Life Expectancy

Life Expectancy

I don’t quite know why, but suddenly, I’ve become obsessed with the issue of Life Expectancy. Every day, I watch or read a news report about someone younger than me (I’m seventy-four) dying of what seems to be natural causes. They appeared healthy a second ago, and now they’re gone. Or they’re a little older than me, and now they’re gone, and I’m thinking, is that the age I will zero out on? I’m moderately healthy except for obesity, high blood pressure, prostate issues, and inability to sleep six hours (forget about eight). Of course, there’s the subject of a lifetime burden of sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll I’m convinced is still in my physical system (Do I get extra points because I quit nearly twelve years ago?). Aside from all those worries, I’m sure I’ll be fine. That’s because I’ve been consulting life expectancy calculators lately.

In a recent post, I quoted the Social Security Administration’s calculator when I claimed that I have an additional “12.5 years in life expectancy subject to a “wide number of factors such as current health, lifestyle, and family history that could increase or decrease life expectancy.” That means, at eighty-six-point-six months, I will be sucked into the black hole. Wait, I forgot the second part about “current health, lifestyle” qualifier. Damn, I’m doomed.

Birth Days
We were all Young Once

Maybe not. As part of an assignment for my Gerontology class, I need to write a research paper about life expectancy. I took the test yesterday, and wow, I’m going to live to be ninety-nine years old and have an opportunity to add another one-point-six years onto that prediction. It was a little confusing, however. I could swear it also told me I would die at seventy-five, which is coming this December 8. Okay, that’s kind of not cool. I’m unsure what that all means, but that didn’t help build my confidence about living to a ripe old age. I have plans, and this interferes with them. Hell, I’m supposed to graduate next Spring. I can’t die before then.

Not satisfied with those calculators, I decided to check with another one and then average all three. So I checked with the life expectancy calculator sponsored by The U.S. Small-Area Life Expectancy Estimates Project (USALEEP). According to their website, “USALEEP is a partnership of the National Center for Health Statistics, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF), and the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS).” Their life expectancy estimates are calculated based on where a person lives. Zip Code, to be exact.

Birth Days
My Television Life

I punched in my address and zip code and got a message that I don’t live in a census tract they track (too suburban, I guess). The Life Expectancy Project quotes the most recent data available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “life expectancy at birth in the United States is 76.4 years—73.5 years for men (a decrease of 0.7 years from 74.2 in 2020 (Well, at least I beat that.) and 79.3 years for women (a decrease of 0.6 years from 79.9 in 2020).” What are the leading causes of death? Heart disease followed by cancer and COVID-19. 

The calculator coughed out 80.80 years for all of California (I can live with that). Los Angeles County, where I live, is a whopping 82.29 years (Now we’re talking, but it’s still a little limiting for the long-term goals on my bucket list. All these numbers are colored by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic (You do remember the recent rampage by Death?). If you read the qualifiers on the website, you’ll find the reality check about where we are as a nation.

For the first time in our history, the United States is raising a generation of children who may live sicker and shorter lives than their parents. In 2020 and again in 2021, we witnessed the steepest plunge in life expectancy since World War II, primarily fueled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
Birth Days
The Older You Get

Knock on wood, but I’ve been able to avoid the plague so far. But, the small print speaks about reversing the trend will, as they say, “…depend on healthy choices by each of us. But not everyone in America has the same opportunities to be healthy.” But how much of those healthy choices can we control? According to the project, mitigating factors impact who lives longer and who doesn’t. They write that “…the drivers of inequitable social, economic, built, and physical conditions within and across place and race can dramatically reduce opportunities for better health and well-being.” I guess there’s nothing simple about trying to live longer.

Now, I live in what might be described as a middle to an upper-middle-income neighborhood on the east side of Long Beach. However, I live less than a mile from two freeways that carry thousands of cars every hour spewing their pleasant exhaust fumes all over our beautiful Southern California skies. There are also a couple of power plants nearby, but I have no idea what they’re spewing, so I don’t count them, although I’m sure my lungs do (just saying).

