On Becoming Seventy

I dunno why, but I’d long dreaded the day, August 10, 2013 when I was to become seventy and officially old.  I had long ago overcome the ignominy of taking the two dollar senior citizen discount at the movie theatre, and the snide, “…for a man of your age” that I was starting to get far too frequently.  I’d even avoided taking a punch at the sales clerks who had begun to refer to me patronizingly as “young man” or, worse yet, “young fellow”.  I had also begun to say with weak, gallows humor that, “I don’t even buy green bananas anymore” as a way of signaling that my time was growing ever shorter.  But seventy, the proverbial three score and ten…btw, of course, you know that this statement of expected life span comes from the Psalm 90:10.  “The days of our lives are three score and ten…”.  So that makes it official I guess.  I’m now playing with house money.

So in the days since the seminal event, I’ve felt compelled to act old, to think old, in essence, to be my age.  Much of what is required to act old comes naturally.  As the man says, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak (Matthew 26:40-43).  (I promise that this will be my last biblical citation).  I think the author was referring to morality, but it certainly applies to the myriad of aches and pains that man endures as the body ages.  In my mind, I have the same abilities as at eighteen, but it’s imminently clear that I’ll never grab the rim of the basket again unless standing on a step ladder. I will never strain with a forward lean at the finish of a hundred yard dash.  All of this comes with the turf.  But, drat it all, I don’t think I can do it.  Be old, that is.  Yes, I know, I will continue to age, and assorted body parts will continue to malfunction until they cease operating all together.  I’ll be damned, if I’m gonna start thinking and acting like the old man that I, in reality, am.

The famous naturalist John Burroughs said it best, and I couldn’t agree more:, “I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, all the friends I want to see“.    He was still writing his elegant essays on nature when he approached his last days at age eighty-four.  But we should all heed the caution cited by Andy Rooney as well, who only recently died at age ninety-two, that “…life is like a role of toilet paper.  The closer you get to the end, the faster it goes.” I would add, “until it’s gone before you’re ready”. The lesson I take from this is an important one for those of us of have reached the point of diminishing returns…do it now.  What ever it is that remains to be done, whatever itch it is that you have yet to scratch…do it now.

I’ve never been one to lean on the bible for solace (for reasons that I will explain in a future blog), but if my full measure is a mere three score and ten, then, by golly, I am, indeed, playing with house money.  I can do anything I want.  Eat more red meat, go for the second martini, an extra scoop of Ben and Jerry’s can’t hurt me, go ahead and fire up a stoogie when the time beckons.  You get the drift.  But then there’s that toilet paper end of roll thing that Rooney talked about.  I guess I ought to include a few do-it-now things as well.  I should hold my dear wife even closer, tell my kids how much I love them, hug the grandkids until they’re too old for it and then keep on hugging.  I should spend more time with my friends and tell them how much they’ve meant to me.  I should smell the honeysuckle, appreciate the beauty of the Blue Jays in the oak tree, enjoy the songs of the mockingbirds in the morning.  Think good thoughts.  Make a difference each day.  Laugh a lot.  I should watch every sunset and anxiously await the next sunrise.

Heinrich Zschokke (who only made it to a paltry seventy-seven) found the right words to express what I feel.  “On my seventieth birthday I felt as if I were standing on a mountain height at whose feet the ocean of eternity was audibly rushing; while before me, life with its deserts and flower gardens, its sunny days and stormy nights, spread out green and beautiful (before me).”

Bernard Baruch, who lived and prospered until the ripe old age of ninety-five, expressed succinctly what all of us beyond medicare age feel.  “To me, old age is always fifteen years older than I am.”  If you subscribe to that definition as I have come to, we will never really reach old age.  And I’m going to act like it, too.





On Aging

I posted on September 1, 2009 a somewhat whimsical piece titled “Getting Old is Not For Sissies”.  Read it again if you like, but a short summary is that I was whinning about the things I could do in my youth that are now far out of reach, and the subtle, and not so subtle, changes in the landscape of my body.  Every thing I said then, I double down on now, three years later…and more.  No, I’m not going to give you an itemized list of the things that are going awhack in my physiology, but I will tell you that the pace is accelerating.  I know there’s a word in the English language that means “to accelerate at an accelerating pace”, but like many other things, I can’t remember it.   With respect to the functioning and non-functionioning of my body it’s the reverse.  My body’s ability to deal with the normal physical demands of life are decelerating at an accelerating pace.  Oops, I guess I’ve mixed metaphors, but you understand what I mean.  I don’t want to tend towards fatalism, but I suppose that at some point one’s personal speedometer slams into zero and the lights go out.  I think I prefer that, however, to an asymptotic line which continues to approach, but never reaches, zero.  I certainly don’t want to spend a lot of time just in sight of the finish line, but overly dawdle on getting there.

