Like all Mel Brooks movies, LIFE STINKS is a farce. A riches to rags story about Goddard Bolt, a wealthy financier who loses everything in a bet and goes to live on the streets of Los Angeles. The whole movie is hilarious — but there’s this one scene that cracks Chris and me up every time.
Goddard is walking with his newfound homeless friend, Sailor, when “Pops” walks by.
Sailor: Pops ain’t gonna be around long; his ‘elevens’ are up.
Goddard Bolt: What?
Sailor: His elevens! Look at the back of his neck. You see them two cords, stickin’ out? They make, like, an ‘eleven’. Once they’re up that’s it. He’s a goner.
It’s a brief moment with a fantastic visual punchline.
The expression “his elevens are up” was first used in a biography of Typhoid Mary in 1902. John McNulty, a writer and humorist famous for his depictions of New York saloon life, used the expression frequently. It is an expression always associated with and reserved for the seedier side of life. Those two parallel tendons on the back of the neck pop out and look like the number eleven (11) when someone is very old…or an alcoholic…or starving…or consumed with a wasting disease. That eleven is a sign for everything that we do to ourselves and everything that happens to us. A sign of unimaginable frailty and unimaginable endurance.