Generations- Grandpa with Anabella- Fort Worth (Photo by Antonio Nelson Ruiz)

As I write this essay, I realize that none of this matters in my daily life. I could get mugged and killed at any moment, slip and fall on my front steps, get t-boned on the 405 freeway, and get squashed into the concrete divider and be compacted into a small square. Worse (it could get worse?), I could get COVID-19 and get carried into an ICU and, with my health issues, never make it out alive. It could happen.

By the way, if my math is correct, when I average out all the predictions, I will live until the nice ripe age of 83.28 (Something not to aspire to). The reality is, and I know it is, that how long you live depends on many factors; some you can control, and others you can’t. So instead of obsessing about an arbitrary number, I should focus on factors I can influence, like diet, exercise, mental health, and the one aspect that has influenced so much of my life: determination. The determination to outrun death and its manifestations of sickness and incapacitation. So far, so good.

I Can’t Think of Anything to Write About

“To retire is to begin to die.”

Pablo Casals
1966 James Monroe High School Yearbook Photo

Weird. I usually have a million things on my mind to write about. I mean, I have a list. I’ve wanted to write about police brutality, what I should call myself (Hispanic, Dominican-Puerto Rican, Latino, Latinx), how white liberals are going to get us killed, the GOP delusion, how much reading I must do this semester for school; I mean I have a very long list. Yet, I can’t seem to put two sentences together this week. Nothing is coming out of my mind into my fingers onto the keyboard.

Paris, France (Photo by Antonio Ruiz)

I’m just so busy with my three classes this semester. Seriously, I didn’t even think about how much reading and writing I would be doing as part of my classes and assignments. Take, for instance, Gerontology 401 (the study of aging). I just finished our third week, and I’m already overwhelmed with so much reading and writing, but I must admit, it’s interesting as hell. Theories of Aging, the biology of aging, the genetics of aging, and the three categories of aging (Young-old, Middle-Old, and Old-old) are right up there with lessons on physiology. I feel like I’ve walked into a medical school classroom. I learned some of this material in Anthropology at Long Beach City College, so it’s not entirely foreign to me. I’m glad I decided to take the class. When you’re 74, you discover you need all the knowledge and tools you can gather to deal with your aging.

One of our assignments this week was to write a 500–750-word essay about ourselves in the context of why we are taking this class. I wrote:

According to the Social Security Administration, I have an additional 12.5 years in life expectancy subject to a “wide number of factors such as current health, lifestyle, and family history that could increase or decrease life expectancy” (Unites States Government). I’m hopeful that my family genes will play a more significant role than my past health issues in determining my life expectancy. I have family members on both sides who have lived into their nineties and seen their centennial birthdays.

Discussion Post for GERN401
Paris, France (Photo by Antonio Ruiz)

Until I wrote those sentences, I hadn’t thought much about aging. Honestly, I feel young except for the slow-moving getting up from a chair or those aches in places I never thought I had and the getting up in the middle of the night two or three times for the lonely journey to the bathroom (it’s a man thing). But a look in the mirror or the spider-like skin growing on my hands, along with those medical appointments to check my plumbing, all are severe indicators of aging. Yeah, I’m glad I’m taking this class.

My U.S. Ethnic Writers class, English 375, is beginning to heat up. In the last two weeks, we’ve watched two documentaries, Agents of Change (2016), directed by Abby Ginzberg and Frank Dawson, and Race: The Power of an Illusion, both critical films about race, whiteness, and culture in this here America. Particularly disturbing were the familiar battles over ethnic study programs in the late sixties and early seventies spotlighted in Agents of Change. Here we are in 2023, still fighting the same struggles with basically the same group of conservative white Christians, primarily men (accompanied now by more women), telling us People of Color who we should be and what we should learn about ourselves. Yeah, I have two words for you, and it isn’t a merry christmas. Thank goodness, I’m not tired yet.

Paris, France (Photo by Antonio Ruiz)

Journalism 415 Diversity in the Media has turned out to be a surprise. This class isn’t what I first thought it was, and I’m cool. Here’s an excerpt from the syllabus:

This course is designed to give students a theoretical, as well as practical, experience with issues of gender, race, class, and sexuality as they manifest in mediated artifacts of popular culture. The course is taught from a cultural studies perspective where students will gain skills in critical analysis and media literacy. Concepts of power, privilege, justice, representations, hegemony, consumption, and resistance will be woven throughout course readings, films, assignments, and discussions.

