Age. Aging. Life. Death. Mortality. Incontinence. Body betrayal. (Or. Or. Or even.)
It’s something that people think about. Sing about. Write about. Good writers write about it. Bad writers write about it. Why? Because if for no other reason, it’s something that affects us all, something that we all have in common. Heck, last weekend a Story Wrangler who likes gelato slung around another Master’s thesis suggestion — talk about aging, he said. So I tore myself away from a sea of mud and thought about it a little.
He asked if age is just a number.
Well, it’s not.
Heck that was easy – maybe a little too easy. Maybe some explanation or discusion or evidence might be in order.
The most obvious proof is hockey.
I’ve mentioned before that I’ve played hockey since early grad school because, early on, an upperclassman told me that “All grad students that aren’t jerks play hockey” and whatever image I might have wanted to project, ‘jerk’ wasn’t really high on the list. In fact, if I remember correctly, it wasn’t on the list at all. (He wasn’t being entirely fair, of course — while it was true that virtually every grad student did play hockey Tuesday and/or Thursday mornings at an arena that’s not there any more, not all that didn’t were ones that embraced the physicist stereotype (read ‘engineer’ as ‘physicist’ — compared to physicists, engineers are positively convivial) to an unnecessary degree. Some were very nice (for physicists) but were just from places that didn’t have a cultural connection to large quantities of ice and huge, foul-smelling bags full of equipment for surviving a post-apocalyptic wasteland.)
It was a pretty good group. One characteristic of groups composed mostly of students, though, is that the students — as a group — are always more or less the same age whereas some of us (me, the naval architect, the dean) got older every year. The dean (not that one) was the first to go — he decided to hang up his skates as he approached his sixteenth birthday. The naval architect hung in until his eightieth year then circumstances… encouraged his retirement. That left me. And the kids.
In my final year of grad school I played hockey about eight times a week with no obvious ill effects. As the years went by, though… These days two games a week is quite enough. Believe me when I tell you that age is not just a number.
More evidence that age is not just a number can be found in foreheads.
A few years ago, Ms. Rose and I were visiting a theme park in New York state. The last thing we did that day was ride a coaster called the ‘Mind Eraser.’ The lineup had no singing but did have dancing — a very nice man and his son spent much of the wait providing much-needed entertainment. Between dances we talked about roller coasters, critiqued the clothing of other people in the line and….
compared foreheads. (Mine was bigger, but we agreed that neither of us had a ‘forehead’ as such; both of us were at least a five. These days it’s probably closer to ten.) We also talked about optimal headgear for theme park lineups.
Because old guys wear hats.
We wear them when we’re outdoors. We wear them when we’re indoors. Sometimes we wear them to curl. (The pants are more interesting; I’d wear any of them but my favourites are the ones from Monday. Unfortunately, they cost three times as much as sweat pants.) Part of it is vanity and denial — we think that if people can’t see the receding hairline then there is no receding hairline. This time of the year, part of it is practical — if there’s a hat then there probably won’t be painful cranial sunburn.
That’s the excuse I use, anyway. And that’s probably the excuse the guy in the E-class used.
On Canada Day Ms. Rose and I were driving toward a dock, following an expensive convertible driven by an old guy. You could tell he was an old guy because was wearing a hat. (Also because he was driving an eighty thousand dollar car.) I speculated (Ms. Rose is above such things) about his hairline, made envious comments about his bank balance and laughed at his turn signal. Because his turn signal was blinking for about ten miles.
That’s something else old guys do.
I laughed at it but I didn’t feel superior because I do it too from time to time. (Well, maybe more than ‘from time to time’ but never for as long as ten miles.) I would claim that it’s not entirely my fault.
In my first car, turn signals were noisy. Turning a corner was an invitation to a flashback to that movie where Our Boys climbed Hill 102 under heavy machine-gun fire. With that sort of sonic reminder, there was a vanishingly small chance of forgetting to turn it off. My second and third cars had signals that were not quite as loud but still sounded a bit like automatic weapons — just slightly quieter ones. (Perhaps some fine German engineering would be an appropriate comparison.)
Of course, things have changed. The current Rosemobile has a much quieter and significantly more restrained turn signal. Combine that with a sound system that’s more or less permanently turned up to eleven, overblown forty year old stadium rock and age-related hearing loss, well — is it any wonder that sometimes I don’t turn it off as promptly as I might?
So, strictly speaking I wasn’t laughing at him. I was laughing because there, but for the grace of a supreme being that I don’t believe in, went I.
See? Age isn’t just a number.
But now I’m worried about what comes next. (The stuff nightmares is made of?) Will it be white belts? Asking strangers to pull my finger? Sitting on the porch yelling at passing kids to get off my lawn? All I know is that if I start pulling my pants up to my chest, I’ll need someone to come to my house and smack me upside the head.