July 16, 2001

There are only a few irrevocable facts about life. One of them is that we age.

Even though it is an irrevocable fact, we still often deal with our aging by saying to ourselves something along the lines of “I didn’t know this would happen to me.”

I know, because I’m fifty-four and for the life of me, I can’t figure out how that happened. I thought I was going to be nineteen forever until I got to the point where my body ached so much in the morning that I had to get out of bed just to see if my joints were still joined.

I like the fact that people who meet me are surprised when I tell them that I’m fifty-four. They always say I don’t look it or act it. That makes me feel good, and it only goes to prove the old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover. I’ve got a great cover — but man, when you open the book some mornings, I feel like the story must have been written in cave paintings. But after five or so cups of coffee, I feel readable again.

I accept that we get older, but I sure ain’t necessarily happy about it. I just don’t trust those people who tell me they are sixty and it is the best part of their lives. Give me a break! What were these people doing when they were young? Am I the only person who has yet to find any virtue in being over fifty?

I reckon for some folks, aging means retirement and retirement means not doing a job you never wanted to do in the first place. Maybe it’s just me, but I look upon eventual retirement as another sign that things are just going downhill.

My daughter tries to cheer me up when I complain to her about getting older. She says, “Pop, look at it this way: You may be older but you are wiser.” Right! I have to tell her the truth. Never in my life have I aspired to be wiser. Being young and dumb was as good as it got for me.

But she is right; I am wiser. I’m not sure what that wisdom gets me, but I do have more of it.

I guess I have the wisdom to not fear death, the final frontier. When I was young and dumb, I just ignored the whole issue, whereas now I can confront it.

I suppose I have the wisdom to be a nicer person.
I am certainly more patient now, but I’m not sure that is a result of wisdom — it may just be my inability to move very fast anymore.
I’m still not crazy about foreign movies, but I am more willing to nap through them now.

I used to love playing one-on-one basketball, but when I play with a young guy it sure feels more like a game of one-on-one-half basketball. The ball seems heavier now, too.

I’m not the only one who resists the idea of getting older. It seems to be a nationwide epidemic. Do you remember when old people actually looked old? I recall a park near the house where I grew up. There were benches there, and in warm weather old people would sit on them looking old. They had gray hair and always seemed to be either too fat or too skinny. They had some serious wrinkles. The women usually had stockings rolled down around their knees and the old men usually had mismatched socks on. Most of them had accents because they were old and came from the old country. Which leads me to think that maybe to really look old, you have to have come from an old country. America is not an old country, which may account for our compulsive need to look young even if we are old.

One of the fastest growing industries in this country is cosmetic surgery. With cosmetic surgery doctors cut open, cut out, sew up, inject and plant stuff to make us look younger. Some people who get cosmetic surgery say they look younger and feel happier.

What blows my mind is that the average age of people getting cosmetic surgery these days is something like thirty-five. Apparently, folks now see cosmetic surgery as a preemptive strike against aging. Like, if you start ironing the wrinkles now, maybe you won’t have to when you’re older.
We are on the verge of a major change in this country. All of those baby boomers — that huge population that was born right after the end of the Second World War — are somewhere in their mid-fifties. I’m one of them. There are so many of us, the ratio of old to young is going to drastically change in this country. This is partly why Social Security has been such a hot topic of discussion over the last few years.

President Bush talks a lot about the fate of the Social Security program, but he’s too young at heart to worry about that. Actually, I think Bush is one of those rare people who had cosmetic surgery to make himself look older — he’s really just nineteen. I know because I can see it in his eyes whenever he speaks. His eyes say to me, “Wow, I’m only nineteen and they’re letting me be president of the United States. How much better can it get than that?”
So anyway, we have this huge generation about to hit the geriatric line.

We’re already seeing more commercials on TV geared toward a younger audience: they’re pushing Viagra, adult diapers, Geritol, you name it.
On the flip side of all this marketing and attention paid to a growing segment of the population is how little respect the elderly get. I’m hoping that when Aretha Franklin hits seventy or so she’ll cut an updated version of “Respect.” Because that’s about when we are all going to need it. When I was a kid, we actually gave our seats on the bus or subway to older folks. Nowadays, you see an older person slowly trying to get in that seat but there’s always a young punk who won’t give it up.

There are some good signs, though. New York State has the STAR program, which reduces property tax rates for those over sixty-five. Folks like my mother have paid their dues; let their homes stay affordable. In states that don’t have a property tax discount for senior citizens, too many of them are being forced to leave their homes because the property tax overwhelms their fixed retirement incomes.

Hopefully as the population continues to age, we’ll come up with new and better ways to take care of the aging and maybe even learn to honor and respect them.

In the end, my kid is actually right: I may be older, but I am wiser, part of which means that I can appreciate life a lot more. When I was young, I was moving so fast, I barely saw the scenery. Now, I pay attention.

So I guess getting older is just fine with me, with the small exception that I just wish it didn’t ache so darn much in the morning. But hey, that’s the way it goes.

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