Category Archives: new old age

Brain washday

When you reach a certain age, you get tons of unsolicited advice on how to make the most out of your remaining years (months? minutes?). Half the new-old-age barkers give you the pitch that these times are magical and blessed, while the other half say, “Son, you’ve got one foot under the daisies already. Better shape up quick.” Without even trying, you run into something like this item from AARP, the print version of which was headlined, “Cleanse Your Brain.”

WARNING! DISCLAIMER! The foregoing phrase should NOT in any way be taken as an instruction to do something spectacularly ill-advised involving a cordless drill, a funnel, and a bottle of Mr. Clean. (Know what “trepanning” means in this context? Don’t even look it up.)

The article is legit science about the glymphatic system, which is what the brain uses to clear out damaged protein, dirty fluids, and other waste. It got me to thinking: what if I could purge the memory bank portion of my brain? That’d free up space on the cerebral hard drive for all the Important Stuff I need to absorb and retain, especially how to stave off wrinkles and decrepitude.  After 63 years and a few odd weeks, it’s time for a super-duper spring cleaning!

But what memories would I unload? Things like algebra, sociology, the infield fly rule, sentence diagramming, medieval history, how to drive a stick shift, and the name of the person I just met are already gone. What’s left to lose?

Getting beaten up on the playground and being hopeless at sports. Trashing those memories – several school years’ worth – would do wonders for my self-esteem. Ditto all my romantic rejections from junior high onward, job flubs, bad life choices, and other sundry gaffes like busting up my fender in the car wash. No, that didn’t happen! I’d remember if I’d been that dumb!

Song lyrics. “Satisfaction,” “Purple Haze,” “Crossroads,” “I Will Follow,” and “Once in a Lifetime” can stay. I do not ever need to recall “Don’t You Want Me,” “Achy Breaky Heart,” or anything by Madonna, the Eagles, or anyone named Osmond.

Everything I ever learned about manners and etiquette. Useless in today’s world. Go to a restaurant and see how many people never look up from their phones during dinner, even when the maitre d’ politely informs them the place is about to be engulfed by a volcano.

Sports trivia (a redundant phrase anyway). The games I saw from the stands in college? I’ll keep ‘em. The name of the backup quarterback on a 3-13 NFL team, so lousy I had to get tanked every Sunday to watch them on TV? Not so much.

Old TV shows.  I remember “My Mother the Car,” “Men Behaving Badly,” and many episodes of “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Why?

Certain web surfing moments.  Not that I ever actually checked out “Vixen Virgins of Vegas” and the like, but if I somehow got there by mistake, it’d be helpful to truthfully not recall it.

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A stately DISPLEASURE dome!

One of the problems of growing older is that you’re supposed to be smarter too. People think you’ve absorbed all of life’s lessons and can face any situation with Zen-like wisdom. The senior years should be rewarding, free of the challenges that trip up the younger set (which these days means anyone born after about 1970). Sorry, but what you get from being old is a bunch of new ways to find yourself saying, “Oh, for dumb.”

The other day I wound up in an urgent care clinic at the beach in Florida. Was I there because I imbibed a few dozen too many beers, wiped out on a boogie board, scorched myself while setting off fireworks, or got slapped silly by a beauty queen from Mobile? Not in this lifetime. On a warm, sunny morning, I sat in a waiting room trying not to feel extremely foolish because part of a hearing aid was stuck in my ear.

The piece in question is the dome, a little rubber cap that covers the receiver, which slips into your ear canal. It looks like a UFO but as you can see, it’s a lot smaller.

Hearing aid dome

Rogue dome

I suddenly realized I couldn’t actually hear very well in my left ear even with the aid in place, and when I took it out the dome was missing. Cue the sinking feeling. So I headed off to the clinic, where a nurse practitioner with a blessedly steady hand reached in with alligator forceps and extracted the thing.

The sympathetic doctor said he’d taken out three or four others. I still felt like a putz, yutz, mope, and dope because after all, this is the kind of thing little kids do, lodging various objects in inappropriate places.

