Category Archives: Aging

What happened to Apollo Creed?

Hey, he looked fit to ME…

You may start seeing more of this kind of post, now that I’m over 70.

But my concern here grows out of something that’s bothered me for decades.

When Carl Weathers died several days ago, The New York Times reported:

His family said in a statement that he “died peacefully in his sleep.” The statement did not give a cause or say where he died.

Come on, people! How did he die?

This kind of thing has bothered me since my earliest days in the newspaper racket. When somebody dies, the cause of death should be right there in the lede. Especially in news stories, but also in obits. This is particularly the case in people who die young.

I see a person who looks about 20 in a photo with an obit, and the first thing I think is, “Maybe it’s an old picture.” Then, when I see it isn’t, I think, “What happened?”

I mean, don’t you? But too often, you’re told nothing. Or maybe, just maybe, the family will request donations to a fund that fights a deadly disease, and at least you have a hint.

And yeah, sometimes I can understand people not wanting to say, if there’s something about the cause — say, suicide or a drug overdose — that makes an excruciating tragedy even worse, and loved ones don’t want to see it in print. But I gather that lots of people simply don’t want to say, whatever the cause is. It has to do with a notion of privacy which I don’t understand.

In fact, I’ve long wished newspapers would refuse to run obits unless the cause of death is stated. That’s never going to happen, since obits are now ads, and organizations as desperate for revenue as our beleaguered newspapers aren’t going to give up a stream of revenue. And back when newsrooms handled them, it still didn’t happen because editors saw obits as a basic public service — you had to reported who had died in the community. But if you ask me, telling readers what’s killing the people around them is a pretty fundamental kind of public service.

But it didn’t bother me so much when people were old. And back when I first cared about obits, I would have seen 76 as old. Of course, I’m wiser than that now (that’s only six years older than I am!), but it still wouldn’t have occurred to me to wonder in this case, until I saw this story this morning in The Boston Globe.

It was about the fact that a Super Bowl ad featuring Weathers is still going to run during the game. Which makes me think, hey: He was healthy enough to shoot a commercial recently, so… he wasn’t wasting away with a fatal disease — that anyone knew, anyway.

Maybe it was a stroke. I know from personal experience how those can sneak up on you (although I was very lucky with mine).

But I’d still like to know. I mean, the guy was only 76…

I’d mention 9/11 today, but I don’t want to show my age

Hey, remember when this old movie came out? It was the same year the Iraq War started — and yet it was in COLOR!

Yes, you are meant to laugh at that headline. I certainly did, at the thing that made me write it.

I’m not used to laughing right out loud while walking down a quiet street, but this time I did.

Speaking again of NYT podcasts, I’m also fond of Ezra Klein’s programs, and had fallen behind on them. So while walking in the neighborhood a couple of days ago, I listened to this one from Aug. 15: “This Conservative Thinks America’s Institutions ‘Earned’ the G.O.P.’s Distrust.”

It was pretty good, and most of it wasn’t funny. But part of it was.

Remember my recent post about the accelerating acceleration of our sense of time as we grow older? I was trying at that time to remember some examples of the absurd (to me, and what other perspective do I have?) things I hear young people say. I wish I’d had this one to mention.

Ezra was out, and his substitute was Jane Coaston, who is currently the host of a podcast I used to listen to, “The Argument.” And she did fine, until she got to the point of saying something about recent current events.

What she said began with, “I’m old enough to recall the events that led up to the Iraq War…”

I didn’t just laugh out loud when that came through my hearing aids (which Bluetooth allows me to use like earbuds), it was a kind of sharp, piercing sound that carries. I stopped immediately, and glanced about to see if I had any neighbors standing stock-still out in their yards, staring at the demented hyena.

Fortunately, I did not.

When I was listening, I didn’t realize who the substitute interviewer was. When I looked back at the transcript just now to see, I thought I would check out Jane Coaston’s LInkedIn page, and while I don’t know her age, she received her bachelor’s degree in the same year that my newspaper career ended after 35 years. (For the sake of you young folks, that was about four years after I started this blog.)

So the difference in time perception is perfectly understandable. And as I say, she did a fine job overall. But she would have done better not to have expressed the reference to her memory quite that way. Usually people use that rhetorical construction when they mean, “I remember back this far, so you should trust my experience and wisdom.” But what she communicated was, This kid is so young she thinks that was a long time ago…

Anyway, if anyone wants to offer memories of 9/11 today, you could do it here. But beware — if you have personal memories of it, that might make you even older than Jane, and folks may start offering to help you cross the street….

