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Robert Bentley, 70: His Pandemic Story

Gemstone dealer Robert Bentley discusses finding a new sense of identity during lockdown, how life has changed since he's been fully vaccinated against Covid, and what's on his "revenge shopping" list.

How has life changed for those of us who are now fully vaccinated? There is not a person on the planet who has not been affected by the last year and, our people, being older but some of the most optimistic, self-empowered, and forward-looking, are of a unique group. This past year was, as Dr. Ronnie Stangler puts it, “itself a huge epigenetic risk factor.” How are we all dealing with it? 

We first profiled Robert Bentley here 5 years ago in NYC. As he is someone with a serious underlying cardiac condition, and someone who was living in the center of the storm, we wanted to learn more about how he is feeling now, and what has changed for him. Everyone has a story from this last year, and this is Robert’s. 

“Having to alter all my actions and routines gave me a whole new sense of identity and existence”

How was the pandemic for you? Did you spend most of it in NYC?

The pandemic was extremely interesting in that it opened up a chapter where having to have to alter all my actions and routines gave me a whole new sense of identity and existence. At first, I felt as though my identity was being ripped away and it was interesting to realize how much of my sense of self was based on my productivity and accomplishment.

A few years back I bought a very charming cabin deep in the Adirondack State Park.  I bought it completely furnished, furniture made from logs, all the right plaids and antlers on the cabinets, etc.

So I spent 3 solid months there with my dog, on a mile-long road with no neighbors. I sat on the porch in a rocking chair looking at the trees for hours. 

We talk a lot about being in the moment but stripped of my routine, my normal household objects, hanging out with trees I was overwhelmed with a sense of the sheer miraculousness of existence. I was kinda thrust into a kind of happiness that I had never experienced.

What were you doing with your downtime?

I spent months looking at the forest and then started playing with watercolors when I got back into town.

Between March and July, I got to pursue my other passion and spent every day in my studio painting.

“I think of my business as an orchard that I planted many years ago and now it’s bearing lots of fruit”

That’s tremendous. But how was your business during that time?

I think of my business as an orchard that I planted many years ago and now it’s bearing lots of fruit. I have such great relationships with a lot of brilliant jewelers who have shops around the country and before I retreated into the mountains I sent them lots of inventory which is selling really well. 

Oddly enough, I had a record-breaking year.

Mozambique “Paraiba “ Tourmaline Cabochons .

You have some pretty serious underlying heart conditions. How did that feel during Covid?

I have been collecting Corart stents since 1995. I have 12 at this point. I think stress is a major contributor to that problem and, fortunately for me, my security was in a place that I didn’t have the issues that are affecting so many of our friends and neighbors. So many businesses in my neighborhood are gone.

You are one of the first of our people to be fully vaccinated with 2 shots. How has that changed your day-to-day?

I had been going into the office for four hours on Tuesdays and now I’m feeling ok to go in three days a week. 47th street/ the Diamond District is one of the few blocks in the city that appears to be unchanged.

NY’s diversity is on full display. On the street, lots of people with masks under their chin. So I feel much more secure walking to my office these days. I also had a very fine meal at a charming sidewalk cafe for the first time in a year. It really brightened my spirits. Sharing beautiful food with good friends and good conversation is a quintessential element in NYC life.

“While my feeling of wellbeing is pretty solid these days, one can’t help but feel a significant undertone of tenuousness for the world around you”

Do you feel differently about life in general now that you have the shots?

It’s interesting that while my feeling of wellbeing is pretty solid these days, one can’t help but feel a significant undertone of tenuousness for the world around you. I was in Soho and it’s a ghost town. I take a cab and there is very little traffic in the morning. I’m ok… it is the world that seems off.

How would you feel about going to a large crowded event now?

I haven’t been in a situation where I have to wear a mask for more than 20 minutes at a time. My glasses fog up. I can’t yet see myself on an airplane or at the theater having to wear a mask. I think wearing masks is incredibly important; I always wear one. I did spend a good 2 hours at MoMA last week; I could have stayed longer but I need to go home and remove the mask.

Are you thinking of going back to the gym?

I miss the gym a lot. I can’t see myself on the elliptical wearing a mask though.

Revenge Shopping

Any thoughts of “revenge” shopping, or any big travel plans coming up? It is a term the Chinese are using for post-pandemic shopping. 

Revenge shopping! Ha! I love that concept! My business is doing well, apparently, because people are buying more colored gemstone jewelry these days because they aren’t spending on travel but rather on jewelry. I’m thinking about buying a house in the Hudson Valley. I need a bigger studio and my dog wants a yard!

But to answer your question, eyeglasses. Masks make your eyes more important in the absence of the smile. I bought some pale pink transparent plastic ones from Robert Marc. On crazy hair days I look a little Warholian.

I loaded up on cashmere and bought cashmere hoodies from Rag & Bone for Christmas presents for my best friends as an alternative to hugs. Cashmere is a good hug alternative.
 
