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Archive for the ‘Senior citizen’ Category

A day in the life

I really can’t think of one good goddamned thing about growing old. I know, I know, a great many of my friends were denied the privilege of doing so, and I guess you could put that on the plus side of the ledger. Of course, if you believe in God, heaven, and hell, you might well wonder if dying would be such a great thing after all. While I might not have been Adolph Hitler reincarnate, I guarantee you that I was not St Catherine of Sienna, St. Peter, St. Theresa, or any of the other really good people who do deserve a place sitting with the Lord. Of the ten commandments, I’ve broken damn near everyone, and I’m not certain that gets me a pass through the Golden Gates.

No, the only thing one can say about the golden years, as some are wont to call them, is the golden is the color of your pee and in itself that’s not always a good thing. You wake up in the morning and wonder if all of these aches and pains are going to go away with the first sip of coffee or even if you’ll make it to the kitchen to have that first cup. Your feet hit the floor and the diabetic nerve pain sends the soles of your feet into the marvelous, painful, tingling state that seems to override the leg cramps and the stiff neck, etcetera, etcetera. Stumbling into the bathroom, you do manage to relieve yourself in one way, but you still question whether that Senecot that you took last night will do its job soon or wait until you’re far removed from a toilet to take effect. Since you put on your Depends first thing, I suppose it shouldn’t matter, but cleaning up can be a bitch, particularly if you have to drive home to do so…ah, don’t worry about it. Fabreze does wonders in situations such as this.

The heavenly aroma of brewing coffee tells you that someone else has made it to the kitchen before you. (Oh, thank you, God). You rattle and creak, trying to keep your balance all the way down the hall and finally settle in to a seat at the kitchen table…where the pill container, blood pressure cuff, and diabetes blood sugar test kit await…all before coffee…or juice…or V-8 Fusion energy drink. Medical procedures performed, you wolf down the protein bar – which actually tastes good because it simulates Rocky Road. Now it’s time for the umpty-ump pills, washed down with…whatever.

Back down the hall for a silent brushing of the teeth and a gargle of Listerine, it’s now time to get to the computer, check the e-mail, check the Greater Good Network, and move on to the morning papers. Wild fires are still burning in the west, shootings are still taking place all over the country, Trump continues to tweet asinine comments about minor issues while ignoring the real needs of the nation, and…let’s see… oh yeah, the Red Sox bow out early in the ALCS…again.

By now, it’s shortly after 4:30 am. I climb into the 99 Camry, the one with 165+ thousand miles on it (purrs like a kitten…that just got its tail stepped on) and head for the gym, hoping against hope that the young women who opens will decide this is her day to sleep in. No go, however, and the doors open a bit before five. I greet a few friends and climb on the bike, get out the head phones and plug them into the I-pod for 45 minutes of the same goddamn thing every day…Olympic Fanfare, Washington Post March, Marine Corps Hymn, Pomp & Circumstance, and, of course, the 1812 Overture. Actually, it’s a pretty fast pace when it gets going. Eleven miles later, it’s off the bike and onto the mat for some stretching exercises, followed by 250 ab crunches. I stagger to the car and drive home, only to find that Juli is already up, has let the dog out, and is watching the morning news. I flop into the big bear chair, recline it, and watch CBS this morning…I think I’m ready for bed!

If asked to write down 15-minute intervals of the rest of the day, I’d be hard pressed to do so. I can tell you that my back hurts for the entire day, that it’s an effort to walk down the hall to get to the bathroom when nature so demand. I read a great deal, and even find some time to do a bit of writing for the blog, but I really cannot tell you how the day progresses…and that pisses me off. It’s like not having anything to do, but not enjoying not doing it…go ahead, figure that one out. Some days I drive Juli to the market…”You can’t come in because I shop faster than you walk.” Okay. Some days we get to Walmart in order for me to pick up prescriptions and she to do some other shopping. Some days we get out to lunch, but dammit, those are short-term things. What happens in between?

When you have a job, you have specific responsibilities. You know this; I know this. When you retire, you have things that you really want to do, but after almost 20 years into retirement, most of those things have been done. I have the feel that that is when the grim reaper begins to catch up. I’ll be damned if I want that son-of-a-bitch asking me if I’m ready yet, because the answer is that despite the aches and pains, the groans and gnashing of teeth, I’m quite certain there are still a few things I’ve yet to accomplish. Problem is…I can’t remember what the hell they are. Therefore, I will continue to piss and moan about the agonies of growing old while I continue to write nasty things about nasty people, good things about good people, go to the gym regularly, help with the garden and marvel at its wonders, read the books I wish and…hey, wait a minute, what am I saying? I may ache and I may be old, but life is pretty damned great when I pause to think about it. WOW, what a joy it is to be allowed to grow old.

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“How’re ya doin’?”

“Terrific, thanks; how about you?”

(No answer, but…) “Well, you’re lookin’ terrific!”

What the hell is that supposed to mean? I told this person I was “terrific,” and he looked at me like I’m some kind of liar. If I was doin’ shitty, I’d tell him, “I’m doin’ shitty,” so what’s the big deal. Does he want me to say that my back hurts like a son-of-a-bitch because all of the lumbar vertebrae are self-fused and they can’t even get a bloody needle in to give me an epidural anymore? That my back is so bad that I now have to use a cane to ensure my balance? That there’s no cartilage in either of my knees and when I walk, I can hear the bones rubbing together? That the doctors tell me I wouldn’t survive the anesthesia required for knee replacements? Is that what he wants?

