What are we going to be like as a country when over half of us are doddering oldsters?
  • What are we going to be like as a country when over half of us are doddering oldsters?
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Having just recently turned 60, I am pulling up the rear of what has commonly been termed the Baby Boomers. Apparently the generation dates from the end of WWII or 1945, so that would place me five years behind the generational norm. Still, I believe I am qualified to speak for many of us. Most of us were raised in decades when youth was revered, celebrated as if it were an accomplishment, encouraged, praised as if it were something noble to strive for, surely a kind of insanity or at least an example of unsound, skewed values. And even now, 65 years later, youth is as venerated as ever, maturity in the media is a gauzy-lensed cliché that might as well have been the same crap our parents’ generation tried to put over on themselves, and I suspect it is the doing of young ad execs — as if there is such a thing as old ad men.

For well more than a decade now I’ve wondered, What are we going to be like as a country when over half of us are doddering oldsters? The picture is shaping up, all right; and probably its first major manifestation is the health-care boondoggle. It is clear that to some degree my peers and I really did assume we were not going to get old. On some level, we bought a kind of Peter Pan voodoo that would sprout from happy mushroom thoughts or wheat grass and good vibes or solar-powered Orgone boxes and macrobiotics. Whatever. Drugs — psychedelics — may have played some role in this but not as much as one might think (my opinion, naturally) because that stuff gave us relatively rational men like Andrew Weil as well as endless self-help mutants and plastic-surgery grotesques.

What are we going to be like as a country when over half of us are doddering oldsters?

One symptom has been shared by many of us, one of Elizabeth Kübler-Ross’s classic phases of death, denial. We denied we’d ever retire (the Rolling Stones just keep on going, etc.) or ever want to; and some version of roller disco, drinking inordinate amounts of water contained only in plastic, wearing sunscreen or magic bracelets, becoming wrinkled adolescents to the point of transmogrification into deflated and slack-skinned leathery things having been shot through a high-G cannon as we jogged along the beach or trails, grimacing, wearing tennis togs or jogging suits to church as you approach those years in which it appears wise to cover certain bets. You name it, we’ll try anything to stave off the whole magilla that is mortality.

Points I’ve noted where the devolution of human intelligence parallels our particular generation’s march off the mortal coil may be more apparent than real, but so much of my empirical experience is that way...I cast a wide net.

I’m in an elevator in a downtown hotel, not a bad one. The upper-middle-income dentists at the convention seem nattily dressed and they’re handing car keys with Mercedes logos to valets. The elevator opens at three, and I am confronted by a homunculus, maybe 25, with multiple face-piercings, a Metallica T-shirt, and a hard-shell electric-guitar case. “Out ya’ go, Dog,” he says.

“Dog?” I echo, stunned. And then again, “Dog?” He is stepping backward, clearly being reasonable by creating space and gesturing. “I’m going to the lobby,” I explain.

“No room, Dog [dog?]. I got this shit comin’ in.” He indicates amplifiers, etc.

“First of all, my name’s not Dog...” I went on as he backed up even farther. My voice rose. Soon he was apologizing in a clearly unpracticed manner. The door closed and I went on my way. Fuming.

Soon, what struck me is the kid’s obliviousness to the idea of a guy nearly three times his age taking offense to being called “Dog,” as if it were “Buddy” or “Pal.” I continued down Pacific Highway with the full knowledge that I had become the bitter old bastard I once hated when I wrote my 1977 failed punk hit, “Old and in the Way.” I was also aware that my once purposeful stride had become what can only be termed a dodder. I used to wonder why old bastards did that, doddered, and now know unquestionably why: everything fucking hurts — it doesn’t “freaking” hurt, it fucking hurts.

I also realized that it was butt-crack’s generation that had invented sex, not mine, and it was his generation that had arrived at a judgment of disdain toward the elderly and not my own.

I have managed to seize upon these daily corrections of lifelong assumptions as opportunities to fulfill the promise to myself in that 1977 song’s last line: “Please remind me on my birthday that I’m old — and in the way.”

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