Excerpted from syllabus JOUR 415: Diversity in the Media

Now that’s a mouthful. In practical terms, this past week, I spent much time listening to various podcasts like Scene on Radio’s “Seeing White: Turning the Lens,” and Code Switch’s “Can We Talk About Whiteness,”along with watching a documentary called White Like Me. Catch the theme? That makes two classes in the same week address the issue of race. The right wing in Texas and Florida must be pissing in their pants. Look, seriously, I know these are complex subjects to discuss that make people uncomfortable, but I can tell you from experience that these are not new subjects. American history is full of these subjects and will be for the foreseeable future until, if ever, we accept and deal with the foundational narrative of America. It hurts and will continue to be a sore on the soul of this nation, so pull up your britches and grow up.

Paris, France (Photo by Antonio Ruiz)

This Spring 2023 semester marks fourteen semesters (hey, you don’t gulp fine wine, you slowly sip it) of college (Long Beach City College and California State University, Long Beach) with only two more until the Spring of 2024 when at the ripe middle-old age of seventy-five, I will graduate with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English, Creative Writing. The journey has been both exciting because I’ve met so many inspiring students, teachers, and staff and because of the universe of knowledge and wisdom that has been opened for me, including Math (Stats) which I am not a big fan of, but which proved to be my biggest challenge over the past seven years. I got my only B in all my years in college in that class, surprising me (no, not that I got a B, but that I even passed the course).

I have often told myself that retirement is outdated in the digital age. There are too many opportunities to enrich your mind, body, and soul at any age, especially now. If I can walk, talk, and think, I intend to keep pushing my boundaries of living by learning and grabbing up as many degrees as I can fit on my wall. After that B.A., a Master/MFA is next. Hell, why stop now? I don’t play golf.


My continuing educational journey resumes at California State University, Long Beach, on August 22, 2022.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I’m often asked, “Why are you going to college at your age?” Why not? Better than wasting away in front of a television sitting on a battered sofa that has seen too much drinking, too much smoking (the marijuana kind), and too much slobbering coming out of my mouth. I’m thinking about all this nightmare as I joke out loud, “Well, I don’t play golf.”

But seriously, I tell them and probably myself, besides it being number one on my bucket list for most of my adult life, I had always loved to learn; I didn’t know how much until I realized I had stopped learning a long time ago. I had stopped reading books, magazines, and hell; the newspaper only deserved a glance. I was focused on the Trades (Hollywood Reporter, Variety) for some twenty years and maybe an occasional passing glance at something outside my career if I was sitting in a doctor’s waiting room or waiting for my haircut or bored at Starbuck’s and someone left a magazine on a table.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

Honestly, I think I stopped learning sometime around high school in 1966. However, I did try slipping in those single semesters of college in 1967 and 1970. Then there were those faint-hearted efforts at UCLA Extension in the early nineties when I swore I wanted to become a Hollywood screenwriter with some script titled Dealin’ or the time in 1987 I was chosen out of a hundred or more applicants nationally to attend a two-week intensive workshop at the American Film Institute on Writing Drama for Television with a script called Custer’s Last Stand (No, not that Custer, another one, an old Detective).

Somewhere in between the induced fogs inspired by drugs and alcohol, I dreamed of expanding my universe of knowledge (before the internet when you really had to go to a library or an extension class) and even thought that maybe attending an actual college course would jumpstart my life again even when I had finally reached my lifelong dream of working in Hollywood, well sort of. I wasn’t writing teleplays or screenplays.

Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay 

I wasn’t directing or producing the next humongous blockbuster directed and produced by ANTONIO PEDRO RUIZ, direct from the South Bronx, from public housing to the streets of Hollywood and the Hollywood Walk of Fame. No, I would have to be satisfied with live television of celebrities walking a red carpet between a phalanx of cameras and inquisitive hosts and producers asking, “Tell me dahling, what are you wearing under that mahvelous sequin dress?” and I guess some knowledge is better than no knowledge at all—sort of.

