“Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you!”
“I can’t believe my boy is 55 years old.”
“Neither can I. I still think I’m 25. How are things? Still raining in Florida?”
“Stopped raining yesterday. Played canasta last night. I couldn’t be stopped. Won $7.00.”
“Great. Glad you’re enjoying the club.”
“You know what, Brian? I just realized that you can move into my community. You’ve reached the minimum age. Imagine if you bought a place here. Wouldn’t that be great?”
My birthday joy came to a screeching halt. To paraphrase Groucho, who’d want to join a club where your mom would have you as a member?
It’s not like I hadn’t seen it coming. The sudden checking of boxes on forms where I moved from the 40-54 category to 55 to Social Security age group. The number of cholesterol-lowering statins available to me. The graying of hair from head to toe, and everything in between
With the single tick of the clock, I had become my parents… in their golden, card-playing years. The road to impending retirement lay before me like a Vegas buffet. Everything I could want if I played my canasta cards right.
No longer cool or hip... more likely ready for hip replacement. I had become the walking, talking, slightly limping symbol of the man I once was. How did I get here and why did my mother want me to be there with her?
Would I have to use the golf cart from now on? Cruise the Caribbean? Pop antacids like candy? Refer to my children as “those crazy kids?” It was hard enough realizing that my millennial days were a millennium away… but when did my groove up and go?
Don’t get me wrong. I love my mom, but realizing the age distance between us was narrowing while the distance between my kids and I was widening hit me like a ton of retirement community bricks. When did I become the tail end of the generation gap?
But who was I kidding? My next-door neighbor is almost 18 years older than I am. He is actually only five years younger than my mother. And guess what… I much prefer to hang out with him than listen to the 18-year olds at my gym. To be honest, with their power drinks, tattoos and three-percent body fat, they are like creatures Sigourney Weaver faced in Alien, which was a movie released when I was 18.
In my house, my wife and I don’t debate Katy vs. Taylor but rather the issue about my refusal to join AARP. (Never before 60, I have sworn.) I don’t have her look at my body to marvel at my six-pack but rather to investigate a strange-looking mole or a possible bald spot. Forget self-tanning or manscaping… I prefer that indispensible nose hair clipper in my nightstand.
And my body knows my age more than I do. When I run too much, it’s a trip to the doctor. When I play tennis too aggressively, it’s a trip to the doctor. When I decide to sand and stain the deck, it’s a trip to the doctor. And most of the doctors are so young. Forget Marcus Welby… I’m stripping down for Doogie Howser.
And it’s not like I don’t try to think and act young.
Four years ago, I surprised my eldest daughter and took her to Lollapalooza, a three-day concert in Chicago. VIP tickets with an open bar (not for her), shuttle service and cushy lounge seating. I was in middle-aged heaven with thousands young enough to be my children. But I was alone… a lot. My daughter dove enthusiastically into the youth-pulsating throngs, a sea of Gen X, Y and Z bouncing and bopping in perfect harmony.
I stayed put, feasting on free food and booze. Why mix it up with the hordes when there were mixers and mixed nuts? I looked out of my progressive eyeglasses and saw all the things that could go wrong… my daughter jumped in and experienced all that was right.
In that very moment, I had crossed the chasm from youthful exuberance to existential worry. Even as I took in everything, the 50+ me exhaled fear about her safety and whether she could find me when the masses dispersed.
It was obvious… I had moved well beyond my drug-filled NYC club days and was heading fast and furious to a not-too-distant future of clubs, jacks, hearts and diamonds. A bridge game to eternity, and what lay beyond.
Though we may not admit it, 55 and older shifts us into the fast lane toward 65 and retirement. Yes, Springsteen, Jagger and McCartney are still packing them in but I’m sure their suitcases pack plenty of medicines for the aches and pains tied to aging. I know very few of my fellow 55+ friends who haven’t given up In-N-Out Burger for insoles and letting their pants out.
So maybe it’s time to stop trying to stop time and look forward to the welcoming embrace of those already enjoying retirement living. It may be just around the corner… and around the corner from my mom. I mean, who doesn’t enjoy a dinner at 4:30?