You don’t grow old gradually. It’s a sudden thing.
You probably haven’t even realized you’re in late middle age. Then, without warning, you’ve crossed the age meridian irrevocably.
It’s a sobering business. Chances are you won’t forget where you were when old age arrived, like the day President Kennedy was assassinated.
I was at the Amtrak ticket counter at Baltimore-Washington International Airport. The woman ticket seller looked at me and said: You get the senior discount.
Senior discount? Never heard of it before then.
I glanced over my shoulder, thinking the clerk was addressing someone behind me. There was no one there.
I was the subject of her compassion. Damn!
It’s not so much about being old, it’s about privacy. Everyone knows from your face you’re old and treats you with toxic kindness: Would you like to sit? Why don’t you take the elevator? We won’t be late.
But the really awful patronage comes from doctors.
In particular, doctors who tell you what they think you’ll like to hear. Try these cheering words from the mavens of Medicare: Your knees aren’t bad for your age. You have an enlarged prostate, but that’s normal for a man of your age.
Man of your age. That’s hate speech in the ears of older patients.
Worse. It’s medical relativism. It makes you feel like you’re akin to the vehicles at Rent-A-Wreck: You’ll get down the road, but not out of state. Like most men, and the same goes for women, you’re clapped out, past your sell-by date, out of the prospect of medical miracles. Unlike the way Dylan Thomas dispatched his old dad, you’re going to go gentle into that good night.
One of Americas more interesting captains of industry is John Rowe. He’s chairman of Exelon, the giant utility company. When asked at the National Press Club which companies Exelon was lusting to acquire, Rowe responded as though the question was about something human: I’m 64, and lust is a big problem.
It was a crafty double entendre. Young reporters thought he was talking acquisitions, but the men of the age of hot type knew differently.
When you’re in the Medicare generation, you’re by definition in lust deficit. You can lust, but you’ll most likely lust alone.
For example, the old luster meets a young lustee at a party. The charm flows, the wine provokes, and then the awful remark that deflates: You’ve had such an interesting life. Words like that inter hope. They put you in your place with your prosthesis, dental implants and all those pills, which suddenly you need, or you’re told you need.
There are some delightful goodies in store for oldies. You pay half price on public transport in many places, younger people usually offer you their seats on trains and buses, doctors charge Medicare and not you for care, and the government sends you checks. You can jump the line at airports on geriatric grounds, and you can doze off anywhere when things get boring. You can wear a brown belt with black shoes, and you can question prices without shame: Does the soup come with the entree? Eccentricity gets new license.
Then there’s the capriciousness of memory. A friend in Hong Kong sent me a long e-mail about people we went to middle school with. I wrote back, congratulating him on his memory. He fired back: Thanks, but I wish I remembered where I parked my car? I haven’t seen it for two days.
Should he be allowed to drive? Have the authorities taken his car?
I, you understand, am a particularly boyish 70. –For the Hearst-New York Times Syndicate