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I was going to call this wonk “Cash for Clunkers,” a salute to the very popular government program just concluded. But I thought I deserved better. I am not, after all, a Buick (rumors that I might be an Edsel are just that and no more). Because we all sometimes fantasize about trading up to a younger, fitter self—“He’s got the body of a twenty-year-old [runs the quip]…and, boy, is that kid ticked off!”—I began to imagine myself, my body, getting the once-over by a gimlet-eyed car salesman. The analogy fails on many points, the chief of which being that, alas, I can’t trade up for a later model of myself. But if I can’t trade up, at least I can see how well I have held up.

I am a 1942 model (“The All New ’42 Shea!”), a year when, because there was a war on, civilian cars weren’t even being made. And I am a “daily driver,” not some pampered exotic taken out of the garage every few weeks for a staid mosey around the block. No, sir. I’ve been out in the blistering heat and the freezing cold (it’s a wonder, many mornings, that I’ve started at all). I’ve had the mumps and the measles, the colic and the croup. Pneumonia, even, when I was just a babe in arms. A childhood of scrapes and bruises goes without saying, but even a Rolls cannot repair itself in that slick way that the human body can. Dings and scratches miraculously buff themselves out. I’ve got a couple of scars, but they are small and discreet.

I’ve got my own teeth, most of them.

I’ve got no tattoos and no piercings.

The only bone I ever broke was my skull. My heart has been broken more often than my head, but that’s another story for another time.

My prostate fell by the wayside some years ago but took the cancer with it. All the other glands and organs I’ve still got, and the warranties, I’m told, are still good. My doctor mutters darkly about my “bad” cholesterol, but I have more trouble spelling it than living with it. Or dying of it: of all the things that may carry me off, that barely makes the list.

As for the sensory systems, I hear and see just about as well as most men who are pushing seventy. I wear trifocals and sometimes my vision blurs (floaters?). I tried a hearing aid but gave it up, resolved to listen more attentively, and, lo, my hearing dramatically improved. Touch and taste are still up to the job. A bloodhound I am not, my nose being chronically stuffed up. I can’t stop and smell the roses but, then, cat poop is hardly a problem either. There were a few years when I absolutely couldn’t smell a thing, not even ammonia (see above, the fractured skull) but, with that remarkable facility that the body has, the nerves slowly repaired themselves. Your Buick can’t do that.

In tune with the times, I am an economy model at five-foot-six and a hundred and fifty pounds. Just fuel me with coffee and a couple of bananas and I can zip along all morning. I was for many years a distance runner, but unlike many runners, my knees are still good.

Over the years I have abused this body with drink and tobacco and greasy meals and missed meals, and I have often been cavalier about necessary maintenance. But still it has suffered all that punishment with equanimity. Quite remarkable, really.

So taken all in all, I would NOT trade in this body, this old classic, even if I could. Instead, the next stop will be for a tune-up, an oil change, and a good wax job.

Vroom, vroom!

A couple of final notes on the Tropes wonk. One other meaning of trope deserves mention and it comes not from rhetoric but from philosophy, where a trope is a point to be made for purposes of argument. Thus, when Dick Cheney maintains that the controversial measures (rendition, torture, etc.) the Bush administration took after 9/11 were justified because of the extreme danger that the country faced, that is a trope. Roughly, it is what these days we call a talking point.

And our friend Judy Moffett (“Sally”) writes, “One speaks of the tropes of science fiction (space travel, time travel, alien encounter, future setting). Have I been wrong all these years?” Of course not, regardless of what I implied in the wonk. If a whole slew of people are using the word trope to mean “staple” or “theme” or “convention” or whatnot, then that is one of the (more recent) meanings of the word. Shea reserves the right to grumble about it is all.

Meet Your Macinstructor

Jerome Shea is an emeritus professor of English at the University of New Mexico, where he still teaches his classical tropes course every fall and his prose style course every spring. He has been the Weekend Wonk since January of 2007. His email is


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