I’m trying to make myself okay with “the aging process,” but it’s not going so well. Despite my best efforts, I have yet to reach that mystical plateau where I bask in a zen-like acceptance of my gray hair and turkey-neck. I mean, why else would God have created Just For Men and botox?
This started a few years ago, when I turned 50 and came to the realization that I was halfway to having my emaciated mug turn up on The Today Show, staring back quizzically from a Smuckers label. Fifty. I hate the very sound of it. The first time I said it out loud, answering a question about my age, it was like someone else was speaking. And I’m quite certain the pubescent dental assistant who had made the query, began to talk louder and more deliberately at that point. I’ve been getting a lot of that lately – my last job was in the youth-obsessed television industry, where I was referred to by my twenty-something co-workers (either lovingly or creepily) as “Uncle Curt.”
The millennials aren’t the only ones giving me up for dead. Madison Avenue has done the same, most notably when it comes to my, uh, member. The hucksters are constantly disparaging its battle readiness and flow capabilities. About the only ones who seem happy to see me are the folks at AARP. They’re all over me, despite the fact that I’m not an “RP” and probably won’t be for a good twenty years or so, thanks to the job market going as soft as my manhood.
To make us feel better, we baby-boomers tell ourselves things like “Fifty is the new thirty” or “Age is just a number.” But those lines are only good for so long, like until you start receiving reminders in the mail that it’s time to have your prostate probed again. And there’s little hope of things improving as I leave the half-century mark in the dust.
Even so, the one line I promised myself never to utter was “I’m too old for this shit” (regardless of whatever “shit” that might be). I’ve always tried to stay active – not a slave to exercise, just enough so they’ll never have to knock down my bedroom wall and pluck me out of my house with a crane. Of course, every time someone like James Gandolfini seizes up unexpectedly I work all that much harder, lifting weights a little longer, riding my bike a little further and even strapping on the rollerblades to prove I’m still as lithe as ever. And with the exception of an ugly snowboarding incident that left me with a piece of angle iron screwed to my wrist bone, the plan appears to be working. All my parts seem to be in good functioning order, and I don’t make any grunting noises when I get into or out of an easy chair. In fact, I get a fair amount of comments about how good I look, comments that are always followed by the phrase “…for your age.” I’m assuming that’s meant as a compliment. To be honest, I’m just happy to be able to look myself in the mirror these days and not wince, except perhaps at the general thickening of the hair on my back. What used to be boyish peach fuzz now more closely resembles a badger pelt.
I’m certainly not leading the charge here. Maybe it was the old Nike commercials, imploring us to Just Do It. But these days more and more geriatric sorts are turning up on TV, stumbling glassy-eyed through the Hawaiian darkness – miles from the finish line – as the Ironman Triathlon comes to a close or being air-lifted out of Patagonia after they were thrown by their alpaca and broke a hip while competing in the Amazing Race, defeated but somehow better for having made the attempt. One of those epic “things to do before I die” undertakings that could actually cause your death.
And living in Colorado, as I do, there are plenty of places where a person can test himself physically. So my brother-in-law and I are Just Doing It. In the summer we climb things, like the Manitou Incline or a nearby 14er, and in the winter we go on the occasional cross-country ski trip. The most recent was last February, an overnighter across the Continental Divide.
Without sharing all the humiliating details, it’s fair to say the trip kicked our asses quite thoroughly. Our destination for that first day was a cabin 8 miles up an old railroad grade, but after a late start we found ourselves well short as the sun went down, the winds picked up and our stamina waned. Motivated by a desire not to become human popsicles, we eventually limped into camp like a pair of those elderly Ironman contestants, with barely enough energy to get a fire going. The next day was an easy ski back down to a waiting vehicle, where we sheepishly toasted our trip with a couple of beers, both knowing we had bitten off more than was advisable.
But will I do it again? More than likely. Am I trying to prove something? Maybe just that the less you do, the less you can do, and I plan on doing a lot. Right up until my alpaca tosses me off a cliff.