Staying alive

By Chuck Sigars | Aug 01, 2018

A friend once observed firsthand my personal protocol when I fly, which is to immediately slap on headphones and start listening or watching something. He laughed and said I was a true introvert, which I don’t believe I am. I’m antisocial. There’s a difference.

And I’m only selectively antisocial. I’ve just never seen the value in learning a few random details about a stranger I’ll never, ever see again, or probably even know the name of. And I’ve always got stuff to listen to or watch.

A few years ago, I was flying home from Texas, sitting next to a slightly older couple. I watched two movies, and only as we were making our SeaTac approach did I take off the headphones. Immediately this nice lady began asking questions, which I answered as politely as possible, lying only a couple of times.

I mentioned that I’d been visiting my daughter, and she asked how old my daughter was, and I told her she was 30. She looked at me.

“That is NOT possible,” she said, and we are best friends to this day.

OK, that’s also sort of a lie. But it was a nice compliment, and it made my day. I don’t know why.

Last week, my wife announced to a large group of people that I was going to turn 60 in a few days. I didn’t mind, although I was a little disappointed no one stood up and argued with her math.

I made a joke about this a bit later to a (much younger) woman I’ve come to know over the past couple of years, and she leaned over and whispered, “I thought you were in your 40s.” This was also nice, and now I think I’m going to wash her car once a week for about forever, which is fair.

I still don’t understand why this tickles my vanity bone. I understand flattery. I understand the aesthetic appeal of thick hair, smooth skin, clear eyes, and a toned, fit body, although I don’t remember ever having any of those things when I was younger, and I don’t think I’m fooling anyone now.

More than some arbitrary standard of human beauty, though, I’m thinking that I’d prefer some credit. If I finished a marathon, which I can’t imagine happening because I can’t imagine starting one, I’d be irritated if someone told me I looked as though I’d only run 5 miles.

I never expected to reach the age of 60 without getting my hair mussed a little, but I don’t really want to talk about my hair.

I want to talk about what we all think about these days but don’t understand. There’s a lot of talk about changing norms in our civic conversation, our media, our entertainment. We know the climate is changing.

But we don’t seem to have a grasp on aging anymore, and I’m not talking about Tom Cruise, who has obviously been replaced by a robot.

When my grandparents began to turn 60, we had big celebrations. They were joyous occasions but also tinged with solemnity, since I suspected there was somebody in a back room somewhere beginning to carve a tombstone.

People by that age had made wills, given away their pets, planned for their funeral arrangements, and spent hours every week sitting in doctors’ offices, just because they felt more comfortable there.

In contrast, I still have a Hollywood Video card in my wallet and a Bee Gees song in my heart. I’m thinking about going back to school, I eat pizza for breakfast, I’m pretty sure there’s a pair of pleated pants in the closet, and the other day I heard myself whisper “far out” to no one in particular.

I have no idea what to do with this age.

I don’t seem to be alone, and it makes sense. Robert Redford and Jane Fonda are still making movies. The president is over 70, and he might be on the young side for a politician. Mick Jagger makes Tom Cruise look like he’s slowing down. We live in a world of titanium joints, LASIK, and little blue pills that make men even more annoying.

No wonder young people look irritated all the time. Not only can they not afford to buy a house or start a family, the older people are refusing to do what old people are supposed to do, which is quietly die. Sorry about that. Better keep driving that Uber to your barista gig so you can pay for my Social Security, so I can buy more hair gel.

It’s really not fair.

I actually had an interesting 60th birthday, thanks for asking. Following a fun barbecue with lots of friends, and then family in town for the big day, I wound up with a party crasher. Some bizarre bug invaded my system, apparently, making me queasy enough to have to walk out of the restaurant we’d just walked into for my birthday dinner.

We were halfway home when I had my wife pull over to the side of the road, where my stomach rebelled at whatever was residing there in a very public fashion. I spent the rest of the evening in a fetal position, listening to my temperature rise and reflecting that I hadn’t experienced such humiliation since I was very young and very dumb.

It felt familiar, in other words, as if nothing has really changed in 40 years. Lots has, of course, but tell it to the pleated pants.

Far out.

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