I’ve stopped telling people how old I am when they ask. “Old enough to know better, but still young enough to learn,” has become my standard mantra. It’s either that or “Old enough to know not to make the mistakes of my youth,” that’s another one I’ve used.

I sometimes think that people ask how old you are so they can feel better about themselves. The one that really gets my goat is some young stud or ‘studdess’ telling me they hope they can do what I do when they’re my age. Screw that; I do what I do because I’m not quite ready to kick the bucket yet, and this exercise shtick is what the doctors say will help to keep me out of the crematorium. Someone asks if I’m feeling all right and follows up with, “You look kind of pale.” I just tell them I’m feeling a bit ‘ashy.’ They never get it, but it gives me a pretty good chuckle…at their expense…you don’t have something nice to say to me, shut the f..k up; I don’t need to hear it…particularly at five in the morning.

I’ve learned that there is a singular advantage to using the cane. People hold doors for me, and even old ladies who can walk without aid will defer to me as I enter the gym. At home, I often leave the cane and walk around unaided. Then I bump into a wall or a piece of furniture and remember that the cane is used for a reason…yep, you’re right…not the brightest bulb on Broadway!

I’ve noticed, in my dotage, that I get more hugs from young women than I used to. I figure they don’t think I’m any threat to them any more. They’re right, of course, but oh lord, does it ever bring back fond memories of yesteryear. Hell, I wasn’t a threat to them even then…married at 22, father of three ten years later…I never had the time or the desire to be a threat.

You see, the way I look at things now is this: I have coronary artery disease, but I’ve survived the first four heart attacks and now have six stents in the arteries around the heart. I had an aneurysm in my abdomen that one of the doctors caught before it burst, but it was purely by accident that he discovered it…whew. I say “whew,” because abdominal aneurysms are the tenth leading cause of death in this country…yeah, I was surprised too. I smoked cigarettes for 51 years and have moderate emphysema and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease to show for it…but it could be a whole helluva lot worse. I’ve managed to get by with nearly 20 surgeries to my credit, and if it’s all the same to those who care, I’d just as soon not have to go through any more. Although I must admit that Versed, one of the anesthetics being used today, is fantastic because it blocks out your memory and is great on pain…yippee Skippy!

The latest episode in this medical autobiography is the one that I guess I’ve been dreading for years. I was recently diagnosed with glaucoma in both eyes. I don’t know how fast this disease progresses, but for someone whose two great loves are reading and writing, this comes as something akin to a good hard kick in the…backside. However, like everything else, this storm can be weathered. There are always books on tape – I can become a better listener than a reader – and my little blog is so filled with errors that it just means Juli will have to add proofreader to her already endless list of things I ask her to do on a daily basis…as I say, the blog will have a few more errors. I’m certain of this because I know exactly where she’ll tell me to go if I ask her to proofread. Since that may well be my ultimate destination, I don’t wish to encourage more people than necessary to tell me to “do it now!”

Well, that about sums it up from this side of the bar stool. Keep those comments coming. It’s always nice to hear what’s going on in the world of reality.

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“Didn’t we?”

“I mean…weren’t we?”

But he couldn’t finish the sentence. It just wouldn’t come to the front of his mind. He knew what he wanted to ask, but he just couldn’t remember the words. It’s not as if it happened on a daily basis. Lately, however, it did seem to be happening a bit more frequently.

“Am I losing my mind?” he wondered to himself, adding, “Maybe I’m just getting old.”

Forgetfulness, memory loss, whatever you wish to call it, has happened to all of us. We misplace our keys, we remember how great a movie was but can’t think of the title, and so on. In my own case, I’m constantly looking for my phone. Of course, that’s easily solved by calling it, which means I’m fine as long as Juli has her phone turned on! While lapses in memory can be extremely frustrating, they are not generally a concern for [us] older adults.

According to the web site, Health Guide, “As we grow older, we experience physiological changes that can cause glitches in brain functions we’ve always taken for granted. It takes longer to learn and recall information. We’re not as quick as we used to be. In fact, we often mistake this slowing of our mental processes for true memory loss. But in most cases, if we give ourselves time, the information will come to mind. Memory loss is not an inevitable part of the aging process. The brain is capable of producing new brain cells at any age, so significant memory loss is not an inevitable result of aging. But just as it is with muscle strength, you have to use it or lose it. Your lifestyle, health habits, and daily activities have a huge impact on the health of your brain. Whatever your age, there are many ways you can improve your cognitive skills, prevent memory loss, and protect your grey matter.”

I can’t say whether exercise increases blood flow to the brain, but I find that on those days when I have had a good workout, I feel sharper in my mental functioning. Of course it often happens that I’ll leave my cane somewhere – yes, I now have a cane – and a couple of hours later wonder where I left the damned thing. One day recently, I was talking to someone I’ve known for over 20 years and I completely forgot her name for a few minutes…talk about frightening yourself! These things, I’m told, can be considered a normal part of aging and not dementia-related. Recently, a nurse practitioner came to the house. It’s a part of my health plan that she drops in once a year. During our conversation, I reminded her that in 2015, she had asked me to think about three words. She did this at the beginning of our conversation and approximately an hour later asked me to repeat them. This year, as we were chatting, I asked, “Are you going to ask me to remember apple, penny, and table again?” She was somewhat taken aback, but laughed. “Guess your memory’s okay,” she said.

