Posts Tagged 'getting older'

How old am I?

I was told I had a baby face. One that made me look younger than my chronological age. Never thought about it much until I spent my last two years of college at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I was 19.

In addition to taking classes, eating inedible dorm food, and ogling the coeds, I also embarked on a career in beer drinking. Having come from a Jewish family where drinking was a novelty, I knew little of the finer points of becoming an alcoholic. My father was the only drinker, occasionally downing a shot of Canadian Club with his dinner and emitting a highly audible “aaaaahhh” that signaled the start of the meal for the rest of us.

I worked diligently and earned a minor in drinking along with a bachelor’s major in business. I was ably assisted in achieving that distinction by Prehn’s beer pub on Green Street, run by Paul Prehn, a former wrestling coach at the university. Paul later became a state athletic commissioner who selected the referee for the famous Dempsey-Tunney fight at Chicago’s Soldier Field, which now houses the Bears football team that occasionally looks like I did after downing several beers at Prehn’s.

I could have earned a double major rather than the beer minor if I had chosen to drink during the week instead of just on Saturday nights when Prehn’s was always filled with drunks and about-to-be drunks. The inside of Prehn’s looked much like the wooden tables and booths featured in the Godfather movie; the one where Al Pacino guns down the crooked police captain played by Sterling Hayden, and the mafia guy Sollozzo, played by the perfectly cast Al Lettieri.

Like Sollozzo, all the cast members in the Godfather looked like they belonged there, except maybe Pacino. His baby face belied his true destiny. Like him, my face made me look younger than 19 and prompted an ID check from Prehn’s waiters. I was irritated at being singled out for this treatment since everyone else in the bar on Saturday night was a student just like me. Mercifully, the irritation subsided as the bartenders got used to seeing my face. Or maybe my baby face aged with each sinful beer, just like the one in Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray.

I finished my schooling in 1960 and, without my gluttony to fill their cash box, Prehn’s shut down six years later. But I had learned much at this smelly, smokey classroom that served me well in the years ahead. Like always keeping an ID readily available.

My baby face continued to be a subject of interest wherever alcohol was served. I became an American classic joke as my friends laughed while I was researched and probed by waiters, waitresses, barmen and baristas.

And then, around 50, it came to a crashing halt while driving on Highway 5 to San Diego. I stopped for something to eat at the always freeway close Denny’s, where one can be assured of consistency if not quality. I had completed my meal and made my way to the checkout where I fumbled with my wallet seeking my credit card. The cashier, whose name tag revealed her to be Brenda, looked at me and said, “That’ll be $23 less the ten percent senior discount.”

Since we were three weeks away from Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, I only hesitated a moment thinking about whether I should tell Brenda of her ageing mistake, or risk serious moral turpitude by keeping it a secret. Two bucks is two bucks.

Since in those days I was mildly certain there really was an all-seeing god, I chose honesty and said, “Brenda, I’m only 50 and don’t qualify for the discount.”

Without hesitation and thinking I’d be pleased, Brenda smiled, “That’s OK. You look older, so I’ll give you the discount anyway.”

I wanted to tell her what she could do with her discount and the overcooked sausage on my Denny’s Special breakfast plate.

Years went by and I figured that I was over this looking older thing until a month ago, a couple of lunar cycles into my 83rd birthday.

I hate shopping for shoes. After trying on two pairs, I’m mentally exhausted and willing to do anything to get out of the store, so I buy one. I pay the penalty the next day at home by either feeling like I was wearing too-tight shoes created for the Iron Maiden in medieval torture chambers, or that were so large that Jackie and I could fit all four of our feet into the oversized gondolas called shoes.

So it was with my usual trepidation that I entered the Adidas store in the Camarillo Outlet Mall. Jackie’s face and demeanor spoke of great expectations, while I looked like I was in the middle of the Bataan Death March looking for water. 

It was Saturday and the mall had thousands of people looking for things they didn’t need. The Adidas store had a similar, though more focused, contingent. I entered the store dragging one foot in silent protest. Sensing a kill, Jackie grabbed onto an idling salesman named Jeffrey, and said with some confidence, “He needs shoes.”

Jeffrey looked at me, turned back to Jackie and said, “What kind of shoes does he wear?”

“Athletic shoes that don’t hurt.”

