I turned 60 on Monday, September 29 — just three weeks ago. I didn’t write about it right away because I thought it was no big deal — at least that’s what I told myself. But in retrospect, I didn’t write about it right away because, at some level, it bothers me a lot.
Happily, there was no big party to mark the “milestone” birthday. I’d made it clear to Maria that I didn’t want any elaborate celebration, so we had a nice quiet dinner and an ice cream cake at home. I got some nice gifts — money to put toward a 12-string guitar, a gift card to my new favorite bait and tackle store in Florida, and a nice cotton tropical-weight sweater.
There was only one jokey, old-guy gift: a mug with the legend on the outside, “I’M SORRY YOU’RE OLD,” and inside the rim, as you raise it to your lips, you see the words, “THAT’S ALL.” Better than the basket of Depends, M&M’s masquerading as Viagra, laxatives and antacids I’d seen other 60 year olds get on their birthdays.
There was also a greeting card showing a man (presumably me) reclining on a chair atop a high bluff with a small dog at his side. He’s dangling his fishing line in the water below, happily oblivious to the fact that he’s about to hook into a fish longer than the man himself. The dark part of me whispered that this could be a bright metaphor for something horrific — it’s the universe telling you, via a plastic fish decal on a Hallmark card, that you’ll be very sorry you put off that colonoscopy.
“You won’t be the little guy smiling on the boat much longer when you reel in that bad news,” said the gremlin, laughing. “At your age anything’s possible.”
The happy side of me: “At any age anything’s possible; you never know.”
Gremlin: “But at ‘your age,’ lots of bad things are a lot more likely than they used to be.”
Tough to argue with that …
For some reason, the arithmetic in your 60s feels fundamentally different than in your 50s. Then (a mere three weeks ago), being really old (which in my mind means in your 80s) was 30 years away, more or less. Now it’s only 20 years.
That’s scary in itself because time telescopes so much as you age. The distance from 20 to 40 was huge — I turned from a kid with no direction or shape to my life into a lawyer with a career, and a young family, and a house in the suburbs. From 40 to 60 was a radical evolution too — the kids grew up, left home (mostly), we acquired a vacation condo in Florida as the southern counterpart to our house at the Jersey Shore, and I retired.
But both of those significant chunks of my life, in retrospect, flew past in the blink of an old guy’s eye, to paraphrase Bruce. What major changes do the next 20 years hold (if you’ve even got 20 more in you, whispers the gremlin)? Who knows?
What worries me more is how quickly, in retrospect, will they have passed? But the happy side of me ultimately prevails: worrying about the view, in retrospect, is living ass-backwards. Look ahead, live in the moment, and barrel forward with gusto.
Drive this car as if you’d stolen it. And it you fly headlong off a cliff, with the gremlin shouting, “I told you so!” as you fall, at least you’ll have had a hell of a good time.
Most of us have reached the point in life where names and titles sometimes elude us. I distinctly remember the same thing happening to my grandparents. As a child I would often prompt them with the names that were just out of mental reach
“What’s the name of that actress with the big nose?” my grandmother would say.
“What’s that guy’s name who’s on that TV show I like?” my grandfather would ask.
As a dutiful grandson, I provided the answers.
Well that was then. Fast forward 50 years, and now I’m the one asking, “What’s the name of that movie with Groucho Marx and Marilyn Monroe?”
And I can see them both in my mind’s eye as they play a scene together. But I can’t get back to the title screen. I have become my grandfather.
The difference between me and people my age 50 years ago is that I have in the palm of my hand a 21st-century machine that supplies answers to everything anyone would ever want to know. It has apps like Wikipedia and IMDB, that are like having my own grandson at my beck and call.
My smartphone remembers all the things that I don’t. Just a few years ago, before I had a smartphone, my wife and I would struggle to recall names and titles. I remember many a Sunday afternoon at my mother’s house where all the adults around the table would agonize to recall one important name or another and my son, who was the only one at the time who had a smartphone, would simply look it up and take us out of our misery. Now many of us over 50 have smartphones, and they are fabulous for quickly finding those names that are on the tip of our tongues.
So today, we grandparents don’t have to rely on grandchildren to provide the answers to life’s persistent questions. We can look it up online. But just as using a calculator robbed us of the ability to perform simple mathematics, and having phone numbers programmed into phones made us forget our phone number, I fear that knowing that we can use Siri as a virtual grandchild will make us even more dependent on technology than we are already.
Years ago we were forced to rack our brains to remember things and usually the brain came through — eventually. I can remember many a morning waking up with a name or title that had eluded me the night before. But if we never challenge the aging brain to retrieve information, won’t we eventually lose that ability as well?
So I guess that like everything else, we need to rely on our smartphones in moderation. Leave the less important questions like movie trivia to stew in our brains (overnight if necessary). “Use it or lose it” applies to brains as much as anything else.
And it’s a good feeling to come up with a name or title on your own. Anyway, the day may come when a smartphone (or the Internet) is not available. And maybe when that day comes we will be able to come up with the answer on our own. Or maybe not. Just to be safe, I plan to have my grandchildren around as a backup. You can’t have too many lifelines in life.
We arrived home from Romania, and the sidebar excursions to Paris and London, around midnight Saturday, October 18. I have started culling the 3500 photos I took, and was brought back to the afternoon we spent wandering the National Art Museum in Bucharest. Architecturally, it is a testament to 19th century palatial elegance.