At least I’m not this guy, who had a toy traffic cone stuck in his lung for 40 years (or the guy mentioned in comments on the article, who had a light bulb stuck in a different spot). Nor am I one of those preening peacocks of both sexes who try to look and act like they’re 20 when they’re closing in on their second century (see Hefner, Hugh, the late).

Truth be told, even when I was younger and hopefully studlier, I never got close enough to any beauty queens to get slapped anyway. What if I somehow stockpiled my karmic klutziness for my later years? Maybe I should guzzle a couple of cases and launch a whole arsenal of fireworks while riding a boogie board! Or maybe just go look at the beach again. Yeah, that sounds good.

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Shrinkage: the other kind

I’m not the man I used to be. No matter how hard I try to live a proper life in all ways physical, intellectual, and emotional, I am a lesser person.

How lesser am I? About an inch. Relax: this has nothing to do with the “Seinfeld” that so eloquently portrayed the shrinkatory effect of cold water on the male, uh, exclamation point. The missing inch came out of my height.

This became clear when I was going through old papers and found a medical report from my college years, which listed my height as six feet plus half an inch (6’ 0.5”). At my last visit to the doctor a few months back, I checked in at 5’ 11”. Even if that means 5’ 11” and a quarter, a half, or two-thirds, I’m going through a slow but undeniable vertical fail. This isn’t fake news! I can’t argue with cold, hard science and real-time medical technology (like a measuring stick).

Why do we self-condense? Over time, the discs between the vertebrae dehydrate and compress, or maybe collapse from osteoporosis. The spine can get curved, or muscle loss in the torso can give you a stoop. Even the gradual flattening of your arches can leave you shorter.

The loss can start as early as age 30, which is about when my hair started vanishing. I’m used to that, but this plunges me into the tar pit of male insecurity. All my life, I’ve considered myself a Tall Guy. Can I honestly think of myself that way if I no longer top the six-foot baseline? Will I get busted by the vanity police?

My wife often asks me to “come here and be a tall person for a minute” when she needs something off a high shelf. Can I still fulfill her desires? (Not THOSE desires. I already told ya this ain’t about the meat and the motion.)

The worst kind of shrinkage is the kind that’s going on in my personal hard drive, also known as my brain. After 60+ years, it’s critically overstuffed with useless facts, and seems to be sending some of them down to the minors, for recall only when needed.

Just now, I couldn’t for the life of me remember the name of a Cajun band I saw at a joint called Tornado Alley in suburban Washington DC about 22 years ago. I remembered other Cajun musicians: the Balfa Brothers, D. L. Menard, Bruce Daigrepont, Terrence Simien and the Mallet Playboys, etc., before finally hitting the holy grail of Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys.  This is what’s known as a “senior moment.”

I try to limit my cranial clutter by weeding out nonessential info, like the name of the person I’ve just met, but it’s a losing battle. Now if you’ll excuse me, whoever you are, I’ve got to go put on some high heels.

The Instagram life part 2

A few weeks ago I wrote about the perils of living your life on Instagram and becoming a piece of content for others to look at. That idea may have seemed far-fetched, esoteric, or just out of step with the times. After all, even us geezers have online selves, right?

Well, at least one person agrees with me, though I’m pretty sure she didn’t read my post. Her name is Clara Dollar, she’s a senior at New York University, and she writes in the Sunday New York Times about “My So-Called (Instagram) Life.”

“Once you master what is essentially an onstage performance of yourself, it can be hard to break character,” she says. True dat.* Her obsession with staying on brand – “funny, carefree, unromantic, a realist” – kills a relationship and buries her genuine identity. “There was a time when I allowed myself to be more than what I could fit onto a 2-by-4-inch screen. When I wasn’t so self-conscious about how I was seen. When I embraced my contradictions and desires with less fear of embarrassment or rejection.”

