by Richard Key
June 4. I’m one hundred days from turning sixty. Seems not so long ago I calculated that I had exactly one thousand days remaining in my fifties, which didn’t bother me so much. That’s almost three years. You could get a law degree in that time. People have biked around the world in less time. Sixty is intimidating. You’re supposed to be grown up by then. I mean completely grown up. Fifty is the youth of old age, according to Victor Hugo, and maybe that’s the rub. Now even the youth of old age is fading fast. My “over the hill” T-shirt has holes in it…and they’re getting bigger by the day.
June 7. I open a foil-wrapped Dove mocha chocolate piece, and the inner message is Enjoy your age, which I take to mean being fifty-nine and not yet sixty. I open another one to see if there is a follow-up message that might be helpful. This one also says Enjoy your age. I take that as a confirmation of the first message. After a bit of contemplation, I open a third piece as a way of showing the Dove oracle that I am indeed enjoying my age. This one says Pack your rose-colored glasses.
June 10. Jeopardy! has a contestant on the show who says he parachuted out of a plane for his sixtieth birthday to demonstrate that he was still young. In Final Jeopardy! he guesses Sully Sullenberger instead of Neil Armstrong and loses all his money. Splat.
July 2. I listen to Garrison Keillor’s final installment of Prairie Home Companion and feel pangs of nostalgia. At least there are all those recorded shows that can be replayed from now on. I wouldn’t know the difference. I still listen to Car Talk reruns from the nineties. But there’s that feeling again of something great coming to an end, the inevitable end that always comes, reminding me of an artist who had been treated for breast cancer. She painted beautiful murals on four walls of a room. She left them up for a few months, and then painted over them with a roller to illustrate the transience of life and art and beauty. I, personally, would have left them alone. At fifty-nine I’d rather preserve something beautiful as a legacy rather than teach my audience a lesson about the impermanence of things. They can learn that one the hard way.
July 13. I begin to read A Tale of Two Cities. In the introduction, there is biographical information about the author, and I realize that I have outlived Charles Dickens. Yes, the Charles Dickens. I always pictured him living into his eighties. How do you write that much in fifty-eight short years? The best of times and the worst of times. That’s an accurate description of my age. That’s why you might hear a sixty-year-old say something like I’ve never felt better…and it’s getting worse every day.
July 15. We go out to eat, and the menu has teeny-tiny print that is difficult to read in the strongest light and next to impossible to read in dim light. I suspect it’s a ploy to see if they can trick oldsters into ordering something with octopus in it.
July 22. There’s a recent high school graduate named Mikie shadowing me at work for a few days. We talk about braces since I had to wear metallic ones for three years, and he is sporting some of the newer devices on his teeth. I ask him who his orthodontist is, and he says Dr. Howell, who I’m not familiar with. “Is he a young guy?” I ask him. “No. He’s about your age.” Ouch. Et tu, Mikie?
July 26. Exactly fifty days until my birthday. I hear the Lukas Graham song “Seven Years” on the radio, and the line that sticks out is, “Soon I’ll be sixty years old.” I’m thinking You and me both, buddy.
July 29. We attend a Drum and Bugle Corps competition in Opelika, Alabama. The third unit to perform is Pioneer Corps from Milwaukee, and their theme is “Joan of Arc.” All the units nowadays must be required to have a theme. So, here at Bulldog Stadium, the Joan character is convicted of heresy at the thirty-yard line and dragged to the fifty-yard line where she is “burned” at the stake surrounded by swirling yellow and red flags. It just goes to show you that if you live long enough, you’re likely to witness almost anything. It also reminds me that in addition to Charles Dickens, I’ve also outlived Joan of Arc.
August 4. On a whim I google the origin of the word “geezer.” The most accepted opinion is that it derives from an obsolete cockney word guiser, meaning “one who walks around in a disguise.” I believe the disguise must be brightly colored slacks, tucked-in polo shirt, white belt, and Velcro sneakers.
August 5. My insurance agent comes by to tell me about a way I can purchase long-term care insurance using money from an existing life insurance policy. He stresses that it’s important to take care of these matters long before plaques and tangles have twisted what’s left of my brain into a sticky pile of cold pasta. I notice in the information packet that he already has my age listed as sixty. He says they round up to the next year at your half-birthday. That’s insurance companies for you, always looking on the bright side. Like the grim reaper with a smiley face.
