Time to wonder if I’m an old man

On Sunday, I will turn 58. I used to think that 58 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.

Old guys hang their heads in shame at the IsItLowT? website

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6 Responses to “Time to wonder if I’m an old man”

  1. fakename2 Says:

    Davis, I apologize in advance but this line…”After years of dispensing advice to my younger coworkers, many of them finally mastered for themselves most of the knowledge I had”…caused me to have a sudden vision of you as the wise teacher/monk on the TV show Kung Fu, teaching little Grasshopper (having once been a Grasshopper yourself). I admit the monk part doesn’t seem to fit.

  2. fakename2 Says:

    Also, I heard a story this week on NPR’s Fresh Air about what you might call writing style for the Internet age. Terry Gross and her guest had a lively discussion about whether or not it was a rule that you had to leave two spaces after a period to begin a new sentence, or only one.

  3. tychy Says:

    “…them crouching below
    Extinction’s alp, the old fools, never perceiving
    How near it is. This must be what keeps them quiet:
    The peak that stays in view wherever we go
    For them is rising ground.”

    Philip Larkin.

  4. Paul Dixon Says:

    I hit 58 just a few months before you, Davis. The first thing I noticed was that age jokes no longer seemed amusing suddenly, although they had brought gales of laughter to my wife and me just the year before. (My dear wife, let the record show, is a full 6 weeks older than I).

    Yes, the “low-T’ ads and entire concept is a load of crap. I knew that without visiting their stupid web sites.

    I have a brand-new iPhone 4s, so that makes me automatically cutting-edge hip, and I recently mastered the vagaries of a complicated sound board in conjunction with my work, so I guess I’m still capable of learning new things.

    I’ve read probably 25 books on the fascinating subject of quantum physics and feel that I could out-talk a younger person on this subject unless they were grasping a diploma from Caltech at the moment.

    I refuse to take advantage of anything associated with ‘senior discounts’. Screw ’em. I’ll pay full boat, but at least I’m still alert enough to realize that this is simply a form of denial.

    My wife and I (the one who’s 6 weeks my elder…) are both in reasonably good health, but when we go to Publix and are ready to check out, some young bagger will cheerfully ask if “we’d like some help out”. I politely decline with the statement that “I’ll probably be OK for a few more years.”

    My wife (Susan the Elder) and I are both avid, nay-rabid Jeopardy fans, and I have been trouncing the game for years now with the stunning breadth of my comprehensive knowledge, but recently I find that, damn-the questions need to have about 2 extra seconds added on before time runs out. But you know, years ago, Jeopardy contestants were allowed 8 seconds to answer, and now they’ve shrunk it down to 6 seconds. I can’t tell whether I’ve tapped out my basic thinking speed or if my brain is beginning to slow up a tad.

    But a recent episode this past Friday evening has caused me some degree of concern, and again, the cause is unclear. To wit:

    We took some people out to dinner to a French Moroccan place. They seemed to be out of everything, plus we had an extremely loud, obviously frustrated actor for a waiter. This place was expensive, and it was actually a legitimate business expense. However, I did not wish to submit the entire bill to my employer because I don’t believe in looking for trouble where none lies. So I asked the waiter to divide the bill into two equal halves-one half on my business card and half on my personal card. I asked the waiter to add on 20% for himself, which he did, and then in my double martini haze, I promptly forgot that the tip was already on there and added another 20%. This loud, intrusive jerk of a waiter got away with a 40% tip in a fine dining establishment. Is that old age or just demon rum? I really don’t know.

    But I’ve gone on long enough here. It’s time to go take my blood pressure medication, my anti heart attack 80 mg aspirin, my allopurinol to forestall a gout attack, my Naproxen™ to calm down my arthritic nodules, and go refill my Alprazolam™ so I can get to sleep tonight. Me getting old? No way, José. See? I even am hip enough with technology to use ‘alt’ keys on the keyboard.

    Have a great birthday, uh, mmm-who am I writing this to?

    • davisw Says:

      FYI, Paul, online Jeopardy tryouts begin in January at Jeopardy.com. But, in your grasp of all things knowledge, you probably knew that already.

      • Paul Dixon Says:

        Oh, I’m looking forward to the online Jeopardy tryouts. Winning the big bucks on Jeopardy forms a significant portion of our retirement portfolio, along with hitting on Powerball.

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