You’re old when …
And when I’m lying in my bed,
I think about life and I think about death,
And neither one particularly appeals to me …
– The Smiths
Having passed 60 not so long ago, I don’t think about life or death. I feel a bit stuck in the middle.
It’s like having two different doctors’ appointments on the same day, a few hours apart, in the same medical building. You wander the depressing hallways aimlessly, ponder your existence, and wonder where you’ll get lunch and if the tuna salad will be fresh or give you GI issues later.
The hours I spent recently between appointments for my yearly physical and checkup for my nonspecific yet imagined ailments made me think about, dissolve into wracking sobs about, and celebrate my beautiful milestone in life’s journey:
Your mate or date might be a grandparent.
That means if spouse, partner or fool-around friend is a woman, you’re canoodling a grandma. Nana. Yaya. Mawmaw. 祖母 (Sobo).
She has grey hair tied in bun, tiny spectacles, quilting bee on Wednesday nights, and seats early for the facility’s dinner at 4:30 p.m. At 6:30 p.m. sharp, it’s off to bed in threadbare thus comfortable flannel sleeping gown, a single Lorna Doone shortbread cookie dipped in Tetley tea while chortling over the antics of the Golden Girls. At 7:30 p.m. she places her teeth in a water glass on the nightstand and says good night to her 12 cats, individually by name.
Or if you’re shaking the sheets with a dude, he’s a gramps.
He’s the curmudgeonly Mr. Wilson yelling at Dennis the Menace. Your sweet spirited lover is the worst of the Seven Dwarfs: Grumpy, Sleepy, Bashful and Sneezy, with a few more hate-y stereotypes that didn’t make the Disney cut: Baldy, Gassy, Irascible, Irritating, Racist, Phallocentric, Homophobic, and the British, “Yell-y At The Telly.”
Your Nonno, Opa, Abulelo, Dziadek, Pappous, Vovo and 祖父 (Sofu) stopped refreshing his wardrobe before Beyonce was born (1981). He hates to leave the house and his broke-down Barcalounger. He naps in Barcalounger when yelling at liberals on the telly exhausts him, and he retires for the night at 7:30 in Barcalounger so he can get up at 5:30 a.m.
Actually, none of these hate-y ageist stereotypes are true anymore. Because:
Old is the new new.
Gram and gramp is the new glam.
Embracing instead of fighting age is the new hot hot hot.
The Baby Boomer bow wave is crashing upon us, driving the market and culture due to its sheer size and self-absorption, even more than Millennials do.
Speaking for us gentlemen: Helen Mirren! Goldie Hawn, Jessica Lange and Jane Seymour! Meryl Streep, Naomi Judd, and Dame Judi Dench! The neighbor lady rocking the body-shaping Lululemon as she flounces past your porch to her daily DiscoWaves AquaFit workout! Maybe they had work done. We don’t care.
And those Eileen Fisher ads are hot!
Most important, anyone 20 years younger or more reminds you of your friends’ kids. Ew! Unless you’re a sicko like a Manhattan real estate tycoon who dates women who graduated college with his daughters.
For healthier people, lovely people get lovelier with age. Like a ’47 Cheval Blanc St-Emilion, architecture before inhuman Modernism ruined it, and classic air-cooled Porsches even if they have costly mechanical issues.
Friends, mates or dates look nothing like your grandparents.
When you were a kid, people looked like grandparents at age 32 thanks to shorter lifespans, bad photography, lack of air conditioning, chain smoking on doctor’s orders, daily whiskey, and acceptable yet soul-destroying racism.
Today, thanks to Bikram, gluten-free kale, Oprah’s guidance for self-appreciation and actualization, greater access to health and fitness magazines, and our incessant hydrating and subsequent urinating, 60 is the new 32. Only with more money, less demand for unearned respect, better furniture and maybe even a classic air-cooled Porsche.
Consider, however, that your friends or dates might look pretty good for their ages because your eyesight is fading.
Your steady ophthalmological deterioration, if not specifically macular degeneration, is turning visages into blurry, barely perceptible smears. This makes your friends, mates and dates look forever 32, not unlike the ageless Barbara Walters or Anderson Cooper presented via heavy Vaselined cameras.
Or you might be wearing one of your 12 pairs of drugstore “readers” scattered around because you can never find your readers.
Hearing “you look pretty good for your age” is both a compliment and insult.