Don’t get me wrong. From the nineteen seventies through the two-thousand teens, I got lucky with careers and jobs that many only dream of. And I’m grateful. They all taught me something, injecting into my brain a skill, an insight, a clue to the keys that unlock the universe inside and outside me. But I knew some time after I went sober in 2011 that I wanted more than just what could be found in real-life experience (still the best teacher). I dreamed of a structured environment where a teacher of some importance and wisdom would direct my attention to knowledge unknown to me and the keys to unlocking my imagination and the directions to past and future worlds where someone is not stopping me so they can ask, “What the fuck are you wearing? (A flowery Hawaiian Shirt and untorn Levis jeans with black and white running shoes, and what the fuck is that Jibaro hat on your head).

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

When was I brave enough in 2016 to admit that I had missed out on the entire college experience beginning at seventeen in 1966 and that if I had stayed, I would have probably been at the forefront of a mob of students who would have stormed the halls of academia in 1968 during the days of rage and probably have gotten kicked out of college or worse and ended up not with a college degree but with a jail sentence and where would I be?

Fast forward to 2016, and five years later, into the middle of a Pandemic, and despite it, I collected my Associate of Arts degree in English from Long Beach City College and graduated with a 3.94 GPA (damn that B in Stats). I was accepted to the only University I applied to two blocks from my house California State University, Long Beach, where I continued my education journey through Fall 2021 and Spring 2022. Now it’s Fall 2022, and I am working hard at seventy-three toward a BA in English focusing on Nonfiction Creative Writing in Spring to graduate in 2024 when I will be seventy-five. And to be even more ambitious, I have plans for beyond suddenly. If I can still breathe, walk, and talk, why not?

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

I want to pursue post-graduate work in American Studies, American History, Bronx Nuyorican and Dominican Voices that have been unheard, unseen, searching for my identity, why I’m an American, to fight back at those crazy ass Americans who insist that I’m not American and what does that all mean politically, culturally, and can we even save America?

I now read voraciously everything I can get my hands on (Thank you, Kindle, Amazon Books, the internet, and every online discount bookstore I can find). I’m writing poetry, short fiction, nonfiction, a thought, a scrap of my mind, a sentence, many sentences, playing with words, with form, with insight, with clues that lead to other clues that will unlock more clues to definitions that will help me see that learning is forever to be found in books and the internet and life in the experience of learning and exchanging wisdom through that learning.

I’m going to get those future degrees, not for the paper they represent but because they will be markers on my path to greater knowledge (you can teach an old dog new tricks) and the keys to the universe.

Old(er) American (Beginning Part 1)

Image by annca from Pixabay

One in a series of essays about being American.

