Let me repeat and clarify that: a gold crown fell off of a tooth while I was eating ice cream. Not while I was chewing on taffy or beef jerky…
Not crunchy butter brickle ice cream; not nutty sundae, rocky road or Ben and Jerry’s Preposterous Peanut Brutal ice cream…
Just regular chocolate ice cream.
And guess what? It doesn’t hurt at all, not a bit. I have no need to rush to a dentist for an extortionately priced bicuspid emergency. The tooth has been dead for years. My whole mouth is dead, apparently. I’m just going to leave it be.
And that, friends, is the thin silvery lining surrounding the big black cloud of aging. When you reach a certain point pain apparently serves no purpose.
My radio partner, Amy Chodroff, and I had a conversation yesterday (570 AM KLIF, Dallas, TX) with a man who proposes we all learn to disconnect from our social gadgets just one day a week. Think about that: no Facebook, no Twitter, no My Space, no Google Plus, no Instagram, no Pinterest, no e-mail, no texting, no nothing:
Just you and the people you can see in real time and space.
I remember decades ago, before Cyber World Genesis, when people were making similar suggestions about technologies and social habits that would seem quaint to us now. “Turn off the TV one night a week”, they said. “Get reacquainted with your family. Talk about your day. Play a board game. Make popcorn.”
It really does sound nice, doesn’t it?
All the way back to my own childhood in the fifties and sixties I can remember the social psychologists urging families to always eat dinner together at the table. It suggested we strive for TV family perfection. Dad would be there smiling in his sweater and tie, Mom would be fresh as a daisy after a day spent driving a vacuum and an iron and then wrangling dinner in the kitchen. We could have funny conversations like the Cleaver family.
It all sounds wonderful but what I remember from my real life family dinners is complaints about the food, being scolded for the griping, Dad grousing about some idiot at work and dear Mom trying to hold it all together. Not always, of course, but often enough that I learned early that nostalgia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
Like it or not, family and social dynamics change with culture which is largely driven by technology.
Nobody sends handwritten letters anymore. Gone are the summer nights on a blanket in the front yard together watching the stars come out. Rocking chairs on the front porch over a pitcher of lemonade and shared tales of greater glories past are the stuff of fanciful memory and our social fabric.
It’s good to remember the past but a terrible mistake to try to live there.
I think I may give this disconnecting idea a shot, occasionally. Maybe not once a week, like on a schedule. Just occasionally, like opening a shoe box filled with old pictures. It’s fun.
Our heat wave seems to have broken. It’s below 80 this morning for the first time in over a week. Clouds are gathering for a welcome summer storm.
I think the reason we’re so darned interested in the weather has less to do with our plans and personal comfort than it does our inability to notice the passing of time. If the weather never changed we would seem to be living the same day over and over, though we age rapidly.
When I was young I thought it funny, and to be honest more than just slightly annoying, that the older people in my life told the same stories time and again. My dad did that. His dad, too. And it seemed to me the older people got the more often they retold a dwindling number of their personal adventures. Now I find myself doing it and often apologizing to my kids as a disclaimer. “I may have already told you this,” I’ll say, but then I’ll go ahead and tell it again anyway.
The truth is, as wonderful as a long life can be we are pathetically short on memories.We remember the highlights of our lives as if they were moments that stand out from old movies. The rest of it seems to be bits and pieces of black and white images, remembered without context or emotional texture. This is why we take so darned many pictures, I guess, to try to hold onto special moments and even the ones we know will be deemed insignificant or forgotten altogether a short time from now.
We mark the passing of our lives by changes in the weather and by how fast the kids grow up.
People come and go.
Sixty, seventy, eighty years. Life sounds long but lives fast. And if we’ve done it right we are vastly wiser and happier for all the great lessons we’ve absorbed, the good with the bad; the monumental and the insignificant. They add up to an existence we can rest assured was meaningful. The world would be a bit less joyful if you or I had never passed this way.
Oddly, though, as miraculous as we are we wind up retelling stories.
I’m sixty years old. It didn’t seem like a big deal back in August when it happened. Forty was a big deal but not sixty.
A couple of days ago I was talking about aging with Gloria, my son’s mother-in-law and one of the wisest people I know. Specifically, I mentioned that as much as I’ve learned about the craft of radio performance over forty-three years of it, none of the younger people I work with seem to be interested in picking my brain. If I offer a small nugget of hard-won wisdom it seems to fall with a clunk on deaf ears. I believe I’ve occasionally seen a furtive wink, a roll of an eye. I’m pretty sure of it.