Let us suppose, however, that my memory or that of our hypothetical man mentioned above is a sign of dementia. How do we know which is which is which. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI), which may or may not lead to some form of dementia, occurs when someone cannot recall recent events, gets lost or continually misplaces objects. Other signs include personality changes, trouble expressing what one is thinking, and difficulty completing problem solving or complex tasks, such as managing a budget or doing one’s banking. We still may be able to function without assistance but with mild dementia.

Going back to the Health Guide, “The primary difference between age-related memory loss and dementia is that the former isn’t disabling. The memory lapses have little impact on your daily performance and ability to do what you want to do. Dementia, on the other hand, is marked by a persistent, disabling decline in two or more intellectual abilities such as memory, language, judgment, and abstract thinking.”

Now comes the sixty-four dollar question…when is it time to become worried about whether you have dementia or are just getting old? The answer is really quite simple, however, you have to be honest with yourself and with those around you. If you or someone close to you expresses concern about your forgetfulness or your inability to do things that once came naturally to you, it’s time to check with your doctor.

Before I go any further, let me explain something: Dementia is any one of a group of diseases that cause memory loss as well as degeneration of other mental functions. The key word there is ‘disease.’ Health Line notes that “Dementia occurs due to physical changes in the brain and is a progressive disease, meaning it gets worse over time. For some people, dementia progresses rapidly, while it takes years to reach an advanced stage for others. The progression of dementia depends greatly on the underlying cause of the dementia. While people will experience the stages of dementia differently, most people with dementia share some of the symptoms.”

I’ve put this piece together because I have a couple of friends with differing forms of dementia. While it’s sad to watch the deterioration, my friends’ families saw things happening early on. In that way they were able to plan for how care would be given and there were no surprises. Please don’t assume that I’m trying to pass myself off as some kind of authority on the subject. It was of sufficient interest to me that I did a bit of research. If you have concerns about a parent or a friend, I invite you to do as I have done, and check out the many authoritative sites that deal with mental health.

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Less than a month after graduating from college, I was walking down the aisle of a Catholic church in Waban – that’s one of the many villages of the city of Newton – marrying a beautiful girl that I had met seven months before in one of those quirks of fate ‘thingies.’ I had been exercising my option on a second major and doing some substitute teaching and on the first day on the job, was smitten with an arrow from Cupid’s quiver. She was smart, beautiful, and the weird part was…she liked me! I’d already had one bad breakup over this Catholic vs. Protestant religion idiocy, and while I wasn’t certain about spending a lifetime together, I was damn well certain that that would not get in the way with this girl.

Fifty years, three children, and nine grandchildren later, we buried the girl who’d become a woman, a mother, a grandmother, and my best friend. But as you would know had you read “The Dash” by Linda Ellis, it was neither the date of her birth nor the date of her death but that little line between them that made our lives together so wonderful. If there was ever any truth in the statement that “opposites attract,” it certainly applied in our case. She was an only child from a reasonably prosperous family and lived in a large city. I was one of three from a family that struggled mightily after the Great Depression and who, by comparison, lived in a rather small town. Finding one another as we did, well…you could only describe it as quirky.

The first seven years of our marriage was a series of highs and lows. The highs came in attending numerous shows in Boston, having a place of our own on the Cape and attending every performance that the Falmouth Playhouse had to offer; dining in some of the finer restaurants around and generally enjoying our jobs. She became Director of Admissions at Tufts Dental School, and I was slowly moving up in my job at Northeastern. We commuted together, tried new recipes together, did a few crazy things together that you don’t need to read about and in total, had a wonderful life. The lows came as we lost three children before they were born…and if you haven’t been there, it’s pretty low.

The first two children might have been called Irish twins, they were born so close together. The third came along a few years later. As those of you who are married well know, life with young kids is a life unto its own. They become the center of your universe. We were no different. Elementary school, Cub Scouts, Brownies, PTA, Little League, and a host of other activities combined to eat up that time formerly dedicated to plays, movies, and restaurants. In our case, swimming became the dominant focus. I swear that our car could have gone from Newton to the Brown University swimming facility on its own. As parents, we maintained our “slim” figures by sweating it out at day-long swim meets where the indoor temperature seemed well into the triple digits.

Then…she was gone. The kids, by now, were married with children of their own. The house…well, the house was empty…except for a man growing older with little to do. A few years later, a new lady came into my life…all the way from California. Life became worthwhile living once more. This love was different…and so was the lifestyle. From restaurants and shows, it became craft fairs and drives around New England. It was learning the history of this part of the country and teaching me the history of her part of the world. It was a renewed form of education. From Boston Duck tours to a helicopter ride.

