Save this storySave this storySave this storySave this story
Is the U.S.—long thought to be the land of new beginnings—in danger of becoming a sclerotic gerontocracy? “In a declining society, the images of an aging leadership can come to embody a general sense of withering and decay,” David Remnick writes in the Comment for the October 2, 2023, issue. “A civic nightmare becomes the caricaturist’s dream.” For the issue’s cover, the cartoonist Barry Blitt portrays the irony and absurdity of the advanced-age politicians currently vying for our top offices. Blitt, who, at sixty-five, is a qualified member of the past-their-prime cohort, also drew from his own experience. As a fellow old duffer (I’m nearly three years older than he is), I called him for a kvetch fest and was rewarded with talk of borrowed walkers, missing teeth, lost hair, and some new belly buttons.
So, what’s up, as the kids say? Is it the knee today or is it the digestion?
Right. I’m sure the readers would love to know what’s ailing me. The knees are both fine, and the digestion is top-notch, thanks for asking. But I think you’ll be thrilled to hear that I recently had five hernias taken care of in one day. When I went in, they thought it was going to be two or three, but afterward the doc couldn’t wait to tell me he found five of them. As I regained consciousness, he was excitedly showing me a diagram of what he’d done.
[Laughs.] That was a good day for hernias.
Well, yes, a good day for a hernia doctor to add to his war stories. It’s not like it used to be, where they’d have to cut you wide open. They do it laparoscopically—I think they go in through your belly button. In any case, now I’ve got some new, extra belly buttons. [Laughs.] Also, it was supposed to be an outpatient procedure, but they kept me overnight—I was a bit of a mess afterward. (Is this really going to be part of the interview? I’d rather talk about bitcoin.) But anyway, this was all a couple of months ago, I’m feeling much better now.
I’m so glad I asked. You wouldn’t have told me otherwise.
I was honestly telling everybody, because it seemed like some kind of record. But then I met someone a couple of weeks ago, a woman at a dinner party, who wasn’t impressed at all. She told me she’d once had seven done in one day! And she wasn’t even old, though it likely happened to her because she had delivered three children.
So not the cause for yours, obviously. What did you do to deserve so many hernias? Were you lifting art work?
No, not art work, but for a while, I was playing gigs in New York City and carrying my electric piano and an amp around. Like an idiot, I used to schlep them on and off of Metro-North trains and into taxis, because I was nervous about driving into town. So I’m sure that’s where I got a few of them.
I knew it had to be for the sake of art.
This wasn’t art, but, yes, it was for the sake of fun.
So other than hernias . . .
Right, what else? I’ve got a lot less hair than I had at the beginning of the pandemic. If you’re going to lose your hair, you want to do it gradually over time, so people see you every day and they get to take it in stride.
[Laughs.] But how would anyone know, since you’re always wearing a hat?
Beware of the times you can’t wear a hat—that’s my motto. But everything else is sort of all right. I mean, I’m missing some teeth, too. [Laughs.] I am missing five teeth. Or maybe it’s six. I’ll do a count after we talk. Only one is conspicuous, in the front. I’ve got to do something about that one.
Why are you losing so many teeth? You just wake up and they fall to the floor?
No, no. I don’t know if you’ve had any root canals, but root canals don’t last forever. Sometimes the shell of the root cracks and gets infected, and they have to pull the tooth. So I’ve had a bunch of those. I have “Montreal teeth.” That’s what they call it. We didn’t have fluoride in our water until much later than most places.
Although, it doesn’t seem to be affecting any of my friends or my brother or anybody else I know from Montreal—I’ve just got terrible teeth.
[Laughs.] My dentist is nice and always tells me there’s also a genetic component.
Maybe, but my parents have way more teeth than I do. Actually, I remember being quite young and looking at the gaps between my great-grandfather’s teeth. And now I am my own great-grandfather in that way.
[Laughs.] Are there any other ways that you feel like you’re your own great-grandfather?
Well, my mother has a fancy walker, and I take it for a spin when I’m in Montreal. I have walked around the house with it, you know, preparing myself for the inevitable. It’s just a matter of time. But besides the teeth, the hair, the hernias, and probably a couple of other things, I’m surprisingly fine.
For more covers that celebrate aging, see below:
“July 24, 1954, by Constantin Aladjalov”
“July 10, 1965, by André François”
“Waiting, by Edward Sorel”
Find Barry Blitt’s covers, cartoons, and more at the Condé Nast Store.