“You’re only old once” – Tuesday Funk 8.7.2012

Here’s an essay I read at Tuesday Funk, my friend (and acclaimed sci-fi author) Bill Shunn‘s reading series at the Hopleaf. You can see me deliver it in this YouTube clip (warning: language).

Here are three things I said to my wife last night:

“Do you have idea what’s going on with those weird bare patches in the lawn?”

“The nice thing about having these shoes for working in the backyard is there’s almost no tread on them so when I step in dog shit it wipes right off.”

And the third thing is honestly not worth quoting in its entirety but it involved the phrase “Well, when we were in our 20s…”

And then I took a fish oil pill.

I fucking love being old.

Last night, my wife and I were talking about this piece and I told her I’d been trying to work up some ideas around the notion that I’d grown old before my time and she said to me “No. No, I think it is your time.”

And she’s right. First, I am 37 years old. I am seven years past the age when the youth of America are supposed to stop trusting people my age. Second, my other idea for this piece was an explanation of why I don’t like going to public pools which is just about the most old man thought one can express other than “Alright, who touched the thermostat?”

It’s become clear to me that I am living the life of a man twice my age. Note the following:

1. Yesterday morning I got up at 545am so I would have enough time to put some fertilizer on our lawn before going to work.

2. I listen to the AM all-news channel quite a bit. I used to turn it on strictly for “traffic and weather on the 8s”…and then started listening for the headlines…and pretty soon I had memorized the commercials for services that prevent identity theft.

3. I got a hammock for Father’s Day. It was something I asked for and it made me deliriously happy. To put it another way, I was given a gift that facilitates me lying down for an extended period of time.

4. A couple weeks ago, I sat in my driveway in one of those folding lawn chairs and drank. Now, granted, my wife was with me. And we talked about our life together with our daughter, our work, our hopes and our dreams. But mostly we sat in our driveway in a couple of cheap-ass lawn chairs and drank until it got dark. The only thing missing were black socks that came up to my knees but who wants to wear that in this heat, I ask you?

Oh and speaking of drinking, I drink scotch. I’d rather drink scotch than almost anything else. Walking around with a glass of brown liquor into which you have put nothing else except maybe ice is a pretty good signifier that you have stopped trying to impress anyone with your knowledge of fine wines or cocktails infused with something.

5. I love mowing my lawn. I find it calming in a way that yoga, massages or sunsets do not offer. (Also, I’m not too keen on massages because of all the touching.) Mowing the lawn offers me both a sense of accomplishment and the restoration of order amongst chaos. When my neighbor has occasionally mowed our front lawn – in a gesture of pure goodwill and admittedly he does a really nice job of it – it’s completely freaked me out and made me nervous. He might as well be doing it while wearing a pair of my pants. It makes my blood pressure go up a little.

Oh also, I have high blood pressure. When you find out you have high blood pressure, you learn the proper phrase is not “My blood pressure is kinda high right now” the way you might say “Yeah, I’m feeling a little bloated today” or “I’m a little out of shape, gotta get back in the gym.” You just have it for the rest of my life. Like how you’re never not an alcoholic. I’m like an alcoholic but for heart disease. Although the main difference here is although I have high blood pressure, I can control it with diet and exercise but there are few things that make one feel old like a physical condition that needs to be controlled with diet and exercise.

So…I’m old. But rather than find it confining or condemning, I find it liberating.

Before I go on, I want to note something here: This is not a screed against youth. The world needs youth. Without youth and folly, the world does not dream the impossible. You can draw a short, straight line from the same lack of impulse control that makes kegstands seem like a good idea to thinking you can take something the size of a Mini Cooper, strap 76 pyrotechnic devices onto it, launch it into space, know you will lose contact with it for a full seven minutes during which it heats up to 1600 degrees with only a parachute able to withstand 65000 pounds of force to slow it down and then LAND IT ON MARS in a space roughly the width of Vermont.

(I only had room for about ⅓ of the amazing aspects of that Mars landing so do yourself a favor and Google “Seven Minutes of Terror” and watch the video about it.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is youth and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration is awesome.

And that same spirit of adventure you have in youth should carry you throughout your life. But the one thing about youth that you should not carry with you forever is the notion that all options need to be on the table. This doesn’t mean that you never try new things or stop learning. In fact, trying new things may be what makes you happy. But that usually falls under the headings of “I like books and reading” or “I like staying physically active” because when you stop doing those things you get all moody and feel like something’s missing in your life and then when you finally pick up a book on the Spanish Civil War or learn how to throw a javelin you remember “Oh right, I like me when I do this stuff.”

Still, at some point, you have to know yourself. You have to know what you’re good at, what you love, and what makes you happy and you have to do those things provided they don’t visit harm on you or the people you love. And some of those things are cool or make you seem smart. But a bunch of them probably aren’t.

I would love to read and understand A Brief History of Time enough to be able to explain significant portions of it to someone. But I was never particularly good at science. I love what science produces and the awe it inspires but grappling with the larger concepts like black holes and the uncertainty principle make my head ache. Eventually, I’m going to get through A Brief History of Time but now it’s because it’s an obstacle I’d like to overcome not because I think it will mean I understand particle physics. I’m never going to understand particle physics. Probably best to move on from that.

As Michael Keaton showed us in Multiplicity, the more you keep trying to segment yourself, the less like you you become. It seems really obvious that doing what makes you happy means you should just do those things. But it isn’t. It’s hard to know that when the world is constantly telling you what it thinks will make you happy. The world is usually wrong, but it’s kind of a loudmouth about it so it can be hard to tune it out.

There is nothing cool about enjoying the mowing of one’s lawn. Or sitting in cheap patio chairs in your driveway. Or listening to AM 780. Or going to the gym purely to stave off a heart attack.

..Scotch is pretty cool…

But all of these things – among many others – make me happy. So I’m free from thinking that on a Saturday in August I should be, say, in a mud pit at Lollapalooza when what I’d really like to do is mow my lawn, sit in my hammock and drink a glass of…well, honestly, every summer I make an official Summer Back Porch cocktail. This year it’s the Kentucky Buck, the base of which is brown liquor, specifically bourbon. But to make it you have to muddle a strawberry in lemon juice, add Angostura bitters and simple sugar, shake it thoroughly and pour it over ice before topping it off with ginger beer. When it’s finally made, it’s a pinkish color and garnished with a lemon.

Ah, what the hell. You’re only old once.

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