The rite of spring became building of raised garden beds – she did the building – to watching seeds turn into summer squash, jalapeno peppers – wow, could they be hot – and tomatoes. I was taught about heirloom, pear, cherry, yellow, and beau coup other types of tomatoes. We had radishes – who the hell eats radishes – cucumbers, and even a season or two of green beans and peas. All of this was totally foreign to me and to what my life had been like. Other parts of the yard were taken over by a variety and abundance of lilies, sun flowers, forget-me-nots, and hyacinth. Roses included Mr. Lincoln, Queen Elizabeth, cocoa, roses-within-roses, yellows, reds, whites, pinks, and on and on. Flowers were planted that bloomed in early spring, followed by late spring, followed by summer. It appeared that color appeared from April through October. My new love sprayed with her own concoctions of both fertilizer and bug killer. Diatomaceous earth, normally used in the pool filter, became a barrier against slugs; lily beetles were plucked with tweezers, and tomato worms quickly learned the errors of their ways if they were gutsy enough to get anywhere near our plants.

Why do I tell you these things? Why would I lay a part of my life bare for all to know? There are many answers, but perhaps the most important one is directed at those who are widows or widowers. Life does not end when your partner dies. It does not end when the nest empties and only the two of you remain, often as strangers because so much of your time has been devoted to children rather than each other. You may have to learn to love again, but it will be a deeper love and yes, it will be a different type of love. And then, as I have said, you will be alone. Friends will come and they will go; few, if any, leaving the footprints on your heart that were already deeply imprinted. If you are as fortunate as I, and you may well be, someone will come along, and you, you will find a totally different world…again, just as I did. Remember, life is worth living to your very last breath.

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Retirement is not for the faint of heart. There, I’ve said it, and if you wish, I will repeat it…oh, screw that; you can just reread the first sentence. For a while, retirement really seemed a great thing. Go places you’ve never been participate in activities you wish you had had the time to get into while you were working; actually meeting new people and learning about their lives; finding new hobbies that were extremely interesting…for a while.

I’ve said it before, and I believe it’s important to understand that retirement should not be considered as a time when one just sits on one’s proverbial butt and watch as it expands to fill the width of a chair. Retirement is a time when you should be able to do all of those things you cursed about because you couldn’t do them when that nasty thing called “work” interfered. Perhaps, it was a solid round of 18 holes that was played on weekends, but you were positive you could break 90 if only you had the chance to play a couple of times during the week. Maybe it was spending a week touring a national park but that wasn’t possible even during vacation…because you were never able to work in a full vacation. There were a thousand ideas, things you’d do when you retired; when the house was paid off; when the summer place could be put to good use without having to make a few calls to the office while you were supposed to be relaxing. Just wait until retirement. Ah, yes, the things to which you were looking forward without having to worry that someone, anyone would call and ask you your opinion on something or a request to give a couple of hours on a certain project…those would be the days.

The big day arrives and out the door you go. Maybe you think you might miss a few of the old crowd. Promises to say in touch are exchanged; sometimes they may even be kept, but really, those people only serve to remind you of the work you once did, and that’s the thing you want furthest from your mind. You get in those 18 holes every few days, but you find that it’s not as easy to walk around the course as it used to be so you get a cart. That makes the distance between holes a little shorter but the game doesn’t improve the way you thought it might. You learn from your doctor that the pain in your shoulder is a torn rotator cuff and you should probably have it repaired. That will keep you off the course for a while. You continue to do different things. Heck, the surgery means you’ll get a chance to catch up on your reading, but you need new glasses, bifocals this time, and they’re a pain in the ass to use, but you catch on…after a while.

After a few years, the summer place becomes more of a burden than a pleasure and you announce your intention to sell it. This sets up a bit of a dispute between you and the kids…who use it with their children now and who enjoy going there but not the cost of the upkeep. You offer to sell it or even give it to them, but when the chips are down, they really don’t believe it’s worth it. With luck, you sell at a profit, and hope that you can do something productive with the monies you receive, but it just goes into the bank and gets spent in other ways.

As you age in your retirement, one of you gets a diagnosis of a terminal illness. While I haven’t experienced getting kicked in the chest by a mule, it seems to me that getting that diagnosis must feel the same way…except for being longer lasting. The one who is not ill goes from being a spouse to being a care-giver, and I guarantee you, the roles are quite different. If your spouse asks to die at home and you can accommodate that request, do it; no matter what it takes, do it. If you can afford round the clock nursing care, do it. Most people I know can’t afford that, but they can afford to have someone come in one, possibly two days a week…do it. The care-giver is on duty 24/7/365. The illness consumes your live, even unto death and for years after that.

After a while, retirement becomes more of a drudge than a thing of beauty and a joy forever. You get old. Your knees – at least those that haven’t been replaced – begin to hurt like the devil. Your golf game, if that was your big desire, slows down considerably. In fact, there are days when you can hardly wait to get home and lay down. Traveling is more of a burden than a delight, and while the sights are pretty, so is that bottle of Aleve or something stronger.

In his book, The Bazaar of Bad Dreams, Stephen King wrote, “An old man’s body is nothing but a sack in which he carries aches and indignities.” He may have a point, but that same sack carries memories that are so beautiful as to defy some of those aches. English actress, Judy Parfitt, says, “The thing about growing old is you have to accept it – if you don’t, you’ll be as miserable as sin. You’ve got to try and find the few good things about it.” And there are good things about aging. The best of these lies in being constantly amazed at the advances that have been made in your lifetime. Technology, science, medicine, aviation, have seen remarkable advances, and yes, even golf clubs have been improved. When I look at my smart phone of today and think that it possesses more power than the computers that put men on the moon several decades back, I’m both amazed and delighted. When I see photographs depicting other galaxies with planets that are potentially capable of supporting human life as we see it daily, I’m in awe. On and on and on it goes, and in my retirement, as much as I dislike the aches and pains, the things I can no longer do, I am delighted that in the later years of retirement I can see such progress in our shrinking world.

