""It's bad news,"" the vet said.
""How bad?"" I asked.
""Worst news possible,"" the vet said.
Maxine, the yellow Labrador was fidgeting. She'd had
enough of the veterinary clinic, and wanted to be getting
""So, do you think we should hold off on her booster
shots?"" Jill asked.
""Maxine won't be needing any more booster shots,"" the
""So, what I'll do is call you in a couple of weeks,""
Jill said. ""I'll let you know how she's doing, and we can
decide about the booster shots then.""
The vet was starting to look a little scared. ""Jill, in
a couple of weeks she won't be living. Probably, in a week
she won't be living. I did the tests twice. I'm sorry.""
""Well, I'll give you a call, and let you know how she's
doing,"" Jill said.
We left the vet looking perplexed, and led Maxine out to
""What are you going to do, the chicken thing?"" I asked
""It's worked before,"" she said.
Two years have passed since that visit to the
veterinarian. Maxine is alive, asymptomatic, and in fact
seems to be in a better mood than before she got diagnosed as
terminal and began receiving a generous serving of chicken,
usually boiled, as part of her supper every single night.
Maxine isn't the first pet of ours to seemingly throw
off dire illness and live an extra-long life. It's not that
we believe in the magical powers of chicken--though cancer is
a wasting disease, and getting lots of high-quality protein
isn't going to hurt. The way we think it works is simply
that Maxine wakes up every morning knowing that if she is
still breathing and able to ingest by 4:00PM, she's going to
get all the white meat she can hold.
The vet refuses to test her any more. He says it would
be tempting fate. He also says he wants to come and live
here when he gets old and sick.
I told my mother about the chicken theory, but she was a
woman of no imagination. She's dead now, of course. When
she lived, she was friends with Sula, a Polish
Anthropologist. I never knew what they saw in each other.
Sula was quite the lively intellect, and lots of fun to talk
She was a great favorite of the Soviets. They let her
go wherever she wanted, study what she pleased. What
interested her was that community of mountain-dwelling
Georgians some will remember from the yogurt commercials.
These are the people galloping around on horseback, and
fathering children when they're 97. She would visit these
mountaineers every year, and also spend time on an island off
the coast of Maine, where most everybody lived to be a
hundred or better. This went on for years.
I asked her what conclusions she had come to after all
the study. What did the two long-lived groups have in
""Well, they are all smoking cigarettes. They are all
eating red meat. They are all drinking to excess, they
experience lots of stress, and they are terrible to their
""So, what's making them live to be over 100?""
""They are also terrible gossips.""
That was her theory. They never died because they
didn't want to miss any scandal.
I'm assuming they also put away a fair amount of
Note -- the essay is also available in audio form over here. --Ed