I also bought some heavy biker leather from The Leather Man on Christopher Street. A classic, but the collarless motorcycle jacket. It feels a bit like battle gear in the streets and must weigh 7lbs. It’s not the buttery elegance of a Prada leather but really durable at a tenth of the cost. The company is called Dream Apparel.

 

9 COMMENTS

  1. A nice summery Robert. A house in the Hudson Valley should suit you, even though I wish you’d get a place here in Sauve. France is less fraught than the U.S. Talk to you soon…. I’ve done zero shopping but yesterday I had my hair dyed by a hair person who has made me look like a 90 year old red and white raccoon… , can’t believe I’m
    Almost 90.. Bisous and a hug, e.

  2. Great stuff. But it points again to an issue I’ve had with Ageist’s perspective throughout the pandemic. Never once have I seen a critical eye turned toward the recommended interventions and harsh restrictions put in place over the last year. Do we all forget what it was like to be young?
    It is incredibly selfish of those of us with the means to quietly retreat to our, “charming cabin” and willfully ignore the damage done to all of those younger versions of ourselves who haven’t been allowed to tend to their “planted orchard” of a business – or see our glorious globe when their bodies are young and strong – or deliver a hopeful, flirtatious look to a dreamy-eyed classmate – for over a year.
    This isn’t intended as a knock on Mr. Bentley – he’s undoubtedly earned his right to live how he wants – but his observation that Soho is a ghost town should frighten and concern us all.
    There is a THOUSAND-FOLD difference in risk between the young and old when it comes to covid. We have insisted that the multitudes with very little risk stop living so that those few at high risk might live a little longer.
    We shall soon find out if it was worth it.

    • I don’t really see your point. Haven’t most generations have their hardships? Haven’t those of us who have lived through difficult times found that it gives us resilience and a better appreciation of life? Or are you speaking of the hoards of young people flooding the beaches in FL on spring break right now?

    • I agree with Patti that every generation has its trials to overcome. I went to college in the Reagan/Bush years, and started my professional life after the 1987 stock market crash. Jobs were hard to find and didn’t pay much, and while my student debt wasn’t anything like the burden today’s grads have, it was enough that it impacted my ability to save and invest. We finally bought our first “starter” house in 1999, and our plan was to sell it in 10 years and trade up. In 2009, the housing crash meant we had to rethink.

      With regard to the risks for young people due to COVID-19, you really need to study the science. While the vast majority of those who have died are elderly, many young people are getting very sick and dying as well. Even worse, infections cause an unknown number of “long-haulers,” usually younger adults who were very healthy before they got sick. Now they are disabled and may have to live with the consequences of this disease for the rest of their lives. So no, the restrictions are not selfishly intended to keep those at most risk from dying alive. They are intended to keep as many of us alive and healthy as possible.

      • No doubt all generations have endured their share of struggles. But my point was more to the stated mission of Aegist, “to shine a light on a new mindset and way of living,” and “provide a new outlook on what people young and old should expect to achieve and experience in their life.” But at the first sign of danger, we retreat and stop advocating for the value of a vibrant, engaged life. Where’s the profile of legendary musician Van Morrison or Oxford professor Sunetra Gupta – who rightly point out that the risk/reward calculation should include a wider range of topics than just “the virus?” Art, music, travel, live theater, face-to-face interaction – these are essential. And pushing those who were brave enough to follow these passions as a career into the unemployment line doesn’t do society any good.
        As for the science, your depiction of the COVID threat is inaccurate. The reality is that for those under 20, the flu is more dangerous. For those under 50, driving a car is more dangerous. And the oft-referenced “long haulers” are rare to the point of being statistically insignificant. I am not saying covid is not dangerous, but it is not nearly dangerous enough to shutter businesses, outlaw travel, require elementary school on Zoom, devalue performance and displays of the Arts and force 100 million of the world’s poorest people into abject poverty. All of these choices – and that’s what they are: choices – have private AND public health consequences. And I guess I just hoped that a publication that champions QUALITY of life would do a more honest job of recognizing that.

  3. Robert is one of my very favorite people on the planet! I love hearing his perspectives on life! He’s so generous of heart that he sometimes misses what an important impact he has on those around him. I speak from first-hand knowledge. ❤️Thank you for sharing his story!

  4. No one on the planet (except for a handful of 103 yr olds) had ever lived through a pandemic. Yes, in time we’ll know what was done right or wrong. The science informed the response.. I enjoyed reading Robert’s reflection on this year. It was a universal moment when the world hit the pause button. It affected all of us in different ways materially and spiritually. Going forward we can reflect, be grateful if the year wasn’t too hard, and be mindful that not everyone is ok. We can all help each other, young and old.

  5. Hi Jim,
    I lost upwards of 30 brilliant friends to the AIDS Epidrmic . They didn’t make it out of their 30’s.
    Epic neglect from the US government..
    The world is a much less interesting place without them .

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AUTHOR

David Stewart
David Stewart
David is the founder and face of AGEIST. He is an expert on, and a passionate champion of the emerging global over-50 lifestyle. A dynamic speaker, he is available for panels, keynotes and informational talks at david@agei.st.

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