Jeffrey, thinking that more info might be useful, focused on Jackie again, “What size does he wear?”

I began to feel unnecessary and possessed of limited intelligence.  I might as well have just sent my feet to the store, while the rest of me stayed in the nursing home sipping watered down orange juice through a paper straw.

Maybe it was my demeanor. Maybe it was my sour expression. Or my hunched shoulders, over the hill sneakers, gray hair, and total disinterest. Or maybe he knew my eyesight was failing because of my bifocals and squinty eyes. The hearing aids probably firmed up Jeffrey’s evaluation. One that says this guy probably doesn’t even know he’s in a shoe store. Better focus on his daughter.

I eventually unscrewed Jeffrey’s head by quoting from Einstein’s theory of relativity, straightening my torso, and doing a dance like the one Ray Bolger did as the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz.

To further demonstrate my substantial capabilities, I tried on three, not just two, pairs of shoes, and tied each of them properly. I rejected them all, blessed Jeffery with the language of the 23rd Psalm, and left the store. Jackie offered to repeat the process in any number of shoe stores in the mall.

Instead, we bought her a pair of shoes and went home.

Older but wiser

My son David has religiously organized a biannual fishing trip that had its genesis in 1997 in Baja, California. It has since expanded its horizons to include other U.S. and foreign ports of call.

Named the “Chrysler”, it includes about a dozen loyal participants, all intent on drinking as much alcohol as possible, sometimes to salve the egos of those who didn’t catch fish. Eating large quantities of food often includes the raw flesh of those unfortunate fish who managed, albeit reluctantly, to become part of the bill of fare.

Staying up late is a required component of the adventure, often accompanied by participant music making late into the night, cigars, and more alcohol. Because one’s eyes are larger than one’s ability to retain the libations and sustenance put before them, many a morning has been spent kneeling before the enamel throne while praying for relief and forgiveness. Murmurings of “I’ll never do this again” often accompanies the numerous toilet flushes.

The origin of the event’s name, “Chrysler”, is somewhat hazy. It is emblazoned on the unique designs that appear on cheap tee shirts awarded to the attendees as compensation for the vast sums spent on the event. Other awards are also presented. These include the “Woody”, an ancient wooden erect penis that originally graced some long-forgotten garage sale. Presented to the member catching the largest fish, it often becomes the subject of much discussion. For example, does “largest” mean length or does it mean weight? Much alcohol has been drunk and spilled as the members attempt to fathom the meaning that the Chrysler founders intended.

Other awards such as the Dolan and Fancy Pants also dignify the proceedings; however, the Chrysler award itself is the most coveted one of them all. Cloaked in regal splendor, the Chrysler award is, in fact, a real Chrysler. Not a full-sized, fuel guzzling vehicle, but an eight-inch toy car haphazardly nailed to a plaque. Earning the right to be the current year’s Chrysler winner is no easy feat.

The criteria for gaining temporary ownership of the Chrysler is often compared to winning the Stanley Cup, the World Series pennant or the Vince Lombardy trophy. However, in contrast to those rather well-known and easily understood sporting awards, the criteria for winning the Chrysler is not stipulated. The winner of the award is often unaware why he was chosen from all the others. In some cases, he may have passed out during much of the three-day event and was therefore oblivious to the rationale for his success.

Over the years, Chrysler participants have retained or strengthened many of their characteristic traits, especially alcohol consumption. Along the way, a few lucky women joined the elite ranks previously barred to the fairer sex. Aging has taken its toll as evidenced by graying and thinning hair, a few wrinkles, a bit of a paunch and an increase in worldliness and sagacity. This includes yours truly.

I hadn’t attended a Chrysler for many years but decided to reinstate my membership this year. Approaching my seventy-ninth year, I was more than twenty years older than the average Chrysler participant. With religious fervor and with the event in mind, I have been going to the gym to improve my body and mind. My paunch hasn’t been flatter in ten years and I am able to hike significant distances and elevations without falling on my face. I regularly refuse the help of others who offer to carry my groceries or wish to relinquish their seat to me. I was sure I could keep up with the younger Chryslers. Alas, I couldn’t.

I was able to walk with the best of the Chrysler guys and lift my carry-on suitcase into the Delta overhead compartment without assistance. I stayed up reasonably late during the three-day marathon and had minimal sleep. And that’s where my prowess ended.

