Milton

The other man I met whose company I enjoyed was very funny, rugged and sportif. A few days after I arrived, I looked around for an empty seat at lunch and Milton Sutton, a cynical ad man from New York, beckoned me over to sit in the chair of a resident who had died the day before. Milton told me about Nate’s death forthrightly because it was today’s news. He gave me the idea that death drops in often at Cadbury, but, except for a memorial service, barely interrupts the proceedings, and life goes on as usual until it stops. And then it just stops—“Bim-Bam.” When it stops and the chair is empty, someone else can fill it, and today that was me. In fact, living in assisted living or independent living or “whatever they call it”, he told me, these “last stop, everybody out joints”, are a lot like musical chairs. “We go slowly round and round ‘the facility’” he said mockingly “until someone can’t make it to a meal anymore and you hear that he’s in the hospital. Then he’s dead and the next guy still moving takes the empty chair.”

Milton was in his early nineties, vital, bald and ruddy. He walked a lot with a Walkman plugged to his ear, listening to books. He’d been at Cadbury for a long time and seemed to think that most things, death included, was an immense joke. “Did you ever see that movie?—I think it was a Bergman movie—where the bus driver keeps dropping people off one by one until finally he says, with a grin, maybe some kind of leer, ‘Now everybody off, last stop.’? That’s how it is around here. Last stop. Soon there won’t be anybody left. Guess how old I am?”

“Oh, I don’t know–eighty-four?”

“Wrong! I work out! Ninety-three.”

Although Milton was ninety-three—and by anybody’s standards, a young ninety-three—he had a youngish girlfriend, Stephanie, who must have been in her late sixties or early seventies. Milton was definitely in charge of the relationship because he was the gatekeeper. Most days he ate the two earlier meals with some of his many pals and Stephanie found a seat elsewhere. He never sat with her in the living room to listen to a lecture or hear music and never went on trips in the van as she did. He had dinner alone with her every night, unless his family was visiting, and when he was with her he did all the talking, sometimes lecturing, haranguing and wagging his finger in her face.

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