Posts Tagged ‘aging


Wonder Wall

It’s already a well-worn internet cliché to receive a deluge of “Happy birthday!!!” wishes once a year on Facebook. I don’t care. I’m absolutely delighted by it.

I used to think it was too simple. It seemed almost insulting or phony to simply post “happy birthday” to someone’s wall. If you really cared, you’d send a card and pay for a damn stamp! And maybe, individually, it is a little cheap and easy, especially when Facebook is probably the only reason you knew it was the person’s birthday in the first place. But seen in broader strokes, taken as a whole, getting a “happy birthday!” from hundreds of people at a time, whether or not they really remembered, is actually pretty awesome. A little bit of love from each of those friends and acquaintances adds up pretty quickly to a big lump of good will.

Just do your friends a favor and pay attention. It can be easy to dismiss those greetings. There can be so many that individuals get lost in the shuffle. So this year on my birthday I made it a point to respond to every single one of them.

My “Thanks!” or “Thank you!” may be even less thoughtful than many of the multiple-exclamation-point birthday greetings, but I think there’s some value in it. It guarantees that I have read everyone’s post, acknowledged everyone individually, taken a moment to remember something about each person and to think about how I’m connected to them — assuming I actually know who they are!

I’ve been paying much closer attention to people’s birthdays in the last year. I don’t remember phone numbers because my phone does it for me. And I don’t bother to remember birthdays anymore because Facebook tells me every day who I forgot to send a card to. But I do what I can to build up my birthday karma. Tell your friends, and even some strangers, happy birthday. It’ll come back to you when it’s your turn. And it’s so easy these days to show you care enough to do the very least, so there’s no excuse.


Half and Half

From today’s Writers’ Almanac:
“Today is the first day of fall, the autumnal equinox, where the sun is directly above the equator and the length of day and night are nearly equal. The autumnal equinox occurred early this morning at 3:09 UTC, Coordinated Universal Time. But here in America, the equinox occurred last night, at 11:09 on the East Coast.”


The gayest libra image I've ever seen.

Today is also my birthday.

It’s also the first day of Libra, which is all about balance, so it fits nicely that the number of hours of daylight is equal to the number of hours of night. Someone in ancient Greece probably already figured on that, and it’s probably intentional and not a coincidence, and I’m probably just late to the party. But I think it’s pretty neat.

However, the zodiac sign that corresponds to the vernal equinox is Aries, which is not nearly as cool — unless there is some kind of parallel to draw between spring time and amorous, uncastrated ruminants.


Late Start

One morning recently, I nearly fell over when an intense, sharp, pain shot through my ankle. I was putting on a sock or playing with the cat or something; I don’t remember. But I’m only 31! I’m far too young to be falling apart.

And then it was gone.

Minutes later, when I was walking to the bus, it hit again, but a little less intensely. It stems from a two-year-old rugby injury. I rolled my ankle this summer at a practice. We were in Central Park, and an officious little groundskeeper was busying himself by whizzing by on his little golf cart every 15 minutes to yell at us for running on the open lawn of the North Meadow.

We weren’t wearing spikes, which are verboten by the Central Park Conservancy. And we were taking up very little space in the corner under some trees, far away from the baseball diamonds, where nobody goes anyway. But I guess we’re not allowed to use a ball larger than a softball or to run on the grass. It defies explanation.

So this groundskeeper finally succeeded in chasing us outside of the fenced region to a downward-sloping area of patchy grass, tree roots and the odd broken bottle. We made do with this until I was chasing down someone during a game of touch, missed a step on the side of the hill, and went down hard.

My teammate made his try. I, on the other hand, spent the next 10 minutes on the ground in a quivering heap of agony. As I was contorting myself into various death throes, I considered how my life might change should I need to amputate my right foot. I wouldn’t look that bad with a prosthesis, right? At least not in the winter. With long pants. And boots.

This is the same foot that sent me into physical therapy when I screwed up my plantar fascia the previous season. As a result, my right foot is considerably weaker than the left — and prone to ankle injuries.

