Category Archives: new old age

The kindness of non-strangers

So you made it through the holiday. Congrats, but don’t stay happy for long! Seeing as how you’re a Real American, it’s time to shed the mindset of celebration and take up the mantle of guilt and self-improvement. New Year’s resolutions? Dude, like soooo last millennium! According to the poohbahs of pop-psych, what you need to do in 2020 is be kinder to yourself.

I’ve always thought of myself as the kind kind (and modest about it), but this one has thrown a whole set of wrenches into my gearbox. Here’s how the ideas in the article shake out for me.

Take more time for yourself. I’m retired. I’ve taken a whole life for myself. Not that it’s all chocolates and violins, because reaching retirement age means the spirit often makes promises the body can’t keep. I’ve become very familiar with “Pill Hill,” the part of Atlanta overrun by medicos and hospitals. I’ll probably be dead to the world long before the ball drops in Times Square. But I can’t figure out how to retire from retirement.

Take time to do nothing at all. See above. Besides, what’s “nothing?” Does that mean sitting in my recliner reading the good books I got for Christmas? That’s “something.”

Cultivate more casual, low-stakes friendships. The article hints, “Think of the parents you see in the drop-off line at school. Your favorite bartender. The other dog owners at the park.” I’m way too old for kids, don’t have a dog, and haven’t had a favorite bar or tender in years. And “casual, low-stakes” sounds like “friends with benefits,” which is NOT on my horizon.

Learn to enjoy things when they’re good because, “Worrying about when ‘the other shoe will drop’ will only steal your current joy.” Well, maybe. But this runs up against the fundamental nature that’s gotten me this far in life, summed up by John Cale in “Fear Is a Man’s Best Friend.” The other size nine is always out there, like an asteroid that could blast our world right into the cosmic corner pocket. I will remain my own toughest critic and like a boxer will protect myself at all times. So sue me.

Learn to accept a compliment—even if it’s from yourself. “Dave, if I say so yourself, this is truly one of your best posts. It’s witty, timely, and not too long. It should yield a bounty of likes, hits, and clicks to start the New Year.”

Yield a bounty? Who the hell taught you to write? Go back to the recliner and let me finish this before you kill what’s left of our reputation. My advice to me is to recall what James Thurber wrote in response to the self-improvement loonies of the 1930s: “Let Your Mind Alone!” Okay, we’re done. That’s still not too long, is it?”

Fords and Ferraris, forever

Dear Dad,

I hope you enjoyed the movie as much as I did. You weren’t sitting in the theater, but you were with me the way you’ve been for fifty-plus years now, and especially since I heard about the film “Ford v Ferrari” a few weeks ago.

That title could’ve been taken straight from our lives. After all, our Ford and Ferrari battled it out on the racetrack many times. We also had a Mustang, a Corvette, and a Jag, but the Cobra and the bright red Ferrari were our favorites. And racing was racing. It didn’t matter that the track was plastic, laid out on a table in the basement, and the electric “slot cars” were only a few inches long.

We sure had fun down there. I remember hitting full power at the starting line, fighting to get around the loop without spinning out, tearing down the back stretch, and blasting through the last turn to the finish. I also recall when we saw a real race at the state fair, sitting in bleachers with those monster Indy 500 cars of the ‘60s screaming past us on a dirt track, the noise deafening and the dirt flying.

I didn’t care who won. Just being there was enough. We never kept score in the basement either, because there was always time for one more heat. Until that day in February when I was fourteen and suddenly there was no more time for anything.

For a long time afterward, I felt like I was driving on an endless course at night, running blind in the darkness. But as you taught me, I kept going and came out intact in the demolition derby that was high school. My career as a journalist and wordsmith required me to race plenty of deadlines, and I’m proud to say they haven’t beaten me yet.

I hope you’d be proud too. I doubt that I could ever match your integrity, your big heart, and especially your gift for salesmanship, which I need now that I’m peddling a novel. But I can tell you that both of us married loving, intelligent, funny, wonderful women.

