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My encounters with unexpected signs of getting old

Although he doesn’t feel old, Uncle Al knows that, on any objective scale, 71 is getting right on up there, so “old” is a word he has been using himself.

It seems that every step in the aging process happens before it could reasonably be expected. At 71, Uncle Al has seen it happen several times.

The first one  —  a mail solicitation to join AARP — arrived when he was 49. Retirement was a delightful prospect, but far from imminent.

The next one came when he was 57, when he bought a cup of coffee at a fast-food place and thought his change had been miscounted. He foolishly inquired and learned he had received, unrequested, the senior-citizen discount.

The nickel off was — marginally — welcome, but the experience was otherwise a little distressing. Uncle Al has decided, reviewing the incident, that the counterperson was misled by his premature hair loss. (Having slightly misread someone’s remark that fortune favors the bold, he has wanted to believe that fortune favors the bald.)

It is no longer clear to Uncle Al just when he began forgetting things like the fact that what he had in his hand, while searching for his keys, was his keys, but it certainly happened before he was ready for it. (He also doesn’t remember when he forgot who said “fortune favors the bold.” It turns out it was “fortune favors the brave,” and it was said by Pliny the Elder, but that was 2,000 years ago, so it’s no wonder Uncle Al forgot.)

A new development

Conveying the latest development requires a bit of background:

A month ago, the former Blockbuster Video store on his corner (right next to his house) reopened as a restaurant. Uncle Al used to complain that, because he lived next door to a Blockbuster Video, he couldn’t park in front of his house on Friday and Saturday nights. Now that he lives next door to a successful restaurant, he can’t park in front of his house. Period.

A few days ago, Uncle Al was heading over to the house of his second ex-wife, bringing with him a lovely entrée (and his lovely dog, Gus). Earlier, returning from lunch, he had, of course, been forced to park halfway down the block, so now he and Gus hiked down to his truck, got in and drove off. As far as maybe two blocks away. That’s when Uncle Al realized he had forgotten the lovely entrée.

He returned home, but not only was he unable to park in front of his house, but because some eager diner had, of course, already grabbed the space he had just left, he couldn’t even park halfway down the block. Frustrated, Uncle Al ignored the space near the far end of the block, went all the way around and parked —  or, really, only stopped  — in the space next to the air hose at the gas station across the street. He hurried across to his house, retrieved the lovely entrée, and hurried back to his truck.

As he set the dish in the back of the truck, he realized that a guy he recognized as one of the gas-station cashiers was standing there, taking a cigarette break. Uncle Al felt that an apology or explanation was in order for having briefly blocked that space for his own obviously non-gas-stational purposes. “I live right across the street,” he began, assuming that, while he recognized the guy in the context of the gas station, the guy wouldn’t recognize him as one of hundreds of customers. He was wrong.

“I know you do,” he said. He went on to add that he had just been saying to one of his co-workers that all the new restaurant traffic and parking hassle couldn’t be a very happy development “for that elderly gentleman who lives across the street.”

No spring chicken

As noted, Uncle Al is 71 and knows he is no longer likely to be mistaken for a spring chicken. He would have been absolutely unoffended had the fellow referred to him as “the old guy who lives across the street.” And he’s positive that the guy had meant no harm — indeed, had gone out of his way to be respectful.

So he’s not quite sure why being called an “elderly gentleman” was so unnerving. He knows he’s no gentleman, but that probably isn’t it. It must be the use of “elderly,” as opposed to “old.”

Although he doesn’t feel old, Uncle Al knows that, on any objective scale, 71 is getting right on up there, so “old” is a word he has been using himself. “Elderly,” on the other hand, at least to Uncle Al, carries a suggestion that he might be physically unsteady, or that his mental elevator might no longer service the penthouse, or both, and he believes that assessment to be premature.

At least he did when the guy said it. On mature consideration (after just now spending several minutes trying to come up with the word “premature”), he’s not quite certain.

In any case, he’s now looking forward to the drop of the next shoe:

On a recent trip to New York to visit his son Dave, he noticed a sign at the airport advising that passengers 75 and older can leave their shoes on when they go through security.

He’d really like to be offered that one early, so it probably won’t happen.

Hmm. Maybe he could elicit such an offer if, while untying his shoes, he dropped a 1990 AARP card.

Comments (6)

  1. Submitted by Jeffrey Jerde on 03/27/2013 - 09:20 am.

    One way to cope

    I (old, but not elderly at 61.9 years) have just joined historical groups, where I am often welcomed as that “younger guy.”

  2. Submitted by Richard Parker on 03/27/2013 - 01:45 pm.

    Elderly, eh?

    I remember that on the Tribune copy desk we had a style rule banning the use of “elderly” because it might hurt the feelings of folks over about 50 — the elderly — or at least was a relative, judgmental label. You and I were about 30 at the time, eh?

    It just took me three tries to log in here. I can never remember the name and password I use here.

  3. Submitted by Neal Gendler on 03/27/2013 - 03:07 pm.

    Hard to believe

    Amen, Al.

    I’m about 44 weeks from turning 70, a fact that absolutely amazes me. Since at least 60, telling my age to someone has me sort of looking around to see whom I’m describing. Yet, I’ve come to realize that to most of my neighbors my wife and I are what, when first married, we would call “that quiet older couple.”

    Ann Landers reportedly wrote that inside every 70 year old is a 35 year old saying: “What happened?”

    And Dick, I’d like to claim a bit of credit for the Tribune’s banning of “elderly,” a term I discussed with managing editor Wally Allen after some young reporter used it to describe a woman hit by a car; she was 57. That was younger than my mom, I told Wally (who looked older than 57) and she could dance anyone until they dropped.

    Someone (only) 57 now seems young; I’d love to be that age again. As you say, it’s all in the eye of the beholder (which is why I so object to reporters calling things large, enormous, small, tiny, tragic, or one of scores of other words to tell readers what to think instead of just giving them the facts from which they can make their own judgments).

  4. Submitted by Larry Pearson on 03/27/2013 - 07:29 pm.

    I still remember

    My idea of “old” is the good old days when Al, Dick, Neal and I were all under 30. Now that “old” applies to us as well as to those days, we can perhaps console ourselves with the thought that when Keats was our age he had been dead 45 years. Or perhaps we can’t.

  5. Submitted by Beryl John-Knudson on 03/28/2013 - 08:46 am.

    “elderly” or ‘elder’?

    “Don’t Think you Know My Name”

    “And so I am getting old!
    Like a tree in the forest
    I am shedding branches and leaves, and around my feet
    Are enough dry twigs for three English martyrs –
    And every son-of-a-bitch wants to set me on fire…

    Not important of course; I have to walk out in the snow
    In any case. Where else is there to turn?
    So if you see me coming, a man of ice,
    Splintering light like rainbows at every crazed joint of my body,
    Better get out of my way; this black blood won’t burn
    And the fierce acids of winter are smoking in this cold heart.”
    Thomas McGrath, the late, great plains poet

    …and dedicated to my long-term mate on his 81st year

  6. Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 03/28/2013 - 09:41 am.

    Love it

    I loved this piece and the comments. Maybe, as a young person in her 30’s, I shouldn’t be so delighted by this piece. Still, one of the reasons I find this so wonderful is that I have a hard time seeing the mentioned ages as “old.” Both of my grandfathers are in their 70’s and both are active and sharp. There are some things they don’t do any more and they’re not quite as sharp as they used to be. But I can talk politics with one grandpa and would have a hard time physically keeping up with the other. They’re not “old.”

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