One Dirty Old Man’s Academic Bucket List Only Runs Skin-Deep

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Prior to his tragic diagnosis, 's To Do lists were quite mundane. Death helped him find his academic passion.
Prior to his tragic diagnosis, Doug Dickerman’s To Do lists were quite mundane. Death helped him find his academic passion.

BOROUGH SWANSEA, Pa. Doug Dickerman was a man who seemed to have it all; a good job, two kids out of college and a wife, Meg, who tolerated his tendency to defer life’s pleasures. “He’d never completely unplug on vacation,” she says, growing wistful. “I’d make him put his cell phone on vibrate when he came to bed.”

But then Dickerman was diagnosed with Fahrquahr’s Syndrome. “FS is a wasting disease that slowly constricts the nostrils until the victim can’t breathe,” says physician Nancy Wilbur. “There is some trade-off in that you can’t smell people with pepperoni pizza aura in an elevator, but most people would just as soon live longer.”

Meg promised her husband she’d help him do the things on he’d deferred while climbing up the corporate ladder, his “bucket list” that she understood included such daring adventures as parasailing, even though she herself is not adventuresome. Doug, however, gave his wife a surprise when he told her he wanted to go back to college to take English classes he’d foregone in favor of accounting and business courses as an undergraduate.

“I realized that the things I’d mentioned to her over the years were rather shallow,” he says as he gazes off into the distance. “What I wanted to do down deep in my heart was something extremely shallow.”

So Doug arranged a special program at Borough Swansea College, the all-women’s school near Philadelphia, to audit courses in romantic poetry and modern American literature with one fervently-held goal in mind. “I’d like to shack up with a really hot co-ed for just one weekend,” he says, his outdated slang revealing how long he’s been away from the dating scene. “Is that too much to ask?”

The request took Meg by surprise, but she stood by her promise. “If he went to his grave without satisfying his dream, I could never live with myself,” she says, fighting back tears. “On the other hand if he survives, I couldn’t live with him, so it’s a fair trade.”

Thursday morning finds Doug in The Bandersnatch, the undergraduate coffee shop where he sits ogling women four decades younger than him, trying to make eye contact. ”I’m out of practice, but I had a movie date last weekend,” he says as he rubs his arm where he added a tattoo in an attempt to relate to a younger generation of women who indulge in body modification, only to have it removed yesterday. “I guess I misread what Valerie was looking for in terms of a commitment,” he says a bit ruefully. “Apparently getting your gal’s name tatooed to your bicep doesn’t mean as much as it used to.”