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Long IslandLI Life

Life, death and keeping the backhoe at bay

Early one morning, they knocked down the house across the water.

A big yellow backhoe poked at the elegant old building like a boxer, one jab after the other. It didn’t take long before the lot was heaped with ruined lumber and fractured window frames soon to be cleared for whatever came next.

If you live in a cottage approximately one-eighth the size of the doomed structure on the other shore, this was a stunning development. From where we sit, the place looked positively grand and timeless — something out of “The Great Gatsby.” Once in a while, we’d see the house in the glow of floodlights and imagine that someone was shooting a movie or TV commercial or maybe the owners were having a swell garden party.

No matter. In a bout with heavyweight industrial equipment, those old walls didn’t stand a chance. Through binoculars, I watched as the last one fell. Cr-runch.

PONDERING LIFE AND DEATH

This occurred at a moment when I was pondering impermanence, which is something you mustn’t do too often. Start saying to yourself: “Gee, I wonder how many more times I’ll have gnocchi at that great little Italian dive upstate or stroll around Prospect Park on Brooklyn Sundays or shiver in the upper deck at Citi Field.” Start that kind of stuff, partner, and soon they send in the psychiatric SWAT team.

“Don’t dwell,” says my wife, Wink. “Live.”

Exactly.

We had been to a burial in Westchester County the day before — one of our oldest friends died after years of illness — and some melancholy might have been allowed.

At the top of a hill, we joined family members.

A rabbi delivered the Kaddish, the Jewish prayer that asks for “peace, upon us.” There were poems of tribute and recollections of our departed pal. To remind us that life goes on, a train sped by in the distance. A jetliner soared overhead. Soon we were back in the car, trying to beat rush-hour traffic.

My post-graveyard trance was broken. Manic vigilance — not reverie — is essential when approaching the Whitestone Bridge at 5 p.m. Home again, we ate Mideast takeout — hummus, beans, rice, healthier the better — and watched CNN until our minds rattled with breaking news.

Then morning came with a crash and boom. Yonder, the ruthless wrecker was at work. All that happened in the last 24 hours suddenly seemed part of a whole, though you better be careful about taking symbolism too far. Sentimentality has its limits.

Chin up, in other words. Onward.

It seems worth mentioning at this point that I recently came upon an internet story about a fellow who says he intends to survive until 180, or longer.

Dave Asprey, 44, is owner of a multimillion-dollar business called Bulletproof Coffee, a mixture of coffee, “brain octane” derived from coconut oil and unsalted butter from the milk of grass-fed cows.

According to the online publication Business Insider, Asprey bases his hopes for longevity on a conviction that Bulletproof Coffee “jump-starts” metabolism and that other measures such as exposure to ultraviolet light, standing on a platform that vibrates 30 times a second and suffering icy air in a “cryotherapy” chamber can stretch a normal life span.

Doubts have been raised, of course — 180? really? — but the point is made. The guy urgently wants to stick around.

I am reminded of myself.

As an only child, I pondered mortality early. Mom and Dad left so little doubt as to my inestimable value that I began thinking, “Sure would be a shame if I cashed in early.”

Sooner or later, it would be curtains for everyone else — my aunts on the first floor of our little apartment house in Bay Ridge, my teachers at PS 170, even the kids outside playing stoopball — but, me?

“A thousand million, billion, trillion, zillion,” I regularly beseeched the heavens, seeking more years than the Earth had yet recorded, or might ever. Life everlasting, was it so much to ask?

MAKING THE MOST OF IT

At church, we learned, well, yes, that is a steep order. The idea was to make the most of whatever time you were awarded, do unto others, stay out of trouble, don’t embarrass your parents, and remember to drop your envelope in the collection plate on Sunday.

With some reluctance, I took the point. Everyone wants to keep the backhoe at bay for as long as possible. But waiting, bulletproof, for the next millennium? Sounds exhausting, even for an only child.

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