Retired from the U.S. Army as a lieutenant colonel Robert B. Robeson shares his whimsical thoughts on aging in this playful essay.
My high school graduating class will be holding another reunion soon. Each remaining survivor has managed to use up all of their 27,375 days on Earth, over seven and one-half decades, in a variety of ways. After this extended period of time, it’s apparent that I’m not what I used to be. The good news is that neither are any of my former classmates.
For many of us from that “rock and roll” generation, there were many intriguing “moments to remember” patterned after the lyrics of a popular song then with an identical title. This was a time when teenagers went around using “neat-o,” “swinging” and “see ya later, alligator” slang in an effort to be “cool” in our verbal communication. I still believe these terms have more sophistication than beginning every sentence, and alleged thought, with “like” or ending it with “you know” that’s so prevalent nowadays in the younger set.
Our pending reunion, long after we’ve attained a state where society refers to us as “senior citizens,” reminds me that we’re definitely beginning to accelerate down that slippery-slide of life. This realization can often be as frustrating as a traffic cop attempting to write speeding tickets at the Indianapolis 500. As with many former generations, we’ve been forced to grow up and survive in a world featuring battles, bills, backaches and bicarbonate of soda. Yet we still find comfort in the notion that as long as we’re mired in debilitating debt, there will always be someone concerned about us and our demanding contemporary plastic gods: Visa, MasterCard and American Express.
In my own case, I have to admit that chronic aging has had a tendency to sneak up on me. It arrived insidiously and was often ignored until I attempted to run around the block chasing my equally undisciplined dog. Getting older can be discombobulating. It’s similar to Robinson Crusoe discovering a human footprint that wasn’t his on the desolate beach of that island where he was marooned.
The truth about human life is that in time, the sand in our hourglass begins to peter out. Though I’m still attempting to get my act together at 75, this process hasn’t managed to totally intimidate me. Monet, the founder of French Impressionism, finished some of his greatest paintings at 86. Goethe completed the tragic play “Faust Part Two” at 82. Tennyson wrote the poem “Crossing the Bar” when he was 80. That’s pretty good considering that actress Shirley Temple peaked at around age 7 and Joan of Arc at 19.
One disturbing “senior moment” I encounter frequently is when I’m at a stoplight and a teenage driver pulls up next to me with his windows down and rap music cranked up to 100 decibels. It always makes me want to stab myself in the brain with something very, very sharp. That’s one reason why I believe this younger generation lacks refinement in music.
In my day we had musical classics containing deep and inspiring messages that were inherent in “Rag Mop” by the Ames Brothers, Sheb Wooley’s “Purple People Eater” and Little Richard’s “Be-Bop-A-Lula” and “Tutti Frutti.” Today’s kids don’t know how musically-deprived they are…or how deaf they’re going to be if they ever reach my age. One endearing quality about these youngsters, though, is that I’ve never witnessed any of them pull out photos of their grandparents from their wallets to show friends.
The older I get the more time I spend daydreaming about visiting shopping malls in an attempt to convince mothers of out-of-control urchins to let me help discipline them for free. This intense compulsion has the potential to provide me instant access to animated conversations with uniformed officers and loquacious lawyers, with a yen for yen, since the American dollar is on its own downhill spiral too.
My motivation to be of service to humankind, in this way, is so strong it often causes me to hyperventilate. When I share these feelings with my wife, she always attempts to reassure me by saying, “There, there now, dear. Just take another Valium, Prozac, Paxil or Xanax…your choice, and everything will be ‘dilly-dilly’ again,” like in that beer commercial. Perhaps this last sequence was part of a daydreaming. I’m not sure.
The old Biblical formula that “…the days of our years are three score and ten” (or 70) is noted in the 90th Psalm. This verse doesn’t appear to have actuarial validity today because the majority of us seem to be living longer. I know there were exceptions in the past and I can’t say I’d have wanted to live 969 years like Methuselah in Genesis, especially without the weekly inspiration of the Kardashian clan on TV, congressional hearings or the caloric excesses of Twinkies and chocolate peanut clusters.