I’d give anything on earth if we could all be together in our old living room with you playing the piano and my wife singing something like “Moon River.” And if somehow we ever did see each other again, I’ll bet the track would be there waiting. Let’s go. You can have the Ferrari.

Scooting through life

My wife and I recently drove from Atlanta to Detroit, a two-day interstate slog that covers several hundred miles and gets even longer when you try to avoid the endless work zone known as Ohio. Despite all that time on the road, the most enlightening part of the trip for me was a ride on the mean sidewalks of the Motor City, aboard a mobility scooter.

You’ve probably seen these at the big-box or the grocery store. Most often used by victims of stroke, arthritis, lung disease, and heart trouble, scooters can transform the quality of life for those with severe disabilities. My wife’s arthritis isn’t that bad but it makes long walks difficult, so her scooter was ideal for a jazz festival in Detroit, with four stages spread over several blocks.

A scooter like the one I rode

A few snarky commentators, especially in England, think some scooter users are lazy sods who just don’t feel like walking. This, as they say in the UK, is bollocks. As I learned the day I retrieved the scooter from the hotel, no one would climb on these things if they had any choice.

First of all, scooters don’t have shocks. Every little crack and rough spot in the pavement goes straight to the seat, and big holes really rattle your teeth. I felt like I was bouncing all the way to the festival. Second, your carefree way of walking is over. You can’t just cross the street; you have to look for the cutout curb. And good luck getting through a non-automatic door.

Navigating a crowd is a struggle because of all the nubs* with their eyes glued to screens and their earbuds in so they won’t even hear your bell. You’re constantly slowing down, speeding up, and shifting left or right to keep from bumping somebody. On top of that, you have to watch for little kids running loose and big ones breezing past you on those dumb two-wheel scooters, which they later drop in the middle of the sidewalk and block your path. The speed control allows you to putter along at a good clip, but between crowds and bad concrete, I could’ve gone faster on foot.

All of this can be stressful, even if you’re not already coping with a serious disability. I’ll never take mobility for granted again.

The next time you see someone on a scooter, please understand that it’s a necessity, not an indulgence. Open the door for them. Ask if you can help with their bags. And all of us should insist that people with disabilities receive accommodations. We were told the jazz festival didn’t reserve space at concerts for fans who use wheelchairs or scooters. Think we’ll make that long drive to Detroit again?


*A dense, spectacularly clueless person. Derived from Navy jargon: “non-usable body.”

Geezerhood for dummies

Since today is National Senior Citizens Day, I thought we could all take a break from our busy schedule of lying about being at Woodstock, and using periods in texts just to aggravate the grandkids. Stay with me while I share some priceless* information from our good friends at the AARP on the subject of living in place. (You do plan on living for a while, right?)

This concept, also known as aging in place, means adapting your home to your age—perhaps by lopping off the second floor to get rid of those knee-killing stairs! Seriously, there are lots of practical, helpful ways to do this. Sadly, the AARP’s ideas are uncommonly bad.

Their first mistake was outsourcing the piece to those Property Brothers from HGTV (bless their hearts) and putting it in the form of a cartoon. This multi-page spread shows the bros leading their own parents through the house, while offering these king-size pearls of wisdom:

“Bedside units hold books, glasses, water, and medicine.”
“Low-flow toilets reduce water bills.”
“Non-slip floor surfaces reduce falls.”
“Elvis really is dead. He’s not hanging out at the Burger King in Kalamazoo.”

Okay, I made up the last one, but you get the idea. These yutzes** must think us elders have the brains of a kohlrabi. So what did you expect from the magazine that invited you to, “Meet Joe’s Prostate?”

The worst part is that many of their suggestions truly make no sense for seniors (or anyone else). The article notes, “A raised dishwasher eases the burden of bending and lifting.” Except that the cartoon shows, right next to said dishwasher, a fridge with the freezer at the bottom WHICH REQUIRES BENDING AND LIFTING EVERY TIME YOU TAKE SOMETHING OUT.

