Early in February, three or four of my best friends and one or two of my daughters will call and wish me a happy birthday.
They will at least act like it's a semi-big deal. I wish I could say I heartily agree with my well-wishers, but birthdays are losing their shine for me — although I prefer them piling up to the alternative.
I was born on Feb. 5, 1945, in a suburb of Cincinnati, a place I was glad to leave when I reached the age of reason — I was a few months shy of 40 when I woke up and smelled the geographical coffee.
I moved west, and Hawaii (Kauai), Idaho (Sun Valley), Kitsap County (Port Orchard) and Queen Anne have been the locales for my life ever since. Coming this way is one decision I don’t regret at all.
You could say I’m a bit of a pessimist about aging, but the world’s view of 68, my upcoming age, isn’t all that positive either.
Who you callin’ old?
Right-wing editorialists and columnists often claim people like me who collect Social Security and use Medicare are drains on the body social. They seem more concerned with how long many of us are living than with the fact that Starbucks CEO and chairperson Howard Schultz just got another raise, more than $25 million in compensation, for selling coffee that always tastes burnt to me, while the number of homeless folks in our fair city continues to rise.
Luckily, one of the major advantages of turning 68, especially after having been a reporter for more than three decades, is that politicians and avaricious big-businessmen no longer really bother me. I’ve seen so many unethical — or at least self-aggrandizing — little men (and a few women) that I take it as a given, like rainy days in Seattle during my birthday month.
Unfortunately, it isn’t only the unpleasant facts of life that seem to have a diminishing effect on my soon-to-be-elderly consciousness (the World Health Organization classifies anyone 70 and older as old). I don’t get as excited by sporting events or a new, pretty girl in my apartment building anymore, either.
No matter how well the Seahawks play, my life won’t change. And I am still not old enough to wear a jersey from any team I haven’t played on. All your gear and all the mindless 12th man stuff won’t make you skinny, tough or rich.
As for the pretty girls, I’ve learned that they now deal around me. They smile. They chat. Some of them even hug.
“What an interesting, old man,” they sometimes say to their friends.
I’m not really complaining: I had a good run in the romance race once I decided not to remarry, but somehow, I crossed the finish line without even knowing it.
Of course, anyone close to 70 years old notices a whole lot of changes in his or her physical self. Despite daily exercise and daily meditation I can’t run more than a city block, and I can’t remember as many names and faces as 10 years ago.
The stiffness isn’t only physical, either. I find myself listening to Mozart and Bach almost exclusively and, for the first time, hearing pop singers on the radio and not only not having a clue who they are, but not caring, either.
I’ve just reread “Madame Bovary” (1860 or so) and “Anna Karenina” (1869). I have not read one novel published in 2012, despite reading two novels per month the entire year. It’s not that there may not be a young genius I still could learn from. I’m just more comfortable reading books that have lasted more than a century — the eternal verities and all that.
I have a Facebook page only because my daughter put it together for me. I check it three times a month. I like to look at the pictures of my exes, my daughters, my grandsons and a few young “friends” I’ll never know biblically, who look very cute on their sites. I don’t read most of the drivel even the smartest people feel compelled to put on their pages. I don’t care what you had for lunch unless I cooked it. And your rehashed movie reviews and political opinions are of NO interest to moi. No offense.
Of course, the biggest fear of a conscious, old person is disease of the wasting kind and eventual death and demise.
Since my days in the Army (drafted in 1966), I have always been death-conscious: afraid of it sometimes; appalled by it, others. I decided I needed to face these feelings and got trained in elder care five years ago. I then worked two years in a high-end but still tragically sad nursing home. All my patients had dementia or Alzheimer’s.
I was with three of them whose families seldom came, and one 90-year-old who had outlived everybody as they passed on.
I hugged one as she died because she was terrified; she literally died in my arms. I held two others’ hands as they shifted off this mortal coil, and I stood at the foot of the bed for the fourth, whispering calmatives until she died.
Then I began dreaming about the unlucky foursome and soon quit the elder-care business. It was too depressing for me, although I honor the folks who can work with that population and stay upright and cheery.
My experiment in toughening myself up was a failure, although I was pleased to feel so much empathy for the poor folks I tried my best to care for.
For me, the next helping job will be in a day care —I’ve always loved kids — or in a home for unwed supermodels.
Nothing else to ask for
In my life, I’m still doing OK (knock on wood). My 35-year-old doctor, who runs marathons, said I was a B-plus after my last annual physical. I was excited until he clarified, “For your age, of course.” Overall, he said, I was “almost a C.”
I write every day. I have another poetry chapbook slated for publication later this year.
My golf game, which I only began working on the year I turned 60, is still improving. (Another facet of age: I hated golf until a few years ago. A game for old people, I used to say.)
I have more than my share of close friends.
Both my daughters live here.
I still love to eat, drink wine, read, listen to music and run my mouth to and with those I trust.
But unlike many of my friends who recoil at the suggestion, I would go back and start all over if I could. I love life, even the bad parts, and miss every day and every person I’ve already experienced.
According to a friend who is also a shrink, that’s a good thing. I guess I need to take his word for it.
Gray, slightly bent, but still smiling, still semi-optimistic about the near-future anyway. What else could I want, other than a 25-year-old girlfriend and another three decades of vigorous life?
You got it: Nothin’!
To comment on this column, write to QAMagNews@nwlink.com.