Going by my family tree, I must be getting old…

Why did I write that post about time moving so much faster as we age? Well, I’ve been thinking lately about writing more often about that phenomenon. I mean about aging, not time. So that was an initial installment, I guess.

You can ignore them, if you prefer. I write posts such as this one mostly for my kids and grandkids, assuming the posts are still available if and when they wonder about these things. (Which may be a lot to assume.)

One thing that has put this stuff more on my mind lately is that a couple of weeks before I wrote that, I realized I had now outlived three of my four grandparents.

I had been anticipating this one. That’s because a couple of years back, I passed my maternal grandfather. That one sort of snuck up on me. I had long been used to the knowledge that I had outlived my maternal grandmother. She died when she was only 61. I was 15 at the time, so it was a lot of years before I realized how shockingly early that was.

At that point, I was shaken by the loss, but I also tended to think, Well, grandparents are really old, right? So I guess we have to accept that this might happen.

Then, in September 2021, it hit me that just a few days before, I had passed my Mom’s father as well. Both had died earlier than you would have expected, after medical incidents that one might normally expect to have gone much better than they did — especially today. Their deaths were far from inevitable, under the conditions. They did not “die of old age.”

To ease the formality… I called them “Nana” and “Pop,” and I was still a kid when we lost them. Their names were Nathalie Smith Pace and Walker Heyward Collins.

After I realized I had passed Pop, I checked the family tree and saw the date was not far off when I would pass my paternal grandfather, Gerald Harvey Warthen. He died on July 10, 1958, a couple of months short of his 70th birthday, when I was 4. (Yes, those grandparents were a good bit older than the other set. My Dad was the youngest of five.)

And now, I will reach the threescore-and-ten mark in less than… four weeks. So, another milestone.

I should point out that Granddad Warthen should have lived longer, too. He had lung cancer, which is not surprising when you see how many pictures we have of him with a cigarette, a cigar or a pipe. I was an accomplice in this. I remember him taking me on walks to a nearby shop and buying me candy cigarettes when he bought his real ones. I very much enjoyed them, but I would have much more enjoyed having my grandfather around while I was growing up.

My paternal Grandma, Mary Shiland Bradley, lived to the age of 95. That’s a high bar to reach for, and beyond most people’s expectations. Of course, my Dad lived to just short of turning 93, and my Mom is 92, and much healthier than Dad had been for several years at that age.

No sense making predictions, though. I could check out before I finish this post. If you’re reading it, though, I guess I didn’t.

But I am trying, in fits and starts, to make better use of each day. That’s a struggle for me, as it was when I was in my 20s. I am known to my intimates as being bad at quite a few things, and one of them is time management…

The accelerating acceleration of time…

So Rip Van Winkle took a nap? Big deal…

Rip Van Winkle fell asleep for 20 years? Big deal. I take a lot of naps myself, since my stroke.

Also, I’m older than Rip was when he woke up, near as I can figure. And this gives a very, very different conception of what constitutes a “long time.” This was on display in a response I gave to a Doug Ross comment earlier this week. But let’s not talk about that. The exchange was about one of the least interesting subjects in the known universe — interest rates. (He was impressed by a 21-year high. I was not.)

And I want to talk about time.

You may think this a subject that’s been done to death, too, and you’d be right, up to a point. I mean, we all know that time speeds up as we get older. I knew full well when I was 40 that a year went by a LOT faster than it did when I was, say, 10. You’ve all experienced it, even you youngsters.

But after that, time accelerates at an accelerating pace. And now that I’m a very few weeks away from turning 70, I can tell you that I’m experiencing something like Ludicrous Speed, and I’m in a new dimension, or something.