It was built between 1812 to 1815 (the approximate time the U.S. was engaged in the War of 1812 with Great Britain). It started as a private residence, was taken over by royalty in 1834, housed the seat of the State Council during the reign of Nicolae Ceausescu, and opened as an art museum in 2000. Its collection ranges from embroidered tapestries dating to the 14th century to paintings by European masters like Lucas Cranach the Elder and Rembrandt to sculptures by its native son, Constantin Brancusi, and others I never heard of.
But one of the best unexpected finds was the grand staircase leading up to the European galleries:
It had endless angles …
… and curves to explore.
It was like looking at a giant heart:
Most primary care physicians, as a routine part of a well visit, will ask about your drinking habits. Having spent more time than usual this past year in doctors offices, the dialogue, always with the word “moderately,” and my answer, always the same, came up a half dozen times:
“Do you drink alcohol?”
“Three or four drinks per week.”
“Hmm. Uh — yes, moderately.”
Truth is, I’m a liar. I’ve started drinking wine at home. Every day. Since I’m dedicated to maintaining good health and my well-being, I know that comes with being happy. So if happiness includes opening a bottle of wine to close down the day’s toil (and every day has some toil), I will pop that cork.
I haven’t always enjoyed a daily dose of wine. I’m a social drinker. I just about salivate my way towards that first sip and, just as mouth-watering, is the anticipation of sharing it with other people. I rarely have a drink before I go out for the evening. But I’m more mature now, and my drinking has fully-developed. I drink gloriously. Like a European.
I’ve come to enjoy and look forward to grabbing the bottle by the neck before I open it up to let it breathe. (I confess that I can’t tell the difference between wine that sits for a bit to “breathe,” or wine that I’ve pulled the broken cork out with my teeth and sucked a first sip right out of the bottle.)
Regardless, once that bottle is untethered, all of the senses start to revel. The smell of an inky, purple-y Malbec, or a freezer-chilled, buttery Chardonnay soothes from the nose down. Unlike that first sip of vodka, which usually makes me quiver into a hoot (“Woo!”), wine whispers its way down my throat, turns up the corners of my mouth, and closes my eyes. It makes the end of the day celebratory; well-lived. Deserved.
Since I’m not a fan of feeling groggy at night, or heavy-headed the morning after, one glass usually suffices when I’m not sharing. I use the 1940s wheat-etched glasses that my Irish mom (who doesn’t drink a lick), recently gave to me. They’re just a touch of glass; delicate. And I can fill them just below the brim (once) — a pour that is improper (and probably against the law) outside of the home.
So perhaps I will fess up at the next visit to the doctor: Yes, I drink alcohol. Moderately. Every day. I drink wine every day. But usually just one glass. I moderately-pour usually-one glass of wine into a moderately-sized vintage glass. Every day.
Enjoy this pictorial for the palate sent by Julie, who has been traveling through Romania for the past two weeks. Who knew? Romania is, apparently, a foodie destination — with menus rich in range and steeped in flavor. Meals, according to Julie, included “the best tabbouleh ever,” veal knuckles, and Spaghetti Bolognese.
The food in Romania is decadent. From fried pork appetizers to papanash, a donut covered with cream and sweet berries, there is always something to make you worry about your cholesterol and waistline. Of course – salads are always an option.~Julie
Among the fondest memories of we over-50s is penny candy. It amazes my children when I tell them that when I was a kid, you could actually buy something with a penny. In fact, you could often get two of something for a penny — like Bazooka Bubble Gum. In this age of packaged candy that costs a dollar or more, it is truly remarkable that there was a time when we could cash in an empty bottle, and use the two-cent deposit to buy candy!
And just when my children are telling me that the only use for a penny today is to pay sales tax, I blow their minds when I tell them that back when I was a kid, there was no sales tax. People just paid the listed price. Those pennies were just for candy.
Well recently I was travelling on I-95 in Connecticut and I passed a sign that advertized a museum of PEZ. Now PEZ is one of those special baby-boomer-era treats like penny candy. For the uninitiated, PEZ is a small brick-shaped candy that comes in several flavors. It started out In Austria in 1927 as a mint for people who wanted to quit smoking. In fact, the word PEZ comes from the German word “pfefferminz” meaning “peppermint.” The famous PEZ dispenser was designed to look like a cigarette lighter.
However, PEZ did not come to America until the 1950s. So we were the first generation of children to experience it, and the novelty of the now-iconic plastic dispenser. I think that it was certainly the dispenser that made PEZ special. They made hundreds of different dispensers with many famous characters on them. Collecting PEZ dispensers is still widespread enough that collectors gather annually for conventions.
At the PEZ Museum in Orange, Connecticut they have displays of the many ingenious dispensers that the company has made over the years. My favorites are the dispensers with the heads of presidents of the United States. But there are few licensed characters in the world from Mickey Mouse to Elvis Presley who have not had their heads on a PEZ dispenser.
In addition to the traditional cigarette shaped dispenser, PEZ also marketed guns as dispensers. This allowed kids to shoot candy into the mouths of their friends.
The PEZ museum is actually located at the plant where PEZ candy is made (the dispensers come from China). So if you go on a weekday, you can watch them make thousands of little PEZ bricks in scores of flavors. And of course, you can buy PEZ. Here, the self-guided tour does not just exit through the gift shop, it is integrated into the gift shop. But where else can you find a Thomas the Tank Engine or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles PEZ dispenser?
PEZ and penny candy are among the great treats of a baby boomer childhood. Sadly, only PEZ is still with us. The types of candy that a penny used to buy, if you can still find them, are now a specialty nostalgia item. But even at the current inflated price, a licorice pipe is a treat that I will want to share with my grandson. And I can amaze him with tales of the wondrous things a penny used to buy for a kid.