Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Tick tock - Times Two Billion

Been thinking about the passage of time lately. Almost completely unmarked this past December was the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. And it occurs to me that when I was a younger man there were still old-timers who would wander into my Radio Shack and fill my head with tales of their service in World War I. One guy I remember served on a ship in the United States Navy, he having lied about his age to join. As a 16-year-old he was a Morse code operator in the radio room, of a Navy destroyer. He took great pleasure in telling me that the name of the room he worked in was the radio shack.

They're all gone now. I'm pretty sure there isn't a single surviving human being who served in World War I. Even someone like the guy I was talking about, whose name I can't remember, about which more later, who joined up at 16 would have to be 109 today. And now the same thing is happening with veterans of World War II. Lying about his age to join the service in 1945, for example, would make a man 82, if my math skills haven't completely deserted me. And that's the best case scenario for World War II survivors. A freshfaced 18-year-old who joined up when Pearl Harbor got bombed would be almost 90 today. They're definitely still around but there are fewer and fewer of them every day.

On a more local level I'm 43, and I'm already feeling the effects of time in a number of very quantifiable ways. Don't get me wrong; I've never been what you'd call a prime physical specimen. But there are several things that have very noticeably changed about me. For example I used to pride myself on having the eyesight of a fighter pilot, able to read signs from further away than anyone else able to tell a blue Jay from a pigeon at 200 feet. But in the last two years, one of two things has taken place: either the publishing industry has conspired to shrink the typefaces of every publication that I stick my nose into, or my eyesight has transitioned from superlative to normal to downright bad. I can't read before bed unless I have my reading glasses with me and I move my bedside lamp to directly over the book I'm reading. With every day that goes by I can feel my eyesight worsen. My father, rest his soul, always had horrible up close eyesight. We would tease him about it all the time – would always say that would get him arm extensions for Christmas so he could read. I would ask him from time to time what he saw up close because my eyesight was so good I just didn't understand what it meant to have bad eyesight. He'd point to a line of text and say that all that he could see is one blurry line. I'm not there yet but I'm getting there.

I've also inherited the family's bad gums. There's going to come a time, sooner than I want it to come, when I'm going to have to have perfectly healthy teeth yanked from my body because they've got nothing to anchor themselves into. Let me tell you something: it's no fun contemplating having to get a bridge at 43. But such, I believe, is my fate. And there's going to be nothing good about that day, except for the great big bottle of happy pills that I'll be getting. And even then I'll need them for the pain so what's the good of that?

And there are dozens of smaller things, too, that remind me of the ticking clock: I cannot get into or out of a chair without making a noise; the pain from any minor mishap such as barking a shin on the furniture lasts longer and longer every day; a pulled muscle is now a four-day affair.

Thankfully one thing I don't expect they'll ever have to worry about is thinning hair or receding hairline. I say thankfully not out of any vanity especially, but the fact is that I'm such a gigantic carton of ugly that to be balding on top of everything else would be a crushing blow. It said that you inherit your head of hair from your mother's side, but both my brothers and I all have our father's thick, wavy hair. Although as far back as I can remember dad had a small, silver dollar sized bald spot right at the crown of his head, he was blessed with a fantastic head of hair. Even at 75 he had a decent amount of hair left. Sure the bald spot got a little bit bigger, but if I have the head of hair he had at 75 when I'm 75, I'll be ecstatic.

But everything I've been talking about lately is just cosmetic. There's a much more serious side to the progression of time, especially given my family dynamic.

My father had his first heart attack in 1981. He was 47, and although he was a pack a day smoker, he also weighed 60 pounds less than I weigh now, and in much better shape besides - he worked outside, with his hands.

I can't imagine that my first heart attack is that far off and I have the feeling it's going to be a lot stronger than his first, which was pretty mild in comparison to his later ones. Either way some serious mojo is on its way, and it's not going to be pretty when it comes.

And even if it's not...

Here's the rundown on my family.  On my Dad's side, my grandparents died at 60 and 72. Dad passed at 75 (which was a miracle of medicine; his number should have gotten punched March 31, 2000, at which time he'd have been two days short of his 67th birthday). On my Mom's side, her parents died at 72 and 78 (and he was koo-koo pants b'dee-b'dee b'dee that's all folks crazy for a couple years before that). Mom just turned 69.

In other words, at 43, I'm so far past the centerline of my life that contemplating the time I have left is god damned depressing.  I figure I've got no more than 30 left, and realistically it's more like 20, especially if you count just healthy years.

20 years.

I know how fast that goes.  Hell, I remember 23.  I was an adult 20 years ago, a thinking man who knew (or fancied he knew) his place in the world and was engaged to be married to the future Tootsie Southpaw.

