I’ve learned something about myself that I don’t like. I’m vain. I suppose the clues were there if I’d been looking for them, but I wasn’t, and I guess there are those who know me who could have told me if I’d asked, but I didn’t.
The revelation came about when my doctors, after a series of medical mishaps, told me I should start using a cane. I’ve had two previous brushes with infirmity that I shrugged off: I wear glasses (a fashion statement) and hearing aids (so cunningly concealed that I like to think no one even knows I wear them). But a cane – how do you disguise that?
Wait a minute, I told myself, there are options. A cane doesn’t have to scream at people: “Look at me, I’m frail!” Think of Charlton Heston as Moses, striding along flourishing a shepherd’s crook, splendid with flowing hair, beard and robes, leading his people to the Promised Land.
That got quickly dismissed. My hair might make it, but my scrawny beard would take me more years than I have left to become what anyone could possibly describe as flowing. My wife told me flat out she wouldn’t be caught dead with me if I were wearing a robe. And did you ever try putting a shepherd’s crook in the front seat of a small SUV?
Second option: One of those snappy little canes like Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly often used as props – twirling, tossing, tapping them in time with their feet, tucking them neatly under their elbows and strutting with panache and aplomb, even bouncing them off the floor and catching them on the fly, altogether a charming and fascinating sight. They even used umbrellas as canes (“Easter Parade” for Astaire and “Singin’ in the Rain” for Kelly), but that wouldn’t make a lot of sense unless I moved to perennially rainy London.
I quickly learned, though, trying out a cane rather embarrassingly in a medical products store, that to cut the dashing figure I had in mind would require more practice than I could reasonably expect to have time for, and a dexterity of hand and foot that has, alas, fled me a long while ago.
OK, what about a swagger stick with an impressive-looking diamond for a knob, like some of the swells used to carry in the old movies? That idea, too, was quickly discarded. Have you priced diamonds lately?
Or one with a concealed sword in the shaft, perfect for fending off muggers or tax collectors? My wife and daughter vehemently nixed that possibility, certain that I would either end up in jail for carrying a concealed weapon or in the hospital for hurting myself.
Running out of choices, I went online and after an extensive search ended up with a marvel of modern efficiency called a “Hurrycane,” though I’m still having a problem with the juxtaposition of the word “hurry” with “cane.”
It’s adjustable for length, has a sturdy tripod for a foot and, with a twist of the handle, will even stand up by itself. Standing smartly next to my chair in a restaurant, however, it looked so much like a sentinel that I felt like saluting it, so I hang it over the back of my chair instead.
I’m afraid I still do the best I can to have my cane, when it’s in use, look like it’s just an affectation. But the bottom line, I keep reminding myself, pushing my vanity aside, is that its primary function – and it’s a good one – is to keep me from falling on my face.