Getting Up There
In a departure from my usual practice, this column contains adult material. As a rule, that expression means stuff chiefly of interest to adolescent males. In this case, it really refers to adults. It may not be suitable for readers under the age of 50.
The late Meg Greenfield of the Washington Post once wrote a hilarious essay on aging. She noted that when she turned 50, younger people would try to console her by saying, Oh, thats not old! Her comment: It is death to hear.
Amen. Having turned 60 this year, I get the same consolation all the time. I know what Meg meant. The harder people try to deny that youre old, the older you feel. Its about as reassuring as someone volunteering, I hardly noticed your goiter!
In his charming autobiography, Bob Dylan comments that he never really understood the generation he was supposed to be the voice of. I never understood it either, and Im glad to know he felt the same way. But now that we Baby Boomers are getting up there, we need spokesmen less modest than Bob, who is still singing love songs. We need grouchy old guys such as myself.
Getting old is like adolescence in reverse. Your body keeps giving you surprises again, but theyre not as much fun this time. Organs you used to take for granted cease to function quite as well, causing you inconvenience, discomfort, and embarrassment. Nobody has ever prepared you for all the things aging entails.
You find yourself preoccupied with things you didnt have to think about when you were young, such as health and, oh, burial plots. You go to the doctor a lot. You catch yourself boring people with your infirmities and operations the same way your old aunts used to do, causing you to try to suppress yawns and tactfully change the subject. (Thats very sad, Aunt Louise. Say, did you watch the Tigers game last night?)
The most shocking thing about getting old is that its happening to, of all people, you. Youve always known that old people forget things and repeat themselves a lot but you? Now your kids keep telling you, in a tone somewhere between pity and impatience, You already said that, Dad.
Although, when you imagined yourself getting old, you knew your body might fail, you assumed that your mind would still continue to be the same lucid instrument it always was. Your personality wouldnt change. How could it? Except in a few superficial details, you would still be you. The idea of you-with-a-different-mind, if it had ever occurred to you, would have seemed a contradiction in terms. Sort of like a personality transplant.
Not that there arent some advantages to aging. After my ankle surgery last year, I discovered that using a cane caused young people to treat me with courtesy and veneration. They called me sir and held doors open for me. So Ive kept using the cane even though the foot has healed. Its a nice prop. It doesnt attract young women, but it drives the more mature chicks wild. I cant wait to get my walker; Ill have to beat them off with my cane.
Of course as you age one of the biggest changes in your life is that, every day, you have to eat your weight in pills. Doctors orders. Keeping track of them all is hard enough; but they also come with warnings like this: Side effects may include loss of appetite, dizziness, diarrhea, erectile dysfunction, cancer of the esophagus, and Lou Gehrigs disease. What, no Alzheimers?
After reading all these cautions, you may wonder if just jumping off your roof might have fewer adverse consequences. Unless you want to take even more pills to deal with the side effects, you may finally just decide to take some Alka-Seltzer and hope for the best.
At least youre not alone. Old friends, whom youve known from your youth, are going through the same thing. You make rueful jokes about it (The wee hours have become the wee-wee hours) and compare notes on products, mostly from the drug store, you never thought youd need.
Getting old is like adolescence In reverse. Your body keeps wait! I already said that, didnt I?
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