I think my hour of power has begun. It's time for me to start writing an advisory column, primarily for guys, about getting old. Notice -- I didn't say 'advice' column. I'm on the record as someone who doesn't go around telling other people what they should or shouldn't be doing. But I do feel qualified to give testimony that might provide some insight about the numerous twists and turns advancing age can impose on everyday life.
It's true that a huge amount of prose (and some poetry) about becoming elderly is already in print, but that doesn't mean it's been "done to death." Since old people will always be around, the subject is, in fact, immortal.
Advancing age is a unique experience for each person who manages to reach 'the golden years' (which, in my opinion, kick in around age 60) and human nature compels many of us to share the information, much like explorers heading into the mountains and sending back messages to all the trekkers following behind.
As I plod higher and higher up the trail, one of my personal rules is to resist any urge to make gratuitous complaints or snide remarks along the way. This behavior pattern may be triggered by some as-yet unknown glandular activity, or perhaps a chemical imbalance in the brain, but it definitely affects a huge percentage of guys as they become senior citizens.
Just about every family in this country can tell stories about old Uncle Goober who could turn any conversation into a cavalcade of indignant rants about lousy weather, dumb Congressmen, bad drivers, awful music on the radio, corrupt unions, the price of chewing gum, and the eventual collapse of society.
This kind of unrelenting crankiness is one aspect of what I call Old Man Syndrome. I invented that term and decades ago I vowed it would never happen to me. I bet a lot of guys in the 18-to-35 age bracket are thinking the same thing right now. Here's my warning to those dudes: OMS can sneak up on you, and fighting it off isn't easy.
My first full-blown episode happened about two years ago while riding in a friend's car. It was at night so visibility inside the vehicle wasn't great. I don't recall the exact make and model but it was almost new, and when we parked I reached for the door handle. Nothing was there, or so it seemed.
There was an armrest, of course, along with a button that controlled the window, which I fumbled with a couple of times, to no effect. But no door handle. Did the car have some kind of high-tech door opening system, I wondered? Maybe a special lever on the dashboard? I know this makes me sound like a helpless, inept bumpkin, which is exactly how I felt as it was occurring.
"This is stupid," I thought. "Totally ridiculous." And then, inside my brain, a torrent of angry reactions started erupting. "Who designed this damn car anyway?! Why can't they just put the door handle where a normal person can find it? It's just a damn door handle! Why does it have to be hidden somewhere? How am I supposed to get out of here if the car explodes and catches on fire, or goes into a river and sinks to the bottom? And they wonder why car companies are always in trouble? How dumb can these people be?"
In real-time, this stream on mental invective lasted maybe three or four seconds. Then, fortunately, I located the handle, smaller than I expected, in a spot that my hand had missed on the first couple of probes. I took a breath, opened the door, and thought, "Oh my God -- I know what just happened! I'm OMS-ing!"
It's a weird feeling. I can't honestly say it's like Bruce Banner when he starts turning into The Hulk. My torso did not swell up and start bursting out of my shirt, thank God. But I did kind of feel like my eyes might be turning bright yellow, or maybe purple.
I have found that trying to predict OMS moments is useless. Often, as with the door handle, they involve some simple procedure that suddenly becomes difficult. Last week I dropped a bar of soap in the shower and it took four tries to pick up because it kept slipping out of my hand.
Each new incident brings a fresh surge of frustration and embarrassment. If I were going to compile a list of OMS manifestations it would be kept in a folder labeled, "Stuff Like This Never Used to Happen." But now it does, and the only recourse is to stay calm and keep my mouth shut while maneuvering through the situation.
One thing that keeps me from getting overly gloomy and grumpy is knowing that many other Americans are having the same experiences every day. Not long ago I was standing outside a local supermarket, staring into the parking lot. One of my demographic peers came up beside me, smiled knowingly, and said, "Can't remember where you parked?"
"I know it's out there somewhere," I replied.
"You'll get used to it," he said. "I'm waiting for the day I find the car and then can't remember where I live."
Yes, moving into the upper age brackets does have humorous moments. I've even toyed with the idea of using the topic for a stand-up comedy act. My closing line for each set will be, "Okay, once again I've made it through without falling over dead -- but there's always next time!"
Getting old is a big story. My goal now is to live long enough to tell most of it.