For example, walking down the long flight of stairs at our ante-bellum New Orleans home proved to be a challenge. Wanting to look macho as I descended the stairs, I did a poor imitation of throwing caution to the wind. With my Mr. Magoo bifocals adding an unwelcome handicap, I was a sad sight as I bumped along, gripping the railing while doing my best imitation of Walter Brennan.

Cabbing was a problem. Thirteen of us required multiple Uber vehicles, some with a third seat that necessitated clambering over or through the second row of seats. Anxious to show my agility, I usually chose the third seat and managed to squeeze my way in. Exiting was another story. I spent a good deal of time on my knees, and willingly reached out my fingers to grasp at least one helping hand that would prevent me from falling face first into the gutter. So much for balance.

As the trip wore on, I wondered why I seemed to be aging rapidly. After all, I didn’t seem to have these problems in Ojai. And then it struck me. I wasn’t getting older. No, I had just inadvertently surrounded myself with a phalanx of younger people. I was usually with people closer to my age to whom I compared favorably. I just needed to find those older people and reinsert myself into their midst.

So I came home to Ojai and went to the athletic club. I hopped onto the treadmill between two lovely older women and sneaked a furtive look at the speed and grade that they had set on their machines. I set mine a notch above theirs. At the end of my one hour, three-mile trek I smiled and felt much younger. I’ll do the same thing again tomorrow. Hope those ladies show up.


Signs of Aging

The phone rang early Sunday just as I was finishing up my granola, fruit, yogurt and milk concoction. I hate when that happens because I have to stop, answer the call and, if a friend, talk while the whole thing turns to mush.

It was Coleman calling from Detroit. An old school chum who I’ve probably seen twice since high school, he calls every so often. A welcome voice, he occasionally calls about one of my blogs. Coleman is one of those rare individuals who, unlike me, maintains semi-regular contact with anyone who he’s come to call a friend.

“Hi, Fred. I wondered why I haven’t seen one of your blogs in a while.” I suppose he really meant “I wondered if you were still alive.” I appreciated his concern for my well-being and assured him that my health was within reasonable parameters. We spent the next fifteen minutes talking about the status of mutual friends, the pros and cons of retirement, the dismal nature of the news media and things related to one’s declining years. I said good-bye and scraped the remaining mush from the bottom of my bowl. It was still good.

That afternoon Sweetie and I went to the Ojai Playwrights Conference. I enjoy the conference for two reasons. It’s only five minutes from our house and therefore does not require exposing myself to the traffic and noise associated with treks to the big city. And it has some excellent content. The Conference spotlights the work-in-progress of experienced playwrights as they attempt to fine tune their work prior to its appearance in the real theater. The audience performs the role of guinea pigs and, at a somewhat reduced cost, regularly experiences some surprisingly good theater.

This day we were fortunate to be treated to the work of a dozen or so highly talented, still in school, young men and women who presented some amazing original work that included a treatise on being gay, the curse of having too-big breasts and the clever musings of a hungry dog. It was one of those times when you didn’t count the remaining sets while you prayed for a quick exit to a dreary performance.

But, in spite of the enthralling performance, I had to pee.

As luck would have it, my seat was poorly placed in the middle of the top row of the theater. Exiting would require a grand performance of my own, witnessed by some two hundred people who I knew would know what I was going to do. I toyed with the idea of gutting it out until the end of the performance but I found my concentration too often wandering from the stage to my bladder, now in its own red zone. It finally got the better of me and, finding a small break in the action, I began an ungraceful sideways march down the narrow space between the rows, colliding with strangers’ knees and, on occasion, their toes.

I paced off the steps down to the main level, went through the exit, entered brilliant daylight, found the waterless urinal that proclaimed an astounding savings of forty thousand gallons a year and ultimately achieved blessed nirvana. A return engagement to the theater was now required.

I passed the ticket table outside the theater entrance where the young, official looking woman behind the table said “Yes, can I help you? Do you have a ticket?” Because of the prerogatives of advanced age, I ignored the need to hide the purpose of my trip and said “I have peed and now I have returned. Thank you.”