I sometimes do everything possible to stop from getting old(er) denying the truth in front of me and trying to make life stand still while finding that life is just too exciting to stop my body and mind from getting old(er) through all my years and its been difficult to stop the aging process when one grows up like for example in a place like the South Bronx from the ages of birth to thirteen years of life with all its urban stress of living in the projects compared to let’s say Middletown New York in the sixties from the ages of thirteen to fifteen years of life where I was living in the most rural country as rural could be and there was unobstructed land as far as my mind’s eye could see and the air was clean as clean could be out in the country compared to the big city and I could see there in the country at night more stars that I thought existed shining their lights down on my eyes and whispering that they were as old as time could be and were now probably dead since the time they first threw their light down at me and now they are old because they are dead and I’m just getting old(er) because I had not died like them (yet) instead of focusing on living that almost pure life I focused on leaving all that clean air and unobstructed land and more stars that I thought existed back to twenty-one story projects in the South Bronx compacted with so many people and urban stress but by this point in my fifteen years of life I faced painful memories of a catholic seminary and the catholic church and priests who reeked of sour wine and cheap booze while showering me with too much grace and sins and mystical powers that no one can describe or point out but being asked (no told) that I just had to have faith and with that faith I could learn to live in a place like the South Bronx happily ever after with a smile on my face as I grew old(er) dreaming of another life far from the South Bronx like that rural area called Middletown New York with its clean air and unobstructed land and more stars than I thought existed when I told myself and my parents and anyone who would listen that what I loved most was the freedom that came with imagination where I could dream and create my own view of unobstructed land and more stars than I could imagine in my head and that through the freedom I created for myself I could live more of life and learn to be old(er) in a more inspiring way than I could ever find there in the projects whether it was the Patterson’s or the John Adam Houses or that apartment building just south of Crotona Park where my first marriage was dying and the air in the Bronx was choking me and I had gotten tired of the junkie life (but not drugs) and I dreamed to live as many dreams as I could whether in a new big city like the Washington DC or Hartford Connecticut New England of the seventies where on a clear night I could look up at the sky of rural Connecticut and inhale clean brisk air on a cold winter night and see unobstructed land for miles and see more stars than I thought was possible and then to go back to Washington DC after the purity of New England history to live again in a compact city with history and legends and I realize that I am now at thirty years of life wondering what the hell happened in between birth and thirty years of life that it went so fast or lived so fast that I never stood still long enough to absorb it all like the fresh air in Middletown New York or New England and realize all those years are more than a number they are a life if only I had stopped long enough to realize when I was young(er) and full of vigor and ambition and I didn’t need to fear getting old(er) while thinking aloud that life will be special and exciting and it’s all there ahead of me with no care in the world due to this innocence or naiveté or blindness that they taught me in Phoenix House about no matter where I go there I’ll be and no matter how far I go how far I run I cannot hide from me so I’ll always be there with all my faults and wrinkles and holes in my soul and a little old(er) and I fool myself into thinking I know so much when I don’t because what else is there to know about life except I was born and I get old(er) and then I will die (trust me I’ve tested that and I tried more than once) but at that young(er) age so long ago when the idea of old(er) was so far away so distant as the stars above me are so far away and life just goes on and on through thirty years of age and there are plenty of mistakes and remorse (not always) and plenty more mistakes and remorse (not always) because I think I will live forever and not get old(er) so I fill myself with more drugs and alcohol than I thought possible and had ever thought was possible and I crash at thirty five and I keep hoping that there are better days ahead when I will be much old(er) and wiser and I swear that I just need to get away and everything will change and I will change and then I remember what they told me in Phoenix House about wherever I go there I am because there is no guarantee that getting old(er) will make me wiser if I could only move somewhere else anywhere else but I learn quickly as I run all the way from the east coast of this here United States of America to the west coast of this here United States of America that getting old(er) is not just an ongoing physical degradation of the cells in my body and mind but something else is happening in my present and future inside of my consciousness and I will get another chance to get it right or wrong or whatever it is that I want of living and getting old(er) at thirty five as I stand on the edge of America on a cliff overlooking the vast Pacific Ocean and look up at the sky on a clear brisk night where the breeze of the Pacific Ocean humbles me and the stars above me are more stars than I ever imagined overwhelm me while pointing me in a new direction toward an old(er) self and I wonder how far do I have to go and how much time will it take while wondering if I still have time to get there.

(End Part 1)

Image by giselaatje from Pixabay


Image by Mary Pahlke from Pixabay

This is a story about me—my obese self. The struggle with food and my weight goes back decades. I’ve written about this subject before, and I’m here again to tell you that this concerns me now more than ever. I’ve beaten back drugs, alcohol, and even my famous temper (Well, still working on that one). However, my weight? Damn, it’s an albatross around my waist and my internal organs. This is no joke, and I know it intellectually and feel it physically and emotionally, but this is hard to lose, especially at my age.

“Obesity is a complex disease involving an excessive amount of body fat. Obesity isn’t just a cosmetic concern. It’s a medical problem that increases the risk of other diseases and health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and certain cancers.”

Mayo Clinic

Since I last wrote about my state of health last November, I’ve been bouncing around in the 210-230 pound range, and trust me, for someone my size and age, this is dangerous territory.

Image by Shane Cromer from Pixabay

No lie, I love to eat. I like to think of myself as a “Foodie” who loves tasting the world’s cuisines. I’m game for almost anything from any culture. And that would be okay in some planned moderation. The problem is that the word “moderation” doesn’t seem to grip my mind when I start diving into a pool of arroz con pollo or Texas BBQ or ramen or mole and the occasional pork something (no beef, please). Then, add the sweet stuff, the bread, the peanut butter, the bread (Did I already mention the bread?), add up the calories, and it all piles up inside of me like mounds of fat and whatever else goes along with it into your arteries and your organs.

