The Immortal Bud Carter
Last Word Column by Terry Runté
“I want to do all the old-people things I see on TV. I want to be set in my ways. I want to repeat myself a lot. Old age is wasted on the elderly.”
The bouncer at the door cracks his knuckles one more time.
“Look, squirt, you’re holding up the line. You gonna show me some proper I.D., or do I hafta age you with my knuckles?”
Bud Carter sighs as he digs for his wallet one more time. He produces a yellowed document flowered with a dozen overlapping government seals, with a rotogravure photograph. The photo, though faded and cracked over the decades, is a mirror image of Carter’s boyish face.
“What the hell is this supposed to be?” the bouncer bellows.
“It’s a draft card, son,” Carter replies. “Don’t you boys have any respect for a veteran around this joint?”
The bouncer, who’s never seen a draft card in his life, examines the card carefully, furrowing his eyebrows.
“It don’t say nothing about Vietnam here,” he says.
Bud rolls his eyes and prepares for the inevitable. “That’s because it’s from the Spanish-American War, you idiot.” Carter is shot-put a record 32 feet out of the bar. As he dusts himself off, he gathers up the other I.D.’s the bouncer rejected — his autogyro pilot’s license, his passenger-pigeon hunting permit, and a miner’s permit from the territory of New Mexico. It’s been another rough day for Bud Carter, the world’s only immortal man.
Carter is at the center of a legal battle that has been raging in courtrooms for the last decade. In a world where everyone else is exercising and dieting to stay young, Bud has been fighting to have himself surgically aged.
We catch up with him on the streets of Chicago, where he takes his daily walks, just like old people do. “When I first realized I was immortal, it seemed like the greatest thing in the world,” Carter says. “But I’ve been nineteen for one hudred four years now, and it’s really starting to wear thin. You try living for a century with a major acne problem.”
No one is actually sure why Carter’s body has stopped aging. Some believe it is a malfunction of his central nervous system — the result of having been struck in the head by lightning during a John Philip Sousa concert. Carter still sticks to his story that he is immortal because he starts each day with a good breakfast, which includes a heaping bowlful of fruit-flavored Sugar Frosted Flakes. Most experts, however, believe the latter claim stems from a lucrative endorsement deal he signed with Kellogg in 1957.
Whatever the cause of his eternal youth, a team of doctors at the University of California in Corona del Mar believes that by surgically stimulating the pituitary gland into releasing various hormones, they can accelerate Carter to his natural age of one hundred twenty-three years.
“Even though I’m physically only a teenager, I long for the comfort of old age,” Carter claims. “I want to do all the old-people things I see on TV, like sitting on the porch drinking old-fashioned lemonade or yelling at the neighborhood kids when they walk on my lawn. I want to be set in my ways. I want to repeat myself a lot.
“Old age,” he sighs, “is wasted on the elderly.”
But what about the joys of youth?
“Joys of youth!” he says like the cantankerous geezer he wishes he were. “Remember how much you hated being nineteen? The pressure is just incredible! Every time a trendy new fashion comes along, you have to buy it. Every time there’s a new dance step, you have to learn it. You have to learn every catch-phrase that comes down the pike and then forget it two weeks later. I still don’t know what twenty-three skiddoo means.”
Scientists had hoped we could learn more from his century of knowledge. But Carter claims there isn’t anything to learn.
“Sure, I’m a vast storehouse of knowledge,” he humbly admits, gesturing with a pipe he received from Teddy Roosevelt during the war. “But most of it is the kind of stuff that matters only when you’re a teenager. You could find most of it in back issues of Tiger Beat. All I have to show for my century on the planet is a dozen closets full of out-of-date clothes and a girlfriend who wears a WHAM! T-shirt. But did I tell you the secret of eternal life? To start each day with a big, big bowl o my fruit-flavored flakes.”
Carter cocks his head and delivers the message he has delivered to millions of children each Saturday morning for decades: “They’re fuuuuuuuuullllllll of SUGAR!” A couple of passersby recognize him and ask for autographs. Then we continue our walk.
As Carter prepares for next month’s surgery, which will fulfill his lifelong dream of becoming a doddering, infirm geezer, I have to ask him if there were anything he enjoyed about being eternally young. He pauses on the curb and smiles to himself, his face glowing with fond memories. We start to cross the street.
“I always had a great love life,” Carter admits, “because at a young age I learned the ultimate pick-up line. In over a century of dates, it hasn’t failed me. It’s probably the most significant knowledge I can pass on to you.” He pauses for effect and arches his eyebrows. “Just look into her eyes and say …”
Carter’s voice is cut off by the horn of a taxi. There’s a flash of yellow, a thud, and a limp body lies on the road. As I run toward him I can see his body wither and age like a movie vampire. Bud Carter, one hundred twenty-three years old, is dead at last.
Terry Runté has been writing humor since the Age of the Pharaohs.