If there's one thing that really rusts my red wagon, it's when people who are barely older than me carry on about how pathetic and old they've become. As someone who is wise beyond his years, I frequently pass my time in the presence of folks who are older than I. These treasured individuals cannot stop telling me how much more miserable and weak I will become with each passing year. I'm constantly bombarded by messages of how the aging process renders one unable to stay up late, subject to unexpected drunkenness from small amounts of alcohol, sexually attenuated, and so forth. I hear a lot about how folks' doctors are younger than they are, and increasingly, how some elected officials were still crawling around with their butt-crack showing over the back of their diapers when my friends were already kissing with tongue involvement. It's too much self-awareness for someone my age, and I think they need to be quiet about it.
Since every debate in America escalates almost instantly to a Constitutional Question, let me say right off that I don't consider this a Freedom of Speech issue. It's more like the problem of second-hand smoke: a corrosive, inescapable substance emanating from those around you. My right to a blissfully ignorant aging process is being corrupted by the scent of their self-immolation.
People who have inhaled the stench of burned flesh, and I count myself in this unfortunate club, know that there are few smells quite as horrible. I put the smell of extreme age right up there: the corruption and failing of the body's smooth systems, the painful breakage of the machinery, the leakage of loosening gaskets. When I first started working on an ambulance, I was distressed to find how many of our calls were for the impending doom of the desperately old. With the insensitivity common to the death trade, we privately diagnosed this syndrome as TMB -- Too Many Birthdays. One of the reasons I'm not too excited about getting older is because I'll be expecting such callous treatment from my future sniggering young minders.
I still remember a card my dad sent me for my tenth birthday, informing me how important is was to be moving into double digits (...young and blissfully unaware that Base 10 is entirely arbitrary, and that if we had two fewer fingers, turning eight would be the Big 1-0). I think that was the year we went to the park and played on the old airplane they'd put there for kids. That was one great fucking day. Now I'm being told that each passing year is the soft chime of my coin-operated life, warning me it's running out of time. I'm starting to riffle through my pockets, and realizing I have no more quarters to feed it.
It's a pretty common observation that as this country's monstrous post-war age cohort lurches toward what the French call une certaine age, it's fashionable to be getting a little grey in the temples. Hence the growing public spotlight on prostate and breast cancer, Roth IRA's, impotency treatments, and diapers for adults. It's almost magical, the way we're getting over our phobias about going deaf and having soft erections at almost the precise generational moment when a huge segment of the buying public comes into the market for slim-line hearing aids and Viagra.
It's great that so many folks get to grow older in an environment that nurtures and supports them through the terrifying, irreversible metabolic process that they're undergoing. Having all of them going first is immensely reassuring to people like me, who are plugging along in the relative back ranks of the aging process. The information that I glean from watching them will be very useful as I plan precisely the age at which I will walk in front of a speeding truck.