MAD DOG: Bottling the Fountain of Youth

In addition to the three certainties in life -- death, taxes, and that the new fall TV season will boost book sales -- we should add a fourth: the quest to have a longer life. With the notable exceptions of Ernest Hemingway, Kurt Cobain, and Sylvia Plath, most people want to live to a ripe old age. Marie Bremont sure did. She was the world's oldest person until she died recently at the age of 115. That's a long time, long enough to outlive two husbands, two World Wars, and two versions of Planet of the Apes and still not know for sure which were the bigger disasters.

She never said what her secret of longevity was, which is odd. Usually people that old have a theory about it and love to pass it on. After all, when you don't have to worry about working, cooking, exercising, or breathing on your own you have a lot of time to formulate theories. And it's always nice to pass along something other than gas.

Some people say they lived a long life because they ate a particular food, like yogurt, every day. Others claim it was from staying active. Still others think it came from living a squeaky clean life, but if that was the case we'd be overrun by 150-year-old nuns trying to remember why those beads are hanging from their waist instead of around their neck while they reminisce about the good old days when they could still lift a ruler to smack a student's hand.

In Marie's case it might have something to do with her being French. After all, a previous world's oldest person was French: Jeanne Calment, who died in 1997 at the age of 122. Jeanne was a smart woman. In 1965 she made a deal with a lawyer to pay her $500 a month for life on the condition that she leave him her house when she died. This sounded like a hell of a deal since Jeanne was 90 years old at the time. Unfortunately for him he died two years before she did, having shelled out $180,000 for a house that was only worth $60,000. I'm sure Jeanne died happy knowing she outwitted a lawyer. I know I would.

It would be nice if it turned out the French connection to longevity was the wine they drink every day, because that would give us one less thing to feel guilty about, and that would make whatever life we do have more fun. Then if researchers would announce that potato chips count as a daily vegetable serving, Chee-tos are officially dairy, and goldfish crackers are seafood we could live happy. And die happy. And save everyone a lot of time and trouble in deciding who was going to win next year's Nobel Prize.

Instead researchers are trying to figure out why some people live longer than others. Like the ones at the Max Planck Institute in Germany who discovered that being born in the fall can extend your life. It's true. They say if you were born between October and December you can expect to live 0.6 years longer than if you were born in any other season. While this isn't a huge amount of time, it's definitely enough to take a trip around the world, look up all your old boy or girlfriends and remember why that's not a good idea, and get around to finishing that bird house in the shape of the Eiffel Tower that's been sitting in the garage for 10 years.

Another group of researchers, this batch in Canada, also had way too much time on their hands. They got tired of trying to discover why Canadians always sew a flag on their knapsacks so they switched gears and figured out that winning an Academy Award can increase life expectancy by four years. This too is true. Thus Francis Ford Coppola should live eight years longer than Steven Spielberg, Woody Allen should live four years longer than Marlon Brando, and Walt Disney should have lived 80 years longer than he did, though he may yet once they get around to thawing him out.

There are other things you can do to extend your life besides move to France, lie about your birthday, and take up acting. You can find a mate with a family history of longevity. While this isn't a sure thing, it can help, since it's common for one partner to die soon after the first one goes, so the longer he or she lasts, the longer you'll last. Well, as long as you don't go first and really screw things up. Last year Glenn and Betty Jo Nunnenkamp of Portland, Oregon, may have set the record when they died of separate illnesses within five hours of each other after 43 years of marriage. Togetherness is good, but some people carry it a little too far.

Finally, if you want to ensure that you live a long life, don't sing prophetic opera. In 1996 Richard Versalle was performing The Makropulos Case at the Metropolitan Opera in New York when he sang the line "You can only live so long." Right on cue he dropped dead, the Met dropped the curtain, and they had a hell of a time finding anyone who wanted to take over his role.

None of this, of course, can guarantee that you'll live as long as Marie Bremont or Jeanne Calment. And it's doubtful researchers will solve this anytime soon. So maybe it would make more sense for them to work on getting rid of taxes and creating a new fall TV season that doesn't replace Sominex. At least then the life we do have will be more enjoyable.

More Mad Dog can be found online at His compilation of humorous travel columns, "If It's Such a Small World Then Why Have I Been Sitting on This Airplane For Twelve Hours?" is available from Xlibris Corporation.


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