Gloria nodded sagely. She understood.
It’s a shame, I continued, that as we age we learn so much but eventually we die and all that knowledge of fact, of wisdom and experience, is lost without ever having been shared and appreciated. Worst of all is the lack of respect that piles on top of the years. Instead of being honored, I lamented, old people in our culture are the butt of jokes.
If brevity is the soul of wit, Gloria is a prophet.
“You’re obsolete,” she said offhandedly. “We all are, people our age.”
She said it as if she had just noticed that my shoe was untied and thought I should know.
I’ve been unemployed since October and this is the third time in three years I’ve been between jobs. Radio is an aging technology, an industry being dismantled. We’re sputtering to an end together.
I’ve had a wonderful career and no regrets. If it’s over that’s fine because I still have plenty of life left in me with wonderful friends like Gloria.
I’ll age gracefully. I’ll be obsolete, except to my family. That’s all that matters.
Sometimes, though, sixty is starting to feel like kind of a big deal.
For some reason the word “cripple” is distasteful so we now say “disabled.” Frankly, I don’t see how that’s any better. I guess the nice police figure it implies strength within infirmity. It excuses us from our physical and mental shortcomings though it doesn’t help us overcome and live with them. It helps us pretend we are not less than complete; we cripples are just as good as anybody else, even though we are, admittedly, “disabled.”
In the words of my Wyoming coal-mining cowboy grandfather, that is horse hockey.
I’m crippled. It’s no shame. I had an accident, that’s all. My feet don’t work well but my brain still does. I suffer a bit but I make do and live with it. And by the way, the accident was my own fault. I need to remember that so please don’t take it away from me.
Nobody is old these days. We’re “senior citizens.”
Puh-leeze. It’s cute but I’m not a big fan of cute except in babies and puppies. You can be a “senior” if you like but don’t call me that, okay? I’d rather be “old” or, better yet, not defined by my age at all. Don’t make me cute. I’m more than that.
I think all this social nice-nice has less to do with respect for others than our own desire to seem caring so we can accept our own imperfections.
People don’t get fired these days, they get “laid off.”
I remember when “laid off” meant you could expect to be rehired in the near future. Not anymore. The fact is you’ve been fired, canned, kicked to the curb. The company you worked for just doesn’t need or want you anymore. But, it’s supposed to be somehow less painful to say you were “laid off.” Being “fired” is terribly, terribly personal.
It’s not your fault, nothing is.
And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Nobody is at fault and nobody is to blame for the ups and downs of what we used to just call life.
My grandson’s soccer league doesn’t keep score. They don’t want any losers.
I don’t have to explain to you why that’s so horribly twisted. Most of you are old and wise like me. You remember when your parents and grandparents watched you fall, waited for you to cry and picked you up to wipe your tears, clean your wound and say, “I told you so!” Touching a hot stove is the only way to learn to never do it again. Losing is the only way to learn to win.
It used to be, anyway. These days being on the losing side of a soccer game is considered the death of self-respect.
The only thing that seems to matter now are our fragile egos and manufactured self-esteem.
I can’t change the culture but I still have something to say about the raising of my own sons and grandsons. Here’s what I’d like to say to them:
–You will curse your mistakes and failures. I will quietly celebrate them because they’re lessons I can’t give you. You are a winner and, at times, a loser. Deal with it. You’ll be happier for it.
–You will suffer emotionally and I will try to love you out of your pain but then I’ll have to go home and leave you to sort it out for yourself. Can’t help it, that’s the way it works.
— There is not enough time in my life or yours for us to completely share our hearts. Try to be grateful for every moment we have together, especially the ones that seem unimportant at the time.
Thirty-some years ago while in the depths of my personal despair my father, my hero, told me — in these exact words, which I will never forget:
“If you don’t love yourself you’ll never be worth a damn to anybody else.”
And now, I have finally reached an age where I am qualified to add to my dad’s life-defining revelation:
You don’t love yourself for being good, that’s a given. You love yourself for falling down, getting up and living better for what you have learned.
“‘Scuse me while I kiss the sky!” One day not too long ago I wandered into a 7-11 storeand hid my smile from the clerk. He appeared to be on the fringe of his “golden years,” rotund, gray and balding. He was the only guy in the place and had Jimi Hendrix blaring from his boomboxbehind the counter. I thought it was pretty funny that an old guy like him was digging Jimi. Then, what you have already figured out hit me.
