THE LIST of things that can kill you grows longer every day, to the point where it's a wonder any of us eat or drink anything without dropping dead right there on the linoleum.
Smoking was the first thing I heard about that could kill you. God, I loved to smoke! In fact, I loved it so much that I would have smoked four or five cigarettes at once, if there was any way to get them all in my mouth.
But the surgeon general warnings on the cigarette packs became more and more alarming -- now I think it says: "If you smoke this, you will keel over and die the most horrible lingering death, clutching at your throat and gasping for air. Just don't come complaining to us."
Plus everyone in my family was whining about second-hand smoke, even though it was me who was keeping everyone in Glade and those pine tree air fresheners for the car. So finally I said: "OK, OK, no more cigarettes."
Then a few years later, they told me drinking could kill you, even beer-drinking, which was the only kind of drinking I did if you didn't count pounding 7-Ups.
So I really cut back on my drinking, even going so far as to switch to light beer, which is basically water that they wave a barley stalk over.
To be honest, without smoking or drinking, I wasn't having too much fun. But I felt better physically. I guess. It was a tough call.
Then one day I was sitting in a lawn chair with my shirt off when the mailman came by.
"Hey, what are you doing?" he said.
Working on my tan, I said. Say, you wouldn't have a smoke or a beer,would you?
"The sun can kill you!" he said. "Skin cancer! Twenty years from now, your doctor will be peering at your X-rays and frowning and telling you you've got five minutes to live.
"And even if you're upbeat about the whole thing, even if you pound your fist on the table and say: 'Doc, if that's the case, I'm gonna make it the best five minutes of my life!' something will go wrong. With your luck, you'll tear out of his office and get stuck in the elevator."
He had a point. The elevators in that building were shaky. The last time they were inspected, Eisenhower was wading ashore in North Africa.
So that basically took care of hanging around the pool and long, BTC lazy days at the beach. I was so depressed at this point it's a wonder I didn't start sniffing glue, never mind go back to smoking and drinking.
Things only got worse. One day a neighbor came over to visit while I was enjoying a cup of coffee.
"Boy, you must drink a lot of that stuff," he said.
Hmmmm, I thought. Why would he say that? It was 8 in the morning and I was in the middle of building a new deck on the house, rotating the tires on the Subaru and doing 500 sit-ups.
But I guess he saw the wild look in my eyes, the perspiration pouring off me and the way my hands were shaking, and assumed I was crazed on caffeine.
"I just like to keep busy," I said.
"All that coffee can kill you," he said. "Bad for the ticker."
I considered murdering him right then and there, but too many eyewitnesses had seen him come in the house.
Plus, getting rid of the body would be a hassle, too. Whether you bury it in a shallow grave or weigh it down with cinder blocks and toss it in the river, these things have a way of coming back to haunt you.
Still, even that incident wasn't as bad as the one at the church picnic, when I was grilling some steaks and another busy-body from the Health Police stopped by.
"Red meat can kill you," he said.
Well, I said, I don't really eat it when it's red. I like to cook it first. Then I eat it when it's sort of brown.
"You're still a walking heart attack," he said.
"I hate you," I said.
"I'm telling you for your own good," he said.
"Others must hate you too," I said.
We didn't talk much after that. He went around telling everyone that I was brusque and combative -- although he was nice enough to send me a magazine article on eggs and cholesterol.
These days I don't do too much. Mostly I just sit around the house and stare out the window. Occasionally I'll take a swig of mineral water and a bite of a carrot, which is supposed to be all right for you.
Although I expect a bulletin on that any day now.