Age Old

By some accounts the verified world record holder for old age was a French woman who lived to be 122 years, 164 days (Jeanne Calmut, 1875-1997). Not verified were her last words: “Je suis si fatigue’”—French for “Man, am I pooped.”

122 years (and 164 days) is a long run. That’s older than some Hostess Twinkies. But just like every other “oldest living person in the world” before her, Jeanne’s reign finally ended. There is no precedent for anyone regaining the title.

Of all the records achieved by humans, ‘oldest person’ might be the hardest to train for. And even then, once you finally made it, anyone you might really want to impress wouldn’t be around.

You’d show up for your 100th high school reunion—and be the only one there. That means you’d be stuck paying for the entire keg. Plus, you’d have to dance with yourself.

Several years ago, a man in Tampa, Florida insisted that he was the world’s oldest human at 120 years of age—although it was hard to tell. Maybe the Grecian Formula on his beard made him look younger. Or maybe it was because he wore his baseball cap backwards.

The current oldest person in the world is a woman (as are most such title-holders) named
Emma Morano from a town in Italy. She’s 117, although sometimes claims to be 26.

Ms. Morano is said to be the last person on this planet who was born in the 19th century (1899.) When I was a kid, there were plenty of people in my town born in the 1800’s—my grandma, the retired man who lived next door—and just about every elderly guy sitting in the neighborhood barbershop. In fact ‘Old Man’ Jenkins passed away while waiting to get a shave.

According to news reports, one of Emma’s secrets to long life is that she never smoked—despite advertising in the 1940’s and 50’s stating “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette”—and “20,679 doctors say Luckies are less irritating.”(The ad does not specify exactly what Luckies are less irritating than. A vuvuzela? A fork scratching on a plate? Open mouthed chewing? The kid next door learning the violin?)

Even an ad where Mickey Mantle endorsed Viceroys did not convince Emma to take up the habit—even though Mantle hit 536 home runs, eight of them while smoking.

It perhaps makes the story of a man named Ali Mohammed Hussein (no relation to you-know-who) so impressive. In 1997, Ali claimed to be 135-years old. He’s now pushing up daisies—but prior to that said he smoked 60 cigarettes a day, everyday—and had done so his entire life. (His entire life? Doubtful. Where would a newborn find a dependable lighter?)

Still, with the public image of the U.S. tobacco industry at such a low ebb these days, what a splendid marketing choice a guy like that would have made: “Hey kids! Want to live 135 years—or more? Be like Ali Mohammed Hussein—and join the Three Packs-a-Day Club!”

But back to Emma Morano—only 117 years old.

She says she eats three eggs a day, two of them raw but none of them rotten. Plus she stays away from red meat—except for consuming a small amount of raw minced meat everyday (which has long been recommended by the American Raw Mince Meat Council.)
Emma also avoids liquor; loud music; talk radio and mimes.
It seems that the fewer the vices, the longer the life. Other suggestions:

  • Never pay for movies featuring Nicholas Cage.
  • Never eat anything with the words “Cheese” and “Whiz” on the label.
  • Never walk up to a motorcycle gang and say, “You guys don’t look so tough.”)

But lost in the perennial news about the oldest humans, is another noteworthy story from a few years ago—perhaps you recall it. The longest-lived aardvark on record, died at Point Defiance Zoo in Tacoma. Her name was Kikuyu. She was 30 years of age—older and fonder of termites than Taylor Swift.

Kikuyu never smoked, and experts say she might have lived even longer if she had maintained a diet higher in minced fruits and vegetables—and lower in red ants.