This appears in today’s Sault Star. saultstar.com
“She thinks I’m crazy but I’m just growing old.” – Hey Nineteen, Steely Dan
I was feeling a little glass-half-empty a few days ago, because it was my birthday.
Mind you, if you’re in your sixties, sliding so swiftly toward seventy, it’s probably a good thing if only half of your glass is empty.
A half-empty glass suggests that in another 60-plus years from now I could find myself interviewed by whatever passes for media, asked for the secret to my longevity.
I’ll tell them it was a dissipated lifestyle, that immorality fosters immortality.
Still, from the moment I woke up that birthday morning it seemed I would confront reminders that, mercy me, things ain’t what they used to be.
For one thing, it was about 6:30 a.m. That meant that for the 10,000th or so day straight I had been unable to sleep in past noon, a feat I could accomplish without batting an eyelash when I was in my teens and twenties.
In my youth, sleeping in was as easy as failing to activate an alarm clock. Now it’s as difficult as tricking my bladder and intestines into hibernating.
When nature’s calls could no longer be ignored and I stepped out of bed, my wonky knee collapsed just enough to remind me that it would dictate what I could and could not do for the rest of the day.
About half of my right knee’s cartilage has been replaced by arthritis, like a once-ritzy neighbourhood now populated by the unsavoury and occasionally violent imaginary aliens Trump likes to rant about.
Some days I’d never know it. Other days, knee pain and weakness dictates that my goaltending strategy in oldtimer hockey is go down and stay down. Sadly, I can’t even fall as fast as I used to.
Limp-shuffling to the kitchen, I began to salivate about the oatmeal I was about to enjoy.
More like drool, I thought. But when you’re in your sixties, porridge is the equivalent of a young man’s greasy-fried eggs with a beer-and-tomato-juice chaser.
Chock full of fibre, I felt ready to begin that birthday business of taking stock of your life’s accomplishments and wondering how you’re going to become insanely rich and famous in the few years that remain.
A senior’s memory and life expectancy being what they are, the looking ahead part of taking stock is much less taxing than the looking back. There’s a lot more to regret (or celebrate, if you have a good imagination) than there is to anticipate.
But first, I had to check the obits, otherwise known as my social calendar.
At some point in my dotage it dawned on me that almost all funeral home staff were greeting me by my first name. Thankfully they are too professional to rub their hands together when they see me coming.
On a bad week I might find myself lined up three or four times to pay my respects to the families of former colleagues, teammates or, sadly, close friends. That’s demographics for you.
And because I’m not a Horton’s habitué, a funeral home might be the only place I run into a lot of longtime cronies.
We’ll say each other’s names, or at least what we think they might be, then exclaim over how well each other looks. Moments later I’ll remark to a companion that our friend looks like he’ll be residing in an urn before long, just loudly enough to drown out the sound of our friend confiding to a companion that I resemble a discarded bag of doggie droppings.
Still, someone else’s wake offers the reassurance that you are still on the sunny side of the sod. Moreover, every member of your age cohort who shuffles off to the hereafter boosts the life expectancy of those left behind, pushing us toward the right-hand extreme of the chart.
My obit check showed there were no birthday bereavements (I held a mirror under my own nose to make sure) so I was free to pursue my usual business: becoming exhausted after an hour or so of manly chores like carpentry, firewood hauling, snow shovelling and housecleaning.
Those are things I used to be able to do all day, as long as I was sensible enough to take frequent beer breaks.
Overdo it now and my afternoon nap might make me late for the weekly meeting of the I’ll Email You Later club.
This happy hour/dinner gathering of friends earned that label because of our growing failure to be able to recall important stuff, such as what colour the team’s jerseys were when the centreman got in a fistfight with his own defenceman (no, not that centreman; the one who was having the affair with the left-winger’s girlfriend) or which prominent business owner is the illegitimate nephew twice removed of the woman he believes is his mother.
These lapses used to distress us. But now, when we return home after our gatherings our email boxes contain the forgotten information, remembered by one or more of us during the drive home.
So when something eludes us we just say “I’ll email you later” and move on to the next piece of fiction.
It strikes me that our table consumes incrementally less beer with each passing year. Perhaps that’s because most of us are pensioners and can misallocate only so much of the week’s grocery budget without becoming emaciated.
More likely it’s because we no longer need to drink to forget.
Blackout binging certainly is beyond us; it’s a younger man’s game.
As Canadian folk singer Garnet Rogers sang in Ease Into It, “It takes me all night to do what I used to do all night.”
He was talking about drinking, right, not about another glass-half-empty aging symptom?
I’ll email you later.