And the only way I can measure the change is to compare it to the ways I perceived time in the past — which seem, well, ludicrous to me now. Examples:

  1. I’m jealous of my children and grandchildren because they learned about the Second World War, the event that loomed over my childhood, in history class. I had to read up on it myself. I was born eight years after 1945, and when I was a kid, I figured that had been plenty of time to document it fully in the textbooks. And it DID appear, as a sort of epilogue, in some of my books. But my teachers never got that far by the end of the term. I was an adult before I understood that it was so recent that it was hard for adults to wrap their heads around the idea that it was history. They saw it as current events. How could we not know all about it? Anyway, I felt really left out, because my world was full of indications that this monumental thing had happened just before I was born, and my elders knew all about it, but they weren’t sharing. I spent a lot of time, whenever I was in the school library, looking at those LIFE magazine coffee-table books full of pictures from that period. By high school, I was devouring adult novels set in the period, and then got into the actual history books
  2. In my senior year of high school, I wrote a research paper for my civics class (a course with one of those faddish names like “Problems in American Democracy”) about Robert F. Kennedy — not the one who’s running quixotically for president now, but his Dad, who was not crazy, and was a contender if not the favorite back in ’68. Of course, I didn’t write the paper until the night before it was due — an all-nighter, since I had to type it after writing it longhand (I lacked skills I later took for granted). But I had been reading up on him for some time — at least one book covering his whole life, and a bunch of magazine articles. I really, truly had a strong sense that I was writing about a figure from way back in history; I remember this clearly. I had known next to nothing about him when he was alive, so I was learning about the distant past. But he had been assassinated only three years before! Had he survived, and won the 1968 election, he would still have been in his first term when I was writing it! It was like — the 2020 election, looked back upon now.
  3. That one reminds of an incident illustrating how clueless I still was well into my 30s. When I was the news editor of The Wichita Eagle-Beacon, from 1985-87, I was asked to help with the screening of a candidate for assistant metro editor. Before meeting her, I read through her clips from her reporting days, and was deeply impressed by one of her stories: It was about the spontaneous speech RFK gave to a crowd in Indianapolis upon learning of the assassination of Martin Luther King. It was a profoundly great speech, and if you’ve never heard it, go listen. This was two months before he himself was killed. It was an amazing story, and she did a good job with it. But what I remember thinking was, She was there? She was an actual working journalist way back in history like that? I wasn’t used to dealing with anyone that old. And when I met her, she actually had gray hair! (Mind you, it was only as far back as… well, this blog is older than that.) But ancient as she was, we hired her, and I really liked her. Old people can be interesting.
  4. Just one more, and this is the one that really gets my head spinning. As I said, as a kid, WWII was history, even though by an adult perspective, it had just happened. The 1930s — the days of Prohibition and Al Capone and the Great Depression — that was way back when my parents were little kids, and they were antediluvian, right? In the Roaring ’20s, my mom hadn’t even been born. The First World War? I didn’t know anybody who had served in that, although I heard legends about an uncle who had been gassed, and always had poor health, and died long before I came along. To me, it was like hearing about Henry V at Agincourt.

Let’s break down that last bullet, from an adult perspective. Let’s compare perceptions of time in 1963 — the year I turned 10 — to today:

  • In 1963, the end of the war was no more distant than 2005 is now. You know, the year I started this blog. Which just happened, right?
  • Al Capone had gone to prison for tax evasion in 1932. That was the same distance back as 1992. According to Wikipedia, some of the top movies of that year were “Lethal Weapon 3” (not 1 or 2), “A Few Good Men” (yay, Aaron Sorkin), “Sister Act,” and “Wayne’s World.” If you think those are old films, you and I might have trouble communicating.
  • This month in 1927, President Coolidge proposed federal funding for the planned sculptures on Mount Rushmore. And my Dad wasn’t born yet. That same distance back from now, I became the governmental affairs editor of The State, after having been a supervising editor at other newspapers for seven years.
  • Now it really gets creepy. In 1963, the start of the Great War, the War to End All Wars — which would lead to the ends of the Russian, Hapsburg and Ottoman empires — was 49 years back. But I have realized that this wasn’t the same as Agincourt. My wife and I celebrated our 49th anniversary on Friday.

Never mind stuff I can still remember. These books I’ve often mentioned recently expanding the notion of “history” to way before the dawn of writing have expanded my concept of time to what most Americans who know who the Kardashians would consider… ludicrous.

I’m reminded of a conversation I overheard on the USC campus back when I worked in an office, and took long daily walks around the campus and downtown area. These two boys were walking behind me, and one of them was bitching about having to take a course in stupid history — as if anybody cared about that.

His friend, however, protested that learning history was important to understanding our world, and he got the first kid to agree, reluctantly. I almost applauded, but in keeping with my lifelong habit of hanging back and observing, I didn’t (anyway, they may have found that a bit… condescending).

