The Old, Gray Muzzle

I go to the bathroom to wash my hands. I look in the mirror.

I am getting gray around the muzzle.

I am in the fourth quarter of the Big Game. I’m several steps slow and I can’t hold the block. My team is losing.

And I can’t punt.

It is anything but poignant on this side of the mirror. I can’t indulge those “fine wine” analogies.

This business of getting old is nasty.

The signs of my decline are everywhere. Since I am obsessive by nature, I dwell on the signs: when I take my blood pressure medication in the morning, when I take any of my numerous other medications. When I pay for my medications.

When I am nearly hit broadside after failing to look both ways before pulling into an intersection. The other driver yells at me and, amid a flurry of justified obscenities, I hear the word “old.”

When I search frantically for my keys. I swear I put them in my pocket. Where are they?

My memory is shot (not that it was ever very good, given my ADD). I forget appointments, birthdays, anniversaries, phone numbers, addresses.

I can’t recall names; I have to fake it when conversing with someone whose name I can’t remember. “Hey (long pause) good to see you again. How’s work? (Gotta keep it generic. I can’t remember what a person does for a living.) “How are things going?” (I don’t dare ask about the family — they might not have one. I can’t ask about the wife or the hubby — they might be dead or in prison).

To compensate for my fading memory, I write notes.

I forget to read the notes.

I can’t see well and Kathy calls me “bat boy.” I can’t hear, so the bat reference is a weak one. One night last fall, I strolled the sidelines at the high school football game. I turned to see how much time was on the clock. I’m 30 yards from the large, well-lit scoreboard and I can’t read the numbers. You know that little crawler that runs along the bottom of the television picture, giving you updates on who is being bombed or what stock just went into the tank? I can’t see it from across a narrow room. I have no idea where bombs are exploding in the Middle East much less who won the afternoon’s NASCAR race.

My most common response to someone who speaks to me is “Huh?” or “What?”

Then there’s the worries: health, death, retirement, the kids, the grandkids, a flood or wildfire destroying fifty years of paintings. You name it. A Zen master-like talent for emptying the mind of needless concerns does not accompany advancing age.

Add to all this disturbed sleep patterns and the occasional leg cramp in the night. The full bladder at the most inconvenient time. I won’t discuss prostate cancer.

Worse yet is the lack of perspective. Don’t let anyone tell you that wisdom is a necessary consequence of aging. I believe the opposite is more likely to be true, judging by the stunning number of older morons I come across. The ability to keep things in perspective, to react in accord with the real import of a situation or event erodes in many people as they age. People my age comprise the majority of viewers of Fox News. Enough said.

No necessary relation of age to wisdom? An eroding ability to keep things in perspective, to exercise reason in the face of obvious falsehood?

Let’s dig up a couple of facts and use them as baselines, shall we?

Important: a hurricane swept over the island of Grenada. Some estimates had 90 percent of the homes on the island destroyed. People were without shelter, food, water, medicine, electricity.

Getting old important: I am worried about a pothole in my road. I am more than worried: I am enraged. My truck rattles if I hit the pothole. For crying out loud, I’m going to ruin my shocks!

Important: There is a civil war raging in Africa — a religious and ethnic war in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and displaced. Murder, kidnapping of children, rape and mayhem are the rule; the innocent suffer.

Getting old important: I am peeved because neighbor kids occasionally ride motorbikes on the streets when law forbids it. The noise is incredibly disturbing. After all, I like to listen to Bach when I read. It’s my right.

Important: Young Americans and Afghans are still killing and being killed in a war that does not have a tidy or quick end. There are terrorists who detest everything I cherish and who wish earnestly to kill me, my children and grandchildren just because we are who we are. The economy has not yet fully recovered, health care remains in a crisis mode with its enemies vowing to bring down the new system, Social Security is a wounded animal skulking off to die in the bush before it can assist those now paying in to its coffers. Youngsters living close by go without proper nutrition and education, are raised without a complete and stable family.

Getting old important: I read where folks my age are irate that a buoy has been placed in a lake. I read where others my age are adamant concerning what is “owed” them. After all, they pay taxes.

This aging thing – the horizon shrinks, the world becomes more personalized and restricted, collapsing on itself. What was once a red giant becomes a white dwarf and, eventually, a black hole the size of a thimble — unfathomably dense, so dense a rational thought can’t escape its gravitational field. The text of experience is written in progressively teensier letters. What is it with those loud car stereos and those dumb-looking kids with their ridiculous hats and hoodies? Don’t they have somewhere else to be, something else to do besides bother me and lower my property values? What happened to military school?

As a result, too often aging means getting stressed

Being stressed requires a lot of energy and there’s less and less to expend when you’re graying around the muzzle.

I can’t figure out how to set up the DVD player. It stresses me out.

And here is the last straw: I know now, for certain, I am on a steep grade leading to the bottom of the pass. Without brakes.

It’s the grocery store.

They expanded and reorganized the store here in Siberia With a View.

I can’t deal with it. I’m agitated, where once I was in a state of bliss. The store was my cathedral, my ashram.

