Thursday, May 18, 2017

Growing Old's Not for Sissies II

Jack Kennedy was in the White House when I was born in March of 1962. He wouldn’t pass the Texas Book Depository and meet his gruesome end until November of the following year. I don’t remember it, of course, but I do remember my mother crying when Martin Luther King was shot in April of 1968, and again when JFK’s brother Bobby was murdered two months later.

I remember staying away inside during the Detroit riot in late July of 1967, worried that a stray bullet would take me out, even though we lived 16 miles north in Royal Oak and were in no danger.

I remember when Mary Tyler Moore threw her knit hat in the air every Saturday night in the early 1970s and when Nixon flashed the ‘V for Victory” sign on his way out of Washington.

I remember when Saturday Night Live was funny and disco was all the rage.

I remember when America’s air traffic controllers went on strike and Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.

I remember when Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ were all over the radio and people tried to name each artist singing “We Are the World.”

I remember when Lloyd Benson told Dan Quayle that he was no Jack Kennedy and Mike Dukakis looked like a toddler in a tank.

Thank goodness I still have my memory. Kind of.

It’s been 21 years since I sat on Dolley Madison’s couch in the White House, eating jumbo shrimp while the Leader of the Free World – who I later figured out was cavorting with an intern named Monica during this time period – chatted with other guests a few feet away. (I was one of hundreds of environmental professionals from across the country invited to Washington for the Clinton Administration’s big announcement about protecting the Everglades.)

It’s been 26 years since I witnessed the birth of my first child in a crowded room at Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital (and years since we talked) and 27 since I lost my job in the governor’s office due to an unpredictable electorate.

It’s been 37 years since I closed my locker and left Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan for the last time.

It’s been 47 years since Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon and 400,000 hippies partied at Max Yasgur’s farm in the Catskills.

Unfortunately, it’s been just over four years since I last posted a piece on this topic – with almost the same exact title – here at What’s the Diehl? See what I mean about “kind of” having my memory?

When I call my now-77-year-old Mom – which I don’t do nearly as much as I should – our conversations consist primarily of health reports: what’s wrong with her ankle and knees, what the doctors think is causing my dad’s headaches, who’s sick and who’s dead. The older I get, the more I have to report when it’s my turn to talk. Mom frequently tells me that “growing old’s not for sissies.” I don’t have the heart to remind her that she’s expressed this a hundred times.

My kids listen to music that’s all about genitals and intercourse by artists – and I use the term loosely – I’ve never heard of like Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, Kendrick Lamar and Lil Yachty. I’ve tried to introduce them to real talent like Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Billie Holiday, Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti but they’re not interested. They think Earth, Wind & Fire are three of the four elements of life and Fleetwood Mac is an old car. The Carpenters? People who build dressers. The Mamas & the Papas? The audience at school recitals. Chicago? A city in Illinois. Duke Ellington? Princess Di’s brother. Bob Marley? The dude in “A Christmas Carol.”

Most of the time, the young people with whom I work have no idea who or what I’m talking about. My references to Kent State, Woodstock, Watergate, Eugene McCarthy, the My Lai Massacre, Gloria Steinem and Abbie Hoffman are met with blank stares. They don’t know the difference between the Manson Family and the Partridge Family because they’ve never heard of either. When I mention Willie Wonka, they think of Depp, not Wilder. When I refer to Iran/Contra, O.J. and Nicole, Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, they smile and respectfully change the subject.

These co-workers greet customers with “Hey, buddy” or “Morning, dude.” When I say, “Good morning, sir,” they snicker and roll their eyes. (You realize you’re getting old when Millenials say, “Thank you, sir” to you.)

You realize you’re getting old when your medicine cabinet – another term that perplexes the youngins – contains Viagra, Metamucil and Kaopectate.

You realize you’re getting old when going to bed at 9:00 p.m. is something you do regularly, not just when you’re sick.

You realize you’re getting old when your 15-year-old suggests you put your peace necklace inside your shirt and your kids tell you to wait in the car when you pick them up at school.

You realize you’re getting old when you mention that you have teenagers and the person you’re talking to replies, “Oh, you waited later in life to have kids.”

You realize you’re getting old when coloring your hair is a necessity to compete in today’s world, not a vain affectation, and perusing your latest issue of AARP Magazine is part of your routine, not a scene in a high school play.

You realize you’re getting old when your co-workers cite Clinton as the president when they were born – and you had already been married, become a father and spent time in jail by the time he was inaugurated.

You realize you’re getting old when you mention that you’re thinking of getting a tattoo or a motorcycle and the person you’re talking to asks, “At your age? Why?”

You realize you’re getting old when your wife suggests you accompany her to the gym and you think, “At my age? Why?”

You realize you’re getting old when you drive through a college campus in the springtime and think the girls should put more clothes on.

You realize you’re getting old when you can remember sneaking into drive-ins in the trunk of a car and when Corvairs and Capris, Datsuns and Pintos, Mavericks and Yugos and Gremlins and Pacers could be spotted on roads and in driveways.

You realize you’re getting old when you’ve shouted “Get off my lawn!” and were serious, told your kids not to “dawdle” and described walking a mile in the snow to get to school.

Long gone are the days when Ricardo Montalb├ín spoke of “fine Corinthian leather” and Clara Peller asked “Where’s the beef?,” when Mikey liked Life cereal and Slinkeys were fun for a girl and a boy, when a bunch of people stood on a hill and sang about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony and an Indian guy shed a tear because of trash in a river.

Gone are the days when my youthful looks and potential helped me land a job, when my resume was impressive and not excessive, when I still had a fire in my belly – not just a big belly – and the urge to change the world and not just my finances.

Gone are the days when cigarettes were cool, people said “please” and “thank you” and Space Invaders and Pacman were the video games of the day.

Gone are the days when cursive writing was taught in school and politics was thought to be a noble profession.

Gone are the days when phones had curly cords and only winners earned medals and trophies.

Gone are the good ol’ days.

I know I’m supposed to be thankful that I’ve lived this long because it’s a privilege denied to many. I know I’m not the only one who wonders who the gray-haired old guy with wrinkles is who stares back at me in the mirror every morning. I know I should be grateful that I’m still on this side of the grass and don’t need diapers or dentures. I know some people are older than me and they’re fine with their oldness. But I’ve never felt this old before and I don’t like it. I don’t like worrying about my health, my retirement and the garbage to which my kids sing along. I don’t like feeling like an irrelevant prude, like someone whose time has come and gone. And I don’t like feeling like a sissy.

Note: Some readers might have expected a political post in light of all that’s happening in America right now. Let’s just say it’s currently easier for me to write about my own impending death than that of my country.

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