I know – oh yes, I know

May 17, 2000

Will The X-Files return for another season? Is there a heaven? How long will it be before the earth’s oil supply is depleted? What is a logarithm? Why did that counselor at Camp Norwich force me to drink my prune juice, causing me to vomit in my Cocoa Puffs 25 years ago?

To all these questions, I respond: I don’t know.

I can’t swing a dead cat without hitting something I don’t know. It’s been like this all my life, as I am sure it will continue to be so. There are moments, though, that I am filled with certainty on a particular matter, a certainty so strong that I can cast away “I don’t know” and cry out loud, “I know – oh, yes, I KNOW!”

I was blessed with such a moment of illumination after taking a longevity quiz in a recent edition of Modern Maturity. I’ve always wondered how long I’ll live; now I know. I will die at the ripe old age of [drum roll] 88.

That’s right, 88. I was hoping for 90, but 88 is close. I can live with that.

Magazine quizzes have enlightened me many times. I have been able to gauge with scientific accuracy the following subjects: how sexy I am; the seriousness (on a scale of 1-10) of my romantic relationship; what color clothing I should wear taking into consideration my eyes, hair, and flesh tone; comfortable vs. stylish shoes (they aren’t mutually exclusive!); and, my chances of hooking up with Britney Spears.

As helpful as though questionnaires have been, none have thrilled me as much as the longevity quiz in Modern Maturity, which was designed by Harvard Medical School researchers Thomas Perls, M.D. and Margery Hutter Silver, Ed.D., who studied 150 centenarians (why they studied penny collectors, I don’t know, although I would hazard to guess they were pretty old).

With pencil in hand, I went over the 20 questions with my wife, who, by the way, will live to 91, giving her 3 years to use the remote.

The quiz employs a point scale, adding or reducing points for characteristics and habits associated with longevity or lack thereof (surprisingly, “tendency to nap on train tracks” is not included). Those points are then divided by 5, and that number is added to or subtracted from an average life span – 84 for men and 88 for women.

The questions are wisely posed in a neutral, non-judgmental, non-loaded fashion. For example, instead of asking, “Do you avoid butter, cream, pastries, and other saturated fats as well as fried food (e.g. french fries), or are you comfortable knowing your arteries are as clogged as Route 1 in Ogunquit on a Saturday in July?” the doctors have deleted the portion after “(e.g. french fries).” Had we answered “Yes” (i.e., lied), we would have gained 3 points. However, snorfling down another Chips Ahoy chewy chocolate chocolate chip cookie, I went with the truth, and we lost 7 points.

I was surprised to learn that while drinking more than 16 ounces of coffee a day is bad (-3 points), having tea daily is good (+3 points). I was not surprised to learn that smoking or being around smokers (-20 points) and having had a heart attack or stroke (-10 points) does not bode well for one’s longevity, and that having more than one relative reach the age of 90 in excellent health is a good sign (+24 points). Having had one relative, my maternal grandmother, make it to 91, I am rooting for others to increase my odds by following suit.

We lost points for not taking vitamin E and selenium every day. Fortunately, we were not penalized for not knowing what selenium is.

Shortly before taking the quiz, I began flossing my teeth every day, rather than when I felt like it. Such a monumental change in my personal hygiene tacked 2 points onto my score, rather than deducting 4 points. Timing is everything.

About bowel movements: one a day, good; less than once every two days, bad. One of us lost points, one of us remained steady, but I’m not naming names.

Having more than two drinks a day is a no-no (not only do you lose 10 points in Modern Maturity’s longevity quiz, you might also lose your liver); however, while not drinking keeps your score level, having one or two drinks a day increases your quiz score by 3 points, and has the added benefit of making Saturday Night Live a lot funnier than it really is.

Knowing how long I’ll live makes planning the weekend so much easier. So I don’t paint the trim on the sunroom, big deal – I’ve got 50 years to get to it.

I’m still peeved that my wife’s got an extra 3 years on me. Maybe she should do the trim.

Dana “Mr. Regular” Pearson is Assistant Editor of the York County Coast Star.

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