|Back in our day . . .||
I turned 65 last fall. I have heard some people call the years from 40 - 65 "Middle Aged," which is true, I guess, if you're going to live until you're 130. But it's a useful bracket, nonetheless, and one I'm going to explore from time to time. By the time you're 40, you have been an adult long enough to know where you're going and how you plan to get there; at 65, you'd better have reached that neighborhood, so I'm going to share some of the things I've gotten out of the journey, and hope that if my grandchildren ever read this, it will give them some insight into the old grouch, and maybe they'll benefit from my mistakes... Of course, with that crowd, that's probably a forlorn hope, but here we go, anyway.
When I was 40, it was 1989, and my daughter was 11 with all the world laid out ahead of her. My sons were 12, and I was pretty much convinced they were going to die at the hands of the street gang that had taken over the neighborhood. Bonnie was... Never mind how old Bonnie was, but she was having a hell of a time with her heart disease, and being harassed at work by the this-is-a-man's-world dinosaurs in the male-dominated industry her career path had brought her to. She was a year from her heart attack, and there was no end in sight to our barely-getting-by existence. Up until I had met her in 1975, I had basically been a happy-go-lucky jerk whose life consisted of having all the fun I could grab. So, what had changed by 40?
Well, I had kids. That's the biggest life-changer there is. You either suck it up, become and adult, and deal with everything they need, or you disappear, and know for the rest of your life that that face you see in the mirror is what a miserable, self-centered a$$hole looks like. I'm still here. I couldn't live in incredible little studio apartments any more, and I couldn't spend money frivolously like I used to, but what were the specific lessons?
I learned that life doesn't move at my whim. Life is sort of like the gears in a transmission, intricate, complicated, and all moving in synchronicity to a end that you can't foresee. You can either get yourself in synch with the flow, or they will grind you up and spit your broken carcass into the drip pan.
I learned that, with the exception of firefighters and an occasional individual who you remember because it's such a rare quality, people are basically lazy and selfish, even those in positions of authority, and those whose job it is to be helpful. They will get out of any work they can dump on someone else, and you are at the top of that list. From President Kennedy's, "Ask what you can do for your country," to Lt. Kermit Tyler's response of, "Yeah? Well don't worry about it!" when informed that a huge fleet of planes was approaching Pearl Harbor; from teachers to cops to the guy at the DMV window, if you need something done, you'd better be able to do it yourself.
I learned that money doesn't grow on trees, and if you come up short, nobody knows you. We filed bankruptcy in 1981. Bonnie's other medical condition had flared up and her treatment had been costly. We had three very young children, our car had gone belly up after two years of ownership, and, like everyone knows, there were other bills to be paid. We tried to set up something with Bonnie's doctor, but his response to our efforts, and in full knowledge of Bonnie's fragile medical condition, was to send a collection agency after us. Did he care? To the extent that he didn't get 90% of his money, he probably did.
I learned, as you might imagine from that one representative story, that the only thing people love is money. As long as you're on top, everyone is your friend; the first time there's a little hiccup in your prosperity, you're on your own. I'm not saying I've never been helped, and sometimes that help has come from surprising quarters, but for the most part, your friends are your friends for as long as you don't need anything.
I learned, again as a consequence of this, to have a sense of humor about life. As Stephen King said in Danse Macabre, "Time is not a river, as Einstein theorized—it's a big f***ing buffalo herd that runs us down and eventually mashes us into the ground, dead and bleeding, with a hearing-aid plugged into one ear and a colostomy bag instead of a .44 clapped on one leg." This is reality, and you'd better have a good sense of humor about it, or you'll wind up one of those bitter, angry old farts who snarls at everyone, becomes outraged at the concept of children having fun, and dies alone and despised. Mean people really do suck.
I learned to be patient, for life doesn't move at your pace. "Everything comes to he who waits," goes the old saying, and I would append, "...as long as he who waits works like hell while he's waiting." Sew the seeds of the crop you want, tend the soil, and results will come. They may not be exactly the results that you want, but that's part of the fun, isn't it?
I learned to thrive in the chaos, turn on a dime, and make the surprises work for me. It's the only way to be, for events don't line up to enhance your preconceived notions of the way things ought to be. They happen to you, and like the star of a kung fu movie dodging arrows and blocking kicks and punches as he moves through the crowd toward the final boss, you have to dodge, deflect, and absorb what comes your way until you win or you lose. Well, we always lose. Like Jim Morrison said, "No one here gets out alive." What matters is what you accomplish along the way, and how you are remembered by those who knew you.
So, am I cynical? To a large extent, yes. Life hands you road apples every day, and it's a question of how many times you can be kicked in the ass before you figure out that this isn't fantasyland, and neither the world nor society owe you a damned thing. But it's also a question of how you respond to it. Despite everything I've said here, I still like people. I welcome the opportunity to get to know new folks, both in person and on-line, which is why I continue to post here despite the fact that our grandchildren don't read it, and our children rarely do. Friends? Forget it. Occasionally a stranger passes through and we thrill to see a new city listed on the counter. Did they read it? The counter doesn't tell us, but we hope so, and we hope they enjoyed it. Maybe someday, someone will even take the time to say hi to us; hope springs eternal...
For better or worse, I am the owner of a 19th Century soul. When I say to you, "I am your friend," what I mean is that I will step in front of a bullet for you. Sadly, that meaning has passed out of our culture. I realize that no one feels the same way about friendships any more, and yet I continue to seek them out, and I strongly recommend that you do, too. Because the journey is long and often unpleasant, but all that matters in the end is how much fun you had along the way, and friends are a big part of that. So trust, love, laugh and enjoy; just be ready to turn on dime, and always take care of yourself. Sometimes you're all you have...
Now get out there and live life like you mean it!
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??