Keeping on the sunny side of life, take this as a compliment because at this age — and also in today’s public discourse — “not getting your back up” reduces risk of stroke.
In politics or in life, clinging to lies you want to believe is much healthier than the truth you don’t.
You see the new Buicks and say, “Damn!”
Followed by, “They actually look pretty good!”
You especially like the Buick Regal TourX, which has really comfortable seats and a smooth ride for your chronic back, knee, shoulder, neck and hip pain but also fits your active 60s lifestyle.
As Buick says, “With integrated roof rails and rugged styling, the 2019 Buick Regal TourX luxury wagon is ready for adventure.”
So are you. Sort of. Probably not!
You keep your classic mid-life crisis air-cooled Porsche.
Even though it’s just sitting in the driveway dripping oil, battery long dead, and getting harder to get in and out of and more expensive to fix because you never drive it.
You maybe shouldn’t be driving anymore.
Even at a tender 60.
On the highway, cruisin’ your Buick Regal TourX in the passing lane at 55, screaming hoarsely along with Bruce, “Baby you were born to ruuuuun!” you realize your left-turn blinker’s been on for the last 47 miles but you didn’t hear it. Or the honking and shouted obscenities.
All young people — anyone under 32 — look pretty much alike.
They’re just certain categories of size, shape, color and hair. Gender’s getting harder to discern.
Forgive if that sounds racist, sexist, culturally and non-LGBTQ+ respectful, otherwise white male Western patriarchal insensitive, or whatever landmines we don’t know anymore but need to tiptoe around.
But with all due respect, the baristas, algorithm writers, billionaire startup CEOs with barely any adult body hair and other powerful new bosses in our lives all seem to fall into certain cool funky types in order to be individualistic.
“Da yutes” struggle not to condescend you.
Yes, you still quote “My Cousin Vinny,” which you’re surprised to realize was released in theaters a quarter-century ago.
You know that people the same age as your friends’ kids are, bless their non-calcified hearts, struggling to respect older people with regard for our heritage, status as a protected class under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and our confusion about the difference between “grande” and “vente”.
But we still hear the condescension. “Leave room for cream?” baristas say trying to sound helpful, but we know it’s an ageist micro-aggression.
You sneer about Millennials.
Like how they complain about their college student loan debt and living at home for free until age 32 when you had it much worse at their age!
“Why, I remember when we had to eat ramen without noodles! And we liked it!” (You still quote Dana Carvey’s Grumpy Old Man, although the joke has become tragic.) “We survived college and went on to pay for your college without having your fancy MacBook Airs to plagiarize from the internets for our term papers! And we liked it!”
We say stuff like this while gesturing with our ancient, non-updated iPhone 6s with 300,000 unread texts and emails.
A few more powerful insights about passing 60:
· Favorite foods like broccoli “don’t agree with you” anymore. Neither does anyone else. Or the air we breathe.
· You go to the pharmacy a lot, sometimes just to hang out and socialize with the other regulars. Walgreens is the new “Cheers,” where everybody knows your name and mocks you in a hilariously loving way they should write down and save for your eulogy.
· Personal pride is for ridiculous people who still cling to personal pride. You go out to the curb to get the daily newspaper — made of paper, goddamn it! — in your ratty old robe, assuming you’re the only one up at 5 a.m. Maybe even in the boxers you slept in, ignoring that you’re out in public in your underwear, something that as a kid would mortify you. If neighbors say anything, you growl in a guttural way at them with the bonus effect they’ll keep their distance and leave you alone.
· You realize that 1980, your prime, was almost 40 years ago. Springsteen’s landmark “Born to Run” came out more than 40 years ago. When you graduated high school, 40 years ago was before World War II, when the Germans were gearing up again for global domination and the president did not encourage Nazis in America.
Also back in the day, nobody in a 1940 Buick Special cruising at 55 in the left-hand lane with blinker on for 47 miles hoarsely screamed:
In the day we sweat it out on the streets of a runaway American dream,
At night we ride through the mansions of glory in suicide machines!
Yes, times have changed, as old folks always said and we do now.
But practically speaking, and I’m seriously asking for advice:
What should I do about that classic air-cooled Porsche in my driveway, which is leaking oil and putting the mechanic’s kids through post-grad?
When I’m lying in my bed, I think about keeping it or selling it. And neither one particularly appeals to me.
Jeffrey Denny is a Washington writer.