BRYN MAWR, Pa. Doug Dickerman was a man who, until six months ago, seemed to have it all. A good job, two high-achieving kids in 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 all that changed when Dickerman was diagnosed with Fahrquahr’s Syndrome earlier this year. “FS is a wasting disease that slowly constricts the nostrils until the victim can’t breathe,” says Dr. Nancy Wilbur-White, a research physician at the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school. “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 made her husband a promise–that she’d help him do all the things he’d been putting off while he climbed up the corporate ladder, his so-called “bucket list” that she understood included such daring adventures as parasailing and driving a Formula 1 race car at Watkins Glen, New York, even though she herself is not adventuresome. Doug, however, gave his wife a pleasant 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 really wanted to do–down deep in my heart–was something extremely shallow.”
So Doug arranged a special program at Bryn Mawr College, the all-women’s school near Philadelphia, in which he audits 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 “I’d like to shack up with a really hot co-ed for just one weekend,” he says, his outdated slang revealing how long he’s been away from the dating scene.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 to her husband of thirty years. “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 who are 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 a Band-Aid over a new sleeve tattoo he’s sporting, an attempt to relate to a younger generation of women who are into “body modification.” Did he cut himself, this reporter asks. “No, I guess I misread what Valerie was looking for in terms of a commitment,” he says a bit ruefully. “Apparently getting your girl’s name tatooed to your bicep doesn’t mean as much as it used to.”