Every two bit scribbler since the advent of movable type, every columnist, essayist, memoirist, novelist, scrivener, commentator or toilet stall philosopher ultimately, barring an early demise, grabs his tools and goes a-digging into that most played out of veins: his own mortality and the indignities of old age.
It's always the same old wheeze: Oh my God! I'm the first person to ever turn 40! (Or 50, or 60.) Why did nobody warn me? More importantly, how could this happen to somebody with a public forum in which to natter about trivialities? The injustice of it all. I simply assured assumed that as a writer I was immune. Moan, wail, my knees hurt, I'm going bald. Beep, squeak. Chicks don't dig me anymore, Nose hair, excretory function, new music, cell phones. Whine whimper. Kids today, pot belly, reading glasses, special effects, Milton Berle, Costco, videogames, ADD, baggy pants, erectile dysfunction. Poor me.
Well, I'm not about to go down that road and I'll tell you why. I really don't give a rat's ass and I know you don't either. The only two effects of aging I find at all significant and worthy of mention are a. I'm not quite as preoccupied with sex as I used to be, which is fine; and b. Death doesn't seem such a huge deal anymore, also fine.
In my 20s the thought of the world continuing without me was unthinkable. Now I'm like, Eh… (Shrug). It's not that I don't enjoy life anymore because I do, a lot, or that I've done it all (not even close), but at this point I feel I could face the end with equanimity and grace. Unless I draw some weird ironic death that gets people musing about the strangeness of life, I wouldn't like that. “What do you know, on his way to an AA meeting and gets run over by a beer truck. Makes you wonder, doesn't it?” No thanks.
Speaking of irony, what is up with these people using “ironic” to describe something funny or amusing or just at apt? “Oh, it's so ironic. He's been rubbing dirt all over himself all his life and he just got offered a job at the dirt factory. How ironic is that?” “Oh, yeah, so ironic!”
Not ironic. Apt. Ironic would be him getting beaten to death with a pillowcase full of soap bars.
Remember that Alanis Morrisette song, “Ironic"? I, like most folks not completely witless, was struck by the fact that not a single one of the incidents she relates in the song, ostensibly examples of irony, were in fact such. They were just unfortunate occurrences. Fly in your wine? Plane crash? Rained out nuptials? Wrong silverware? She should have entitled the song “Unfortunate.”
But I happen to like Alanis and I don't like to think of her as being that dingy. Surely someone in her camp somewhere along the line of writing and recording and publishing and distributing the song, at some point said, “Alanis. Babe. Great song, but really not ironic, per se.” And just maybe because Alanis is way smarter than people assume she is, she said, “Dude, I'm not a total jeff. I know what irony is, and I'm making an ironic statement by ironically describing unironic situations and designating them ironic.” You go girl!
Or maybe just maybe I'm being ironic right now. I'll tell you the truth, I can't even tell half the time. I may be trapped in a meta-ironic loop from which there is no escape. Such a sitch requires massive doses of sincerity to counteract it; Robert Fulghum essays and “Tuesdays with Morrie” have proven efficacious in trials.
But where was I? Right, the aging thing. Just how old am I anyway?
I was born in that brave year 1960. It was a heady time to be alive, maybe. I have no personal recollection. Abner Doubleday was in the White House and the War of 1812 was in full swing. The telegraphs were abuzz with news of a terrifying new weapon of war, the pointed stick. Men still had tails, although they had evolved beyond the pretensile and were strictly ornamental. The Flat Earth Party controlled both the House and the Senate and concerned themselves mainly with laws governing dancing (no touching, no Sundays, no music, license required). Wisecracking birds and reptiles provided the motive force for most of our appliances and mineral-based puns abounded. It was a long time ago.
Having achieved a staggering level of superannuation, I've learned a thing or two along the way. Not much, admittedly — mainly TV schedules and bus routes, but I'm no ignoramus. One thing I'm aware of is music, as in trends in, new bands, exciting developments in, etc. One thing I definitely don't do and therefore differ from many of my antediluvian peers, is listen to “classic rock.” (I put it in quotes because conceptually it's stupid. I don't know what marketing genius thought it would help to create generations of 30 year old fuddy-duddica, but well-played, old man. You set the stage for every no talent washed up back rock outfit to continue stinking up county fairs and casinos until the end of time. Notice I said “until the end of time” and not “until they are dead” because that doesn't faze nostalgia acts. Whoever owns the name simply puts together a new set as the original members die off. It's like the axe question: if you replace the handle and later replace the head, is it the same axe? Answer: Hell, no.
In my adolescence rock radio was divided thusly: Top 40, and AOR (album oriented rock). The former catered to teenyboppers, the latter to the more hip and aware radio listeners. Then along came disco which frightened and confused many people what with the flashing lights and tight pants and all. This paved the way for the “oldies” format which allowed those who came up in the 50s to rock out to Elvis and Buddy Holly while tooling around in the hot rods they could never afford as kids, spending Saturday nights in the Burger Chef parking lot having finally realized at age 35 their pathetic teenage aspirations of “cool.” Then, probably in response to the dangerously innovative hairstyles of the new wave, somebody over at mega-global-com said Hey, why wait until they are 40? Let's give 20-year olds a safe haven from weirdos like Devo (now classic rock, incidentally) by playing an endless loop of “Stairway,” “More Than a Feeling,” “Dream On” and “Cat Scratch Fever.” Bingo — right out of high school kids became reactionary Luddites shunning innovations for the security and comfort of the same old same old. I would rather listen to cats having sex than listen to classic rock radio. I would rather listen to Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh discuss their sex life. I would rather listen to vegan poetry than listen to classic rock radio, and do you know why? It's mostly due to just one song. Oh, the rest of it is boring, insipid and repetitive, to be sure. I could easily go the rest of my life never again hearing any part of any classic rock playlist and be just as happy. But there is one song so insidious, so vile, so malignant, and yet so ubiquitous that your chances of hearing it immediately on tuning into any classic rock station are 50-50, in the following 60 minutes 100%. It is not a good song, never was a good song. It sounds exactly like something cult leaders or foreign spies would use to soften up weak minds for brainwashing with its simplistic and droning melody, it's 350 verses and it's extended instrumental break that lasts longer than most box sets. You know what I'm talking about, campers. Say it with me, “Life's Been Good,” by Joe Walsh.
Like the fellow said, getting old sucks until you consider the alternative. I'll take ear hair and creaking bones over death and decomposition any day. I will not go gentle into that good night unless of course someone contrived to play that damn song at me again in which case I will jam a couple of railroad spikes right through my ears and into my brain.