And every day the aches and pains bite just a little deeper, the nooks and crannies get more filled with hair, and I look more and more like Morty the CPA.

It's a real bitch.  Time doesn't march on; it lunges forward in great ungainly leaps, leaving wrinkles and grey hair in its wake.

Eh, whatever.  The sooner done, the sooner to rest, I guess.  Might as well play out the string with a smile on my face, even if it's of the phony, painted-on variety; it does no good to pout anyway. And yes, by the way, I know that two billion tick tocks is only about 62 years; I'm trying to make a point here, Larry Literal.


  1. I cannot get into or out of a chair without making a noise;

    Everybody lets a fart now and then!

  2. Well that's not the noise I was referring to - in fact I have no complaints about how well the ol' O-ring is holding up. I was more referring to the pained "oy" I can't seem to help uttering every time I sit or stand.

    But that's really the best arbiter of old age, isn't it, when either you can't help yourself from blasting off or you no longer care. I wonder which is more common?

  3. Little things like your vision getting worse don't get any better, but they are inconveniences you learn to live with.

    The fact that you aren't a smoker is huge regarding heart attacks. However, your weight and apparent lack of fitness, combined with family history, puts you at risk. The reality of having a heart attack changes one's perspective. You talk about the possibility of having one the way I used to. The reality is not quite so jovial.

    Although a heavy load at work and related fatigue slowed down my quest for healthy eating and exercising a bit, I have gotten back with the system. Gotta tell you Gary, I feel great. I wish someone had kicked me in the ass a few years ago.

    So, consider your ass kicked again by me. Time to do the right thing for yourself, your wife, your family, and your friends.

  4. I agree with Lightning! However am I to be your second wife if you don't make it at least another 20 years? Take care of yourself now. My Grandpa started doing yoga at 40. He credits that and small changes in his diet with saving his life. At 82 he's more physically active than moat of my friends.

    1. I say go ahead with the marriage and get a HUGE insurance policy.

  5. Lightning, I take your point but I've dropped probably 40 pounds in the past year, and hopefully I'll drop another 40 in the next year. And I'm actually on the very first steps of a long journey along those lines, like the foothills of a mountain the size of which I'm not certain I can climb. But, you know, at some point you'll need to cash in your chips no matter what health you're in.

    Or maybe I'm just barely coherent and babbling. That's certainly possible.

  6. And Carmel, if you're going to be my second wife, we should get started now: make me a god damned sandwich and shut the fuck up about it.


  7. Aww just like my first husband...maybe I should rethink this?

    1. You know, at the risk of harming my own chances, that's probably a good call.

  8. Hey -- Carmel is not talking about sex but instead now talking about sandwiches? Damn -- she is suddenly more attractive .. lol.

    1. Well, man's heart runs through the stomach and all that. No better foreplay than a ham -n- cheese, I reckon...

    2. Lol! I have interests other than sex. Such as food, videogames, movies ( not about sex) , guns, golf, my dog, feeding the poor, see I'm a well rounded person.

  9. My response usually goes like this " Who the fuck? What the fuck? You've gone and lost your motherfucking mind! Motherfucker get the fuck and make your own damn food and while your at it wash the damn dishes I asked you to wash three days ago...shit." Guess we know why Grrouchie and I aren't together anymore :)

    1. Tootsie's response is to show sympathy and ask me if I need medical help, because I've obviously broken my fucking arms...

  10. Gary,

    This one kind of hits home for me as well. My Dad had a heart attack at 51, which he was able to pull through from thank God, and his father, my Grandfather died of a heart attack at 53.

    I joke with my wife that when I turn 52 I am going to sit at the hospital on my birthday and just wait for it. She doesn't find it very funny and I guess I understand that. I too, have to get in better shape which is something that I find difficult, but I have to for my family. Good luck man. I wish you the best.


  11. Ah, the calculus of expected lifespan ... I go through this exercise myself here and there. It's true that there's family history and personal lifestyle in the equation, but I also factor in medical advances and environmental hazards to the mix. For instance, my mother had breast cancer when she was about 60, 24 years ago, and she's never had a recurrence and is in excellent health. A generation or 2 ago, she could easily have died from it. My dad had a huge garden, over an acre in size, and I know he was exposed repeatedly and extensively to pesticides. Funny thing he had Parkinson's for the last 10 or so years of his life, as there is a connection between the 2. Makes me wonder about all those corn kernels I planted over the years that were coated with pink pesticide; will they/have they had an effect on me?

    I'd say the best thing to do is take advantage of every day and try to avoid those things you know will shorten your life. For me -- more easily said than done on both fronts!