My hair is now mostly salt and pepper–okay, mostly salt–but it’s falling out so fast that no one notices. Once upon a time, my eyesight was on par with an eagle’s. It’s since diminished to about half an eagle…on a good day. The few lucid thoughts I still have remind me that I’m closer to the tape at the end of life’s race than I am to the starting blocks. Sometimes I fantasize that 75 is only middle age. This would be an accurate assumption if I live to be 150.
Two pertinent facts can’t be denied. The older I become the harder it is to find a decent mirror. When I gaze at my reflection today, my nearsighted eyes confirm that I am no longer the person my meandering mind remembers. Secondly, only in recent years have I begun to achieve that unique cantankerous personality that previous seniors are renowned for. My physical features have also evolved through the years. A lot of what I tote around now appears to be sagging like a used mattress at a Salvation Army Thrift Store.
Teenagers often give me that look I get from a car salesmen when I enter their dealerships on roller skates, a skateboard or unicycle. But I don’t care. I ignore them and pickup free giveaways before leaving to go buy Twinkies and a bag of chocolate peanut clusters. According to heart specialists, that’s as smart as using Drano for a clogged artery. Yet you’d have better luck convincing Miss Piggy to redo her hairstyle than in persuading me to stop.
When I was young, I could walk into any business establishment or down the main street in town without being accosted by cell phone bores craving attention with their loud and nonstop ramblings. You know who I’m talking about. It’s those airheads who, merely because they have access to modern technology that’s perennially stuck in their ears, believe they’re the center of the universe. I’m referring to today’s insufferable and inconsiderate blabbermouths who are constantly encountered in doctor’s offices, in line at the post office or in restaurants. They mistakenly think that everyone within the surrounding zip code has an interest in their overbearing boss, whether Aunt Susie should be committed or the best remedy for zits.
Nobody had instant 24/7 access to our lives and ears when I was a teenager. And we weren’t constantly assaulted by narcissistic Neanderthals who obviously have no idea what it’s like to have a single thought that can be kept to oneself. Maybe the muddled minds of these electronic masses could find salvation if they digested a quote from Blaise Pascal. “All men’s miseries derive from not being able to sit in a quiet room alone.”
At my advancing age, sexting, tweeting and twittering are not my thing either. Not yet anyway. Probably never. I blame those cat videos on YouTube for the short attention spans so many people have in the 21st century. And I’m also grateful that the few TV stations available in our high school days didn’t psychologically torture and embarrass us by showing Viagra, Cialis and Levitra commercials every fifteen minutes during prime time.
I’ve experienced a few major sorrows along life’s road. One involves a realization that the day has arrived when I’m no longer able to dial-up the psychic hotline in an effort to discover where I parked my car downtown.
Nobody I knew in high school was involved in “recreational pharmacology,” which is often a point of contention when comparing my generation to a segment of today’s youth. We had a few student rebels and malcontents who consumed fermented barley and hops on a regular basis that they acquired illegally. Most of them never caused any overt harm other than by becoming periodic, obnoxious spectacles. We also didn’t have computers on our desks in school like so many students do now. If someone had mentioned a “hard drive” in our day, we’d have thought they were referring to getting a girlfriend home an hour past curfew when her parents were still awake.
Perhaps I’m at that stage in life when I share Mark Twain’s philosophy on aging. “I am able to say that while I am not ruggedly well, I am not ill enough to excite an undertaker.” After speeding past 75, I realize I’m now playing with house money. Why should it make any difference if I gorge myself on junk food or sip hot toddies every night?
Maybe that’s why I haven’t decided how my funeral arrangements will be carried out. It seems like a costly waste of time because I won’t be able to appreciate this event even though I’ll be footing the bill. Somehow that doesn’t seem fair. I guess my heirs will be able to blame that on President Donald Trump, too, like everything else.
If my family does have a memorial service for me, I’ve already drafted a note requesting that a ragtime band play a trilogy of songs featuring “Dixie,” “When The Saints Go Marching In” and “Tiger Rag.” These musical renditions may give a few angels heartburn, but they should keep any old friends awake long enough to beat everyone else to the refreshments afterward. There’s nothing gloomy or depressing about that, is there? And you can bet I’ll ensure that there’s plenty of Twinkies and chocolate peanut clusters on this terminal menu, too.