Science of Obesity – Adipose Tissue: The Bodies Fat Reservoir

Trust for America’s Health Trust (TFAH) is “a non-partisan public health policy, research, and advocacy organization,” according to its website. The nonprofit, funded by foundations like The California Endowment and Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, “envisions a nation that values the health and well-being of all.” I’m all for that. Shocker, according to TFAH, the obesity rate for adults in this country “passed the 40 percent mark for the first time in 2019, standing at 42.4 percent.” That rate for adults has gone up by 26 percent since 2008. Their annual report shows that poverty and discrimination have pushed the obesity rate up for particular “racial and ethnic populations.”

For a male seventy-three years old, a former smoker (cigarettes and mary jane), an ex-heavy drinker (What’s a better word than heavy?), and an ex-drug user, I sit here wondering what impact that amount of abuse does on my body along with my current weight load. I know I’m pre-diabetic, suffer from occasional sciatica bouts, and always feel tired. Let’s not even dive into a discussion about whether I have a case of mild asthma and acid reflux that causes me to suffer an occasional chronic cough. OMG, I’m falling apart!

Mads Tang-Christensen: The brain science of obesity | TED

Back to food. I know I love food, but sometimes I think I love the mechanics of eating more. How do you explain grabbing stuff I know is terrible for me and shoving it into my mouth? Breakfast sandwiches from MacDonald’s, BBQ pork ribs, fried chicken, donuts, pizza with extra Mozzarella, Ricotta, Gouda, and Goat Cheese. Really? And don’t get me started on ice cream. Ice Cream? DQ or Baskin Robbins. Doesn’t matter. Not a small-sized cup. But a waffle cone with two scoops of the most fat-creating flavors they got. At least I’m not asking them for chocolate syrup on it. Not yet.

Terry Black’s Barbecue- Austin (Photo by Antonio Nelson Ruiz

Food, or at least certain foods, is like a drug. Remember, I’m an ex-junkie, and we’re never satisfied with just one shot of dope. No, even while we are still nodding over, we’re trying to figure out when we will get our next shot. Same with food. Not satisfied with two eggs and two turkey breakfast sausages, my mind tells me, “Hey, one more egg and turkey sausage ain’t going to hurt.” Except that I’m usually moving a short time later to feast on lunch with double what I ate at breakfast and then dinner with double I ate for lunch interspersed with that snack at ten a.m. and 3 p.m. and some dessert at 8 p.m., maybe some popcorn, followed by getting ready for bed an hour later. Imagine all that fat and cholesterol sitting in my stomach overnight, ripening into gas, and whatever else happens down there that creates the worst stomach hangover when you finally crawl out of bed in the morning and make it to the bathroom where you wish for a moment that you never see food again and that death could not come quick enough to relieve the pain you feel.

Now, that’s a problem.

I get the whole image and body shaming debate; however, this is a profoundly personal fear that has nothing to do with looking like I’m twenty-five or even fifty. As I said in my previous post:

“How many friends with similar challenges have I seen drop dead or end up in the hospital? Honestly, this time fear has slipped into the picture. I have too many things that I want to do before I pass on. Writing these words scares me because I know this is real. What I do next is up to me, and for my own health, I better get it right.”

Antonio Ruiz
A not recent photo by Sumire Gant ( I don’t use a cane anymore)

I hope I’m listening to myself and reading these words carefully because I know that I’m not going to walk down the runway at my graduation at California State University, Long Beach, in two years needing assistance due to my weight while my body is failing me.

I am just saying.


Image by narciso1 from Pixabay

Well, it’s that time of the year again. December 8, 2021. The flat earth has faked its voyage around the sun again, and 365 days later, I’m still here. Another great year of doing my best to stay away from as many crazies as possible while hoping that I can just get through a day without hearing the name of you know who. Hint: it ain’t this President, Joe Biden. So it’s birthday time and an opportunity to assess the past year and wonder where I am in the grand scheme of things. Have I learned well enough and done enough good things that I deserve to celebrate this birthday with a smile on my face?

Look, I’m smiling.