August 14. Oksana Chusovitina, the forty-one-year-old gymnast from Uzbekistan, is competing in gymnastics for a medal on the vault in her seventh Olympics. She’s a tiny dynamo of a woman and does a decent job, winding up in seventh place out of eight, getting no bonus points for being in the second half of her life. The commentators act like she’s a living fossil. Age is a big deal in sports, as a rule. Less so in golf, but very much a factor in the racing competitions. Not to mention the events where you hurl your twisting body through the air like a rubber pretzel and try to land upright. This also happens to be my dad’s eighty-seventh birthday. He turned sixty 9,862 days ago.
August 20. Another Olympic tale: Bernard Lagat, an American runner, places sixth in the men’s 5,000-meter final. Later, three runners are disqualified, including the silver medalist—another American, Paul Chelimo—which moves Lagat up to the bronze medal position. He becomes, at forty-one, the third-oldest track and field medalist in Olympic history (a forty-six-year-old American, Matt McGrath, won a silver medal in the 1924 Olympics for the hammer throw). But later, Chelimo wins his appeal and is reinstated, leaving Lagat in fourth. Lesson learned: If you ever win a medal in something, take it and run. Even at forty-one, you can claim you forgot where you put it and have some credibility.
August 22. I discover the website seniorlist.com, which is devoted to compiling and confirming discounts for senior citizens at various restaurants and businesses. And this clearly is a spot where we could use some leadership in the White House. The qualifying age for “seniorness” varies from fifty-two to sixty-five. And the discounts vary from a free drink with your meal to 15% off your entire purchase. Some are limited to a particular day, like Tuesday or Wednesday. That way youngsters can avoid the crush of old people if that’s not their thing…like I now avoid Chuck E. Cheese every day of the week. Maybe if we elect the right person for president, he or she will make being a senior citizen great again.
August 24. I read an article about how almost a thousand times a month, people are incorrectly classified as dead through clerical errors at the Social Security Administration, setting off a series of problems like having their bank accounts frozen and their insurance policies canceled. Apparently, actual deaths are recorded at the state level in the vital statistics office and then electronically uploaded to the Social Security Death Master File. If someone types in a wrong number, say a “2” instead of a “3,” the wrong person’s “number” may appear to be up. It’s shocking to most victims to find out that they are officially dead, but for others it explains why they haven’t been feeling so well.
August 25. There is an article in The New Yorker about the recently-discovered exoplanet called Proxima b. Practically next door in the universe, it sits just 4.3 light-years away. It is possibly Earthlike and might be worth a visit. Except that with current technology, it would take at least 80,000 years to get there. Well, at my age I’m not willing to invest that much time into exploration. I can’t sit still that long. And, I doubt there’s even a McDonald’s between here and there. No, I’ll leave that one for the young folks.
August 26. Get an e-mail offering to calculate my “actual” age versus my “chronologic” age. At first I delete it but then decide to look into it, hoping that I’ll discover that I’m really still thirty-five. Fifteen minutes later I delete it again after being sent down some rabbit hole of advertisements and offers with page after page of nosy questions about me and my household. Of course, there’s Dr. Oz in the middle of things, that great deceiver. They never get around to the quiz. Whatever your “actual” age is, it’s higher by the time they finish wasting your time. By the way, people didn’t have to put up with this kind of crap back in the eighties.
August 28. Eating Chinese food tonight. My fortune cookie says You will enjoy a very comfortable old age. Wisely, it doesn’t add…beginning now.
September 6. Time sends me an offer in the mail, labeled For senior citizen use only, offering me a $20 rate on a one-year subscription. That’s supposedly a savings of $249.55. I can’t believe anyone would pay the full price of five bucks an issue, especially when they offer an online version for free. But just the idea that I might be able to purchase time in any form is intriguing.
September 13. Last day to be in my fifties. As I look back over these almost sixty years, I can feel good that I’ve met, or exceeded, all of my goals for disappointment and obscurity. Regrets? Sure, I’ve had a few. I read Moby Dick. I wouldn’t mind having those two years back. And I never got to develop my own personal fragrance, cruise down the Limpopo, or fulfill my dream of becoming an abusive alcoholic. Oh, well…there’s always tomorrow.
Richard Key was born in Jacksonville, Florida and grew up in Mississippi. He now lives in Dothan, Alabama where he works part-time as a pathologist. During his off-time he writes essays and short stories.