Still in the kitchen: “Under-counter lighting makes midnight snacking easier.” Right, and while we’re at it, let’s facilitate weight gain and heartburn. And get this: for the bathroom, they propose robo-toilets with “voice-activated flushing and lids that raise automatically.” So when Joe’s prostate gets him up at 3:00 a.m. and the privy suddenly gets balky, he’ll be yelling, “FLUSH! I SAID FLUSH!” and Jane, awakened out of a hot dream involving Harrison Ford, will be telling Alexa, ‘Look up divorce lawyer NOW!”

This panel sums up the witlessness of the story. Would any real husband be so dense as to blurt out, “She’s got a lot more to store!” emphasized by that thought-balloon next to his head? The wife would probably have her own balloon, with a big red X over his vintage Playboy collection.

Seriously?

*Since it doesn’t come with a price, it’s worth exactly what you paid for it. Get it?
**Similar to “putz:” dimwitted, but without the added meaning of being slang for “schlong.”

Nonsense of direction

This “new old age” business is definitely getting old. Not only am I losing vital inches from the frame I’ve been feeding and cultivating all these years, but a precious part of my brain is wilting like last week’s boutonniere.

Why? Because I use a GPS! Those pesky scientists have found that those who lean on this crutch show a decline in the hippocampus (which has nothing to do with African wildlife) and the ability to navigate. Of course, this assumes they have that ability to begin with. Your narrator is not among these fortunate souls.

My powers of direction are such that given half a chance, I’m liable to act like this guy, or this one. In contrast to the famous Wrong Way Corrigan, when I set out for Los Angeles and wind up in Ireland it’s not on purpose. “East is East and West is West” is no guarantee! Like Bob Dylan, I’ve been stuck inside of Mobile, even after they built I-10, and unlike Chet Baker I don’t need to sing “Let’s Get Lost,” because I’m usually there already.

You might wonder how I ever managed to function as a cab driver, which I did for about three years in my college town in Michigan in the 70s. I had moments of misdirection, and a few peeved passengers, but after being out there for eight or nine or ten hours every night—and having to drive efficiently to make money— I learned my way around.

That’s what the GPS generation doesn’t get. Despite having DNA that’s programmed to make me run around in circles, I still remember my routes. Even today, I’ll bet I could make it from the Old West Side of Ann Arbor to the Watergate in quick time.

And no, I don’t mean driving from A2 to DC. “Watergate” was what the drivers and dispatchers called the intersection of Nixon Road and Bluett Drive. Nixon-Bluett. Get it?

Farewell to a friend

The dragonflies were coming out at the beach last week, a new cycle of life beginning with the season. For my wife and me, a stage of life was ending, as we cleared out and sold the beach house we’d owned and cherished for the last sixteen years.

Beach house

Growing up in the Midwest and not being the imaginative type (think Lake Wobegon), I never dreamed I might someday have a home by the water. I spent lots of summer days swimming in lakes, but never went to Florida for spring break. I had no clue that the world’s most gorgeous beaches lay on the Gulf of Mexico in the area once called the Redneck Riviera, now the Emerald Coast.

Then my girlfriend and I visited friends there and were entranced by the white sand, the balmy turquoise-blue water, and the cool, laid-back vibe. We bought a condo, got married on the beach, and a few years later traded up to a house, where we spent the best times of our lives. Swimming in the Gulf as little fish nibbled our toes. Riding our bikes to get ice cream at ten a.m. if we felt like it. Floating in our pool with Pat Metheny on the outdoor speakers. Kayaking in the rare dune lakes all around us. Eating sweet Gulf shrimp on the beach at sunset. Joining our neighbors for a Fourth of July pig roast, complete with a New Orleans funeral procession for the pig, then watching fireworks all along the coast. Catching beads at Mardi Gras in Panama City.