But then I heard the first kid say, “Yeah, OK. But this was, like, 500 years back! Who needs to know about that?”

The friend felt compelled to walk back his position: “Well, maybe not 500 years! Let’s not be ridiculous…”

I just kept walking.

Five hundred years ago, what we call the Modern Era had already begun. The Roman Empire, which kinda got Western civilization all going and organized, had collapsed more than a thousand years earlier.

As old as I may look, boys, I don’t personally remember those things. But come on…

Ferdinand and Isabella? That was, like, 500 years ago! Who cares?

When did THESE guys get so old?

I was reading something in The Washington Post this morning, and I saw dese two mooks in a picture, and they looked familiar.

My next thought was, When did THEY get so old? I mean, Marty looks like he could be Joe Biden’s dad! Johnny Boy’s not quite as bad, but can you believe he’s the guy on the left down below?

The one below is from 1973, and I realize that was a couple of years ago, maybe a little more, but this is ridiculous! The dames aren’t gonna go for the guy in the picture above, no matter how many Seven and Sevens he buys them! On the upside, maybe Johnny Boy’s calmed down a bit, and Charlie won’t have to worry about him so much.

But come ahhhn

Scorsese (center) directing De Niro and Keitel in ‘Mean Streets’…

Oh, wait. With “Mean Streets” in the air, I shouldn’t end this with a still. Here’s a clip, the one with the mooks:

On the ever-accelerating compression of time

The old and the young just don’t see time the same way.

Tonight, as I drove home from an Epiphany mass, my wife was checking her email on her phone, and found a missive from Experian about a supposed account.

Since she does not have an account with Experian, she found this mysterious, and she mentioned it to me.

“Don’t delete it,” I said. I said it quickly, because she’s not like me. She wouldn’t let 12,000 emails pile up. She dispatches them with, well, dispatch…

She wanted to know why not? Surely I didn’t have an account for checking my credit score or anything…

Well, no. I have never wondered what my “credit score” was. I only have the vaguest notion what a credit score is, or why anyone would want to know about such a thing. I think it has something to do with one’s ability to borrow money, and I find it hard to imagine wanting to do that — or do anything else that involves thinking about money. As I often mention.

But that name, “Experian,” rang a bell. I poked around in my memory as I drove, and decided it had something do to with something I had done for ADCO. I couldn’t remember what that something was, or whether it meant I was still in some way entangled with this Experian outfit. So I wanted to get home and check my ADCO email before she deleted that.

I explained that it was awhile back — maybe as much as a year. And that’s why I couldn’t remember details. I could only say it had something to do with something else that company does, something unrelated to credit scores.

So I got home, checked my old email — if it had to do with work, I would have filed them away. And I had. I found that I had even created a folder called “Experian” in that gmail account, and it had six emails stored in it. Apparently, I had briefly created an account with the company for them to do email verification on a list of people a client wanted to send something to. Not a task I’d normally perform. In fact, I had only ended up being the person to do it this once.

So, pretty good memory, right? I had sorta kinda remembered having done something with this company on one brief occasion. I can’t remember who the client was or what the eblast was about, but I remembered something. That’s good, right?

Please affirm me here. Because my point in writing this is to tell you that all those six emails were sent in 2017. In May and June of that year. Almost six years ago. And I had thought it was maybe as much as a year back.

This happens to me all the freaking time now. Usually, I’m being surprised when I hear some younger person talking about something that happened a long, long time ago. And I’ll think, “No, no, that just happened — it was right around the time of the 9/11 attacks.”

I’ll read some retrospective in a newspaper about something that happened 30 years ago, or 20 years ago, or even more absurdly, 10 years ago, and I’ll wonder why the writer is going on about this thing that just happened as though it were history, ancient history, something that many readers might not even be able to remember.

I hear younger people reminiscing about, say, the 2012 election in tones I might use in talking about, I don’t know, the Beatles. Or the Cuban Missile Crisis.

It’s one of the oddest things about aging, this powerful distortion of temporal perspective. Expect me to write more about it. You know how we old people are…

Remembering (or not) the royal funeral

Of course, I refer to the funeral of King Edward VII, on May 20, 1910.

