Letting the air out
I like to believe in an orderly, deterministic universe, in which the future is a logical extension of the past. I like to know how I got to where I am, in other words, to trace my steps and swear I won’t do it again. Sometimes with actual swearing.
So I know where this column comes from. There were plenty of subjects over the past week, local and global, from popes to asteroids to meteor showers, but this was already determined once I walked into the pizza shop.
I ordered a pizza, first of all. It was going to take several minutes to bake, and being a small shop I decided to wander a bit, going into a nearby drugstore and taking some pride in passing the “Just For Men” aisle without stopping to look.
When I returned to pick up my pizza, a woman and her small child had just placed their order and sat down in the only two chairs in the restaurant. The woman looked at me, then, just standing there, minding my own business with my own gray-white (and un-dyed) beard, and got concerned.
“Do you need to sit down?” she asked, and this column began at that moment.
So I’m writing about Michael Jordan this week.
Michael Jordan, the best basketball player who ever lived, if you’re into that sort of statement. Michael Jordan, who finally retired from the NBA (third time being the charm) 10 years ago.
Michael Jordan, famous and fabulously wealthy, who by a trick of the calendar turned 50 years old on Feb. 17.
This produced a fair number of articles, or so it seemed to me. How could MJ be 50? But it’s true, it happens to the best of us, and since I’m sure Mr. Jordan reads this newspaper I have some advice to offer, being four and a half years older and thus imminently wiser.
Just a few tips then, Michael, from a guy who’s been there. Take it easy. It’s not that big of a deal. Things happen naturally and you’ll be just fine, considering that:
You will cease to exist. You will, too, even someone as famous as you. I can’t explain it, but it happens. An old college buddy described it best.
He lives in a warm climate, and he was appreciating the fact that when the temperatures rose, young women tended to dress in more revealing clothes, and he could ogle to his heart’s content.
“I’m 50,” he said. “Nobody even NOTICES me.”
There are exceptions, of course. Certain people will pay a lot of attention to 50 somethings, but they usually have burial plots to sell or are urologists. Otherwise, ogle away, but be careful because:
Previously quiet body parts start to get noisy. Including some parts that you weren’t aware you had. Joints, muscles, teeth, skin folds, what little hair you have: They’ll all start making noise now, especially when you get out of a chair. Assuming you remember to get up, because:
You will forget everything, including times, dates and arithmetic. An actor in one of your favorite movies? His name will form in your brain, slide through your nasal passages, and exit through your mouth, only to get stuck right on the tip of your tongue.
It’s like glue, your tongue. It captures everything. But it’s hardly your biggest physical problem. That would be:
Your body will change in surprising and quite horrible ways. Things will begin to happen quite quickly now, so be prepared. You will get shorter and also fatter, no matter how hard you work.
There’s a simple reason for this: Your metabolism slows down as your body prepares to die.
After years of being a guy, suddenly the naked body you’re most interested in belongs to you. You’ll stand in front of the mirror after your shower, noticing that apparently hot water was all your love handles needed to explode. It’s sort of like that scene in “Alien,” except fatter.
You will develop deposits of fat in areas where you didn’t really know you had places, like your back. Yes, you, Michael Jordan, will have a fat back.
It will get worse, Michael. You’ll find yourself saying things like, “Hey, 50 is the new 40!” which is, of course, just another way of saying, “Self-delusion is the new truth.”
You’ll push yourself in painful ways, you’ll do all sorts of embarrassing things that only young people should do, you’ll make mistakes, take unwise chances, make dumb choices, and spend a lot of time at the dentist.
And eventually even you, Michael Jordan, will have an epiphany. An understanding of life, of the nature of things, of your place in the universe. You will get a far-off look in your eyes, and tell yourself the same thing millions of 50-year-old men have said for centuries:
“There is absolutely no way I could dunk a basketball.”
Then you will be at peace, Michael, and know what we know: It gets better. There’s a serenity in growing old, in acknowledging the relentless one-way path of life, in accepting the deference owed to a man your age, and sometimes in taking a younger person’s seat because you just want to sit down.
There are, in fact, plenty of wonderful aspects of reaching the half-century mark. Lots of them. Too many to list here, particularly since all of them seem to be right on the tip of my tongue, which is pretty sticky, as I said.