Thursday, November 22, 2018

Dispatches From Middle Age

It's not uncommon knowledge that middle age is a time of great change, a time for maturity and wisdom, a time in which one transitions from being a young and hungry up-and-comer to a venerated and respected member of the community. It is also known as the time when medical procedures become both more common and more invasive, and when you find yourself wondering what the hell happened to all the good music that it's been replaced by electronic crap1.

We generally gain weight in middle age as we become more sedentary. We have to be more cautious about engaging in risky behaviors ... which, as I am now firmly in my fifties, I have discovered includes such things as "walking" and "getting out of bed." Our dietary needs change -- fast food, while it has always been disgusting, attains a new level of being unappetizing.

In fact, middle age rivals adolescence in the sheer volume of change that takes place. What follows is a list of the things I have experienced in my fifty-plus years strolling around on this ball of mud.

Your Body Changes Shape
As was mentioned above, people tend to gain weight as they approach middle age. In my case, however, this has not been the case ... my weight has remained pretty much in the same place it's been for the past ten years. What has changed is the shape of my body. My shirts have all become too small, while my pants are too large.

I attribute this to the fact that the mass of my ass2 is migrating to my pecs3. So I was forced to get all new clothes, with shirts suitable for Andre the Giant and pants for an Oompa Loompa.

Things Creak
When I was a teenager, I was capable of jumping off of the running board of a '54 Chevy pickup traveling at about 45 MPH, doing a tuck-and-roll on the shoulder, and simply dusting myself off and going on my way without even a second thought. Now, thanks to increased weight, decreased flexibility, and plantar fasciitis, getting up from the dinner table becomes a question of whether it's really worth it.

And if we ever get a TV for the kitchen, that answer would be "no."

Things Hurt
With regard to the aforementioned plantar fasciitis: if you have experienced it, you know just how agonizing those first few steps after getting up can be. And if you haven't, then trust me ... you'll find out eventually4.

It's not just that, though. You'll find that your back hurts simply from standing, or from washing dishes. You get heartburn more easily. Muscle aches become common. You may be one of those lucky souls who develops arthritis so things hurt "just because."

Patience Wears Thin
In my thirties and forties, when confronted with stupid to pretty much any degree, my philosophy was pretty much "Eh, whaddaya gonna do?" Since then I have progressed from this calm, Zen-like acceptance to a state involving eyerolls, heavy sighs, and muttered oaths, with an occasional foray into homicidal rage. I am discovering that everyone else on the road is a complete idiot, people in customer service only have the bare minimum number of functioning brain cells required to maintain bodily functions, and our elected leaders are craven political hacks who are incapable of taking any view beyond the next election5.

Time Takes On A New Meaning
In middle age, "the weekend" is still something we look forward to eagerly. The difference, however, lies in the why.

In my younger days, weekends meant:

  • Sleeping until 1 or 2 in the afternoon.
  • Cartoons and cigarettes for breakfast.
  • Trying to get laid.

Now, weekends take on an entirely different meaning:

  • Getting some goddam peace and quiet for a change, maybe.

One thing that remains unchanged over time is the foolish optimism that the weekend is going to go according to your wishes. Sure, the actual wishes are different, but in the end it all comes down to "real life" intruding. Thirty years ago it meant that I had to spend part of my Sunday doing laundry, and maybe going to the grocery store, but beyond that I could adjust the schedule and still make my fruitless quest for extremely open-minded female companionship work.

What nobody tells, you, though, is how "real life" stacks up over time. First it's just laundry. Then you decide that hey, it might be a good idea to vacuum something, considering that you are growing crops in your carpeting. From there it's a slippery slope: there's no point in vacuuming until you clean off the stuff that's higher up, because something is going to fall on the floor and make you clean it again, and if you're going to go to all the trouble to do all that you might as well do the dishes too, and it would make sense to actually plan some meals out and get what you need now as opposed to settling for ramen every night because it's all you have on hand ...

By the time you get to your fifties, weekends become just a different kind of work: mowing the lawn, getting an oil change, re-caulking the windows, driving your teenager to soccer/baseball/football/dance/music/theater practice, going shopping with your spouse for new sheets because the dog horked up something disgusting and unidentifiable which nonetheless left permanent stains ... and then it's Monday again.

Yep. Peace and quiet.

This article has been pretty tongue-in-cheek up to this point, but I'm going to get serious for a moment here.

At some point in middle age, you are hit with the sudden realization that you no longer have "your whole life ahead of you." For me it was on my fiftieth birthday that I was struck by the knowledge that, at some point, I had passed the halfway point in my life and that I would forever have more behind me than in front of me.

This is a sobering thought, to say the least. Naturally, my thoughts turned to my death: how it would go down, would I suffer, that kind of thing. What surprised me, though, was that the dread thoughts of death had inspired in me in the past was missing. Instead, there was an almost casual acceptance of the fact that death is the one experience shared by every human being, past, present, and future, that it is inevitable, and getting all tweaked up over it is really kind of a waste of effort.

I found my self wondering what happens after death. Sure, I know the clinical details (which are pretty gross, so I'll spare those little nuggets of joy), but my musings were more philosophical. What is nothingness like? When you die, are you aware of the act of dying, or does it just happen? Does your consciousness fade, or is it snapped off like a light switch? Is there anything to this reincarnation business, and do I really want a part of that?

Interestingly, I find myself devoting less effort to self-preservation, and more effort toward avoidance of discomfort. My thinking is that, when it comes time for me to go, I want it to be painless. This could mean anything from being instantly vaporized by an incoming meteorite traveling at 25,000 MPH to a peaceful, uneventful transition from sleep to death due to old age.

And now, back to the snark.

Self Image6
Take pretty much any middle-aged guy that isn't George Clooney or Brad Pitt, put them in front of a mirror, and this is what they will see:

Unfortunately for them, this is what everybody else sees:

'Nuff said.

I gotta lie down.

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1Of course, in my case I am absolutely correct in the assessment that the music I like is far superior. Just sayin'.

2I know you're thinking of a snappy comeback to this, and don't do it.

3That's right. I said pecs. I did not say "man boobs" (even though that's pretty much what they are) because "pecs" sounds much more ... well, beefy.

4Imagine that someone took a red-hot knitting needle soaked in turpentine and angry fire ants and stabbed you in the bottom of your heel. When you have plantar fasciitis, you'll wish that was an option.

5Granted, this one is pretty much a universal constant ...

6At the risk of sounding misogynistic, what follows only applies to the male of the species. Women of this age have a take on things that is 180 degrees away from ours, and I'm not even gonna try to explain why because it will only get me in trouble.

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