In the Geriatric Penguin Ward

Geriatric penguins at the New England Aquarium require special treatment, including eye drops, physical therapy and acupuncture.

The Boston Globe


We were sitting at the feeding station enjoying our morning krill, me and Beach Donkey, the 24-year-old African penguin, solving the world’s problems as we Senior Penguins like to say. We have a standard bet: Whoever starts to talk about his old-age ailments first has to buy the next round. Those are the rules, we made ’em, we can break ’em. I went first.

“I tell ya,” I said in a curmudgeonly tone, “if it ain’t one thing it’s another.”

“What is it now?”

“Glaucoma, cataracts–you name it.”

“Why do you care? It’s not like you have to study for the written part of a swimming test.”

“I don’t want to miss a step and slip into the water when a shark is waiting for his afternoon feeding.”

“Okay, I was just kidding. So what are you doing about it?”

“Eye drops.”

“Eye drops?”

“That’s right.”

“Aren’t they expensive?”

I gave Beach Donkey a withering look, although I didn’t need to: at 24 years old–about a decade longer than he would have lived in the wild–he was already pretty withered.

“Don’t you read the Benefits Handbook during Open Enrollment Week?”

“It’s boring. What does it say?”

“As long as you get the eye drops through a pharmacy that’s in the network, there’s just a two krill co-pay.”

“Is the penguin fresh today.”

“Huh. Not bad. I wish it paid for physical therapy.”

Again, I looked at him with a gimlet eye. What I would have given for a gimlet right about then, but they don’t serve liquor in the New England Aquarium.

“You really need to talk to Human Resources.”

“I’m not a human.”

“All right, Aquatic Flightless Bird Resources. Physical therapy is covered, but you have to actually do it for it to work.”

“Why do you say that?”

“Ever notice how the most common discarded articles on the sidewalks of Boston–after couches–are exercise machines?”

“I don’t get out much,” Beach Donkey said.

“Look at the guts on the people walking by. Some of them should lay off the steaks and try the baked scrod next time.”

“Did I ever tell you my scrod joke?” Beach Donkey asked.

“Yes, but maybe somebody out there in internet land hasn’t heard it.”

“Two women on a train coming into Boston, one says to the other ‘I come into Boston every Friday to get scrod–do you like it?’”

“And the other says, ‘I like it, but I didn’t know that was the past tense.’ Can we get back to kvetching now?”

“Sure,” Beach Donkey said.

“What do you need physical therapy for?”

“Just the normal aches and pains. Restless leg syndrome. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Osgood Schlatter’s Disease. China Syndrome.”

“What’s that?”

“A 1979 disaster movie starring Jane Fonda, Jack Lemmon and Michael Douglas.”

I was about to punch Beach Donkey on the wing when who should walk up but Tux, an annoying “New Age” penguin who was always pulling one-up’s-penguin-ship on us.


“How they hangin’, you old geezers?” he said breezily as he walked up.

“Same old same old,” Beach Donkey said. “I’m 24 years old and I feel like fifty.”

“Are you still relying on Western medicine like this loser here?” Tux asked, nodding at me.

“Well, yeah,” Beach Donkey said. “Boston’s got world famous teaching hospitals, more doctors than you can shake a stick at.”

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you,” I said. “Shaking a stick at a doctor is frowned upon in polite society.”

“What’s your alternative?” Beach Donkey said to Tux.


Acupuncture?” I asked incredulously.

“You bet.”

“You mean the traditional Chinese medicine practice where they stick thin, solid, metallic needles through your skin?”

“That’s the ticket,” Tux said.

“Sounds painful,” Beach Donkey said.

“You’ll forget the pain . . .” Tux began.

“Yes?” I asked with anticipation.


“When a bodacious acupuncturist is massaging you.”

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