When I was in college in the 1970s, we couldn’t live on little screens because they didn’t exist. More importantly, we’d just come out of the 60s, when mindless conformity was exposed as a fraud. Challenging authority, openness, and authenticity were virtues.

The “brand” I’d acquired in high school was a burden: quiet, reserved, a little awkward, certainly not cool. But the only way for me to look different was to be different: embrace change, be open to new things, and put my true self out there.

Of course I feared embarrassment and rejection. Who doesn’t? Being yourself is the only way to make good friends, the kind who see beyond each other’s contradictions and foibles. Many  people I knew then are Facebook friends now, with a connection that’s grounded in real life and memories, not a bogus image.

I don’t claim to be devoid of ego. I always try to put my best foot forward (especially because, as anyone who’s ever danced with me will tell you, I’ve got two of the left variety).

But my virtual self is no more calculated or contrived than my real one, which I hope is not much. For example, I won’t try to persuade you I have gorgeous blue eyes that remind you of Paul Newman. Of course, you can always look at my photo and draw your own conclusions.

*A New Orleans expression for “That is the truth.”

The winter of our dissed content

I’ve got to stop reading. My only other choice is to march into the Florida swamps and find the fountain of youth that eluded Ponce de Leon, so I can shave a few decades off my antediluvian* life and make sense of this world again.

The reason for my latest blast of consternation (sorry, “facepalm”) is a quote in this article about what some young people want in a vacation rental home these days: “You want to stay [in] places that are Instagram-worthy because you are living your life as content.”

No, I’m not! “Content” has multiple definitions, including, “Something that is to be expressed through some medium, as speech, writing, or any of various arts.” But it’s also, “Something that is contained.” Which is precisely what you are if you turn Instagram or any medium into a god and appease it with a sacrifice of your money. Why let somebody else’s platform, app, rules, and standards dictate your life?

I’m reminded of my junior high and high school years, when I was nowhere close to being one of the cool kids and probably would’ve been known as a geek if the word had been invented yet.** That was when I learned not to define myself by what other people see. Of course, in those times a portable phone that doubled as a camera was something out of a James Bond movie or “The Jetsons.” But some people would look at a man like John Lennon and see only a threat, simply because he had long hair.

Content is produced by one party for the use and benefit of another. If you live like that, you’re forfeiting the game before the kickoff. You’re letting the card shark deal from the bottom of the deck. You’re paying for undercoating and pinstripes on your new car (when you probably don’t even need the car in the first place). You’re asking the mean girls and guys to write nice things in your yearbook.

It’s one thing to create and manage your own profile, persona, or brand. It’s quite different to become a brand. Be yourself.

*I advised y’all (my readers) a while ago about the value of a thesaurus. Did you listen?
**An odd duck, a socially awkward sort, or a serious intellectual. I didn’t fit the older definition: a carny performer who bites the head off a live chicken.

Hello, it’s me. Seriously.

Hi, this is Dave. It’s really me.

No kidding. Honestly, I’m Dave. I’m the real deal, the true article, born smack in the middle of the Boom and raised in Kalamazoo, Michigan (where the city motto is, “Nobody Knows What the Heck It Means Anymore, But Yeah, There’s Still a Kalamazoo”).

I’m Dave, the guy with the deflating bed, aka Uncle Grumpy the grammar grouch, chronicler of old-age indignities, frog attacks, and sex advice for other geezers. Yes, that Dave! Check my photos and fingerprints if you’re not convinced.

Why am I trying to convince you that I’m myself? The other day, I got an emailed receipt and survey from a hotel where I never stayed. A few frantic phone calls revealed that somebody checked in using my name and my old Atlanta address, which were exposed in the big hack of federal employee data a couple of years ago. In other words, my identity has been stolen.

We’re not on the hook for any money, and so far haven’t uncovered any other scams. But it’s disturbing to know there’s a fake me out there. I also have to wonder what kind of putz would heist a normal, boring identity like mine. Why couldn’t he steal from somebody interesting, like Ted Cruz?

