Thursday, April 29, 2010

I’ll go first, I’m old. It happens.

This is weird. It’s been happening more and more lately, too. I’ll be walking, usually indoors, and people will step out of my way. Here’s why: I’m now old.

I’m not pushing my way through a crowd, I’m not stumbling or scowling or walking with a cane, but evidently I now look old. And interestingly, it motivates people to step aside in restaurant aisles, to hold the door, to smile and say, “Go ahead.” That feels strange to me. It’s also, if I ever get used to it, rather pleasant.

A lot of my jobs have been high profile, so I’ve been interviewed through the years. The descriptions in those have gone from “athletic” to “active” to “spry.” Wait a minute — “spry”? And I was 55 at the time.

It happens.

The joke is that we all have three ages: youth, middle age and “You’re looking well.”

You learn that over time, things go wrong with your body. By middle age you understand how it’s possible for some elderly to have serious medical problems that they leave untreated. After all, by their age, they’ve gone through decades of enduring countless aches, an array of pains. Life becomes: “Oh, I’ll just put up with it and it will go away eventually.”

Here’s the way I see it about our bodies. When you’re young, the question is “What’s wrong?” When you’re middle-aged, the question is “What’s wrong now?” And when you’re old, the question is “Can it be fixed?”

When I was 12 years old I made a three-fold vow to myself: I would never be bald, I would never get hemorrhoids and I would never talk down to a 12-year-old. So far, I’ve kept two out of three.

You know you’re old when you when you pass an attractive dog-walker of the opposite sex and then realize you were checking out the dog.

The hard part at my age is on a day when you feel young, but then someone says, “You’ve had a good life.”

It’s also hard when you realize that you’re doing the very things that you’ve always noticed about the elderly (you know, those who really ARE old). You find yourself humming. You find your mouth opening sooner than it needs to when food is incoming. When you climb into a car, you moan. You find that you really have forgotten to zip the ole zipper.

It happens.

Then we have the Senior Citizen Discount. When I was 49, I ordered some chicken at a KFC. The clerk said, “Do you get the senior discount?” I left.

A version of that still happens. My wife and I grocery shop on the seniors discount day every week, and the experience would be much more enjoyable if the clerks would ASK me if I qualify. They never do.

Oh, I meant to tell you. If you’re a senior and you eat at Chik-fil-A, they give you a free drink. It’s called a “Senior Drink,” and it’s slightly smaller than … wait a minute. I wonder if they have a kiddie drink, too, that’s smaller. Is this a kiddie drink?

That’s the problem, isn’t it? As we get old, we start to resemble the children, then the infants, we once were. We begin to eat like them, we cry easily, we walk like them. It’s fascinating.

Eventually, as you live in the Years of Discounts, you start to think in terms of Lasts: This will probably be my last house, my last dog, my last car. And the older you get, the shorter-term the lasts are. My last house is easy to live with, but then you reach your last suit, your last vacation trip, your last … banana?

It happens.

If you’re lucky.

Mike Clark is a freelance writer who lives in Greensboro and provides daily language tips on Twitter (