Editors Note: This one is strictly nonpolitical. Its based on an experience I had back in the 1990s that let me know just how old I was getting. Initially, I planned on hiding a bunch of song titles from the 1960s and 1970s in the text. However, by the time I finished the first two paragraphs, I realized how tedious that effort was going to be, so I gave up on the idea, and there are only three in there.


Reaching a Milestone: Echoes of the Big Boom

 

On October 15, 2007, the first baby boomer applied for social security. The generation that thought it would stay forever young began crossing over from middle age into that promised land euphemistically called “our Golden Years.”

Of course, one’s youth doesn’t disappear all at once. It evaporates gradually in a series of moments at the edges of your blurring vision. Your hair doesn’t go white overnight, like Moses in the presence of the Lord; rather, the individual follicles cede their pigment one at a time, like failing bulbs on a string of old Christmas lights. Then one day, it’s the middle of January, and you’re vacuuming up needles from under a dried-out pine tree.

Still, small events bring home the fact that too many years have slipped by. That grocery checker you thought was a kid turns out to be 30. Polite teenagers call you “mister,” no matter how many times you ask them to use your first name, while rude teenagers refer to you as “the old guy” more often than you’d care to hear that phrase used.

In pickup basketball games, young guys apologize for fouling you too hard. Where you once enjoyed scoring on younger players, you now find yourself looking for a fat guy to guard so you won’t be the one getting “busted.” And, though you can still hit the open jump shot, you so seldom find yourself open ... and you don’t really jump. Then, one day, you realize you can’t guard anyone, and it just isn’t fun anymore. So a pair of almost-new Converse All Stars joins your Stratocaster in the back of the closet.

As you slow down, time speeds up. It seems like three weeks after you’ve eaten the last piece of the Thanksgiving turkey, it’s Thanksgiving again. When your wife asks, “When was the last time we drove to the Cape?” your answer — “About five years ago” — ends up being off by about six years.

About five years ago, I was in a karaoke bar on a Friday night. Now, I sing the way giraffes mate — awkwardly, but enthusiastically. Or do giraffes sing the way I … oh, never mind, I find similes so confusing these days. Anyway, it takes many drinks to get me in front of a microphone, but, unfortunately for the listening public, the requisite number had become available, as did the microphone.

Heading back to my table following a barely listenable rendition of “Ramblin’ Man,” one of the bars’ patrons gestured in my direction. Thinking he might be a tone-deaf Allman Brothers fan looking to reward my efforts with a free beer, I wandered over to see what he wanted.

From the way he teetered on his stool, it was obvious he’d been there quite a while. “I just wanted to tell you,” he said loudly. “Your hair is very realistic.”

Thinking I must have heard him wrong, I replied cleverly, “Huh?”

“Your hair,” he reiterated. “It’s very … authentic.”

“You think this is a wig?” I asked incredulously, yanking on a handful of it.

“Well, yeah … I mean, that’s a lotta hair.”

Taken aback by the nerve of this guy, I shouted over the din, “Do you honestly think that if I were going to put out big bucks for a toupee this realistic, I would’ve picked this color?” I must have looked ridiculous, holding a fistful of coarse gray hair in one hand, while gesticulating at it with the other.

“I just meant … an old guy like you, with such thick hair. I figure it’s gotta be a piece.”

My response was unprintable. As I walked off, my emotions seesawed. For a minute, I thought, hell, at least I’m not bald. But that feeling was quickly replaced by the realization I’d been insulted by a total stranger who was surprised “an old guy” like me still had any hair. It was like being told how alert you are for someone your age or how well you manage to get around without your aluminum walker.

At that moment, the fact of middle age had slapped me squarely in the face. But that feeling faded when I realized my age was only “middle” if I expected to live past 90.

Oddly, that didn’t make me feel any better. What does warm my heart just a little these days is the hope that I may get to spend a little of my social security before the rest of the baby boomers use it all up.


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