But I digress.  I wanted to spend a moment on another aspect of aging that becomes more clear to me as time passes.  No it’s not about loss of short term memory.  We all understand that.  It’s about how we think about things once we start playing late in the fourth quarter.  It’s about our view of how we fit in to it all, and it’s all about what’s important in the end.  Winston Churchill famously opined that if you, show me a young conservative, I will show you a man with no heart, but if, on the other hand you show me an old liberal, I will show you a man with no brain.  I think he got it half right.  Certainly the center of my emotional and intellectual life, as a young man, was no where near my heart.  There was one thing that mattered to me as a young man, and that was me and what would satisfy me and only me.  I was, as the bard famously wrote, “…climbing young ambitions ladder”.

In our most recent presidential kerfuffle, there was much ado made over Paul Ryan’s adoration of Ayn Rand and her magnum opus The Fountainhead.  I, unlike many purported progressives, got it.  For I, too, once fancied myself as a coming Howard Roark.  You know the schtick…Only the best shall survive.  Rugged individualism.  To the winners go the spoils.  A meritocracy begets the best democracy.  If one works hard enough, long enough and smart enough, one will surely arrive at the top of the heap…  So Winnie was at least half right, I was a young conservative and very little, if any, of my behavior was guided by my heart.    No soppy eyed liberalism for me.  Suffice it to say, that empathy wasn’t my long suit.  If I’d been forced to state succinctly my personal philosophy it would have included the notion that everyone pretty much deserves what they get, or maybe better said, they get what they earn.  I dunno where this came from as I certainly could not have been accused of having been born on the inside track.  So I got it backwards.  Rather than a liberal in my youth and a conservative in my dotage, I’ve done the opposite.

At some point in the midst of my business career I, along with a group of fellow executives and spouses, attended a lecture on the topic of development of human potential.  Yes, I know.  I didn’t want to be there either.  It was a pop psychology kind of personal cheerleading session.  I remember naught except for one statement he made.  He was speaking to us as couples when he said that the females would become more masculine as they aged whereas, we males would develop more feminine behaviors as we approached our end game.  My first thought was, oh no, my wife would, at some point, start to grow one of those little mustaches that adorned the upper lip of the babushkas that guard the door of every Russian public building.  Yikes!  Of course, I dismissed the idea, never giving another thought to this bit of pop psychology/physiology.

Now, in the fullness of time, I understand that there is more than a modicum of truth in what he said.  No, S. does not have a mustache, nor have I started to use mascara, but we both have changed, and I think for the better.  I’ll not even attempt to speak for her, but  as for me,  I plead guilty to a certain wetness around my eyes any time I hug one of my grandchildren. I no longer have to win every argument with my darling wife (she may contest this), and I am willing to look for the good in those who I would have earlier disdained.  I tend to think more about giving and less about getting.  There is less black and white in my thinking about the affairs of man, and consequently, situational ethics makes more sense to me now.   I’m  pretty sure there is more than one way to get to the goal line or to live ones life.  I believe that contributing to a social safety net for those in need is not only a responsibility, but is a moral imperative even if they may not “deserve” it.  Watching even the sappiest of movies is liable to provoke a need to blink back some tears.  I’ve developed an appreciation for the cosmos and a curiosity about how man may fit in.  I enjoy weeding the garden and harvesting its produce.  I look forward to the first wildflower of spring.  I’ve grown to abhor violence in all of it’s manifestations.  I now am willing to accept that I’m not always right.  I’m willing to trust my instincts about people.  I am no longer judgmental about how others live and love.  And perhaps, best of all, I care far less about what people may think about how I live my own life.

I don’t agree with George Bernard Shaw that “youth is wasted on the young”.  But it’s pretty clear that being young is different from being old(er).  As Shakespeare wrote in The Tempest, “what is past is prologue”.  Or as my old pal Ed H. said after having missed an eighteen  inch putt in his eighty second year, “hell, I’m just glad to be still on this side of the grass”.  Conservative or liberal, young or old, soft or hard, feminine or masculine,  I’ll continue to cherish the process of becoming the man I’m going to be.





Time is of the Essence

Time is the most elusive of all elements. We never have enough of it, or we have more than we want. And ultimately, time used cannot be regained. Or can it?

I was on a summer reading binge in my 12th summer (I was determined to win first place in the Bookworm Club at the local library) when I ran across a short book about a boy who’s father was a time and motion expert.  “How keen is that”, I thought.  A father who studied time.  Unfortunately the father had difficulty separating his work life from his home life, as many of us do.   He insisted on applying his expertise to achieving time efficiency in all individual and family tasks.  For example, he was convinced that one of the great time wasters was inefficiently toweling off after the daily bath or shower.  You probably have had those thoughts too.  So he made the family practice….a dry run so to speak…in the living room fully clothed.  He had calculated that the optimal drying off time was seven seconds and the use of more time than this was tantamount to gluttony and sloth.  It took technique of course. Towel in hand, up one side and down the other.  A few brisk rubs for the in between parts, and voila…dry in seven seconds.  They never mentioned drying hair.  Maybe they didn’t get their hair wet in the process.

