The Zen of Decrepitude 042711
Anal-pinion from the Fringe
When it comes to delaying manhood, Peter Pan is a piker compared to me. I got a glimpse of it watching my pappy, and early on decided it was too masochistic. I did the drinking and fighting and driving too fast and dirty dangerous jobs part of it, because those are the things any boy likes to do. But, I carefully turned the barque of my life away from the harbor of moderation and thrift and spent my vitality as if I were immune to the days.
I knew nothing of the old age of man and assumed it was youth but with lousy music and ill-fitting slacks. It was the smell of the old which should have tipped me off; perhaps I was over-willing to accept the idea of an aftershave called “Decay”.
An adage says 40 is the old age of youth and 50 is the youth of old age. A long history of disproving old adages hasn’t allowed me to disprove this one. Obviously my entire generation hoped to disprove it, we thought medical science and the right diet and a regular course of exercise would turn us all to Dorian Grey. Because we never wore odd hats or wool slacks with suspenders but kept wearing jeans and sweat suits and running shoes, we thought would escape age, or at least turn 60 into the new 50. We’ve really turned 60 into the new 60.
Thanks to our parent’s generation, medical science has had a couple of decades to improve artificial joints and heart parts. Granny told me “when I die half of me will go to the bone yard and half to the junk yard.” They can unkink and ream and replumb like you were an old house with bad pipes. An old guy (80) said to me the other day, “I should have died twice already. I’ve had a quadruple by-pass. I still work on my own car.” Medicine is keeping us alive longer, for better or worse, and the diet and exercise really have proven to increase quality and quantity of life. If you cut out red meat and triple the number of fresh veggies you eat and reduce your overall calories to about 1500 a day, you might well live into your 90s. If.
If, you aren’t carrying a time bomb around in you, a snafu which the vitality of youth protected you from, but to which the fatigue of the new 60 succumbs. An interesting critter is the Arterial Venus Malformation, where the delicate to and fro tubes of the brain have formed a knot, often allowing too much the pressure in the vein from the artery. They can pop at any age, often at the most unfortunate moments, but if you’ve escaped a problem until your 60s, it’s hanging over you like a bucket of paint balanced on a door. But that is by no means all. There are other “ifs”.
If you have any other genetic maladies, they will be more likely to arise. There is no way to mention one without touching someone in our Prospect reading community.
I have graying friends who spend their silver on gadgets and potions to preserve what blush they have, and to defy the drag of gravity which mocks our earlobes, noses, nipples, and pulls our pinks until they’re wrinkled and brown like walruses and fruit bats roosting.
A lot of this mortal grief won’t kill you yet. First, you live with it, meaning you have a normal life but take your meds and sleep more. Then, it lives with you, and the time you spend on it takes over the life you had. Then, you either die of it, or death is a release.
But, the physical world is only a third of a human world. The social world is no better.
At 40 you’re just past 35, still rising as a player in the social and financial world. At 50 you’re almost 55; AARP is about to put you on their mailing list, and you’ve got what you’re going to get, unless your folks are loaded or you have invested heavily in China. The U.S. dollar is losing value daily against gold, crude and corn. If you’re the new 60, you’d better hunker down.
On the street, those of us who like to be in the game are somehow now out. When the young walk in a room crowded with drinks and dinner or dance, their eyes scan the scene and see you not at all; you are not in the game. You can be minding your business in a store or café and without warning the peach cheeked counterperson will hurl the insult “sir” or “ma’am”, a designator reserved for the gray fringe.
This is not the first generation to feel this resentment, but we are certainly the least likely to enjoy it. No doubt some of us are glad to retire and take to the easy chair to turn on the tube and let their flesh turn to Crisco. For many of us, though, life has been good, and the flesh has been the fount of pleasure. It seems a betrayal of sorts that the body I’ve nourished with the richest foods, the finest recreational drugs, and what carnal pleasures I could arrange, will now reward me with decrepitude. The only solace is that the pious and moderate look no better and so have wasted their lives.
None the less, this is the life we now have, we need to come to grips and make it work. A friend of mine in his 80s quit smoking a little while back, even though he first started at 13, when he went to work in the mines. He decided he’d smoked long enough, he needed to gain some weight, so he quit. He thinks I’m a pissant like the rest of my generation. His generation won their war, and it was a real no-shit-save-the-world-war, too, not a pissant war like Vietnam. He says no generation in the world ever had it as easy as we have, the kings of old would envy us, he says, we take for granted pleasures and conveniences his father’s generation couldn’t even imagine. Now, he says, after enjoying this bounty for six decades we whine because the flesh is weak. He blames the “expected life span” and encourages me not to expect it. He says my generation pays too much attention to experts, and that all the gym work and healthy eating is just distracting us while we get old. He is the only person I know who can make espresso with a Mr. Coffee.
Well, the old bastard is right, and he could be the spirit guide for our generation. Getting old is something that happens, stop trying to fight it and make the best of it.
There’s a lot about it that’s good. As you look around the powerbrokers of the county and the state, you see mostly gray heads. Sure, a night of drink and debauchery is generally over by 9:00 now, but there’s no swell, no regret in the morning, and we don’t get much so probably no STDs. We placed an entire generation in a job shadow they won’t recover from until we go in to long term care and they take care of us for minimum wage. We get our pot from a doctor now, along with drugs which were nearly unattainable before. We were spoiled, whining children our entire lives, and now it’s time for us to gracefully become spoiled, whining old farts.
In the meantime, we can occupy ourselves with learning new skills, like how to laugh or fart without piddling yourself.
We can’t pretend we aren’t getting old, but we can go out kicking and screaming, and we need to take a lesson from my old friend and berate the young whenever possible.