The Year I Turned Old

The handful of persons (including Chinese robots) who might have tuned in here over the past year will have noticed that I myself have been absent since April 2021. This hiatus probably caused my already tiny readership to dwindle to nothing. But there is good news for anyone who stumbles upon this site now–Chinese robots possibly excepted–I’m basically repeating myself. In short, you haven’t missed a thing.

The main reason for this is what you would predict: nothing has really changed. Long-time fans who are in a generous mood (the one thing I understood about new math is the null set) might want to credit me with visionary powers of observation and analysis–see incisive commentaries from July and November 2020, for instance–on the other hand, there’s no need to flip back through your calendar. Covid is still here in one form or another. More important, the response to it has barely changed: there are those who strive to avoid getting it by any means available and those who think getting it is the only form of immunity that matters. Both could be right. In any case, when both Dr. Fauci and half of the MLB all fall ill, it’s hard to pick winners. (Those who injected bleach would be clear losers.) Attitudes toward the bug have delineated political battlelines. In my home state Minnesota, the gubernatorial candidates this year are the Democrat incumbent who purchased a vacant warehouse as an emergency morgue for thousands of potential victims and the GOP challenger, a physician who has never had a Covid vaccination. Meanwhile, tens of millions of dollars of Federal aid have been rejected or overlooked because the divided legislature cannot agree about what to spend it on.

The D.C. scene is even more depressingly familiar. We are now well into Trump Impeachment 3.0. Each day of testimony brings ‘shocking’ revelations, mostly about the character of the ex-President, which should come as no surprise to anyone who was paying attention in 2016. (Arguably, not enough people were, but that is not my problem any longer.) There are signs of intense interest in what most ails “the American people”–is it the threat of gun violence or the burden of inflation?–but Congress alone cannot do much about either. Having recently returned from Wyoming, I can report that even that tiny state (pop. about half a million) seems to have a similar range of diversity in wealth and culture as the nation as a whole–except when it comes to race (white alone, 92.5%). The Senators, both Republicans, voted against the American Rescue Plan but naturally are calling for Federal assistance to rebuild Yellowstone Park pronto. It doesn’t make much practical difference in a state where only the Republican primary matters, but it is a sobering thought that electorate of Evanston, for example, (pop. 12,000+) can sway the outcome of an election that in turn will perpetuate gridlock at the Capitol. One could name comparable enclaves, like the other Evanston, which are deep Blue. What’s new?

 

It’s been easy, then, to ignore what passes for news in the media and concentrate my efforts exclusively on getting older. This has been a favorite pastime of mine and it seems to consume more energy and investment than ever. I’m delighted to say I have not encountered any serious obstacles to achieving this goal. Long hospital stays, arduous drug regimens, and prolonged rehab are not part of my medical history, for which I remain appropriately thankful. The fact that doctor’s visits take up a larger portion of my week is surely a cause for celebration, because of having access to care as well as the ability to benefit from it. Some of my contemporaries no longer have either. This fairly undemanding routine has brought me to the threshold of my Biblical threescore and ten in reasonably good condition.

This seems like a trivial accomplishment, however, in an era when TV bombards me with commercial images of greying Boomers with a lot more pep (and hair) than I exhibit and one of my kids describes her grandparent as an “old 80” (when did “young” become an option for octogenarians?). Leave aside over-achievers like Jimmy Carter and Elizabeth II, whose continued activity I also hear about regularly. One seldom learns what they actually think about having out-lived most of their friends or sadly, their spouse. Age is a state of mind, they say, and I am working out how to occupy it. None of the traditional tropes seem to hold. No one wants to hear from the “wise elders” and, looking at the composition of the government, understandably so. In the few places where “age before beauty” applies, I feel awkward claiming my spot toward the front of the line. Grandchildren are reputed to bring a new lease of life, but merely watching others cope with them leaves me exhausted. China allegedly sets a good example for the treatment of the aged but less so since the discovery of the urban economy. The young folks still come back to the village for big holidays, but the grandchildren are sometimes living with you instead.

It helps to be an introvert, up to a point. I have always found myself moderately entertaining, and now I have new benchmarks to monitor. The unwelcome intrusion of pain is one. Why is vulnerability to every contrary angle or lumpy mattress suddenly the price of simple locomotion or sleep? Forget about more strenuous movement. You find yourself gauging the possible consequences of taking the steps two at a time; heaven forbid you miss one (all the more likely since your vision is going). Who knew that getting behind the wheel of a car actually requires about three separate and potentially destabilizing motions, all performed in awareness that you could “throw something out”? Packing and unpacking to move house is strictly off-limits, although it has the bonus of restricting the emergence of new hobbies, some of which can be distinctly painful.

Growing impatience is another symptom. “Life is too short” and “there isn’t enough time in the day” have become automatic responses, not to a crowded calendar but to just the opposite. Space opens up and now I want to be free at any moment to reflect on every situation. Instead of settling happily into a new schedule, I find myself begrudging any commitment that I cannot alter at a moment’s notice. But most of all, I want some problems solved. Isn’t 70 years long enough to have dealt with the issues that first arose in 1952? Mr Potato Head, instead of becoming an icon of farm-to-table play, is molded in unrecyclable plastic. The nod to gender equality–Mrs Potato Head–is unconvincing. Thermonuclear weapons are smaller, to be sure, but countries still talk about using them. High Noon, not in fact a great movie, is nevertheless an effective evocation of the West. Now we are told Nomadland is a worthy successor. And then there’s the Royal Family, whose current head became monarch in 1952–her again! A lifetime and so little has been resolved to my satisfaction. This is what it’s like to feel old.

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