My neighbor in Ankeny, Iowa, Bret L. was an industrial engineer at the local John Deere plant where he plied his trade with a clip board and a stop watch.  His job was to find the optimal speed for the movement of the assembly line taking into account the need for the highest assembly productivity (read this as lowest labor cost) while maintaining acceptable quality.  I asked him how his fellow workers reacted to his skulking around with stopwatch in hand.  He said that they always slowed down (so if he increased the speed, it would be from a lower and rate slashed his tires when he did increase it).  Seemed like a zero sum game to me. He, too, was all about saving time.

I myself had some early experience with this time saving business.  In my early days at my company, I was charged with the task of determining the optimal (fewest) number of microfilm machines needed for for a clerical force to smoothly process the daily volume of insurance claims.  Clearly, we didn’t want to provide one per clerk, because they would go unused much of the time and would be excessively expensive, and we didn’t want to provide just one, as the clerks would be wasting time waiting in line for their turn at the machine.  How to figure this out you say.  Why, queuing theory, of course, with an added dash of triple exponential smoothing.  For those of you with no background in the time saving stuff I’ll help you out.  Queuing theory is…. well it’s…..you see.  It’s hard to explain.  But it has to do with studying lines.  At the Brits say, “Queuing up.”  So I studied how many people were waiting in line at any one time waiting their turn for the microfilm machine.  The triple exponential smoothing comes in when you want to…..well, if you need to…  Actually it has to do with a mathematical way to take out the statistical anomalies.  There that wasn’t so hard, was it.  But I was officially in the time saving business.

All of this background is by way of setting the context for the real issue.  I’m running out of time.  There it is. No denying it.  As minutes have followed seconds, and years have followed days, I’ve found myself in the position that we all will ultimately come to.  My remaining seconds are numbered.  You might say, “so what, we all run out of time sooner or later.  Just lighten up and wait it out.”  Not me.  I’m the consummate man of action.  I can whip this thing.  So get this.  I’ve resolved to create a reservoir of unused time that I can tack on at a later date when I really need it.  I’ll call it my time bank.  Save time now, draw it out with interest later.

The question is what can I do now that will result in unused time for later use.  I’ve been experimenting, and I don’t have it completely all worked out, but let me give you some ideas.

1. Brushing my teeth:  I brush my teeth at least once a day.  Okay, only once a day.  After I load up my electric brush with Crest, I brush away.  My dental hygienist says that brushing for three minutes is crucial.  I don’t do that.  No one does.  I just tell her I do.  But I do brush a good, vigorous thirty seconds.  I’m right handed so you can see that leaves my left hand free during this time.  Eureka, a time saving opportunity.  With some practice I found that I could screw the top on my tooth paste and store it in it’s place with my left hand while brushing with my right.  Hah.  Six seconds.  That’s the time I saved by not waiting until after I’d completed the brushing and then, in seriatim, replacing the top, etc.  This may not seem like much time, but let me lay it out for you.  I’m in relatively good health, eat ok, don’t drink too much (well, not always), and get a modicum of exercise, and have less stress than the average humanoid, so I’d say that living twenty more years to age 85 is a reasonable goal.  Now get this.  If I brush my teeth once a day for the next twenty years and save six seconds each instance, I will have saved (you’re not gonna believe this) 12.1 hours.  More than half a day. You’re going to have to trust me on the math.  Wow.  You surely see the potential here.  Think of what would happen if you brush three or four times a day.

2. Saving in the shower:  This one is a real power house.  Now I’ll admit I don’t shave every day living at the farm and all, but if I did, I’ve proven that I’d save as much as three minutes per shaving instance.  Hold on to your socks here.  That would be another 36.3 days in my time bank.  Yes, of course I know that you’d have to shower every time you shaved, but I think it would be worth it to add more than another month to you time balance sheet.

3. Putting my pants on 2 legs at a time:  This one is a little more difficult because of all the variables.  How many times do you put on pants in a day?  Are they short pants or long pants?  Would you be sitting in a chair or on the side of the bed when you did it?  I’ve run a series of experiments testing all the variables and have found a consistently realizable savings of between eight and fourteen seconds.  Now, I know that fourteen seconds may sound high, but when you get older and have stiff knees, you’ll see. Just take the mid-point and you get another 36.3 hours if you only change pants twice at day.  For all of you high volume pants changer the possibilities are limitless.

I’ve got a lot more to tell you, but honestly, I’m not sure I want to give it all away for free.  I think there’s people out there that would pay good money to get in on my proven time savings techniques.  I’ve already started thinking about the book tour and infomercials.  The possibilities are limitless.

Now if I can just figure out what to do with all the time will have saved.  At 85 I’m afraid I won’t be able to do much.  Kind of like getting all dressed up with no place to go.