Shelley Ettinger

★ ★ ★ ★


Image by Yohann Libot


That’s right! It’s that time again! 

Welcome to banana chair season, everybody. Well, not everybody. I know, I know, everyone loves a bright yellow banana chair—loves to shop for them online, wave to folks lounging on them on front porches, place them just so on lawns and patios, and most of all everyone loves to float on them in pools and lakes and even, if you’ve still got a deft enough sense of balance, in the ocean—but banana chairs are not for everyone. “Sorry Charlie,” as that old tuna commercial from your youth intoned, but this time the sorry is not for you; it’s for them. “Sorry Charlie” to all those folks from middle age on down, “sorry” to the Gen Xers, Millennials, Zers. This is not their season. It’s yours! Boom!

Haven’t you earned it? A little lie-down in the lap of, okay, not luxury exactly, but leisure at least. Isn’t this supposed to be your time of life? When you get to kick back and relax after years upon years of working for a living. In summertime most of all you ought to be able to enjoy it. These were the days you used to drag yourself in to the job, sweat pouring down your back as you walked to the subway station, all the while wishing you’d called in sick and were taking the train in the opposite direction, to the beach. Damn, you loved Coney Island, especially on a weekday when you could claim a good three square feet of sand for your little chair, your towel, your book, yourself, when you’d wade into the freezing water and paddle about for a while, float on your back because there were never waves, after a while head back to your spot until after another while you again got hot and returned to the wet. A routine, water, read, water, read, you’d repeat at fifteen-minute intervals the rest of the day, broken only by a sandy trek to the boardwalk for a Nathan’s hot dog and something to drink.

Until the final few years before you retired. You stopped going to the beach. The train ride seemed endless in a way that never used to bother you. That something to drink sent you over and over to pee and, face it, the bathrooms weren’t the cleanest, not something you’d been overly concerned about in earlier years, you just didn’t touch anything, you washed your hands thoroughly, but by the time you’d hit your sixties you’d developed, if not a phobia, let’s say a hearty aversion to germs. Mostly, though, you stopped because you could no longer sit comfortably on the beach. Not on your towel on the sand, with no back support. And not in your low-slung beach chair. You used to love to drag it down to the tide line and sit there as the water gently, rhythmically swished over your feet. But what was the point when it was nearly impossible to stand back up? Your hips, your knees not cooperating in the least, you struggling, cursing, embarrassed as all hell but also, sadly, relieved when a couple of sweet teens loped over, grabbed your elbows and yanked. Never again, you’d decided then and there. Your beach days were done.

Of course, if you’d had a banana chair things might have been different. Fully inflated, the amber throne would buoy you in the sea and loft you upright from the sand. Banana chair season—oh what a joy it would have been. Or so you’d like to think.

And yes, you find this test humiliating. And yes, you guess you’re deflecting. Making sport. Everything’s a joke to you, isn’t it? Banana chair season, indeed. But what else, really, can you do? When the physician’s assistant places a blank sheet of paper on the table, asks you to draw a clock—analog, whatever will the next generations do when their time comes?—and then tells you to make it show 11:10. You want to ask, “A.M. or P.M.?” but you don’t, you keep your damned mouth shut because who knows what qualifies as a dementia symptom now, what the PA will note with her busily typing fingers on her tablet as she observes you, maybe she’ll think you’re actually asking and will check some box indicating temporal confusion. So you stay quiet as you pencil in an hour hand and a minute hand, straight as you can, careful, no wobbly lines, just how Miss Schwartz taught you in kindergarten a million years ago. A million thoughts are racing through your mind which you’d like to think means you do still have a functioning intellect as opposed to merely a brain whose organic structures are disintegrating by the day, but who knows, it might mean precisely the opposite. Maybe one-track minds are the proper order of the day.

No “maybe” about it. Because, oh shit, what were those three words? The ones the PA intoned, all smiley but also serious, in fact they sent chills down your spine as she uttered them; “This is grim,” you’d thought, “Better concentrate,” you’d told yourself, remember, remember, so you’d tried to chant them silently while completing the other tasks—draw the clock, tell the time, name the president, say the year—but then those damned million other thoughts intruded, work, the subway, Coney Island, Nathan’s, Charlie the Tuna, which generation gets to enjoy banana chair season—and Eureka! That’s it! Fruit! Furniture! Time of year! Three simple words, unrelated as the test devisers seem to think, but not so in your nothing-if-not-narratively-oriented, your ha-ha-so-there-in-your-face-dementia-test mind which had instantly translated them into an image, the image into a story of sorts, and the story? A woeful one, in a way, something about pleasure diminishing, something about paradise lost, but bouncy too, oh breathe the brine oh squint the bright oh the ways we remember to tell ourselves what we don’t want to forget. During banana chair season.

Shelley Ettinger is the author of Vera’s Will (Hamilton Stone Editions, 2015). Her work has been in Gertrude, Nimrod, Mississippi Review, Cream City Review, Mizna, Newtown Literary, Stone Canoe and other journals, and is forthcoming in Allium. She is a Lambda Literary Foundation LGBTQ Writers’ Retreat fellow and has had residencies at the Saltonstall Foundation Arts Colony and the Anderson Center. A queer anti-racist activist for almost fifty years, Shelley is originally from Detroit, lived most of her life in New York City, and now locks down in beautiful San Antonio inside the hellscape called Texas.


  1. Anonymous

    Love this, Shelley! Triumph over age, medical nonsense.


  2. HCV

    Terrific story. Very relatable.


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