That “old guy” was my age. Something happened in the mid-1960s that suddenly narrowed all future generation gaps. It was a social sea change rooted in technology and nourished with an elixir concocted by a new breed of post be-bop musicians. Everything about them was radical, from their long, unkempt hair to their wildly-colorful disdain of fashion sense to their electronically amplified screams of youthful exuberance.
Our parents were apoplectic.
And we dug that, too.
“Yi-pi-yi-ay! Yi-pi-yi-o! Ghost riders in the sky…”
When my mother graduated from high school in June of 1949 the top-selling record of the day was Riders In The Sky by Vaughn Monroe. Twenty years later, June of 1969, I graduated high school and the number one song was Get Back by the Beatles.
So, what? So, this:
I’m not sure I have ever heard a Vaughn Monroe song but I’m absolutely positive I never owned one. On the other hand my son owns a nearly full Beatles collection and knows as much about the songs and the group as I do. He also loves the music of Creedence, Simon and Garfunkel, the Beach Boys and other artists who made their impact years before he was born.
And it works the other way around, too. I believe my contemporaries and I keep up with cultural changes much more readily than my grandparents did. When I was a lad you wouldn’t find me sitting with Grandma in front of her Philco TV watching the Lawrence Welk Show but here I am, my grandparents’ age, parked in front of the big flat screen Sony for each new episode of American Idol.
And it’s not just music, either. I’m pretty sure neither of my grandfathers would have been caught dead at Disneyland. I’d bet on it, in fact. My dad went there with the family on our vacation when I was a young teen but I don’t remember him riding the Matterhorn or Dumbo. He would never stand near Mickey Mouse or Goofy for a photo op.By the time I became a dad, though, Disneyland was a whole new ballgame. That’s not surprising since the park was born after I was and having grown up with the Magic Kingdom experience under my belt, enjoying it with my kids and grand-kids just comes naturally. In fact, Carolann and I have annual passes.
So, here’s the thing: While we always hear people bemoaning the loss of American family relationships I’m not buying it.When I was a kid, yes, we all ate dinner together at a single table, at the same time, without the TV. But frankly, I don’t recall it as being a particularly nurturing and bonding experience. I don’t remember it being anything at all except dinner.
So, while my son didn’t often have meatloaf at the family dinner table he did have me at his Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday parties and I like to believe he enjoyed that.
I’m no social scientist so I really can’t figure out what it all means, if anything, but that has never stopped me from reaching a happy conclusion and here it is:
If our parents are the Greatest Generation, as is the title applied to them in recent years, we are surely the Coolest. So far, anyway.
For some inexplicable reason I awoke this morning at 4:48 with this song running through my head:
There’s a hold up in the Bronx,
Brooklyn’s broken out in fights!
There’s a traffic jam in Harlem
That’s backed up to Jackson Heights!
There’s a scout troop short a child,
Kruschev’s due at Idlewild!!
CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU??!!
If you never heard those words, it doesn’t matter. Move on and have a great day!
If you do know what this is about, you’re already shaking your head and thinking, “Oh, my God…”
I awoke this morning with the theme song from a 47-year-old TV sitcom running through my head, a song I haven’t heard in at least 35 years.
My working theory is that at some point in life our mental filing cabinets start to get too heavy and the little wheels in the drawers break down. Those little folders collapse and some old piece of useless memory crap spills out all over the floor.
I recently annoyed some friends in an email chat group by expressing my irritation at the proliferation of jokes about old people. They think I’m overreacting. It’s no big deal, people have always made fun of old folks, right?
People still tell race jokes, too, but at least we know that’s disrespectful and wrong.
If an old man falling on an escalator is funny to you, go ahead and close this window and go to that site, instead. It’s a damned giggle fest.
Black birthday balloons! Hoo-hah, how funny is that?
Look, I know it’s mostly in good, innocent fun and we should always, at all ages, be able to laugh at ourselves. It’s not that. No, what gripes me is the fact that many people, maybe all of us eventually, buy into the notion that getting old means we’ll be doddering, slobbering, laughable old fools. So, we simply assume the role, sit down in the rocking chair and watch the world pass by without so much as waving to it.
The jokes take us by the hand and lead us there
And, it’s not even the jokes that bother me as much as the allusions to how “cute” old people are.
I just received an email that had a link to a video of an elderly man and his wife playing the piano together. They weren’t doing anything amazing. They weren’t playing Flight of the Bumblee in rounds and different, harmonic keys. They weren’t playing the notes with their noses, toes, elbows and tongues. They were just playing a little tune together. Isn’t that cute!?