Y’all remember that one? It was a biggie. I cite the first paragraph of The Guns of August:

I don’t mean to disrespect Her Majesty’s funeral yesterday, by any means. Based on all I’ve heard and the few photos I’ve seen (the reverence, the solemnity, the dazzling colors — except for the two disgraced princes in mufti), it was splendid — as it should have been.

I’ve just got this one on my mind because a couple of days back, I started re-reading the Tuchman book. I’m using the term “re-reading” loosely here, because I didn’t finish it the first time. After it shifted to the Eastern front, it seemed to bog down. All I remember about it was the incompetence of the tsar’s government (sort of like Putin’s in Ukraine), which gave me a bit of insight into why the revolution happened.

So I decided to start over, partly because I knew the first chapter was awesome, beginning with that portrait, excerpted above, of the old world that was about to end — that ruled by closely related kings, attending the funeral of their kinsman. He was known as “the uncle of Europe,” which Mrs. Tuchman explained thusly:

Anyway, I had remembered all that — not each and every relationship, or even the precise number of royal highnesses and such in the cortege. But I had remembered the main points — the pomp and splendor, the significance of this last gathering of the fam, and the general reasons why this was all to come to an end.

But I didn’t remember everything. And that’s my point. When I was young, I remembered any book I had read — no matter how much earlier — in absurd detail. Not photographic memory exactly, but I remember details clearly, and could quickly find them. Long before Google, I could in a brief moment find a quote I wanted in a book read 20 years earlier, by leafing through it thinking, OK, it was in the upper part of a left-hand page, and it was before this… but after that… a couple more pages… there! And when I got there, it was as I had remembered.

To some extent, that’s still there. And I remembered there were certain alarming ideas current in Germany at the time, and how I was impressed when I first read about them, thinking, As much as we make of Nazi ideology, this stuff didn’t just come from the twisted mind of Hitler a generation later….

But I had forgotten her portrait of the most prominent of those foreign cousins riding in the cortege — Kaiser Wilhelm II. “William” was glad his uncle Edward was dead. It meant, he thought, he — and Germany — would get more recognition, more respect. Note the way the author describes the kaiser’s reaction to Edward’s triumphant visit to Paris a few years earlier:

(Sorry about all the long screenshots, by the way. I would copy and paste much shorter quotes, but Google Books won’t let me, so I do this. I know it’s rather unsatisfactory. I don’t do it just because I’m lazy; retyping introduces a greatly increased possibility of errors.)

I’d forgotten what a cranky, needy child the Kaiser was. Of course, he comes across a lot like Trump — all that whiny me, me, me. Maybe it strikes me more strongly now because I first read that chapter pre-2016, when Trump was still this ridiculous figure from the 1980s whom we are all free to ignore.

Now, I think, Well, as messed up as our democracy not is, and as much as I like and will miss the queen, here’s another reason to appreciate that we don’t have a monarch. Think about it. As much as Trump tried to become king — on Jan. 6, and so often before and since — he failed. But imagine how much more awful things would be were he a sovereign, and his identification with the country were such that he was the country and the country was him? (Yes, I know this isn’t the Middle Ages and things were different by 1914, but there’s still the psychology of identification that lies at the heart of the idea of monarchy.)

Of course, if we had a monarchy, Trump would never have been the king. But let’s not get lost in speculative details.

Anyway, that’s not my point. My point is to bring up one of the few fun parts of getting older: It’s forgetting things, and enjoying the delight of rediscovering them.

It’s not that I’ve become a goldfish. I remember most things, and since I’m an intuitive type, I pretty much always remember, and can accurately describe in general terms, the forest. Which is what matters to someone who thinks the way I do. But I let go of a lot of the trees.

I first saw this coming on maybe 15 or 20 years ago (or, from my perspective, a few days ago) when I suddenly realized that I longer remembered all of the lyrics of every single Beatles song. I had always taken that knowledge for granted, and now there were many holes in it. Big deal, I was able to say to myself — those weren’t details I needed in my life. Still, it was a loss.

Then, about the time I entered my 60s, the delightful thing came along: I didn’t retain any new TV shows I saw. Oh, I remembered what Jethro did in “The Beverly Hillbillies” back in the mid-60s. But I could watch an episode of some British murder mystery and enjoy it in 2012 or later, and then come back in a year or so with NO idea whodunit, and enjoy it all over again. Because my personal hard drive was no longer adding this stuff to the database.

