Sunday, December 20, 2020

Youth Versus Old Age

"Youth always assumes there will be a cardboard box around when they need it.  Old age doesn't want to take that chance."  --Erma Bombeck.

Getting old is sort of a bittersweet thing.  If you play your cards right, it is a time of life where you can enjoy yourself and really live your life fully.  If you didn't play your cards right, it can be a time of trial and tribulation.  The bitter part, of course, is that as you get older, you get more infirm, and of course, you eventually die.  I mentioned before these silly videos about "The life and sad ending of..." which are silly because everyone has a sad ending - that's the nature of the game.

(If I seem maudlin, it is because many of our friends have shuffled off the mortal coil recently - or are poised to do so, shortly.  We moved here 15 years ago, when the average age on the island was 75 and we were in our 40's.   Well, fast-forward 15 years, and I'm retired and many of our friends are now in their 80's or 90's or dead.   We counted well over a dozen we have lost, and perhaps will lose as many next year.  Now we are the oldsters, and a new generation is moving in.   It isn't sad or bad, it just is, and it is something that so many people who live denying death, never come to grips with).

And perhaps that is why, as you get older, you just stop caring about bullshit that you thought was oh-so-important as a 20-something or even a 30-something or 40-something. The people who are miserable in their old age never outgrow that phase, sadly.  But when you are staring death in the face, having the latest gaming console or a flashy car doesn't seem like a really important thing.

Take clothes for example.   As a youth, we were horrified at the prospect of showing up at school with a brand-new pair of blue jeans, still starched from the factory and making noise as you walked.  We would put them in the washer - with bleach - to wear them down, and even sandpaper the knees to make them look "used".

Today, you can buy jeans that are pre-soiled (in a fake pattern that looks artificial).  You can also buy pre-cooked sausages. Today's kids - so lazy!  They don't have to deal with raw sausage food-safety nightmares in the morning.  I guess these pre-soiled jeans are a good thing for the lower classes - it makes them appear as if they actually had to work for a living.  Ba-da-boom!   I say this as I have an "old pair" of jeans I use to work around the house, and they have holes in the knees and various odd stains from grass, soil, paint, caulk and some sort of glue.   By my reckoning, they should be worth millions to a fashion designer in New York City - except for the fact they are in middle-aged old man sizes and not "skinny jeans" - but I digress.

The point is, today, when I get a crisp new pair of blue jeans, I wear them as they are.  No need to "distress" them, as they become distressed in an alarmingly quick fashion as it is.  In seventh grade, it seemed like a new pair of jeans would never get "old looking" but 50 years later, it seems they wear out in a matter of months.   It is not that jeans have changed, only that time has collapsed as you get older.  At age 15, fifteen years is your whole life. At age 30, it is only half.  At 45, one-third.  And at age 60, a mere one quarter.

When I was a youngster, waiting for presents from Santa, it seemed like Christmas would never get here.  Today, it is like, "what the fuck, it's Christmas already?" and another year rushes by.  As you get older time compresses - but your values change as well, or should.

The problem with high school is that you are forced into socialization with people you might not like and in fact, might not be likable or in fact, evil.  College is a little better - you can avoid odious people on a large college campus.  Work life can be a mixed bag. Most people working are there to make money, not make trouble.  But in every workplace there are always a few people who think they are back in high school again, and start shit instead of doing shit.

But retirement?  Well, it can be what you want it to be. Oddly enough, some folks continue the perpetual high school gig - hanging out with a group of people or joining clubs and volunteer groups and starting shit all over again.   But the key is, this is a choice, not a mandate.  So you can just "not go" to high school ever again.  It is a nice feeling.

Sadly, some never let go of high school, and things like Facebook and social media become the new high school for them - a chance for the girls to gossip in the ladies' room ("did you know vaccines cause autism?") and for the boys to compare penis sizes in the locker room ("Dude, she's a 8 out of 10 at best!").

But the clothing thing, well, it can get awkward.  All I can say is, if you are young, start throwing away the ugly clothes you never wear, because when you get older, you'll start wearing them.  "Hey, look at this shirt!  Hardly used!  I think I will start wearing it to church!  Who knows?  Maybe the puffy-shirt pirate look will come back!"  And I kid you not about this.  When I was a kid, I used to deliver newspapers.  I nearly got run over by a snow plow once, so I went out and bought a bright-yellow parka to wear, hoping the plow-man would see me and not kill me with his plow.

I wore it for a few years and then moved on.  It languished in my closet.  For some reason, my parents took it with them when they moved to Maryland, and when my Mother died, my Dad took it with him to Colorado.  It was probably 40 years old by then, and he was wearing it.  "This is a great jacket!" he said, "Why did you leave it behind?"   Uh, because it was bright yellow?  But you'll find yourself doing things like that, as you get older, because you just don't give a shit about what other people think, and you become allergic to spending money.

Yes, that.  No matter how much you have socked away - or how little - spending money in retirement is never fun.  You worry constantly about running out.  Those with pensions worry less, those with a 401(k) worry a lot.   Should I buy this hot dog, or leave $3.25 in my retirement account?  Each spending decision becomes agony, and each bill seems outrageously high.  When did a cup of coffee start costing $2.78?  I remember when it was a nickel - and refills were free!  Dagnabbit!