I can only hope for one more thing before I die. If would be truly grand if Boston could get it’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority to go through one single year without breakdowns, delays and excuses that are somewhat akin to “The dog ate my homework!”

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Advice…People give you more goddamned useless advice. “Now, when you retire, you should…” “When I retired I had a lot of fun doing…” Bullshit, you don’t know me; you don’t know what would or would not please me, so please, please, please, keep your advice.

I never said that of course. People think they’re doing you a favor by telling you what worked for them; what made them happy. They’re well-intentioned, it’s true, but retirement or the mere thought thereof is sufficiently traumatic. It’s worse, I suppose, if there is some kind of policy that says one has to retire at a certain age. In my own case, I left voluntarily when I was just over 63, recognizing that if I had to wait for two years, I would either have been fired or jailed for assault. I didn’t care for the person that replaced my boss, and I’m the type who tends to speak his mind, ergo, things would not have gone well…for him or for me.

The only good bit of advice that I ever received concerning retirement was this: “Be sure you have something to do that you can do for the rest of your life.” It’s simple and it’s the best advice anyone could ever give. Whatever “it” may be, one should have experimented with it prior to retirement. Few things would have made me happier than to see some parts of the world that my son had spoken of but I knew long before retirement that Florence, Paris, and several other cities would be out of the question. When you have bad knees and a back that’s been through three surgeries, you will, if you’re smart, forget about extensive travel. Documentaries and computer research may not be the same thing, but they can serve a very useful purpose, and if you try hard enough, they’ll fill the bill. Taking up a sport in retirement can only cause frustration and has the potential for injury that is an unnecessary risk. If one is already committed to golf or tennis, great, but to take it up after one retires is a questionable decision.

One of the most interesting things about retirement lies in the question, “How long will I live in my retirement?” If one retires because of illness, great, you have some idea of how long you’ll smell the roses before you’ll smell the roots; if not, it’s a guessing game. Based on my own history, I wouldn’t have bet on anything beyond a few years. Things do have a way of changing as we all know, and I’ve been retired now for damn near 20 years…who’d evah have thunk it? If I was to give advice to anyone about this facet of life, I’d say, “Plan to live to 100; anything more than that’s a bonus; anything less is probably what you were thinking in the first place.” As Dr. Wayne Dyer writes in his book, Your Erroneous Zones, “Look over your shoulder; you have a constant companion. For want of something better, call it your own death. You can keep looking over your shoulder, in which case death will catch up to you more quickly, or you can forget that death is even back there and just plunge ahead.” It’s wonderful advice from a man who appears to know of what he speaks.

Now I’m doing the same thing that I cursed in the first sentence of this little essay. Therefore, let me add this: My advice is just as useless as the next person’s. What I tell you is what has worked for me; you may well say, “Yuck, what an asshole; I would never do that stuff,” and that’s fine, but, and it’s a major but, it is imperative that you not sit back on your ass and watch television all day. This will kill you probably faster than anything. Your body goes to pot; you get into the snack thingie, and the next thing you know, diabetes comes a calling. I became a member of a gym. In addition to the physical exercise, I’ve made a number of friends. They are people with diverse backgrounds and they have become my teachers. I’ve learned philosophy from a man who was the headmaster at a private school and who still teaches there. I’ve learned about plumbing from a man who has his own company. I’ve learned travel first hand from a woman who travels all over the world and returns to share her experiences. The learning tree at the gym has more branches than one can count…and it’s like a “workout classroom.”

I’ve also learned the joys of gardening from my companion, Juli. We have both flowers and vegetables, and although the growing season is short in New England, there is plenty of time for salad-makings, including lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, radishes, and croutons…of course you don’t grow croutons, ya damned fool…I was just testing you.

Writing has been a wonderful outlet. There are over 950 essays on this site. Some are pretty bad; others, at least in my alleged mind, aren’t half bad. The two in which I take great pride are She is Gone and The Final Epitaph. While they won’t win any Pulitzer or Peabody Awards, I’d like to think that they show some depth of thinking on my part. Therefore, if you find the idea of writing about your own experiences or any piece of fiction with which you can have some fun, go to it!

If you happen to be a reader, get a Kindle or some other tablet.  Sure, turning pages and the smell of the paper are great, but the Kindle or Nook are lighter and carry more books than you’ll probably read in a lifetime. Pick up a craft; real men can do cross stitch and latch hook and lapidary [look it up].

Retirement means, as a friend told me, that you’ll be able to spend more time looking at the useless catalogs and second class mail addressed directly to you or just to ‘resident.’ It also means that you can now take the time to smell those flowers everyone used to tell you to do when you were working. They do smell pretty darned good. Whatever you elect to do, keep busy, have more than you can accomplish, and listen to a few good jokes every day. Laughter is food for the soul so laugh often and laugh ‘til you cry!

