On Saturday, I turned 57. I used to think that 57 was pretty old but, with the wisdom and perspective that over a half-century of living has brought me, I realize now you’re not really “old” till you’re well past a hundred. And if I live to reach 100, I’ll adjust that definition further back to 150.
If I can’t admit that I’m old, I do at least have to acknowledge that I’m a “senior.” Being a senior is kind of cool, though, like you’re back in your final year of high school where you can date the teachers and pick on all the underclassmen. I’ll even take a “senior skip day” every now and then, calling in sick to work so I can prance around the neighborhood in a syncopated hop.
It’s hard to say exactly when one becomes a senior citizen these days. It used to be you could count AARP eligibility as a criteria, but I think they’ve moved that age down to something like 35 now as they attempt to increase their membership. Grey hair was once a pretty good indicator, until anyone with any sense of pride colored the grey away. Wandering off into the woods looking for your childhood pet, calling “Here, Augie! Where are you, boy? Where’s Augie?”, can be another symptom of advanced age. I’ve definitely got the AARP solicitations and the grey hair, but I haven’t yet mastered the meandering.
I guess what it really boils down to is the age that you act, and how other people treat you. If you’re one of these types you see in TV commercials — running a marathon at age 60, climbing Mt. Everest at age 70, falling down and yet still being able to get up at age 80 — those around you will view you as young at heart, even if you’re rocking an advanced case of hypertensive cardiomyopathy. I don’t personally know many of these vibrant seniors myself, and if I did I would resent them terribly.
What I increasingly rely on to know that I’m approaching decrepitude are the interactions I have with merchants and store clerks. I was dealing with one particularly chipper cashier not long ago who asked “and how are you today, young man?” I looked around to make sure I didn’t have a teenager hanging on my back before I realized he was addressing me. I guess he was trying to be kind, though it came off as more than a little patronizing, much like how they introduce the newly minted centenarians given birthday wishes on The Today Show for being “100 years young.”
I do appreciate the various discounts offered to seniors. I’m just never sure I properly qualify. Some stores use 50, some use 55 and some use 60 as the threshold for getting a dollar cup of coffee on Tuesdays from 10 to 11 a.m. At my favorite grocery store, they offer a 5% senior discount on all purchases but it’s store policy that the check-out people are not allowed to ask if you meet the minimum age requirement (in this case, 60), lest they offend any wizened-beyond-their-years customers. One creative employee who regularly waits on my wife came up with what I thought was a novel way to circumvent this well-intended rule.
“Oh, and let me be sure to apply the wisdom discount,” he said as he rang up her purchase. I’d be tempted to counter, “Why, thank you. In my wisdom, I also feel I should be given a cartful of free groceries and have your assistant manager serve as my personal slave.”
Restaurants often offer a senior menu that includes both reduced prices and smaller portions, but they rarely list the minimum age for ordering such a dish. I would happily pay less for my meal, yet I’m afraid I’ll be “carded” like some 19-year-old trying to buy beer. I can imagine nothing more humiliating than being challenged to prove my minimum age to a minimum-wage waitress, then rousted out of the establishment like some common grifter or, worse, held inside the freezer locker until police can be called.
There is a certain measure of respect that comes with advanced age that I do enjoy, particularly in my work place. As the veteran proofreader at my location, I used to be the go-to guy for answers about style details of the assorted financial documents that we produce. After years of dispensing advice to my younger coworkers, many of them finally mastered for themselves most of the knowledge I had. Now, I’m called on only rarely, when there’s a particularly esoteric dispute, like I’m some mountaintop-based elder whose mystical omniscience is dispensed with cryptic parables.
“The spacing above a second-level subhead should always be greater than the spacing below,” I might rule. “It should be sufficient that a bird on the wing can easily pass through, yet not so much as to allow an angel to dance in the margin above the text.”
In the end, I guess, it all comes down to how good your health is. I’ve been pretty lucky to avoid any major illnesses so far in my life, and I continue to maintain an active lifestyle that includes jogging, travel and not getting into car accidents. I know some fields of medical research are attempting to make the case that aging is simply another malady that can ultimately be cured. You already see some of the early fruits of this effort being advertised during Sunday afternoon football games.
It’s not just the erectile dysfunction crowd I’m thinking of here. Now, middle-aged men who show symptoms like fatigue and loss of energy can wonder if such symptoms are due to a curable medical condition rather than the fact they just finished an 80-hour work week. We know there’s a pharmaceutical cure for just about everything these days (except, perhaps, for being a fan of the Carolina Panthers), so we’re tempted to investigate further when a commercial spokesman asks if our lethargy might be due to adequate testosterone.
“Do you have low T? Take the test at our website — IsItLowT.com — to find out,” we’re advised.
I went to this site and took the test, hoping for confirmation that I’m not a senior after all but simply need to spend $1,000 a week on a new medicine not covered by my insurance. It only took ten questions to reach a diagnosis. “Yes,” I’ve noticed a decrease in strength; “yes,” I’m falling asleep after dinner; “yes,” I’m sometimes grumpy, and “none of your business” if my erections are less strong. I should discuss with my doctor if various testosterone gels, patches, injections, pellets or a “buccal tablet” applied twice daily to my gums (!) are right for me and will restore my vitality.
I’d bring it up with my personal physician, but he’s a no-nonsense fifty-something man just like me, and I suspect he’d suggest not the IsItLowT.com website but one called NoYouAreJustGettingOld.com.
Like me, he’s a wise guy.