You get old, and life gets small. Not meager or pinched, just small. You don't buy groceries for a week anymore-two hours in the local market, drenched in sweat with a grocery list that unrolls like the Dead Sea Scrolls. No, you get old, you shop every day, with your list written on the cover of a matchbook. Two pork-chops, a can of green peas, four ears of corn (two for tomorrow), and two rolls of toilet paper.
You never buy mangoes, avocados, grapefruits, or key limes anymore. You move to Florida and pick them off of the trees in your backyard. When you were young, your Uncle Whoever moved to Sarasota and immediately sent you oranges from his tree. You thought "how sad". Now, you get old, you send mangoes, avocados, grapefruits, and key limes to all of your friends. You inclose a note, very seriously explaining how key limes are not ripe when they are green. "You must wait until they are yellow!" you write. You get old, you become an expert on fruit.
You get old, people don't notice you. You sit at a bar, sipping your Jim Beam Black-neat now, no water, no ice-when a pretty woman in her 30's sits next to you. You smile and say hi, while she looks at you and then through you around the bar.
You get old, young guys don't get pissed off anymore that you are lifting heavier weights than they are on the preacher-curl bench. Now they say "You sure that isn't too heavy for you, sir?" They used to call you Mack. When you were younger, you would have said "Mind your own goddamned business!". Now, you say, "Thanks guys, I think I can handle it.", while they all stand around and watch you lift. Just to be sure.
You get old, you lose your anger. It takes too much energy to be angry when you are old. You have more important things to do with your energy, so you hoard it like a dwindling resource.
You get old, you find that it's not always about you. You no longer wait for an opening in the conversation to talk about yourself, your dreams, your accomplishments. It becomes second nature to draw other people into talking about their lives. You're no longer the life of the party, making people laugh. You no longer have that neurotic compulsion to be known at any cost. Why should you? You get old, you know yourself.
You get old, you need less. Less food, less booze, less sex, less sleep. One Jim Beam Black after dinner, savored, so it lasts until you fall asleep.
You get old, you get up at 4 A.M. as if to catch every moment of your fading days. You struggle out of bed, lets the dogs out, make coffee, light a cigar, then go outside to get your newspaper. You sit there on the front steps, smoking your cigar in the darkness, until Jean Pierre (or some other suitably "foreign" name) the Haitian paperman pulls up in his battered 25 year old Toyota. He sees you and gets out, to hand you the paper personally. "Sorry, cher, da be late today." "No problem, Pierre". You get old, you realize that you have known Pierre for at least 5 years, but you never noticed until now that he is as black as a purple plum. You get old, you get color-blind. All you see is a hard working man with both hands wrapped around the American Dream, bending to his will.
You get old, you eat dinner with your wife at 4 P.M. every day. You talk about the day, then save half of each of your pork-chops, wrapped in plastic wrap, for tomorrow's dinner. Your refrigerator is packed with left-overs. The wife wants to throw it all away, but you stop her, turn the wilting asparagus, the sauteed mushrooms, and a few grape tomatoes that were hiding in the back into a lovely frittata for dinner. You get old, you hate to waste things.
You get old, you see your wife in her tight T-shirt with the words "Its not pretty being easy" scripted against her breasts, and you get an idea. But its only three o'clock in the afternoon, so you file it away for future reference. When you were young, you would put that idea into action anytime, anyplace. Now, you talk it over. Make plans. She puts on her silk nighty before she comes to bed. Then, you both begin watching Ballykissangel, getting so caught up in it (will Father Peter leave the priesthood and marry Assumpta?) that the next thing you know, you are waking up at 4 A.M.
You get old, you dogs get old too. It never dawned on you that when you got them (all six of them) one year after another, that they would all get old, one year after another, and then die.Right now, they are all between 10 and 16 years old. Their lives are bounded by food and sleep and all the pills they take, which are lined up next to yours on the counter. Glucosamine and Chondroitin for their arthritic joints, Carprofen for their dislocated knees. You see them limping and press their knees back into place while they look at you with gratitude. You give them phenobarb to forestall their seizures, Ciproflaxacin for their coughs and sneezes. They wake in the morning and begin the day with wheezes, sneezes and coughs. Like old men. Like you. They have their good days and their bad days. Again, just like you. You just try to keep them alive for a few more months, and then just a few more after that. One day they begin to die right before your eyes and you cry like a baby, as you take them to the final visit to the vet. You get old, your circle of friends gets smaller, but your very best friends die in your arms.
You get old, you set goals for yourself that seem meaningless to others. Not to you. They are proof that you're not that old. Your wife asks you to "call that man-Jean Pierre" to break up the old sidewalk so she can plant "liriope" (whatever in the hell THAT is!), but you tell her that you will do it yourself. She smiles and says "Don't be foolish", while you get the sledgehammer and start whacking the sidewalk like Cool Hand Luke in the summer heat. Then you wheel the broken pieces out back for the garbageman (who just might be a relative of Jean Pierre's). Two days later, you can't get out of bed.
You get old, your strength and stamina go. Yow mow the lawn, then lie down. Your wife comes home with ten 40 pound bags of mulch. You get them out of the car and into the back yard, then lie down. Wondering just how in the hell SHE got them in the car to begin with! You get old, you don't try to do everything in one day-wash the car, mow the yard, shop for groceries, go to the gym, get a haircut. So you plan out your day like Eisenhower planning out D-Day. Two things one day, maybe three. Then two things the next day.