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So I get this e-mail that asks the only thing that is ever on my mind, “Are you suffering from facial wrinkles and sagging skin?” Hot damn, I’m 80 friggin’ years old and you have the audacity to ask me a question like that. If I’m that age and I don’t have those problems, I wouldn’t be able to move my mouth to answer because my plastic surgeon’s work would be completely undone when my face split open. What, are you crazy? These people show you pictures, one of an old woman with a frown, wrinkles, and hardly any hair. They say, “She is 70, but now…” and they show you the after picture with her hair slightly tinted and looking marvelous, and a not so subtle airbrush job, with the lady smiling, and they add, “…she looks 40.”

She’s 70 and she looks 40; so what? Who cares? What’s your point? Are we looking for a massive ego boost here? You are what you are. Face facts; you’re freaking old. It’s not how you look; it’s how you feel. There are days when I feel 80; others when I feel 50. However, if I tried to do at 80 what I used to do at 50, (a) I’d probably have a heart attack and die; (b) if I didn’t die, the doctors might from laughter; (c) every muscle in my body would ache for months, and (d) I’d finally realize just how old I really am and would wind up a quivering mass of tears in a straight jacket somewhere. No, this is just not acceptable.

A man I know just died of a massive heart attack. He was 69 years old. A fine physical specimen of a human being; looked to be the picture of health; took a long walk every day; had a marvelous outlook on life…he died. He didn’t reach 70; he died. “So what?” you ask.  “So what,” is forgetting about trying to be something that you’re not. If you want to be a 70 or 80 year old beauty queen, that’s your business, but frankly I’m more interested in what’s inside your head and your heart than I am about how you look. If you’re a man and you want to look the way Jack La Lane did when he died at 92, great; more power to you, but I’d be more impressed if you could intelligently discuss the latest book that you had read or how you see the crises facing the United States in the next ten years…of course, if you’re 92, maybe you aren’t too worried about the crises facing the United States in the next ten years; five maybe, but not ten!

Our hangup with external beauty is probably what’s wrong with a great many Americans. We are so concerned with the exterior that we forget to look at what’s inside. Whether it’s the physical beauty of the person, the exterior bells and whistles of an automobile, or the phony promises of politicians, we don’t take the time to search for what’s below the surface. Then we wonder why the physical beauty turns out to be a bastard or a bitch-on-wheels. We go ballistic when the automobile that we thought was so perfect suffers a recall because its this, that, or the other thing will cause it to be a potential death trap. And as far as the politicians are concerned, there is one rule that one should always, always follow…Anyone who wants to run for political office should never be allowed to do so, no matter what they say or promise. This holds true generally at the state or national level. Someone wants to run for school committee or town council…well, maybe not so much…but keep an eye on them.

Would I like not to have a gut or flabby boobs or still be able to run up and down a basketball court? Sure, of course I would. Would I like to still wear a 42 long suit jacket and have a 32 inch waist? Who wouldn’t, but I’m also very much aware that I’m one of those who suffers from furniture disease. That’s when one’s chest sinks into one’s drawers. I’ve had enough surgeries on my knees and back that instead of being six, three as I was in high school, I’m now just over six feet tall. My metabolism has slowed sufficiently that I now weigh a hundred pounds more than I did when I wore that cap and gown to receive my diploma…and that was for my undergraduate degree.

We cannot prevent the ravages of time. If we’re fortunate enough to have the time to ‘suffer’ them, we should consider ourselves very, very fortunate. There are many people who didn’t get that luxury for one reason or another. Forget the facial wrinkles and the sagging skin. Be proud that you’re still walking around and that you wear both as badges of honor. Do you love? Have you compassion? Can you see…perhaps with a bit of help from your bifocals? Do you hear…eh, maybe not as well as you’d like, but what the hell. Can you walk down the hall or across the street or through the grocery store? Can you smell the flowers of spring? If you are possessed of these blessings, you’re ahead of the game.

Forget trying to be what you were. Welcome what you are and what you will be.

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Writing about something is not the same as knowing about something. I have always admired good reporting as well as good fiction. John Powers of The Boston Globe was a hell of a writer when he was covering sports. John is a huge man, towering over me, but his insight into what took place at almost any sporting event made the reader feel that he or she was actually in the arena, not as a spectator but as a participant. My dear late friend, Bob Parker, was a wonderful fiction writer who drew the reader in from the first sentence and kept the reader enthralled until the last period was place.

I am about as far from a John Powers or Robert Parker or any of the wonderful writers we read on a daily basis. Like many of you, I struggle to gain and maintain the reader’s interest. It shows in that, if really lucky, I have two or three readers a day. It’s an ego thing, and I’m the first one to admit it.

Think about everything that is happening in the world today. We still have stupidity in Washington, with a President who feels he can do no wrong…and he’s wrong; a Congress now controlled by a single party, but I don’t see much taking place other than the Keystone Pipeline which is just going to line a few more pockets of the one percent; our judicial branch is, at best, confused about which issues belong before them and which should be left to the states for a final decision.

