It’s my birthday this week. Whatever.
I used to enjoy birthdays as much as anyone. What’s not to like? Everyone’s nice to you for a day, they give you stuff, and you can get away with more things than usual – people cut you slack. (I enjoy slack very much and rarely will I turn down a piece.) Last year’s birthday was a momentous one, the big five-o, and for the first time I saw my birthday as a countdown to something else, like a scratched mark on a prison wall. I ain’t getting any younger, and my birthday is now like a gong on a bell in city center: everyone counts the gongs, and the last one tells you the time. In this case, the last one signifies the year of my demise, and it’s getting closer and closer. Ask not for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for me. Don’t get me wrong; I still want all the things that come with being the birthday “boy.”(By “boy”, I mean an “old bag of dirt.”). It’s just that each birthday now carries for me a more sobering significance: it’s a countdown, not to lift off but rather to fall over – dead.
It’s apparent, increasingly, that I’m starting to get old. There are signs, some subtle, others glaring, that I’ve crested the hill and have more than just begun the shuffle down to the bottom. Now that I have increasing kinetic energy gently shoving from behind, I could at any time trip on a loose stone, fall and then roll all the way down in one fell swoop. (That still sounds better than getting there via walker or motorized cart, with a diaper full and strings of drool hanging from my lower lip to my Ensure-stained shirt). Here, then, are Ten Signs I’m Getting Old, in no particular order other than that in which they came to me:
1) Last week, I heard the sound of a cat meowing, which is not unusual in that my house is overrun with them. This meowing sounded very faint, however, like one of them was trapped in a closet; furthermore, they were regular in interval and plaintive in tone. Clearly, this cat was upset and in need of rescue. I searched every room and closet in the house, but the meow never wavered in pitch or distance. It took me probably fifteen minutes and the senseless burning of literally tens of precious calories for me to realize the “meowing” was a whistling in my left nostril that sounded with each exhalation.
2) Today I pulled alongside a man who sat in his truck at a light. He was dressed in a wife beater t-shirt and sideways baseball cap; on his neck was a tatoo in cursive writing that likely said “This End Up”, or perhaps his name spelled backwards so that if he looked in the mirror upon waking he might more confidently begin his day. Next to him, on the passenger seat, stood a toddler with obviously no seat belt and hands on the dashboard. I motioned for the man to lower his window; he responded with the universal hand gesture for “mind your own business.” Where the younger me would have pursued the matter more urgently, the older and mature version opted to let natural selection take its due course; El Stupido and his kind are destined to go the way of the dinosaur.
3) My youngest child turns eighteen and graduates from high school this month. I recall how incredibly old I considered my parents to be when I graduated from high school.
4) One of my wife’s seven cats decided to jump from the top of a tall wardrobe onto my keyboard (a downward leap of over six feet) as I typed; I was startled beyond words. My sphincter bleated spontaneously like a dog-herded sheep and I grasped my chest and waited a solid minute for the inevitable massive coronary. When my heart had returned to its normal arrhythmia, I left to change my shorts and, upon returning, discovered the cat writes better than I do.
5) I recently made an adjustment to procedure concerning the discovery of loose change on the ground. Because of life’s tendency to beat me unmercifully at every turn and for having to bear the weight of the world on my shoulders, I tend to walk with my head down, so opportunities to improve my net worth abound. Still, the minimum amount for which I will stoop has increased from ten cents to twenty-five. The savings in potential chiropractic services alone dictate this new policy.
6) I have always relied upon my memory to retrieve important numbers and data should I have need for them. I can, for example, recall the phone numbers of customers I may not have seen for two years or more. Until recently, my short-term memory had also served me well; now I put things down and thirty seconds later can’t find them. On several occasions I have committed my list to memory, only to find myself standing helplessly one minute later in the aisle at the home improvement megaplex, unable to recall a single item. I have been told more than once that this may be an unfortunate consequence of poor recreational choices while in high school and college; I can’t remember who suggested it, nor (if true) whether or not it was worth it. I doubt it.
7) I used to be able to identify the gender of a fly at fifty paces, so keen was my eyesight in my youth. I can still tell it’s a fly from the same distance, but if he lands on my chest while I’m in repose on my couch and stays still, I might mistake him for a morsel of trail mix I had for a snack and try to eat him. (Or her; I could never actually tell the gender of a fly). I guess that makes me farsighted, and I’ve had to resort to reading glasses in order to appreciate the written word. Of course, thanks to #6 above, I can never find the dang things. Texting whilst driving, now illegal in Arizona, has become more perilous than ever for me, to the point where I will openly berate other drivers for doing it. (I, the best driver in the state of Arizona, am exempt from this latest attempt by government to protect us from ourselves).
8) Recently my family and I posed for a photographer. In one picture, I inexplicably chose to pull back my chin, which caused a second, fatter chin to form directly beneath it. Because both my neck and chin are covered with a short, graying beard, the two chins became indistinguishable from one another in the photo. As a result, I looked like an orangutan in a button-down posing with his adoptive human family.
9) Gravity and I are locked in a desperate battle to determine the disposition and ultimate course of my abdominal area. Because gravity is everywhere and indefatigable and I am but one man, I feel my strength for this particular struggle to be ebbing. For two years now I have been unable to see my….bathroom scale without leaning forward. (Shame on you).
10) Always a trendsetter with respect to fashion (oddly, no one seems to follow), lately I’ve been secretly donning the clothing of the elderly in the privacy of my own home when no one else is around. Yesterday I posed in front of the mirror in a yellow golf shirt, tucked into sky-blue polyester shorts with a tight, spandex waist pulled up to just below my nipples; long, black dress socks pulled to just below the knee; and black loafers. I topped off the look, literally, with a plaid golf hat. And I looked gooood.
Maybe old age won’t be so bad. I really shouldn’t complain about the life I’ve had so far; it’s actually been quite good, at least what I can remember of it. There’s still quite a bit to look forward to: grandchildren, senior citizen discounts, dinner at 4p.m., expectorating and emanating in public without concern or shame (wait – I do that now), cutting my hair super short, but letting the ones in my ears and nostrils go. And, when it’s time to dress the part, I know I’ll have it covered. And I’ll look gooood.