The physical therapy got me in the habit of stretching really well. But it’s never been quite the same since. Not three blocks from my apartment, I tripped on a jutting corner of sidewalk while coming to a stop at a red light and rolled the same ankle. Can’t catch a break.

So now I have these recurring pains. And a new season brings new aches. What keeps me sane is the blessing of regenerative tissue.

But I curse this body sometimes. I’ve spent 30 years actively not conditioning my body to take this kind of stress. Coming to athletics so late in my life puts me at particular risk. But I love it, so I keep with it.

This is why kids should play sports. It makes their bodies grow in ways that will help them later. Note to self: When we have a kid of our own, he will play something. I won’t push him to anything in particular. My parents never pushed me to anything, which I have always been thankful for. But I will definitely push him toward choosing something he likes.

Like rugby.


I’ll Walk, Thanks.

Reading about the recent death of marathoner Ryan Shay, it strikes me how incredibly out of shape I am yet how relatively unbothered I am about it. At age 28, at the top of his game, he collapsed at the 2008 Olympic Marathon trials.

It absolutely can happen to anyone. Yet how disgusting that it should happen to him. If the good Lord comes ringing for me before my time, I hope I have the good sense to screen my calls.

He is from a family of runners, which I take as a testament to the dearth of amusements available to a growing boy up in Central Lake, Michigan, population 1,000. Every sibling runs or has run. His sister stills holds some sort of obscene high school record. Plus his parents coach. Is it dedication or obsession? Whatever it is, it’s bloody impressive.

“Trials” is an appropriate word. In today’s Times article about the tragedy, his coach’s training scheme for such trials is described thus: a 14-week training period, peaking at about 130 to 140 miles of training a week, with workouts including 8 x 1 mile at 4:45 to 4:50 pace at 7,000 feet (in Arizona) with two minutes’ rest in between.

Yikes! (Two minutes’ rest? They are so fat and lazy. What hope do they have?)

People who are driven to be the best at what they do have to work for it, no doubt. And I respect that. But I don’t want nearly as much. So I am perfectly content not to work nearly as hard as Ryan Shay, who can run a marathon in 2 hours and 15 minutes, proposed to.

Even a friend of mine, finishing last weekend’s New York Marathon in 4:09 (a personal best for him, I think), leaves me in the dust. I wouldn’t even try it. I detest running. I can’t even think of something I enjoy doing for four hours and nine minutes!

I am just this side of hopeless. Truly, I miss my rugby team, which dragged me kicking and screaming into the best shape of my life over the last couple of years. Having taken a season away from the team, I am reduced with amazing speed to a quivering white pudding, winded by the staircase ascent from the subway, aware of every aching joint and wondering how long it will be before I end up an Old Man. This is how it starts! I think.

UPDATE: I stand corrected. From the horse’s mouth: 4:04:27. Yikes!


You Must Not Know ‘Bout Bea

CNN gleefully covered an onstage spill from Beyoncé recently. It reminds me of the time I saw Bea Arthur fall off a stage in Minneapolis.

She was barefoot and resplendent in a flowing white kaftan. Or something. During a story about a fistfight with Elaine Stritch or something, she moved slowly backward into a poorly lit part of the stage. And then, in an instant: a wisp of white taffeta, like smoke, and she had vanished.

A gay guy in the front row gasped. A small child began to cry somewhere. And then, from the darkness, Ms. Arthur’s voice rang out like a call from God:

“Ladies and gentlemen. I am all right.”

Exuberant applause erupted from the assembled masses, and she took to the stage once again, without so much as a limp. It was inspirational.


Long in the Tooth

I’ve heard people older than me say things about aging like: “I feel like I’m the same person I was when I was younger. It’s like I’m 25 inside. But I look in the mirror, and I see this old face.”

Is this incongruity the same for all of us?

Sometimes I have to stop and remind myself: I’m living with my husband in a state I didn’t grow up in, and I have for the last 8 years; I’ve graduated from college; I’m making decent money at a decent job; I can make my own decisions and determine my own road. I have to make my own decisions. What choice is there?

I suppose some people groom themselves to accept their own adulthood. And whenever it happens, they take the reins and ride off into the future. But me — I think I’m still at the bus stop sometimes, waiting for adulthood to pick me up.