I entered the dark confines of the theater which, for all I knew, could have experienced a power outage. My eyes, which now require about two weeks to adjust from bright light to darkness, forced me to loiter inside the door while I waited for my sight to return to a level that would permit my climb to the top row of the theater. I pretended that I was an usher.

It was now time to negotiate the all too black steps upward and the much too narrow aisle between rows that I’m certain was designed for anorexic theater goers. I negotiated the steps without incident and congratulated myself on not performing an unscheduled backward roll for the audience.

Buoyed by my dexterity, I entered the aisle fully prepared to bang knees and squash a few Birkenstock clad toes. I passed the first seat without incident, then clipped the next person’s toe and began to fall forward. My life flashed before my eyes. But before I could crash, hands shot out from all directions like passengers on a life boat extending an oar to a drowning man. I grabbed arms and hands, interrupted the fall, righted myself, performed the act once again and made it to my seat, uninjured.

A few years ago I would have been chagrined and embarrassed by my performance. But age has a way of moderating those feelings. And it did.


Happy Birthday to me!

I started celebrating about a week ago.  I’m 70 today.

Maybe the early start was just an excuse to abuse my body… more.  Had a cigar and an extra glass of wine last night, maybe two.  Or maybe it’s because I’ve begun to think about the number of birthdays yet ahead.  No sense wasting time.

Harry was 70 in March.  I remember his e-mail on that auspicious day… “I’ve entered my seventh decade.  Who’da thunk it.”  After counting on my fingers, I wrote “Harry, you’ve actually finished your seventh decade and started on your eighth…how does that make you feel?”

I stayed in bed a little bit longer this morning.  Sweetie was there too.  Nice.  I’d be there yet except for the first of a couple of phone calls from friends announcing my advancing age to the tune of Happy Birthday.

My niece, Sharon, sent me a YouTube link to some guy singing a song about getting older.  It’s been viewed nearly 4 million times.  I’m sure she didn’t know it was my birthday but the song sure fit.  I grinned, related to it and felt strangely happy.

As my old Rabbi used to say “Whenever I look in the mirror, I see a young man.”  And, except for the occasional unexplained body aches, and my increasing inability to rise gracefully from a sitting position, I feel pretty good.

It’s a beautiful day in the Upper Ojai.

Happy birthday, me.


Getting older

I remember attending my folk’s 25th wedding anniversary.  I must have been about ten.  It was one of those events that leaves an indelible marker somewhere in your brain.

The party was held at Uncle Al’s apartment on the south side of Chicago.  It was, by our family’s standards, a big bash even if it was in a second floor flat that had three bedrooms and one bathroom.  In my young mind there could have been a couple hundred people there, but I bet there were less than thirty.

My mother once had a diamond ring but my dad had to sell it in order to eat during the Depression.  She never complained about the loss of the ring but my dad must have known how dear it was to her.  So he bought her a new one for the 25th.  There was a cloth napkin next to the dinnerplate at my mother’s place at the table.  My father hid the ring in the folds of the napkin.  It seemed to me that every guest knew about it and waited with great anticipation for my mother’s reaction.  They weren’t disappointed.

I’ve always remembered that day and until a number of years ago thought that twenty-five years of marriage was a long time and that, on that day, my folks were old.  Sweetie and I have been married for nearly twice that long.  And, until recently, I never thought of myself as “old.”

Now I notice some things that tip me off to my age.  A chronic heel problem that stopped me from dancing with my sweetheart last Saturday.  I lost my keys twice and my wallet once in the last two months…now I wear pants with zipper pockets.  My stomach regularly reminds me that I can’t eat everything that used to please me…like last night’s sausage lasagna.

But most of all my temper tends to be a little shorter than usual.  I try not to react to everyday slights like the guy who parks his convertible in two spaces at the bank, the woman who wants to cut in line at Vons, the kid who skateboards down the Arcade sidewalk, or yesterday when a biker left his Harley at the front gas pump in the Chevron station effectively blocking my exit while he sucked on a Marlboro.  And, please, let’s not even think about my reaction to the current stock market madness.

I know I shouldn’t get excited about these things and sometimes my thought process calms me and I exit the situation without reacting.  But sometimes my emotions get the better of me and I rush to judgment.

So what has this got to do with the price of bananas?  More importantly, what’s this got to do with the election?   Think about it.




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