I turn 60 on Monday, but I will greet this milestone with all the maturity of whining a 9-year-old. Aging gracefully is not for me. I protest. I resist. I crave eternal youth. I know my petulance is undignified, but I just can’t seem to help myself. Perhaps this first year of my seventh decade will be the turning point where I finally concede that my flesh will sag, my hair will fall out, and I will be plagued by a procession of unanticipated ailments, one of which will eventually kill me. I won’t despair. I will greet my fate with equanimity, even a sense of humor. In so many ways, after all, aging and death are a cruel joke. Why not laugh?
I’ll grant you, I still have a at least another good decade left, probably two. I’m in pretty good shape thanks to a rigorous exercise regimen made possible by good genes, excessive vanity, and chronic unemployment. I swim three or four miles each week and run 10 or 12. By any rational standard, my morbid ruminations on decrepitude have begun tormenting me at least 10 years too soon. And yet, as I said, I can’t help myself.
Thumbing our noses at mortality, my old friend Richard and I went on a 10-mile hike the other day, two weeks before my 60th birthday and a week before his. A Boston native, he had detoured up to Seattle after a business trip to California. We made it up to Lake Serene and back without breaking any bones. We celebrated our fortitude, and the natural bounty of the Pacific Northwest, with cold beers and cheeseburgers, the latter of which could hasten our demise, but who gives a damn? We are not afraid.
Now I’m sitting in a Seattle cafe, eavesdropping on a 20-something couple in the glory of their youth. They’re clearly on a Tinder date. You can tell by their awkward posture and shy smiles. They’re trying hard to seem comfortable. They exchange earnest insights and biographical tidbits. He’s a tall mountain man, with a shaggy beard and bright blue eyes, sunglasses perched atop his baseball cap. He’d be happy chopping wood while blasting Nirvana. She’s wearing nerd glasses and mom jeans, a delightful complement to her skin-tight black top and blond hair. One can only imagine what happens when those spectacles come off. She’s Courtney Love, he’s Kurt Cobain. Lean, ripe and ready, this pair seems destined to copulate passionately as soon as they polish off their lattes.
O, to copulate passionately — without incurring a debilitating injury!
I got a haircut yesterday, which afforded me the unfortunate opportunity to see myself in a large, brightly lit mirror. I looked up, expecting to admire taut, bulging biceps sculpted to perfection as a result of my marathon swim workouts. Instead, I saw blobs of wrinkly flesh dangling from my elbows. The dark circles clinging to my eyes were plump and dark as Moon Pies. My hair had abruptly begun transitioning from grey to white — all salt, no pepper.
No afternoon delight for this old man!
I returned home and opened an email enumerating the various senior discounts for which I am now eligible, twenty-three in all, including 10 percent off at Walmart, Applebee’s or Chili’s. What’s more, if I order a large coffee at Dunkin’ Donuts, they’ll give me a free cruller! Turns out these perks had actually kicked in when I turned 55. If only I had known.
To celebrate my dubious birthday milestone, Diana and I went to a Neil Young show at the Paramount Theater the other night. Aging baby-boomers reeking of weed shuffled into the theater, hunching over and squinting through bifocals to make out the numbers on their seats. Neil blew the roof off the joint, but several of the geezers seated near us were too creaky and cranky to applaud. They just sat there, catatonic, while one white-haired blowhard two seats to my left stood up and booed his disapproval each time Neil sang a mournful ballad.
“Rock ’n roll!” he demanded. “Rock ’n rollllllllllllllllll!”
“Please don’t turn into that guy,” my wife beseeched me, worried that I had already ventured too far down his dark path.
I offered the mood-killing moron some advice: “If you don’t like the music, go home”
Diana grabbed my arm, concerned that I might stand up and engage him in a fistfight. It’s true, I did want to throttle the guy. He was a foot taller than me, but, despite my wrinkly elbows, I think I could have easily taken him, as he had slunk at least 15 years further into decrepitude than I.
“Why don’t you just shut up,” I inveighed, to the horror of everyone seated nearby.
Our hostilities de-escalated as soon as Neil shifted to the electric portion of his set.
“Now that’s rock ’n rolllllllllll!” my nemesis bellowed, gleefully shaking his curly white ringlets while the loose skin on his neck flapped back and forth. “Right onnnnnnnn!”
Tapping my feet and cheering, I soon forgot all about the jerk as Neil launched into an epic rendition of “Down by the River,” where he shot his baby, shot her dead. Accompanied by a rockin’ band of kids less than half his age, including Willie Nelson’s son, the balding Neil, now 73, sang each lyric and played each riff with passion and precision. Now there’s a man who knows how to age gracefully.
Maybe, just maybe, if Neil can do it, so can I, even though I’m not a soulful musical genius from whom poetic verses emanate whenever I exhale. I’ll follow my own path, puttering in the garden, experimenting in the kitchen, snapping photos, and working on my novel. (I’ve been on page 200 of that great American masterpiece for five years now; perhaps I should just start a new one that doesn’t provoke my myriad neuroses.) I will apply for jobs for which I’m over-qualified, and I will get passed over because I’m too old. I will volunteer for a worthy cause, such as resettling refugees or sending Donald Trump into oblivion. I will wait for grandkids on whom to dote, and I’ll report back to you in a series of blog posts less self-pitying than this one, the product of a newfound maturity that arrived several decades late.