Strapped to the rocket

We’re all adults here,1 so I don’t see why we shouldn’t talk openly and honestly about a deadly and destructive force that holds this entire country in its merciless talons.

No, not the Presidential primaries. I’m talking about aging.

By now, we’re all familiar with the statistics—how 77 million blah, blah, blahs will be turning yakkidy-yakkidy-yak by the year yada, yada, yada. But what pundits, economists, and other so-called “experts” have utterly failed to take into account is the negative affect aging will have on one very specific segment of the American demographic—me.

Getting old is something I think about frequently. A friend says I’m obsessed with it, and suggests none too gently that I should simply accept the inevitable and move on. But since she’s permanently frozen in epidermal perfection, it’s easy for her to talk.2 And, as a flawlessly preserved specimen pinned to the wall of eternity in God’s exotic butterfly collection,3 her opinion on the topic is, what’s the word…annoying.

Meanwhile, as she and others of her ilk continue to exist unblemished by the corrosive forces of nature, I’m not-so-slowly turning into a national monument. Wind and water etch Grand Canyons on my face. Tourists ride mules to the bottom of my wrinkles. Scientists take core samples and admire my stratum.4 “This layer represents his Lethargeolithic Period,” I hear one say. “And look!” shouts another, “Clear proof of his Rotundescene Epoch!” They shake their heads in amazement and take copious notes.

I do talk a lot about my age, but I wouldn’t say it’s an obsession, exactly. It’s just that in every daily act I see time’s inexorable march. T.S. Eliot5 measured out his life with coffee spoons.6 I do it with every trash can tugged to the street, every accordion lesson, or mortgage payment. Each is a notch on the bedpost of time; small steps leading to that one foreshadowing moment of inescapable mortality we all must face—the welcome letter from the AARP.

I’m not quite checking the mailbox yet, but I find myself at an awkward stage—no longer remotely youthful enough to be hailed as a prodigy and too old to die suddenly and have people shake their heads and say, “What a tragedy. He was so young.” Other than “pain hurts” and “marriage is tricky,” the greatest understatement in the history of human communication must be “time flies”—and these days I feel like I’m strapped to the rocket.7

Signs of my advancing age are plentiful and omnipresent. Lately I seem to be scrolling down for an interminable time before finding my birth year on Web-based application forms. Songs and movie references from my youth are met with blank looks and condescending silence. Friends I once considered new are now elder statesmen, and old friends are basically anthropology exhibits.

In perhaps the best indicator of all, a growing, seething grumpiness is festering in the dark corners of my soul. I’m becoming the scowling old person, watching the world out of the corner of my eye and muttering under my breath. Children out of control. Teens texting and smirking. Young professionals with their Blackberries and hair. I loathe them all—quietly of course, and from a safe distance.

These days, unless you’re a Republican war hero or a Rolling Stone, it’s a young person’s world. Soon I’ll be little more than the marginalized old guy with the boring stories and, unfortunately, mine won’t be nearly as riveting as my grandfather’s were. He had horses and buggies and World War I from which to draw. I’ll have little more than Watergate and 8-track tapes.

I fear the rapidly approaching day when at bedtime, my grandchildren8 gather around me, clamoring for a window on my youth. “Grandpa, tell us a story from when you were young?”

I’ll pat their heads and a faraway look will cross my face. “Well, once upon a time people hammered words onto paper with a noisy device called the IBM Selectric.”

Their eyes will grow big. “But grandpa, what if you made a mistake? Could you fix it?”

“Oh no, my children,” I’ll reply, laughing at the naiveté of the question. “Of course not. You’re thinking of the Selectric II.”

After further reflection, it occurs to me that perhaps emulating the motivations of long-term care professionals might offer the best possible cure for my bad case of gerontophobia.9 After all, providers and caregivers are as obsessed with aging as I am—the difference is they’re focused on other people. Just that simple change in perspective might do wonders toward helping me go more gentle into that good night.10

And now, I don’t mean to be rude, but the children are calling again. “What’s that? You want another story? Well, the year was 1972, and a break-in had just been reported at Democratic National Committee headquarters…”

Gary Tetz is the former editor of and, and writes from Walla Walla, Washington.

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  1. With the possible exception of the author.
  2. It’s like she keeps King Tut’s aesthetician on retainer and sleeps every night suspended in a vat of alpha hydroxy acid.
  3. I suspect she’s made one of those ill-conceived deals with a clever but evil genie whereby she was granted her wish to live forever in a state of perfect agelessness, without realizing that would also mean watching everyone she cared about wrinkle and die. I think this almost happened to Phoebe once on Charmed. Or was it Prue?
  4. When I die, perhaps a thin cross-sectional slice of me can be preserved like that big redwood stump in California, with stick-pin arrows helpfully associating my rings with major historical events.
  5. Let us go then, you and I, to Wikipedia and enter his name in the search box.
  6. The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.
  7. A scene from Dr. Strangelove comes to mind.
  8. As yet unborn.
  9. Fear of growing old. It’s a word. I looked it up.
  10. and no, Dylan Thomas did not write “Mr. Tambourine Man.”

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