On the world front, we have the horrible executions of the French satirists at Charlie Hebdo and the assassination of four police officers by known radicals who were allowed to walk the streets freely and who got the martyrdom that they desired after their horrible onslaught. Sure, I could do my research online and read everything there is to read…like over one million articles, most of which are as accurate as would be teats on a bull, but that doesn’t give one the right to put together an accurate Reader’s Digest condensed version. Perhaps the most odious and despicable post-episodic thing taking place now is the race between al Qaeda and ISIS over who takes the “credit” for committing this hideous act. Is it fodder for the writer in me? By writing about this crime, I merely lend credence to the fact that no one, anywhere in the world, at any time, is safe from these half-crazed lunatics who are exercising their childhood fantasies of killing with no more respect for the beliefs of true Muslims and the Quran than the Bible-thumping idiots of the Westboro Baptist Church have in their beliefs about Christianity.

So what is left for me, in the few years I have remaining, to garble about? Should I talk about the 2016 race to become the next sucker in the White House? I have finally – gad, but it took a long time – figured out why smart people don’t run for president…their egos are not large enough, or as Clint Eastwood once put, “A man just has to know his limitations.” The really smart person allows the puppet to become the titular head and then the puppet-masters, eg, Citibank, the pharmaceutical lobbyists, the farm folk, and several others sit back and tug on a few strings to get the puppet to do their bidding. It’s wonderful to sit at the computer and gaze into the crystal ball. The Republican Party is firmly convinced that the next puppet will be from the GOP, thereby giving both the executive and legislative branches to a group of people who care little for the average American and a great deal for the one-percenters. After all, it’s the one-percenters who write the bills they pass and keep their bank accounts growing. And, what the hell, should a Democrat – by some miracle of God – attain the exalted puppet-post, it will merely be four or eight more years of gridlock. With gridlock, nothing gets done; the press has a field day; and late night comics rub their hands together in glee. While I consider myself an independent voter, I have to admit that someone like Chris Christie of New Jersey could really shake the old-time-DC-boys up; in addition to which, he probably knows where to get rid of the bodies….lots of swampland in New Jersey.

The recent story of the loving son is not something that you find every day. Could one invent such a thing? Perhaps if I was a more creative writer it could happen. However, I’m not that desperate to build a readership. That was just one of those poignant moments that had to be set to paper, and I was honored to have the opportunity to do so…my thanks to those who commented. The opposite of that situation was viewed by Juli yesterday. “Behind you is a mother and son,” she said. “Neither has stopped texting since they sat down.” Of course, we had no idea if they were texting one another, but my bet is that was not the case. Kind of sad, isn’t it? Can you imagine saying to one of your adult children, “Let’s go to lunch and leave our smart phones in the car.” Be the fastest goddamned lunch on record. Yes, I could write about my view on technology (said he, pounding away at the keyboard) but I don’t even know the vernacular for today’s techno-geek…tough to fall behind the times like this.

Well, I’ve almost reached my thousand word limit so to you, my reader (hopefully with an ‘s,’ I bid you a wonderful winter without falls or flu; without slipping and sliding; without icicles or idiots. If you have young children, I hope you will enjoy sledding with them at the local hill. The bumps will be a bit rougher than you may remember, but what the hell, you’ll have wonderful memories when you recall the day over a cup of hot chocolate…don’t forget the whipped cream!

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I don’t believe that anyone can ever know the feelings of true pain and agony until they have watched a loved one waste away to some horrible disease knowing full well that there is nothing they can do to stop or even slow down the horror of what is happening; I’m told that being kicked in the balls by a kangaroo might come in a close second, but I’m not from Australia and the only kangaroos I’ve ever seen have been on television. Therefore, it’s somewhat difficult to experience what the feeling might be like when it’s coming to you from a forty-two inch, high definition flat screen television set. There may be people with a better imagination than I who could double up and scream in pain upon seeing this, but they are, I’m quite certain few and far between.

Do I make light – or lite if one is a beer drinker – of watching a loved one die? Unless you’ve been there, don’t even think about criticizing me. One minute you think you’re doing all the right things to make them comfortable; the next minute you know that you’re just deluding yourself and you ask over and over again, “Why can’t I do more?” Another question that will pop up somewhere along the line, that is if you believe in a higher power, is, “Why are you punishing her this way, God? Why won’t you stop the pain?” All good questions, but you and I won’t learn the answers until we stand before whoever or whatever it is we will stand before in final judgment. I certainly hope it’s not a kangaroo.

I’m old. That means that I’m not only on the downhill side of the mountain; it means I’ve crossed the desert, forded the river, traveled the forest, walked the yellow brick road, and am well on my way to making that final turn into the homestretch and the checkered flag. It’s not the checkered flag that scares the daylights out of me, but that friggin’ homestretch. It may be long and painful or short and so quick that I’m gone before I even realize the pain…although I doubt that will be the case…just as long as it doesn’t consist of a mob, troop, or court of kangaroos doing their happy dance.

I have come to understand that it’s okay to joke about death…not to someone who is dying, of course – that would be rather crass – but I remember my late wife saying at one point, “You know, this really should be you laying here. It would be so much easier for me.” She still had a good sense of humor at that time. As many others, I believe, have wondered, “Why was it him or her? Why not me? He or she was such a good person. Why did it have to be…?” Maybe we learn the answers; maybe we don’t. Guess we just have to die to find out. Certainly, a kick in the balls from a kangaroo isn’t going to answer the question.

And don’t get me wrong; I have nothing against kangaroos…except…well…you know…oooh! Just thinking about it sort of freaks me out. I mean it’s not like camels; they’re just plain mean. They spit and bite and they smell. Ostriches can give you a hell of a kick, but not like a kangaroo…they take aim.

