As we were looking for a free table to eat our lunch, I asked Jack "What was that little interchange about just now? With the young lady at the counter?"
Jack said "Yeah, the one with the big ...."
"Yes Jack," I said, "I know which one you mean. You don't have to spell out her bra and cup size. So, tell me."
Jack said "You noticed she asked how I was. She said 'How are you?' And I answered 'I'm well.' And then I asked her in turn how she was, and she replied 'Good.' And then I said 'That's even better.'"
I said "I don't get it. I don't think she did either."
Jack said "Very simple: her answer meant she was good, not just well. And in my book, being good is even better than being well."
I said "I'm not getting wiser by the minute. People say that all the time."
Jack said "That still doesn't make it right. To be good means to be a good person -- to help old men like us across the street, to bury the sick and visit the dead, never to sin. It's a moral and ethical condition. To be well, on the other hand, is a statement of health, a medical condition. When someone asks you how you are, he doesn't expect a run-down of your standing in Saint Peter's book; he wants to know whether you're feeling OK, whether you have a cold or are under the weather, suffering from a hangover in my case."
I said "So you're taking it out on that girl at the counter."
"I wasn't taking anything out on anybody," said Jack, "besides, I'm sure she never even noticed. I just feel better doing my little bit to keep the English language from degenerating even further."
"Yup," I said, "that's going to do it, alright. Well Jack, you have your work cut out for you. What about all those people who say 'I'm great -- I ... am ... great' instead of 'I'm feeling great', or 'I ... am ... wonderful', instead of 'I'm feeling wonderful'?"
Jack said "Look, pal, I'm doing the best I can. Which isn't much, I admit. On the one hand I don't have the energy I had thirty years ago, and on the other, the more time goes by, the more the language changes -- it's an uphill and unrewarding battle."
"I know what you mean," I said, "about the getting older. And I'm ten years older than you are. I just turned 72. You know, when I look into the mirror I see the face of a man of 60, tops. But when I look at myself in photographs, I see an old man, easily 72."
Jack said: "that reminds me of the man in the doctor's office, who raises his arm and says 'Doctor, every time I raise my right arm, I get a jabbing pain right here.' To which the doctor replies 'Well, then don't raise your right arm.'
I said "So you mean I should stop looking at the photographs?"
"No," said Jack, "stop looking in the mirror!"
Sjef Frenken is a renaissance man: thinker, writer, translator and composer of much music. A main interest, he has many, is setting to music the poetry, written for children, during the Victorian and Edwardian eras. Nimble of mind, Sjef is a youthful retiree and a great-grandfather. Mostly he's a content man, which facilitates his relentless multi-media creativity.
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