The fact is that getting old is hell. Especially when it strikes the young. Or young at heart. Maybe this should be styled as a note to my son, soon to be 26, and all of his friends who think it will never happen to them.
Here is my advice.
Hair turns grey or disappears altogether. An evening of television is a reminder that eyes and ears require auxiliary apparata. Holy teeth, filled and crowned with gold, hang by a thread. Bending down for a fallen penny becomes an extended, long-overdue and thoroughly-planned visit to the floor.
I am circumspect at a nice restaurant. When I see a menu — the waiter eyes me suspiciously, as if he knows I’ll order water and lettuce — instead of enjoying wings, pizza and ice cream, I am thrown into calculator mode — calories, cholesterol, sugar — and, increasingly, I find pleasure in fiber-enriched cardboard. My digestive system reports its contents, from the south end, sometimes to everyone within hearing distance.
In the kitchen, I strain to fill the fridge. Carrots, lettuce and celery dominate. The compartments are half-lined with half-used bottles of condiments. I think about decorating with ceramic apples, oranges and berries? A barbecued chicken, small, eaten in appropriately-sized portions, lasts a week. The smoked salmon is pushing a year. In
Around the house, my life seems a series of chores. Undone chores. The microwave is on the fritz: it’s too useful to replace; not useful enough to use. The instant boiling water also doesn’t work. Nor does the refrigerator’s ice dispenser, though I can get to the ice by opening the door. The porch needs caulking. The lawn needs mowing. Everything needs painting. The hinges on the cabinets also need replacement, if I can figure out where they come from. The list goes on. It all once seemed so glorious. Now it seems empty.
The web, my portal to the outside world, has become a minefield: a simple screen — or a screen which could have been simple — is replete with pop-ups. Mistakenly, my wandering fingers evoke to much information. The buttons seem the recourse of the developer’s inability to make the purpose of a button clear. I search for a location for my cursor to click without turning on a movie. My personal telephone is quiet for long periods. Unless the caller wants money. I bought it so people would be able to instantly reach me, wherever I am, whatever I’m doing. Somehow, the auto-dialers have gotten hold of my number.
I venture out occasionally. Generally, to the gym. where middle-age – and elderly — men and women struggle valiantly with the machines – rowing machines, walking machines, treadmills, steppers — that go nowhere. Little TVs take our minds elsewhere. An ipod is de rigeur. One woman who is always there, and has always always been there, can seemingly walk forever. Another, older, also seems like she is always there too. The former is tall and thin and the other heavy-set. Neither has changed her shape in at least five years. Still, they earn stars in my book just for trying. Some of the women look very good. Be careful, I remind myself. I’m staring.
Afterward, though, stepping outside, I feel stronger than when I went in. I feel virtuous. Inhaling the green spring, feeling the breeze of the next season, and looking up to the bright blue sky, I am reminded that the world — my part of it anyway — is a lovely place. Afghanistan roils. Still. Crimea votes nonsensically to be eaten by Russia. Bangladesh, slowly, is overwhelmed by the ocean. A Malaysian pilot loses it and sinks his airliner into the Roaring Fifties. I feel I’ve landed on an oasis in the universe. A calm haven on the planet. A warm place to stick my head in the sand.