But on the whole, being older rocks - or it can.  It is better to be having than wanting - but even better not to want at all.  When I was a kid, I wanted everything, because I had nothing (mostly because I squandered what little money I had on crap).  Everything seemed out of reach back then - a nice car, a stereo system, a fancy apartment, and so on and so forth.   As you get older, you can afford these things (or should be able to, unless you continue to squander - the theme of this blog, by the way) but find you want them less and less.  The fancy car is just a pain-in-the-ass to own, and you pine for something simpler.    Home electronics come and go - and are obsolete within a few years.  You wonder what all the fuss was about.  And a fancy apartment or house is just another expense and more back-breaking work to keep clean and well-maintained.

In short, as you get older you see through the veil of consumerism - or should.  Some folks never have this realization, and chase this false God until they are dead - and then have an expensive "theme funeral" just to make sure all their friends know they "made it."  Of course, they leave their widow with all the bills to pay, but let's not talk about that!

Of course, there are some oldsters who scrimp and save only so that they can use their wealth to control their adult children.  I know a lot of oldsters who play this game - handing out pittances of money on a regular basis, along with a lecture as to why their child's life is all screwed up, how their choice of career was no good, and - it goes without saying - their choice of spouse was all wrong.  I don't recall this happening with my parents' generation, but maybe it did.  But our generation seems to have fallen under this spell of perpetual childhood - remaining in the thrall of parents well into your 40's or even 50's.

But maybe the previous generation played that game because they could afford it.  As I have noted before, retirement is a relatively new concept, really only existing in the post-war era.  What we tend to think of as time-honored traditions (such as much of the trappings of Christmas) extend back only a few decades, or a century at most - a short period of time in a human history that encompasses millennia.   But again, it is the time compression thing.   To me, things that happened 50 years ago don't seem all that distant - except when I realize that was indeed, a half-century ago.

For our generation, retirement will be difficult.  If you read the numbers, many chose not to save at all, and have no savings, no pension, and a hefty mortgage to pay, as well as other chronic debts.   It makes me sad to read about, and sad when I meet people like this.   I know a fellow my age, who confessed he has nothing saved for retirement.   I sort of felt sorry for him, until the next day when he showed up with a brand-new crew-cab pickup truck and admitted he was paying for his daughter's cell phone plan.  I mean, we all make choices, right?  And he's making the choices of youth - the debt lifestyle and the wanting-to-have.

It is funny, but as you get older, you want less - or should.   Your life narrows in scope over time, until all you really need is a pine box or an urn for your ashes (and maybe not even that!).  Status means less and less to you - or should.  I see oldsters still chasing the status dream, and it often comes back to haunt them.  They buy a big house at age 65 - with lots of stairs to climb - and a few years later have some sort of health crises and realize they can't climb those stairs, much less clean four bathrooms and keep three bedrooms vacuumed.  The status house seemed like a desirable thing to a 20-something or a 30-something.  To an oldster, it just seems like an excuse for a huge property tax bill.

Or take the hobby car.  As a youth, we all wanted a cool muscle car, a pony car, or a sports car.  BTDT!  I sold the M Roadster - you can't drive it at speed anywhere - city, highway, country, and certainly not on an island with a 35 mph speed limit.  We have a golf cart now.   But I know oldsters here and elsewhere, who have the vaunted "collector car" which is gathering dust in their garage.  They drive it less than once a month, which really is bad for any piece of machinery. The battery is usually dead, and since the motor was never properly broken it, it burns oil (go to a car show sometime - they all do this, even high-end collectibles!).   It was something they desperately wanted as a youth, but in old age, can't remember exactly why they did.  It is just a cantankerous, loud, annoying, uncomfortable, unreliable piece of equipment, representing money spend (and worth half what they have into it).  It gives them little more than bragging rights or "pride of ownership" - and little more.

And eventually, these things do get sold off, or at best, left to a son or daughter, who in turn sells them off, because like the guy in the tract home who won a Lamborghini (and wrecked it the same day) it just isn't a practical thing to own - these 4,000lb paperweights.

That is, in short, the best part of getting old - if you let it happen - that is to say, not giving a shit what other people think, and to stop chasing status.  And maybe that is why old people dress weird - they simply don't care what you think of their clothing.  They are no longer in high school (but you still are, mentally, if you do give a damn about appearances) and realize what is and isn't important in life.  For example, not being in pain, or just having a good bowel movement every day.

That is why I say that pain can be instructive - if you are willing to listen to it.   God gave me the old one-two punch, with diverticulitis and gout - and an allergy to most pain medications.   Talk about focusing the the mind!   You quickly realize when in agonizing pain, what is and isn't important in life.  And no, having an Abercrombie hat isn't important at all.

In short, being old rocks - well up until a point where your body falls apart and you get sick and die.  But there is this golden period, where you stop caring about everything and learn to enjoy life for what it is, and not just as a series of possessions to own, or bills to pay, or a job to go to.   Well, it should be that way, for most of us.  That is why it is sad when you hear these people say, "I'll just work until I'm 70!" which is a nice theory, if they let you.  They often don't.

But even if they did, I think such folks are missing out on life itself.  Because the "rat race" of trying to make a living and "living for the weekend" isn't really life at all.  It leaves one with no time for introspection and contemplation.  It leaves no time for fun.

And yea, I'm having a hellva lot more fun in my old age than I ever did as a youth...