Benny Jay: A Few Miles Left to Travel

November 1st, 2011

In a book store in Lincoln Park, I see a collection of Neil Simon’s plays and pounce.

I love Neil Simon — always have, always will.

This collection’s got seven of his funniest plays, including Plaza Suite, Promises, Promises and The Odd Couple.

On the train going home I read Promises, Promises. That night I zip through The Odd Couple for, like, the 452nd time.

Figure I’ll put the book away for another day. Go to my alphabetically-arranged bookshelf only to find that — I already owned the same collection!

What the fu….

Bought it years ago. Clearly, read most of the plays — even scrawled notes in the margins.

How did this happen? How could I have forgotten that I’d already bought — and read — the same book?

That night in bed I have a recurring fear. That this particular memory blip is the first step in the slow and painful descent to — no, no, don’t say it — dementia.


Recall other things I’ve forgotten. Like the way Norm and I do our hand-slap celebration at bowling.

It’s a ritual we have and it’s kind of complicated. Nine times out of ten I get it right. But every now and then, I draw a blank. And Norm has to lead me through it….

That’s the one!

I recall Dr. Oz’s test for the first stages of aging — something I saw on TV.

First test — can you open a jar of pickles?

I never was good at opening pickle jars — weak wrists. Always had to loosen the top by batting it with the back end of a heavy kitchen knife.

So I need a more accurate indicator of my brain’s progression.

I decide to give myself a memorization test — name the Secretaries of State.

I used to know this shit inside and out.  Once I killed the better part of a White Sox game with my high school pal, Josh, going through the ranks of state secretaries all the way to the Lincoln administration.

Okay, okay — so that is a little geeky.

But can I still do it? Let’s see….

Hillary Clinton — that’s easy.

And before Hillary it was, ugh. Condoleezza Rice!

And before her it was Colin Powell.

And before him it was — blank!


Who was Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State?

Aw, hell — I should know this.

Warren Christopher?

No, not him….

In `71, it was the Big O, Lew Alcindor and the Bucks….

I think and think and think.

Soon I’m flooded with names: Alexander Haig, Lawrence Eagleburger, John Foster Dulles, Henry Kissinger, Edmund Muskie, Cyrus Vance, William Rogers, Dean Rusk….

But who was the one before Colin Powell?


I’m ready to bound out of bed to look it up on the computer, when….

Madeleine Albright!

Of course — Madeleine Fuckin’ Albright!

Yes! Yes! Yes!

How could I forget Madeleine Albright!

My wife stirs in her sleep, oblivious to my struggles.

Oops — don’t want to wake her. But I’m so relieved, I want to yell out loud: Whee, not brain dead yet!

I try another test — NBA champions.

Starting with the Philadelphia Sixers of1967 and going through the Celtics, the Celtics, the Knicks, the Bucks, the Lakers, the….

I snap awake to see the sun poring through the window. My wife’s in the next room doing yoga.

Must have drifted to sleep.

Feeling pretty good. Remember that I remembered Madeleine Albright. Not bad for an old-timer.

I’m like an Cadillac with 100,000 miles on it. Tires are good, breaks solid. Got some road left to travel….

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