Who in their right mind would allow me to just sort of take care of myself? You mean, they let me vote? They let me live on my own like this? If I wanted to buy a car or a house or open a retirement account, I can just … do it? Who do I think I am?

I recently volunteered to speak at a career night event put on for some high school kids. I was part of a group of young professionals (professionals?) who talked about their jobs and answered questions from the attendees about skills, training, degrees, career choices. It seemed funny to me that I should be presented to these kids as a role model.

Are they kidding? My life, an example? I felt like all I could do was tell them what not to do. But I guess I’ve done OK, haven’t I? Of course I can give some advice.

One of the first times I realized I was a grown-up — that I had truly left the nest — was in the health and beauty aids section of Target. I was buying dental floss.

Until I was 22 years old, my mom scheduled twice-yearly checkups with the dentist. Even when I was in college. I’d come home, and there’d be a dentist appointment tossed in with the obligatory visits to friends and family. And every time, the dentist gave me a toothbrush and a packet of dental floss. And because I hardly ever flossed, it was plenty to get me through the next six months before my next appointment.

Dental floss always stacked up at my house. My mom had baskets and baskets of it under the sink in the bathroom. Plain, waxed, mint waxed, cinnamon waxed, blue, green, white. I think I even used a packet of unwaxed plain once as kite string. We never wanted for dental floss at my house — ever.

Then I crossed state lines. Visits to Dr. Forrest ended. It took me a year before I got on the ball and made my own dentist appointment. And I had to buy my own dental floss. The multitude of options at Target is overwhelming.

Sometimes I still feel like the insecure teenager I was: unsure about his future but somehow not worried about it. But now I’m really just a much less insecure 30-year-old — but slightly more worried about the future. I have much less of it now. And I have the power to screw it up.

I wonder if I will ever feel my age, or will I also look in the mirror 30 years from today and wonder who the heck is looking back at me?


Putting on Your Face

There’s a kiosk shop at Manhattan Mall for Vera Moore Cosmetics. I see it every time I walk through the mall to get to my gym. I wonder if there’s any relation to Benjamin Moore, the paint company.

Benjamin Moore covers the interiors and exteriors of buildings. Vera Moore covers the exteriors of people. Seems like a natural, marvelous connection. What if the companies merged? They could make everything pretty. But only on the surface. There’s nothing they could do about the interiors of people.

Reminds me of one of my favorite Sandra Bernhard routines. She’s talking about a fictional friendship with Courtney Love — “… a tear, a bruise. So tender; so fragile” — and she closes the monologue with “Courtney, what plastic surgeon is going to go in there and fix all of the scars in your heart?”


Old Lady at Fine Fare

In the rush to leave the apartment, I didn’t have any time to get anything for breakfast. All I wanted was something small. A couple pieces of fruit. Whatever. So I dropped my bag in my office and headed back out to a fruit stand nearby. I love stopping there at lunch time, spending less than a dollar, and walking away with a handful. I decided I’d get a nectarine and a banana. Seventy-five cents. Easy.

When I got to the corner, the fruit stand was missing. Do fruit stand guys get the day off? I ducked into the grocery store a few doors down.

I grabbed a nectarine and a red plum, and going against my better judgment, I went to the other end of the store in search of a Red Bull or something to wake myself up. On the way there, I passed by the cookies and began browsing. I briefly considered picking up a package of fig newtons, but the bag was not resealable, and I didn’t want them to go stale in my desk, so I stashed it back on the shelf, admonished myself for even considering it, and began to walk off. At that moment, I crossed paths with a tiny old lady who seemed to be mumbling to me.

Her untamed hair was dark gray with a few leftover spots of auburn from the last unsuccessful die job, which, by the look of it, had been several months ago. She stood up straight but was quite small, the top of her head maybe reaching my chest. She wore a fur-like coat that a younger woman would have found far too warm on a 75° September morning. And around her waist was wrapped a wide sort of scarf tied at her side. It looked like the knotted sash of a geisha, but crossed with a quilted ironing board pad.