Why? What’s cute about it? If these people were in their thirties or forties instead of their eighties it wouldn’t be adorable. Nobody would have turned a camera on them in the first place.
I simply think we should treat old people the same way they were treated when they were young adults and middle-aged. Give them the same respect we afford people we take more seriously. Judge them by the content of their character and the wisdom of their years rather than the number of them.
And, by God, when an old person is being a pain in the ass, unload on ’em! Don’t give them a pass because of age.
It’s hard to text a sigh.
I know I’m being silly. Well, I don’t think it’s silly but I know a lot of people do. And certainly, part of my concern is personal and yes, I am offended at the idea I will soon be marginalized by stereotypes. Please don’t ever refer to me as a “senior citizen” or some other gentle euphemism. I will simply be old and wear my age as a badge of achievment, thank you.
I will laugh, I’ll converse as intelligently as I’m able and I’ll keep writing as long as I can. But I won’t be cute, okay?
My blogging buddy, Anita, just posted one of her typically charming and smile-inducing pieces on the subject of aging, Fifty is the new forever. I suppose that’s what we do here whether we address the subject head-on or just obliquely, through our personal kaleidoscopic lives.
One of the things I love most about Anita is that aging never seems to give her a moment’s pause or stress. I, on the other hand, am borderline obsessive.
I look in the mirror only out of occasional necessity and all I see are lies.
I stopped growing older in my mid-thirties. It was a good age for me. It’s the age I chose to be for the rest of my life. So, as I push sixty (though I prefer to think of it as pulling fifty) my thirty-five year old spirit peers into the mirror at an old man and while I’ve never been especially attractive nor self-conscious it just doesn’t work.
I can’t feel like this and look like that.
I know the only option I have in order to re-frame myself is to give up and be my age because I can’t possibly look thirty-five again. That’s fine if I can figure out how to age without getting old. That’s really what concerns us, isn’t it?
Do I have to turn grouchy? Will I be forced to wear khaki pants and sensible shoes?
I’m going to work on this self-image thing because I don’t believe it much matters what anybody else thinks of my appearance as long as I’m clean and semi-tidy.
The thing is — at thirty-five this stuff never crossed my mind.
“When I look at the younger generation, I despair of the future of civilisation.” — Aristotle, 300BC
Not exactly an original thought, is it? Who among us over 40-somethings hasn’t worried about the future of the world because we just don’t understand kids today? And yet, if you’re like me, you are also annoyed that over the years you have apparently turned into your own father.
My father was a good, strong man in every way; he was a devoted and loving dad and a good provider. He could make me think, make me smile and he hugged me when I needed courage. But at some point he just stopped going along with all the nonsense in the world.
As he got older my dad used to rail against the collapse of American values, corruption in American politics and the loss of American jobs (to China, mainly.) When he whittled it all down he figured all the problems in this country started in millions of homes at empty dinner tables while moms as well as dads conducted their own lives outside of the house. He never expressed his disdain for women working outside the home but I think he felt it. Kids were left to raise themselves, he’d say, parents were allowing kids freedoms they weren’t ready to enjoy responsibly.
Life, my dad thought, had gone down the crapper. As he put it to me more than once, “I like people individually but as a species we’re not worth a damn.”
Sometimes I think that way, too. It annoys me, not because I’m channeling my dad but because it feels like I’m digging in my heels and giving up. I’m edging closer to the rocking chair and I don’t want to go there.
Yesterday the Rocky Mountain News published its last edition. Newspapers across the country are losing their grip on the Information Age. There’s just too much competition from electronic gadgets and cyber sources. Nobody has time to read anymore. “News” is gleaned from short sound bites on television and radio. Broadcasting is a technology slipping into history
Nobody wants to talk these days. We’d rather text and tweet than actually have a conversation. Expressing ourselves electronically is easier and more efficient; it removes the inconvenience of having to listen.
As I watch the world evolve beyond my personal comfort zone I have come to understand why each succeeding generation eventually reaches a point where it can’t or simply refuses to keep up. We all fall victim to the inevitable grip of nostalgia and are given to wistful expressions of “Back in my day…” We long for a simpler time that probably wasn’t really simpler, we were just younger, more curious and more resilient.
We just get tired, I think. That’s okay but when we do that we have to accept a very hard truth: time is passing us by and our culture won’t stop to wait for us to catch up.
Whether that is aging gracefully or quitting, you’ll have to decide for yourself. I’m going to try to keep up for awhile.
(Copyright 2009, D.L. Williams. All rights reserved.)