Category Archives: new old age

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
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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.

Birth dazed

I hate my birthday. Not that there’s anything wrong with the date itself. I don’t share it with some famous person like Muhammad or Mel Brooks, or with an unhappy moment in history like the time the migrant caravan bombed Pearl Harbor. It’s not even because so many years have flown by since my original birthday, though it was slightly terrifying when my latest was the one Sir Paul McCartney wrote a tune about, and it wasn’t “When I’m 19, or “When I’m 28,” or “When I’m 35, 39, or even 49 or 59, FFS!”

No, the reason for this grump attack is that the birthday has suddenly become an indispensable form of ID, which compels me to state it, and thus be reminded of it, a lot more often than I’d like. Medical offices are the worst offenders. No matter why I’m calling, and lately I’ve been ringing up lots of docs about different issues, the voice on the other end always asks, “Date of birth?”

When I was a kid, I of course eagerly anticipated each DOB for the presents and cake. Later on I tried to ignore them, especially the milestones like the now-distant 30 and 40. Eventually, I grudgingly decided getting older is better than the alternative and made peace with the date. But I had to think about it only once a year.

Now, even if I called the doctor’s office five minutes before and I’m talking to the same person, they want my mm/dd/yyyy. And remember: the reason I’m calling in the first place is because my various faculties, faculty lunches, organs, pipes, pipe organs, Moogs, wellness plans, Marshall Plans, Marshall stacks, and other instruments of crepitude* are falling apart – and on top of that, they gotta remind me I’m older than God and dirt put together?

At least I’m still dealing with humans. The New Yorker has an amusing piece about the horde of robots trying to take our jobs, one of which was deep-sixed after trying to hug customers and calling out “Hello, gorgeous!” I think I can safely speak for every male member of our species in saying I do NOT EVER want a doc-bot to examine my prostate.


*The opposite of decrepitude. Right?

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.

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.”