You get old, you become abstemious. You never buy clothes for yourself anymore. You wear your faded Hawaiian shirts until they are so threadbare they're like filmy curtains. You trim the little threads off of them with a small scissors. One day, your wife throws one out. You moan "But that was my favorite shirt". She says "Hoarding is a sign of old age!" You still sulk like a little kid for the rest of the morning.
you get old, you get you hair cut at the local discount barber place ($12 for seniors!) and then let it grow until it is curling around your ears like a French diplomat. You were young, you went to a fancy salon where a pretty blonde massaged your shoulders while cutting your hair, for $65 and a $20 tip. You get old, your wife says "You are NOT going out like that!" You say "What?" You are wearing a ripped and paint-splattered Chicago Cubs T-shirt, ragged cut-offs, and flip-flops. You haven't trimmed your beard in days and you look like Jeremiah Johnson, if he lived in the foothills instead of the Rockies.
You used to wear $200 dollar Tommy Bahama Island shirts and $2000 ostrich-skin boots when you went out. Your wife wore spandex minidresses and six-inch pumps. You looked like a successful drug smuggler with a high-priced hooker. You get old, you sell the boots to a thrift store and buy new collars for the dogs. You get old, your looks go.You don't care. You DO notice, however, that the wife still looks as hot as ever, but that's an idea, and it gets filed away for later.
You were handsome once (so they say!), like a Greek God, with curly black locks and luxuriant chest hair. You still are, in your mind's eye, even if your hair is so white that you look like a ghost in photographs. You look at that photograph and you say "Jeez, I look like an old guy!" Your friends say "You ARE an old guy!" A younger friend of your wife's (maybe 35 or so) picks up a picture of you when you were 38 off of the fireplace mantle. "Wow", she says. "You used to be HOT!" While you resist the urge to tell her that you still are, your wife grabs a full handful of your ass right in front of her and says "He is STILL hot!" with a big knowing smile. You get old, you take compliments where you can get them.
You get old, small things give you pleasure that were once annoyances. Throwing out the garbage, you meet a neighbor walking his dog. You pet his dog, he pets yours. They both sniff butts, then collapse while you pass the time of day. The Mailman stops at your mailbox. He talks to you about his Brazilian girlfriend who he is getting married to, then hands you the mail. Says "Maybe you know her, she is the sister of your paper-man, Jean Pierre". Small world, you think, as you look at the mail. Bills, a check, and-eureka!-four movies from Netflix.
You get old, you realize that order is freedom. You do your job more professionally and you prepare for it in advance. No longer "on the fly" and trusting to fate and skill to see you through. You work out a little more in advance, you leave a little earlier to get settled in. You prepare a lot better. You check into a no-tell motel close to the freeway for easy access to anywhere you need to go, you do the job, you leave. When you were young, you checked into fancy hotels with pissing cupids in the fountain in the lobby and businesswoman on the make in the bar. The first thing you did was check in and hit the bar with your winning smile. Now, you go to Denny's and eat. When you are done, you go back to your room and review the job, then get a good night's sleep.
You get old, you realize that being able to work at all is God's gift. When you were young, you thought you were God's gift!
You get old, you forget things. Not because your mind is going, but because your memory box is full. A name comes up and you find yourself mentally flipping through all of those millions of slides, trying to match a name with a place or event. You forget trivial things-like where the keys are or where you put your glasses-because your mind is filled with more important things. Is the back gate secured so the dogs can't get out into the street and get hit by a car? You get old, but you never forget that.
You get old, you scream at you wife. Not out of anger, but because your hearing is going. "What?" you shout. "I said..." You see the world with a faint haze now, like it is covered with a piece of very fine gauze. "Pollen" you shout. Your wife says you need stronger glasses, but you refuse to admit that. So, you call the Comcast repairman out once a week. "The picture is blurry and I have to jack the sound way up to hear it" The kid looks at the remote and says everything is just fine, and maybe you need stronger glasses. You get old, you don't need some stupid kid telling you things you already know anyway.
You get old, you sell the 1989 Ford Taurus SHO with the 5 speed short throw shifter, the Recaro racing seats, lowered suspension, rear spoiler, 19 inch alloy wheels. You buy a Lincoln LS8. With leather, wood trim, and an automatic transmission.
You get old, you read the obits more. You call out to your wife (even though she is sitting right next to you) "Jeez, another one of the *insert famous rock band name here* died. He was an old man, I guess." Your wife says "About the same age as you". You get old, but you still hear some things just fine.
You get old, your friends get old, too. Old ladies, mostly. Why not? You're an old man. Betsy, 59. Ina, 65. Julia, 68. Helen, 69. You drive Helen to work at Wal-mart when her ride is late. You drive Betsy to the airport at 7 A.M. for a flight to visit her sister. Later, the neighbor knocks on your door. He's going to visit friends out on the East Coast, will you feed his cats while he is gone? Sure, why not.
You get old, your dreams constrict. You no longer expect fame and fortune, your face on the cover of Time magazine. You pretty much know by now that you are not going to write the next Great American Novel, 900 pages or less. Your posts get smaller. Fewer words. But cleaner, you hope. More nuance, less obvious. Subtle, you like to think. Just like your life. Small little essays about getting old. About fear. About death, dogs, and democrats. Little things that you hope others will like. That will please you more than if you had written War and Peace.
You get old, you cry more. A lot more! Not over your lost dreams, your sins, your old age, your impending death. No, you cry for others now. You cry when Assumpta dies too young, at age 30, in Ballykissangel. You cry at the sight of our young men and women in camo, walking through airports on their way to a foreign country and knowing that they may not walk back home. You cry at the sight of abused kids and animals staring at you through the pages of your newspaper. You cry when Betsy tells you that she has inoperable cancer and she will never see 60.
You get old, you cry for everyone but yourself, because you have finally realized that, even though it has been a hard life, it has turned out to be a damn fine one, much better than you have any right to expect. You get old, you wish and hope that every person, every pet, could live such a life as you have been privileged to live.
You get old, you cry for others, because when you were young, you cried only for yourself.
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