 60 points while I was guarding her.”
“How long did you play?”
“Four minutes. By the time I got to midcourt, she was already coming back the other way. All the other parents were in their 40s.”
“And you’re 75.”
“Seventy-six. After the game, the coach told me, ‘Your granddaughter played very well.’” He paused, “I get that all the time.”
We met again a few months later. He had two slices of white meat chicken and a boiled potato.
“She’s driving me crazy,” he said.
I took a bite of my turkey sandwich.
“She has the prettiest blonde hair, soft and curly. Comes down to her shoulders.”
I nodded as I chewed.
“She dyed it red. Red! I mean American-flag red, fire-truck red!” He ate a small piece of chicken. “We had a huge fight. She told me, ‘You’re not the boss of me!’ ”
I nodded. “I guess you’re not.”
“Well, now she wants to get a tattoo, and I said absolutely not. Positively not.”
We didn’t meet for a year or so.
“By the way,” I asked, “did she ever get the tattoo?”
He stared down at the tea and cookies he’d ordered.
“Yeah. Two. The one on her arm says ‘Rebellion.’ The one on her butt says ‘Mario.’ ”
“ ‘Mario?’ On her butt?”
“Her boyfriend. She says he’s never seen it.”
I just stared.
“I think she’s been smoking,” he said. “Smoking while she’s drinking.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I saw her smoking and drinking.”
“What did you say?”
“Nothing. That was the day I came home from the hospital after my bypass. When I did bring it up, she said that she doesn’t smoke or drink but all her friends do, so why can’t she?”
“What’d you say to that?”
“I didn’t want to fight. My arthritis was killing me. But, I did draw the line with the body piercing.”
“Her bellybutton. I told her there would be severe consequences if she did.”
“I’d kill her.”
I sipped my diet cream soda.
Lola was 17 when Marvin and I met again. He had a cane.
“Bursitis,” he explained. He ordered hot water with a slice of lemon.
“I bought her a car,” he told me.
“Well,” I said, somewhat jokingly, “whatever Lola wants, Lola gets.”
He didn’t laugh. “In three months she’s had three accidents and two tickets.”
“Kids,” I shrugged.
“She was driving and she went up a one-way street, through a red light, and hit a police car.” He paused. “That’s when I had the heart attack. The paramedics said it happens often —and that older parents shouldn’t drive with their young kids.”
“Did she lose
“Yeah, but Freddie drives her around now.”
“Her new boyfriend.”
“What’d she do about the tattoo?”
“She had it colored over and had them put ‘I love Freddie’ on her other buttock.”
“She’s a real romantic.”
“She’s gonna be a high school senior soon. She’s got a million friends. When they come to the house, they play the music so loud I have to take my hearing aid out. High-pitched sounds drive me crazy.”
“Like a dog.”
“Yeah. But she did bake a cake and bring it to me when I was in the hospital for my prostate.”
“Yeah. I’m perfect now, except for the eye thing.”
“The eye thing?”
“Macular degeneration. Can’t see too well anymore. It’s all right. Hey, I’m pushing 80, and I still walk the dogs.”
“Oh yeah. The dogs. How old are they now?”
“The poodle is 14, and the schnauzer is 12. They can’t see either.”
“The blind leading the blind.”
I didn’t see Marvin for more than four years after that. We met at our deli. I had two soft-boiled eggs. He had the pastrami and liverwurst combo with Russian dressing and a side of sour pickles. No cane. Still had most of his hair. Didn’t look 82.
“You’re looking great,” I said.
“It’s Lola,” he said, “She just makes me feel so good.”
I looked at him quizzically.
“She graduated Princeton summa cum laude and got offers from several big companies, but she wants to write. She got a $50,000 advance from a major publishing house, and she’s gonna write her first book.”
“Wow, that’s great. What’s she going to write about?”
“Growing up with an older parent.”
He took a swig of his beer.
“You know,” he said. “Whatever problems I had with Lola weren’t her problems; they were mine. She was just growing up, and I was just growing old. We were on the phone for an hour last night, and she read me the first chapter of her book.”
He took another sip.
“I guess Sarah and I did a pretty good job,” he said, smiling proudly. I noticed he still had most of his teeth, too. Then he started eating that awful sandwich.