Tuesday, June 7, 2011

"The Book Of Old"

Okay, it’s a two-parter. I didn’t intend it to be. I didn’t necessarily want it to be. But I wake up, and The Voice inside me tells me, “Write this”, and I do.

I respect The Voice inside me. I always do what it says. Why? Because I don’t want The Voice to get mad at me and go away. The Voice is essential to my wellbeing. Without it, I’m a floor lamp, with a receding hairline.

So just a little bit more about being old. Then, hopefully, The Voice will guide me in cheerier directions. Not that I’m down on being old. Entirely. Between old and dead, old is better. Probably. We have no information about dead.

(I’m sure there are upbeat old people who view the final stage of life more sunnily. But they were the same way about being young, and I didn’t agree with them then either.)

The thing that’s confusing about “old” is reflected in what I said on my sixtieth birthday, and have continued to say every birthday since, which is

“This is the oldest I’ve ever been.”

And, of course, that’s true. Every advancing year is the oldest I’ve ever been.

The implication of that assertion is this. (Other than the obvious implication, which is that my time here is rapidly running out.) My latest age number reveals that I have never been this old before. That’s like, “I have never visited this country before.” I am in entirely Uncharted Territory.

“Uncharted” is precisely the right word. For me, and for everybody who continues to age., there is no map, chart or guidebook to inform us about what the deal is.

It is not like that with younger ages, especially the earliest stages of life. Do you know how many books there are about infant and early child development? I don’t know either, but I know there’s a ton of them.

These books are extremely helpful. Not to the infant. They can’t read. If they can, some child development book will inform you how exceptional that is. And the infant can read it to you.

Parents unschooled in these matters – and, unless you’re a pediatrician, what parent isn’t? – rely on these books to help them evaluate troubling situations and decide what to do.

“If you’re newborn turns a bright orange, do not panic. Just wrap them in a blanket, and drive them, calmly, to the hospital.”

This is important information. Child development books tell you which conditions are manageable, and which require professional intervention.

“Baby swallowing a penny; they’ll poop it out. Baby swallowing a hamster…”

I’m not a doctor, but that’s probably…you should take them someplace.

My point is, these books are numerous and readily available. You can look up what’s going on with your kid, and you can find out what to do about it. Including nothing.

The thing is, you know how you take thousands of pictures and videos of your kids when they’re young, but as they get older, the picture taking and the videoing significantly tapers off? The same thing happens with these books.

As you get older, the number of books chronicling your developmental expectations continues to diminish. By the time you’re on Social Security, you’re almost entirely on your own.

Sure, there are books like Gail Sheehy’s Passages, but that’s like, “Every twenty years or so, you can probably expect this.” The older you get, however, the slimmer the pickin’s. It’s like a population map of North Dakota. Pockets of humanity here and there. But for the most part…it’s totally blank.

As far as I know, there is no reference manual called The Book Of Old. (At least not one with that name.) And there should be. Otherwise, Seniors have no idea what’s going on. Is this okay? Is this worrisome? Is this age appropriate? Is this a “Danger Sign?” Should I be pondering gravestone wording?

You’re standing in front of an open refrigerator, wondering what you opened it to get out.

Is that bad? Is that to be expected for people of a certain age? And if it is, what age exactly is that?

You need to take naps in the afternoon. Is there something wrong with that? Does it mean that your life is slowly ebbing away? Is a short nap better than a long nap? Does it matter if you take off you pants?

You have to go to the bathroom at night. That didn’t used to be the case. Not since you were one. What’s going on there? Does the number of times matter? Is it going to get worse? How much worse? Are you going to have to leave a pillow in the bathroom and just sleep in there?

Old people are worriers. There are hundreds of nagging age-appropriate questions that need to be answered to give them (us) clarity and reassurance.

The Book Of Old. With the bubble of Baby Boomers headed that way, I think there’s big money there. Somebody should jump on that idea.

I’d tackle it myself, but

I need to take a nap.


Neal... said...

Reminds me of the Ray Romano routine, about toddlers, and how if your three-year-old has names for all her toes it's cute. Grandpa does the same thing, it's tragic.

Also, you probably know about it already, but there's Bruce Jay Friedman's Slightly Older Lonely Guy book which may ease your pain. I didn't enjoy it as much as The Lonely Guy, but I read it at a time while I was still firmly in The Lonely Guy target audience, so I'm expecting it to grow on me...

PG said...

Don't worry if you can't remember why you opened the fridge door.
Worry if you can't remember what a fridge is.

You muse that you have never been this old before.
I muse that I am the youngest I'll ever be from now on!

Mac said...

They say happiness in a lifespan is U-shaped.
It starts with the carefree optimism of youth, descends into the disappointment and adjustment-to-reality of middle-age; then as you begin to hurtle towards the grave you get a renewed appreciation of how little time you have left, resulting in a "might as well enjoy it then" attitude.
It might be bullshit, but I have to believe it, as I'm at the bottom of the U, and l need to imagine that one day it's going to go up again. If it turns out to be just the same but with more visits to the toilet, I'll be one grumpy old guy.

Zaraya said...

Mr. Pomerantz; an interesting idea for a book. Is there already a market of self help books on aging?

Keith said...

Here's a relevant song that you'll somewhat enjoy, and somewhat not: Older

Max Clarke said...

Speaking of the fridge door, Phil Rosenthal wrote about a comedy writer he knows who has his own perfect answer to handling senility.

The writer said he'll bake a cake that has poison in it, then put it into the freezer. Each day, he'll know that cake has poison. But the day he's lost his cognitive faculties, he'll open the fridge, eat the cake, and die at the perfect time.