Which is awesome. Lately, my wife and I have been rewatching “Endeavour” from the beginning, and having a great time. Oh, something about a scene will be familiar; I might even say “I know this scene; this is the moment I realized the writers were basing this episode on ‘The Great Gatsby’.” But I still won’t know what’s going to happen. And there are episodes I don’t remember at all.

Which is great. It’s so much easier to be entertained whenever I want to be. I don’t have to look so hard for “new” content.

For some time, I’ve been thinking, What if this could happen with books, too? I mean, what if I could completely forget O’Brian’s Aubrey/Maturin series, and start over and experience it for the “first time” again? That would be bliss.

I’m not there yet, by any means. But this bit of forgetfulness with the Tuchman book is a promising beginning…

Federer retires at 41. So… what will he be next?

Today, I almost tweeted a rather obvious (and therefore lame) joke about the retiring tennis star. Something like, “Federer is 41, poor ol’ fella…”

But then, aside from shying away from the obvious, I decided it was also wrong. In a way, Roger sort of is a poor old fellow.

His entire life, as short as it’s been, has been about being one of the best tennis players in the world — perhaps the best. His body, his mind, his spirit have all been entirely focused on that goal. And now, for the rest of his life — which will quite probably be most of his life — will lack that. Whatever he does next, it will lack that intense drive, that satisfaction.

So while he rightly claims his triumphs, he ends on a rueful note in this statement:

“I am 41 years old; I have played more than 1,500 matches over 24 years,” Federer said in an audio clip posted on social media. “Tennis has treated me more generously than I ever would have dreamed, and now I must recognize when it is time to end my competitive career.”

So I do feel a little bad for him.

Of course, he’s luckier than football and, to a lesser extent, baseball players. His is a sport he can still enjoy for the rest of his active life. He can beat the pants off everybody in his neighborhood, and relax doing it.

But it won’t be the same.

A corollary, a little different from what I was saying above about Federer: Suppose he is really successful at his next career, if he has one. Like my wife’s first cousin, Tim McCarver. I haven’t talked to him in decades, but I don’t think he was filled with a sense of loss through all those years of live television — it would have shown, to the whole world. And he was very successful at it, winning three Emmys.

But because he was so successful, there’s something a bit disorienting to someone like me who is old enough to remember his glory days on the field. Look at how Wikipedia describes him now, at the age of almost 81: “James Timothy McCarver (born October 16, 1941) is an American sportscaster and former professional baseball catcher.”

The “sportscaster” comes first, and the “professional baseball catcher” comes next — with a former in front of it! This despite the fact that he was one of only 29 players to appear in MLB games in four different decades — having come up to the bigs in 1959, when he was only 17, and retired in 1980.

Yeah, he spent twice as much time as a sportscaster, but hey — to me, those were short years. When you’re a kid, years are much more than twice as long. And when I first saw him play in person in 1969 when he was with the Cardinals, it seemed he’d been a star ballplayer forever.

So I find myself wondering: When Federer is 81, what will people say he was? I don’t know, but when I’m that age, if I ever am that age, I’ll think of him as a tennis player. A great one…

Stop shocking me, people!

If seeing this movie is a childhood memory to you — or worse, you don’t remember it — don’t tell me about it.

Well, I suffered another shock today, of a sort that has become familiar.

I was reading my Washington Post app, and ran across a story that begins this way:

In 1993, I was nominated for homecoming queen at my high school in a conservative Southern California city. It wasn’t meant to be a political act. One of my girlfriends had suggested, “Nominate Trey — he’ll do it,” after the girls had agreed none of them wanted to parade around in a rayon dress from Windsor Fashions while being judged.

I was used to this. While most of my peers spent weekends at football games and rodeos, I slipped into black high heels and Russian Red lipstick and drove to Los Angeles, where I snuck into the clubs with my fake ID and innocent smile. That was just me being me….

It’s written by some guy named Trey, and the subject is the fact that Brad Pitt recently appeared in public in a skirt.

In any case, I’m sure you can see immediately what it is that I found shocking about this story.

Yep, there it is, at the very start of the very first sentence; “In 1993…”

What?!? I thought. You were hanging out with a bunch of high school kids in 1993? You, a grown man who wrote a column appearing in one of America’s leading newspapers, refer to one of those kids as “one of my girlfriends?”

What kind of a perv are you, sir? Are you one of those guys who hangs around, leaning against walls and saying, “Alright alright alright!”