The old store – I had the joint memorized. There was a place for everything and everything was in its place. I could walk through the front door and, blindfolded, find anything I needed. I was comfy. No stress. I’d stroll around without a care. The place was like a spa, with its own, peculiar aromatherapy.

Now the store is larger, and they’ve moved everything.

Instinct tells me to go straight to the back of the store from the entrance for the meat, and now I find packs of cheap shredded cheeses, the kinds with drying powders added to ensure shelf life.

I head for a can of cashews and I find nail polish remover.

Eggs? Where are the eggs? Certainly not in the health and beauty department where I stand in a corner, unable to figure out where to go next.

I get lost in the produce department trying to find my way from organic to toxic; the deli counter is the length of an airport runway.

Furthermore, they brought in a legion of unfamiliar faces to staff the place. I’m stressed: I’ve known people who worked at the local store for more than twenty years; they’re like my second family. Now, the place is full to the brim with folks I don’t know and who don’t know, or particularly care about, me. This is a problem since the staff has provided me with most of my meaningful social contacts.

When they were old, my grandmothers listened to Lawrence Welk in elevators and department stores. I’m lured down the aisles of the grocery store with music of the ’60s and ’70s: Motown, the British Invasion. They’re pumping The Four Tops, Petula Clark and Herman and the Hermits through the speakers to create an encouraging, nostalgic atmosphere for us old folks. It’s insidious. What’s next, Jimi Hendrix? Them? Miles Davis, perhaps?

Then, the worst of it: The new, wow-we’re-high-tech checkout stands.

If I didn’t know I was getting old before I went to one of the new stands, I knew it after I finally made it out of the store with my groceries.

No one tends this checkout stand, scanning and weighing your groceries, chatting with you about the weather or commenting on the idiot who brings 55 items into the Express Lane. No, now there is a machine that talks to you.

It doesn’t so much talk to you as give orders. You respond robotically, or else. Robots confuse us old folks.

“Welcome. Please scan your Value Card.”

Where’s my value card? I can’t remember my keys. How am I supposed to remember my value card, since it’s on my key chain? Already, I’m befuddled, in trouble.

“Please scan the first of your items.”

Okay, that’s easy. Locate the bar code and slide it across the all-seeing eye of the check stand.

“Place the item on the scanner.”

“Please put the item in the bag.”

Sounds innocuous. If, however, you don’t do what the machine tells you, it demands you page a human who steps over and rebukes you at the behest of the checkout stand.

Put the item in the bag, whatever you do. But don’t do it before you receive orders from the machine.

Then, I get confused. When it comes to produce, you gotta do everything a certain way. It involves all the things that, as an aging guy, I am incapable of doing: following a prescribed routine, remembering numbers, etc.

The machine gets mad at me. With each transaction I get more confused, the machine gets angrier.

It is merciless.

I am old and feeble.

“An attendant has been notified to assist you.”

Finally, I pay and shuffle out of the store.

I occurs to me as I run yet another stop sign on the way home that, should I reach the stage where an “assisted living facility” is my only alternative, I will be tended by a machine that issues orders, and gets mad when I don’t finish my pudding.

I have a lot to look forward to.

I decide to start working on recipes and techniques I can use in my dotage.

Most of the dishes will involve soft foods. I’ll incorporate ingredients that can sit around on counters, in cupboards, in the fridge for a long, long, long time.

Expiration dates will mean nothing to me; I’ll reuse plastic implements and utensils.

I’ll make lots of soft-boiled eggs. Sometimes, I’ll forget to heat the water, but I’ll eat the egg anyway. I’ll get used to cereals soaked for hours in blue-tinted, nearly transparent skim milk, until the high-fiber pellets begin to decompose.

Soup? Yep. As long as there’s nothing chewy floating in it.

Gotta cut out the spices, the onions, peppers and garlic. Bland is the mode of the day.

I’ll learn to like Jell-O. I’ll make Jell-O salad with small curd cottage cheese. For a special occasion, I’ll knock off a load of odd-colored ambrosia.

Every once in a while, when I am in a festive mood and my acid reflux isn’t acting up, I’ll make a strata and invite some other oldies over. White bread, eggs, mild cheese. I won’t be able to load it down properly, with tons of hot Italian sausage, sauteed onions and garlic, sharp cheddar, roasted pasilla peppers. But, I’ll cheat. I’ll use half-and-half instead of skim milk. It’ll be my little secret and I’ll chuckle as I watch my gray-around-the-muzzle friends lap it up and ask for seconds.

As long as I remember to turn off the stove, I should be all right.

Has anyone see my keys?


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2 Responses to The Old, Gray Muzzle

  1. bill Musson says:

    i usually dont like to talk about being old, but most of my few friends are always bringing it up to remind me……its enough to see it in myself every day with the pee stains on the crotch of my pants and actually being unable to master the self ckout at the store, or watching the young hard-bellied girls flaunting it, knowing that its buried in the past, or the constant transpositions in my typing…..good story, but that downhill road in front of us is so depressing…..

  2. Lorraine Bowen says:

    This is just too close to home. At least we are not alone in this aging process.

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