After I walked across the Brooklyn Bridge last week, I posted a comment on Facebook that I had knocked something off my bucket list. Someone asked what else was on my list and I was taken aback because I didn’t have an answer. I had never formulated a list, even in my mind. In fact, I detested the idea.
Last fall, I began writing something – maybe someday I will finish it – entitled “501 Things Not to Do Before You Die: A Bucket List for People Who Can’t Afford a Bucket.” (#1 thing not to do: “Go swimming with Casey Anthony.”) It was intended to be a silly parody, but there was genuine disdain underneath. These “to-do-before-you-die” books all reek of arrogance and privilege. They remind you of all the indelible life experiences you haven’t experienced because you were too busy making a living and raising a family. (“Stop driving your daughter to soccer practice every Saturday and go bungee-jumping!”) They rub your face in all the expensive vacations you’ve never been able to afford. (“You haven’t seen the Taj Mahal, so why are you sitting there watching The Real Housewives of New Jersey?”) The attitude reminds me of the one-percenters who believe they’ve merely been rewarded for hard work, so you must be a lazy sod for being part of the 99%.
When I was young and single, and made coast-to-coast and European trips, I assumed that I would eventually set foot on the other four continents (Antarctica was never part of the equation.) In fact, I have set foot on none of them, and that’s fine. Though I would not object if someone offered to cover my expenses for a trip to India or an African safari, and though I would like to travel to South America to visit Machu Picchu and the Galapagos Islands (tell the Secret Service I’ll pass on the Colombian hookers), I don’t think I will be any poorer if these treks never come to pass. In my old age, going to a crowded shopping mall qualifies as adventure travel.
In fact, the travel ideas I have now are fairly pedestrian. I want to visit Florida, not to visit the Mouse, but to spend a week watching spring training games. (Maybe next March?) I would love to go back to California for the first time in 27 years. San Francisco is one of my favorite places in the world, and the view while driving Route 1 along the coast is gorgeous. The real reason I’m anxious to go, however, is that I have a lot of friends who live there and visiting them would be a joy. I have a strange fascination with North Dakota; I always thought someone could write an amusing book about why people are happy living in America’s least interesting state, but I don’t think the world would be deprived if nobody writes it.
I wondered what I would put on a bucket line, and except for jokes about Scarlett Johansson and May-December romances, came up empty. In fact, a lot of the things that I hope occur in my remaining years are things over which I have no control, like winning the Mega Millions and writing a New York Times best-seller. I’d like to live long enough to enjoy grandchildren, but that implies that my life would be less fulfilling if my daughters don’t have kids. It wouldn’t.
Although I have never made a bucket list, I create a to-do list of goals for each coming year. Most of this year’s items – i.e. find a new dentist now that my old one has retired – are rather prosaic. When you live mere minutes from Manhattan, “attend a show at the Apollo Theater” and “eat pastrami on rye at Katz’s Deli” hardly qualify as bucket list items. On my 2012 list is “to read Anna Karenina.” If I’m placed six feet under tomorrow, would I be any less dead if I have not read Tolstoy? (Would I only be five feet under?)
Were I given the chance to live my life over, knowing what I know now, visiting the Taj Mahal would still not be a priority. The things I would do differently would involve people, not places and things.
If I were to win the Mega Millions, my life would not change much beyond living debt-free and driving a newer model Toyota. I’d still write and read, chat with friends, enjoy a nice meal, watch the occasional ballgame and movie. The pleasures I savor now are the same ones I’d continue to savor. Ultimately, the only things I need on my bucket list are health and time.
(But if ScarJo is reading this …)