Until now, I hadn’t been affected by the breach and was hoping, apparently naively, to remain unscathed. But I can’t sit around worrying either.

If you’re a victim of identity theft or are afraid you might be, the federal government’s resource page is a good place to start. Meanwhile, if you run into somebody claiming to be David Swan, here’s how to tell the Dave from the doppelganger.

  1. If he has hair, it ain’t me, babe.
  2. He should know all kinds of obscure 60s and 70s music references (like the one in item #1). Ask him to name the duo that inflicted “In The Year 2525” on us, or the title of Norman Greenbaum’s follow-up to “Spirit In The Sky.” (Hint: It involves food.*)
  3. Sing the praises of Ohio State and/or Michigan State football. If you don’t hear “Go Blue!” within about 15 seconds, call the gendarmes!
  4. If he uses “barbecue” as a verb, he’s counterfeit. This is something I learned from my Southern transplantation. You might also ask him about his favorite meat and three.
  5. Get him to reminisce about being a cabdriver or an all-night DJ on an elevator-music radio station.
  6. If you’re riding in his car and he has no sense of direction, is the total antithesis of GPS and generally couldn’t find a giraffe in a broom closet, that’s me!

*The tune was “Canned Ham.” This has nothing to do with Canned Heat, a great blues band of the same era. See what I mean about those music references?

Smart machines, raging writer

My refrigerator is a noodge. I stand there with an armload of groceries, trying to make everything fit and not bruise the asparagus, and the thing puts out this rapid, high-pitched little beep beep beep. The cheese drawer’s full, the pie crust is melting, the too-long-leftover Hollandaise sauce is sending out biohazard warnings, and still it’s beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep beep.

The purpose, of course, is to remind me the refrigerator door is open. I KNOW it’s open, you nit! (I’m addressing the machine, not you the reader.) It’s open for a REASON and I PLAN ON CLOSING IT. OKAY??? Beep beep beep.

In all my 60+ years of life I’ve never wandered off and left an open fridge standing there like a jilted bride. But The Powers That Be have decided we’ve got the brains of a kiwi fruit and need a reminder for the simplest of tasks (and they’re afraid we’ll blast them into bankruptcy with bad reviews if our organic Mongolian goat’s milk sours).

I wouldn’t be so crabby if I’d gotten any sleep last night. I didn’t sleep worth beans because of another hyper-intrusive gadget: an outdoor light with a very, VERY sensitive motion detector.

Q: How sensitive is it? And try not to exaggerate this time.

A: So help me, this gizmo is so sensitive it could open for Art Garfunkel. It could pick out the flowers for an Amish wedding. It could lead a group therapy session on “How to Respect Your Partner’s Needs Even When You Know He’s a Total Dimwit.”

The last owner of our house thoughtfully stuck this contraption way too high to reach without a tall ladder, which we don’t have, and fixed it so the light shines right into the bedroom window. If a biker gang rolls up the driveway, it’ll go off and wake me (assuming I slept through the sound of Harleys). Meanwhile, if a leaf drifts past the sensor, as a gazillion leaves do at this time of year, it goes off. If a sparrow hiccups three blocks away, it goes off.

I can’t even avoid these know-it-all gadgets in my car. In case you body-conscious types need a little fresh paranoia, your vehicle knows how much you weigh. This is part of the airbag / safety system and is there for a good reason: the weight sensor keeps the bag from inflating with too much force or inflating at all if the passenger is a child. But it won’t be long before it goes from passive to aggressive.

Me, pulled up at the drive-through: “I’d like the number 3 combo. Large.”

Car: “Dave, I’ve been trying to find the right time to say this, and I do hope it doesn’t hurt our relationship, but you need to be careful about your weight. You take up more of the seat than you used to, and my gas mileage is down. And what about your cholesterol? Who’s going to drive me and take care of me if you have a heart attack? After all our time together, it’d be nice if you’d think about someone other than yourself just once. But noooooo…..”