“Huh?” I said, stopping and leaning in closer, not entirely sure if she was talking to me or to herself. It looked like she was asking a question — something about the cookies. I looked at her, expectant, willing to hear it.

“Eh, do you speak English?” she asked. (Ah! New York!)

“Yeah,” I said, dumbly. As if this one syllable proved it.

“Excuse me, can you tell me if there is anything just plain here? I don’t want any flavor. I just want plain. What are those?”

She pointed at the package I had just put back, which was near a stack of strawberry-filled cookies.

“Oh, strawberries,” she continued. “I can’t have strawberries. That’s too much. Too sweet.”

I was charmed by her accent, which my Midwestern suburban upbringing allows me to describe no better than “little old Lower East Side Jewish lady.”

I scanned the shelves for something plain. I picked up a package of vanilla sandwich cookies.

“Do those have eggs? Milk? I don’t want eggs or milk. Just nothing in them. I need plain. I can never find the plain ones.”

I wondered if my striped shirt made me look like I worked there. My friend Richard once told me it made me look like a Young Republican. I supposed there wasn’t much further to go before I passed “caddy” and hit “grocery store manager.”

“I suppose you’re in a big hurry,” she said.

“Well, yeah,” I stammered. “Kinda.”

“Can you just read me the label? I can’t read the label. Can you just read the label and tell me if there’s anything plain? Just plain. No milk, no eggs or nothing.”

I turned over the package and began looking through the ingredients. I myself was surprised to find no milk. No eggs. Just a bunch of sugars, oils and various unpronouncables.

“This one is plain,” I reported. “No milk or eggs. Nothing. It’s safe. It’s vanilla flavored. Is that OK?”

I handed her the package for her to examine. She put it back on the shelf.

“Thanks. I have to check it out with someone who works here. Maybe they’ll know.”

I grabbed another package. Sugar wafers or something. The plainest thing I could think of.

“What about this one?” I said.

“What’s in it?” she demanded. “I have to my goddamn breakfast, and I can never find anything plain,” she said.

Ooh! — she has a mouth on her, I thought.

“Um… vegetable oils… sugar… flavoring,” I said, reading the label. “No milk or eggs.” What was I doing here?

“Hmm. Well. Thank you,” she said. “I need to find the manager or someone. I have to find something plain, and I can never find anything. And I have to have my goddamn breakfast. I can never find anyone who works here.” She put down the sugar wafers and walked off, Yoda-like, continuing to talk, with no one listening.

I was annoyed that she didn’t trust me. But whatever. It was too much for me to take on at the moment to find this lady something edible. I had to get to work, and had already taken far too long. Seeing no Red Bull in the beverage aisle, I made a bee-line to the checkout. I felt ridiculous buying only a plum and a nectarine.

I saw the lady down the aisle as I approached the register. I slowed my pace to avoid her, and she passed safely onward. As I entered the checkout lane, I saw her talking to someone who evidently really did work there. I set my two items on the conveyor belt.

Then she entered the lane behind me.

She weakly maneuvered her cart into the aisle, snagging the corner on a stack of hand baskets. I pushed them out of the way with my foot, or she’d never get past. Looking up at me she said, “Can you help me with these things? This milk is so damn heavy. It gets me every time, this milk.”

The cart contained a cylindrical container of oatmeal, two yogurt cups and a quart of milk.

No plain cookies.

I emptied her cart for her.

“I don’t like this place,” she said. “Everyone’s always in such a hurry. No one knows anything. I was asking him over there to help me find something, and he didn’t know where anything was. I don’t even think he spoke English. I said do you work here or not? And then he ran away. Such a damn hurry.”

I smiled at her, wishing the cashier would hurry.

“Most of the cashiers are mean, but this one is a nice one. I know the cashiers by their number.”

I glanced up at the cashier, who was studiously ignoring the woman.

“Sometimes they change lanes, but I know which ones I like,” she continued. “This one here is nice.” She gestured to the cashier sho was ringing up my fruit.

“Do you hear what I’m saying, señorita?” she called out, overpronouncing señorita and saying it too loudly. “Eh?”

