Wednesday has been Column Day for
11 12 years, and over 11 12 years some stuff will happen. My rule of thumb is that one should not re-read oneself unless one is willing to pay the emotional price, which usually involves groaning, but at least it’s some sort of record of what I was thinking, or not thinking. Some of these are collected in my books, but I’ve decided to ignore that for the time being and just find one from the past, every Wednesday, and post. If not for your edification, then mine. Groans are acceptable.
From January 31, 2011
My son turns 21 next week, a good age to be at any time, although the statuatory importance is lost on him. There’s nothing legally kosher now that he has any interest in doing, but it still feels like a big deal.
To me, at least. I now have spent more than two decades in the presence of my own personal cheerleader.
He’s always been this way. He’s had interests and lots of challenges, but over the years he seems to have naturally developed some sort of imperative to buck me up.
“Your hair looks great today,” he says (my hair?), or he compliments me on the color of my shirt or the spring in my step. “I love to see that smile,” he says when something amuses me. Really, it’s strange; young men and their fathers are supposed to be dueling levels of testosterone, one peaking and one waning, but I live with a guy who seems committed to cheering me up.
A few years ago, a time when I was working at dropping pounds and actually exercising, he might as well have been using pom-poms. One day, after I’d finished a workout and walked into the room, dressed in shorts and a T-short, a walking sweat generator, he went overboard.
“You look GREAT,” he said. “Like an Olympic athlete! Seriously, Dad, you look fantastic.”
Which, of course, I’m always glad to hear, but he continued. “You look like you have a young man’s body that somebody stuck an old guy’s head on.”
He also has a thing about honesty. He’s the total package.
I was 31 when he was born, and if you’ve ever been 31 and now you aren’t, you will understand perfectly my delusion that I am still 31. The changes have been minor, insignificant and hardly worth mentioning.
But a 21-year-old sees it another way, sees an old guy who has always been old, even if he has a killer body, a nice smile and great hair.
And he’s not the only one. In my 40s, friends in their 70s would scoff at my gripes about age and make jokes about my youth and inexperience. Now that I’ve passed the half-century mark, though, they think we’re contemporaries, and they wave me over to the recliner so we can reminisce together about our favorite doctor appointments. I’m now one of them, and it’s a little weird.
On the other hand, apparently there are advantages. A friend of mine from college, who lives in the Sun Belt, talks about the time of year when young women start wearing fewer clothes in public. “No one minds when I stare,” he says, “because I’m over 50. I’m invisible.”
I accept it all, gray hairs and less hairs, aches and pains and colonoscopies, all of it. The only thing that bothers me is that I can’t explain what happened.
And I can’t. Smarter people than I have tried over the centuries and failed. The late Kurt Vonnegut used to get annoyed when young people wanted him to explain how the world got to be such a mess. “I just got here myself,” he’d answer.
But I’ll give it a try. Let’s assume you’re 25 years old and for some reason you’re reading a newspaper (humor me). I will explain what it’s like to get older.
You’re minding your own business, daydreaming, when suddenly it occurs to you that you can remember things from 30 years ago. Very clearly. And slowly but surely, you realize that it’s not 2011 but 2036. Someone your age is president of the United States. You have grown children, gum disease, a giant bald spot and only a faint memory of what an iPhone was and what it was used for.
And just as you begin to panic, you wake up.
It was only a dream, a bad one, and with relief you head into the bathroom and look in the mirror.
Surprise. Staring back is a 50-year-old. You only DREAMED you were dreaming. You are, in fact, old.
That’s what it feels like.
It feels like a cosmic prank played by a universe that resembles a fraternity house without the charm. It feels like an “Inception” spoof on SNL in which dreams are built layer by layer until reality is questioned and your eyebrows start growing like crazy. It feels like a mistake.
And it will happen to you, in that exact way. You think it won’t but it will. One day you’re young, the next day you’re turning the music down and the heater up. It’s inevitable.
As I said, I accept it, mostly because I don’t seem to have a choice, but also because I still feel 31, I still like rock ‘n roll, I still love pizza and hot sauce, and I look fabulous in this shirt, I do. Or so I’ve been told.