The Mardi Gras parade in St. Andrews, a few years before the hurricane

Of all those moments, the very best were the clear nights when we lay in our deck chairs for hours on end, marveling at the Milky Way and the planets, talking, and just being together. My wife’s creative spirit and loving heart touched every corner, from the wreath on the door, to the screened porch she had put in, to the nature photos she took and hung on the walls. We could go down anytime and find everything as we’d left it, waiting for us like an old friend.

But eventually, managing the place became a struggle. Meanwhile, our historic beach town was ruined by a plague of mini-Trump Towers, hideous new houses that blocked our Gulf view and were full of obnoxious tourists. These are the kind who bring their guns on vacation, then forget and leave them for the next group of renters (or their kids) to find. They overran our formerly uncrowded beaches, tore around the streets on golf carts, and shot off tons of fireworks even when it was nowhere near the Fourth.

We fought back. When some jerks got raucous in the house behind ours, we fired up the stereo and introduced them to John Coltrane at top volume. But it just wasn’t paradise anymore. And when Hurricane Michael slammed Panama City and came within twenty miles of us, it was time to sell and move on.

I know it’s the right decision. I still feel like I’ve torn out part of my heart. Little things remind me of the place all  the time: no more beach house keys on my ring, several beach-related bookmarks to delete from my browser, the storm forecasts I don’t need to follow anymore.

But we gave our home a proper farewell. We donated lots of household goods to people who’d lost everything in Michael (and didn’t need the National Hurricane Center to tell them it was a Category 5). On the last evening, we walked down to the beach with boxes of shells we’d collected over the years and cast them back into the sea.

Our last sunset

Like Hemingway’s Paris, the beach is a moveable feast, a state of mind. We can see the same stars and planets from our porch in Atlanta. It’s spring and this Sunday is Easter. The dragonflies will be back soon.

Dave closing door.
Goodbye

Retreat from reality

Just when I’d gotten used to constantly reciting my birth date and reminding myself of my fast-advancing age, I get smacked by another warning that my game is in the late innings. And by “smacked,” friends, I mean SMACKED, like going to that fish market where they throw the fish around and catching an Alaskan halibut right in the kisser.

It seems that not only is 60 not the new 40 after all, but 35 is the new 65. That’s the drift of this article about a luxury retreat designed to help Silicon Valley types cope with fears of early geezerdom. This feeling is driven by the breakneck pace of new software and a culture that demands “a limber, associative mind and an appetite for risk — both of which lessen with age.” As a result, people in their 30s and 40s are flocking to the retreat, at $5,000 for a week.

Oh dear. Get ready for a shock: these golden children of the revolution aren’t the first ones to have this problem. People whose jobs require a limber body, like construction workers, truckers, and restaurant servers can find their livelihoods at risk long before they’re “old” enough for Medicare. Besides, women have always faced discrimination based on their looks and age, and not just in Hollywood, politics, and TV newsrooms.

One of these angst-ridden folks at the retreat said, “I watch YouTube stars and all these things, and intellectually I get it, but emotionally I just can’t connect.” So what? Twenty-five years ago I couldn’t connect with Nirvana and Pearl Jam either. The grunge bands weren’t bad or untalented. Their music just didn’t speak to me like Patti Smith, Talking Heads, U2, and before that the Beatles, the Temptations, and lots of others did. I’d gotten older. It happens. It beats the hell out of the only available option.

Maybe this is a clash between their California ethos and my Midwestern one, but to me, you don’t need a shaman to just be yourself: warts, wrinkles, reading glasses and all. And please don’t zap your face with Botox or run to the Hair Club. That’ll just make you look and feel even more decrepit, broken-down, seedy, tottering, weather-beaten, worn out, haggard, creaky, and unsound. (As I’ve said before, a thesaurus is a very useful thing.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to put fresh batteries in my hearing aids and update my playlist with some Lunch Duchess. I don’t know much about their music yet but they have one of the all-time great names for a rock and roll band.