After a pause, the cashier answered back, “Yes. You’re talking about cashiers.” She had heard this one before.

“When you leave here, which way do you go?” the little old lady asked me.

Not sure what she was asking or what she wanted, I told her I would turn right when I left the store.

“Oh! Can you help me to my building? This damn milk is too heavy. It’s very close. I’m just up the street. I hate coming to this place. Usually I go to my other place, but sometimes I come here because it’s closer. You can just walk me to the door maybe.”

How could I say no? She couldn’t lift a quart of milk. I wondered how she normally manages her groceries.

“Sure, I can walk you,” I said, hoping it was indeed quite close.

I paid for my produce ($1.04 — a remarkable sum for two small pieces of fruit) and watched as the cashier expediently rang up the four items. The old woman slowly fished a 20 out of her pocket book and extended it to the cashier, who had already counted out her change. She counted it back to her out loud. The old woman counted it again, slowly, deliberately, before restoring it to her purse. “I always have to count my change,” she announced.

Meanwhile, another woman packed the items into two doubled-up bags. Four plastic bags for four items!

Instead of continuing through the lane to leave the store, the woman leaned in and tried to strike up a conversation with the cashier, who dutifully went on about her business. I don’t even know what the woman was saying. I considered leaving. Had she forgotten that she asked me for help? That I was sort of in a hurry?

The cashier looked up nervously at me, a perfect stranger all but looming over a tiny old woman. I felt like I should explain that I was not waiting to jump her and take her money.

The nudging of the person behind her and the movement of the conveyor belt sort of ushered her along, and she gave up and moved on. Seeing me, she snapped back to attention and saw that I was holding her bags already, anxious to go.

“Ooh, don’t get your bag mixed up with mine,” she said. “I’m just up here a bit. Maybe you can take me to my door, and I can find someone else to help me.”

Outside, the sun shining through her thin hair, I saw how slow her movements were. I considered her frailty. I looked down at my own body. What a strange contrast. Every weekend I tackle and am tackled by large men in long stockings and rugby shorts. I bleed from the knees and elbows. I bang my head on the hard, packed dirt. My feet and legs ache. But I am young. I can do these things. She struggles with milk.

She stopped suddenly. “Now, I need to ask you something,” she announced. “Do you remember what I did with my change? Did you see me put it back in my wallet?”

“I don’t know if it’s in your wallet,” I said, “but I remember that you got your change and put it in your purse.”

She seemed satisfied.

“I don’t like that place. Too big. I can never find anything. And no one is around to help you. Does anyone work there? That manager is in such a damn hurry.”

I grunted a response. What will I look like when I am old, I wondered. What will I be unable to carry?

Half a block later, mercifully close, she veered along a fence toward the next building. “This is me up here,” she said.

I walked with her to the door. Held it when she opened it. She struggled with her keys. Tried twice before the door clicked open.

“Can you just take it up to the elevator?” she asked.

Fine, whatever. I followed her into the building to the elevator.

“Have you ever been here?”


“You know there’s an exit through here on the other side. You can get back out through that door. Did you know about that door?”

No. I saw the door she was talking about just through the lobby.

“Ah, well now you know. It’s like a shortcut. See, the next time you’re here, you can go out that door as a shortcut instead of going out the way you came in.”

The special door she was talking about was merely the main front entrance. We had come in through the side door. And why would I ever be here again, I thought. I gently set the groceries down on the floor, taking care that nothing tipped over and that she could reach the handles without bending. “Here you go,” I said. “The milk is here. And here is the other stuff.”

“Thank you so much. Oh, that milk is so heavy. Gets me every time. Thank you for taking the time to help me. I can get someone else to help me with this. I’ll wait until someone else comes along to help me.”

“OK, well have a good day,” I said. I turned to walk, waving good-bye as I walked toward the marvelous shortcut door.

She continued talking to me and laughing about something. Some kind of joke, I guess. But I knew better than to stop and listen in. I smiled and let out a short laugh in response.

Thirty minutes and $1.04 to get two pieces of fruit. I waited until I was out of sight before I checked my watch.

the untallied hours