This June, I graduated with an AA in English from Long Beach City College (LBCC) with honors. Let’s start with that. Yes, it took me five years, but I dug in my heels, pushed my body and mind through some rough physical patches along the way, and made it to the finish line. Not bad for a then seventy-two-year-old.


My poem, The Ax Handle, was published in the LBCC literary journal Saga.

Student ID number masked.

I was accepted to California State University, Long Beach, where I am in the final two weeks of my first semester. The big difference for me is that I’m now taking three classes instead of two. I still count myself lucky every time I hear about students taking four classes while working part-time or even full-time jobs and taking care of a family. But, this is still no walk in the park for me. I’ve probably done more reading and writing in the past two semesters in college than I have in, oh I don’t know, thirty years? And I love it. I’ve written two original short stories this semester along with four academic essays, read about literary theories from Michel Foucault and Mikhail Bakhtin, watched the television drama, and read the text of Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot for the first time. Holy shit, what took me so long? There was Olaudah Equiano, John Keats, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens (I’ve seen the movie but never read the story), Virginia Woolf, and Chinua Achebe (a Nigerian writer), who blew my mind. They’re not kidding when they say you have a choice: sail through college and get that degree and not remember a damn thing you studied, or you can take each day to allow yourself to be absorbed by what you learn, and you will be changed forever. I like the latter.

Not satisfied with one artificial knee on my left leg, I decided to get a new knee on my right leg. There were no complications. I’m jumping around (maybe jumping is too strong a word) on two titanium knees now. How did I ever forget what it means to replace one’s knee? This is no walk in the park. As the physician assistant told me once when I complained about the pain, “Remember, we just tore your leg open, ripped out the old knee, and plugged in a metal knee while cutting nerves and moving shit around.” Okay, I’m paraphrasing now, but I got it. Yeah, they did that. Didn’t make the pain go away, but sure did sober me up and convinced me to take the damn pain pills that I’d been resisting out of fear of addiction and throw myself knees first into physical rehab. Five months later, I’m doing just fine.

I just love this picture.

Special thanks to my wife-partner, Sumire Gant, for leadership and planning. We’ve finally gotten around to some long overdue house remodeling. Funny how you take your home for granted sometimes. You’ve lived in it for twenty-three years, and you just get so used to things being what they are that you don’t realize how uncomfortable you are with specific spaces. Then, you come to the Aha moment that your home would be even better if only you took the time to fix or replace those spaces. Well, we’ve spent the nearly past two years slowly getting around to things that we’ve been putting off for a very long time, and it really feels good.

The most essential thing that has happened to me since my last birthday has been my continued growth as a human being, a husband, a father, and a brother. While I’ve had to fight hard to battle the Pandemic Blues, I continue to work on my nearly thirty-seven-year-old relationship with my wife-partner, Sumire Gant. We just celebrated our thirty-fourth anniversary recently, and on January 1, 2022, we’ll commemorate thirty-seven years of living together. Now, there’s a woman with patience.

I’m consistently strengthening my relationship with my oldest son, Antonio, the father of the beautiful granddaughter, Anabella, and my youngest, Daichi Gant-Ruiz. I’m so proud of both of them.


Then, there’s my family in New York, with whom I continue to build bridges. As the oldest, I just found it easy to disentangle myself during the sixties from family. Yes, I know I always used the excuse, “It was the sixties, man!” but I took it to an extreme through the next fifty years. I moved around a lot to other cities and coasts and acted as if they and my parents were someone else’s family. Yeah, don’t do that. It’s not a good thing.

The side benefit of building bridges is I’m also growing connected with the Dominican half of me, my mother’s side. I’m reading Junot Diaz’s book, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, all about the Dominican Republic and Dominicans. Damn, I thought Puerto Rico was fascinating. They don’t have anything on the DR and their history of spectacular dictatorships and United States intervention. There are Dominican cousins (we seem to have a million of them) in New York who have been busy charting the family’s genealogy for some time now. I’ve seen pictures of grandmothers going back to the nineteenth century. Now, that’s cool.

Image by Arek Socha from Pixabay 

As I begin the next trek around the sun rushing toward 74, let me just confirm what friends of mine who are older than me have been saying for years, “Hold on, the best rides are just ahead.”

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