These days, people who sell you sharp knives or alcohol are supposed to convince
themselves that you are suitably old. At my age, it’s quite flattering when
someone actually asks me, but it does make me think. I consulted the
New York Times
and prepared my response,
ready for the next occasion . . .

Are you 18 years or older?” asks the lady at the till.
“It depends,” I say, “on what you mean by ‘you’.”
She glares, and I can feel the air acquire a glacial chill
As I try to give an answer that is true.

“My cells, you see, divide: they’re reproducing all the time,
And though it’s inappropriate to boast,
My bones are young and sprightly (though their owner’s past his prime) –
My skeleton is ten years old at most!

“Just fifteen years is all the time my muscles get to see,
And sixteen years for guts, before they go.
If your question is addressed to those inner parts of me,
The answer must predictably be ‘no’.

“‘You’ve got a lovely liver,’ someone said* the other day.
Not just lovely, but so young – about a year?
My red blood cells are younger still, no more than four months old are they;
And they’re the things that keep me in top gear.

“There are some parts of me that claim to be a certain age:
My eyeballs, bits of brain, and maybe heart
Have birth-certificated vintage, and as far as I can gauge
Are unsurpassed by any other part.”

I s’pose you think that’s funny,” says the lady at the till.
I have to ask the question, it’s the law.
I’ll let it go this time, and I will sell you what you want,
But next time, don’t be such a crashing bore.

* See No place to hide

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