Is this supposed to be funny? Well, I’d have to think about that. On the one hand, yeah, yeah, it’s supposed to be a bit humorous, but on the other hand, there is very little humor in losing someone about whom you care deeply. It leaves a hole in your life; not in your heart necessarily…that’s the baloney that the poets push…but it leaves an emptiness in you that is always there. Sometimes, you can hide it; then, other times, it jumps up and punches you right in the gut. That’s the time when you just want to work things out by yourself…because I’m not gonna kid you, it hurts like a bitch. Somehow, you do manage to get through it…usually…but it’s like a tornado has passed by, sucking the air from you.

For those who haven’t reached the top of the mountain yet, don’t forget to stop and admire the view; it’s like nothing you will ever see again.  If you’re in the desert, fording the river, or going through the forest, slow down and look around. Absorb the beauty of all that surrounds you. Before you know it, you will have walked the yellow brick road and see that homestretch and the checkered flag. Before you reach it, soak up all of the good and beautiful you can…oh, yeah, and watch out for the kangaroos.

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“Aortic root enlargement in octogenarian patients allows for insertion of larger aortic valve prostheses without any apparent increase in operative morbidity or mortality. The larger prostheses demonstrate better hemodynamic performance and less patient prosthesis mismatch, but no apparent functional or survival advantage.”

“Percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI) in octogenarian patients has been associated with increased cardiovascular morbidity and mortality. This study aimed to assess acute and intermediate-term clinical outcomes among octogenarians undergoing PCI . These results show that clinically stable octogenarian patients undergoing PCI have favorable procedural and intermediate-term prognosis. In contrast, cardiogenic shock has a profound negative prognostic impact on octogenarians despite ‘aggressive’ PCI attempts.”

This is the kind of shit you look at when you pass 80 – that’s an octogenarian for the uninformed – and it’s the kind of shit you read about when you’ve survived three heart attacks, have five stents in your heart, lived through a blood clot in the lung, an aortic aneurism in your abdomen, and a bunch of other nasty crap you’d rather not re-experience (if there is such a word). The above two paragraphs are from the NIH US National Library of Medicine. If you have any tendency toward hypochondria, researching the web for your supposed illnesses could put you in the grave faster than any real illness that might kill you.

I remember reading over a decade ago that more than 100,000 pages per day were being added to this thing we call the Internet. If that was true then and Net content is being added exponentially, can you imagine how much information is being added daily a decade or so later. There was a coffee ad a few years ago where the husband comes staggering into the kitchen in a ragged bathrobe. His wife is sitting at the kitchen table, and he begins the process of pouring himself a ‘cuppa’ with a shaky hand. “I thought you were surfing the Internet?” she queries. Pausing before he takes a sip, he answers, “I finished!” He then adds some inane remark about how such-and-such coffee will revive him.

Today, if you began your research with “Association amicale des amateurs d’andouillette authentique» and ended with Zzzzz Mattress, you’d probably be bone dust in your casket by the time your descendants finished the project.

As unfortunate as it may be, we live in an age that is obsessed by youth. When Apple announced its new I-phone VI or whatever the hell it was, you didn’t see an octogenarians camping out a week ahead of time to ensure that they were among the first in line. There are several reasons for that: First, we enjoy our own beds too much; not hotel beds; not resort beds; not beds on some Caribbean island (unless it’s a really cold New England winter); and most assuredly not some friggin’ sidewalk covered with cigarette butts, old chewing gum or dried spit. There might have been a couple of septuagenarians in the crowd, but you know how those youngsters behave. I have learned that the greatest gift of all at this age is breathing, exercising, eating pretty much what I wish, and sleeping in comfort in my own bed beside a woman I love. Are there limitations to turning 80? Of course there are. Unlike one of the linemen on the Florida State University football team, I can no longer bench press 600 pounds…what am I saying? I could never bench press anything close to 600 pounds…ever! The loss of muscle mass begins at 40, so I guess at my age, I should be thankful that I can bench 50 pounds plus the bar!

“Age is only a number. You’re only as old as you feel. Life begins at 80.”  It’s all a bunch of jargon bullshit. As my friend, David Ellis, was so fond of saying, “It is what it is.” That is so true. There are days when I believe I can take on the world and win; then, there are other days when I feel as though the world has decided it’s payback time…and I’m in real trouble!

Life is life. There is no dress rehearsal. We can do things at 20 that we can’t do at 80. However, at 80, we generally have the common sense to realize we can’t do what we did at 20. One of my favorite Mark Twain quotes is, “I was gratified to be able to answer promptly, and I did. I said I didn’t know.” That is one thing that I’ve learned over the past several decades. However, it’s not until one ages and either doesn’t give a damn or is sufficiently honest to be able to say it. Of course, Twain also said, “Life would be infinitely happier if we could only be born at the age of eighty and gradually approach eighteen.” I’m not as certain of this one as I am of the former. Somehow, I get the feeling that, despite our accumulated wisdom from eighty on backwards, we would still find a way to experience the ignorance of the things we did at fifty, forty, thirty, and twenty…not to mention the agonies of those last two teenage years.

I leave you with the best advice that our friend, Mr. Twain, could possibly give, “Don’t part with your illusions. When they are gone, you may still exist, but you have ceased to live.

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