Or rather, “I get older; they say the same age…

Of course, I’ll admit that I read far more shocking stuff than this — in a temporal sense — every day. Frequently, I’ll hear an apparent grownup referring to some event happening “when I was a little kid,” and the thing he’s referring to happened after (or shortly before) the recent turn of the century — which was what, about a week or two ago?

By contrast, 1993 was more like several months ago, or maybe a year. That was the year I turned 40. In fact, to nail it down further, the day I turned 40 was the day the Battle of Mogadishu happened.

This happens more and more, and I’m finding it more and more disorienting. So cut it out, people. The last think we need — or the last thing I need, anyway — is to hear people talking about events of the Clinton administration as though they happened during Charlemagne’s reign over the Holy Roman Empire.

Get a grip, people — before I lose mine…

Words I can’t seem to learn, or re-learn

I’ve noticed something lately, and I wonder whether it’s a function of aging.

I don’t don’t obsess about it or anything. I don’t focus anxiously on it like Catch-22‘s Yossarian, of whom Heller writes:

He wondered often how he would ever recognize the first chill, flush, twinge, ache, belch, sneeze, stain, lethargy, vocal slip, loss of balance or lapse of memory that would signal the inevitable beginning of the inevitable end….

But it does occur to me, when I have trouble remembering things I once knew (say, all the lyrics of every Beatle song) or retaining new information. I wonder, Is this normal, or is this… decline?

For instance, in recent days I’ve found myself looking up the following, to make sure I’m understanding what is meant by the writer using them. And I’ve been very conscious of having looked up all of them before, perhaps multiple times. But the definitions don’t stick:

epistemology — This one is important, and it gets used a lot lately because Trump and Trumpism challenge the very basis of knowledge, of what a fact is, of what is knowable. But I keep having to go, Wait, let me look that up again. And unfortunately, it’s sufficiently slippery that you can’t hold onto it the way you can, say, an apple. The short answer is that “Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge, justification, and the rationality of belief.” But that means it can be used all sorts of ways. Every time I run into this one, I picture myself as Kenneth Parcell on “30 Rock,” with a particularly bewildered look on his simple face.

neoliberalism — This is a stupid word. It’s nothing like “neoconservative,” which describes something clear, something of which examples abound: generally speaking, a liberal who turned away from the Democratic Party and other liberals post-Vietnam. But Wikipedia defines it this way: “Neoliberalism or neo-liberalism is the 20th-century resurgence of 19th-century ideas associated with laissez-faire economic liberalism and free market capitalism, which constituted a paradigm shift away from the post-war Keynesian consensus that had lasted from 1945 to 1980.” So… it’s classical liberalism, right? Oh, sure, pedants draw a distinction, but the distinctions are stupid. A neoliberal is someone saying, “Gimme that old-time liberalism.” The “neo” is a superfluous affectation. No wonder I can’t remember it. It lacks meaning.

tautology — This one’s actually easier to understand than the others. It’s kind of like, you know, pleonasm. Yeah, I know. I’m going to go ahead and forget “pleonasm” on purpose…

Maybe I should stop reading Ross Douthat. I’m pretty sure he’s used all of those words recently, sending me to Google them again. The showoff.

But it’s not just polysyllabic Latin- or Greek-derived words in English. I see the slippage in other areas as well.

For instance, I’ve had a lot of trouble relearning Spanish. I spoke it fluently as a child. The other day I happened to remember my landlady in Ecuador telling me how I sounded like a native after I’d been in country three months. She was being nice, of course, but I did pick it up ridiculously easily — helped by the fact that I was only 9 years old. My vocabulary probably wasn’t great at the point, but my pronunciation was already good, learned entirely from imitating the non-English-speakers who surrounded me all day, every day.

I especially have trouble remembering the gender of nouns (especially those that don’t end in “a” or “o,” and even those — such as mano — can fool you). Whenever I serve as a Eucharistic minister at the Spanish Mass at church, part of my duty is to help clean up the vessels afterward. Then we lock up everything. And on several occasions, I’ve wanted to ask, “Where is the key?” And I start to say it, and can’t remember: Is it “la llave” or “el llave?”

Most people whose Spanish is as bad as mine now is wouldn’t worry. They’d just say one or the other in the confidence that the native speakers would understand anyway, and be forgiving toward the gringo. Which they would, on both counts. I’m not satisfied with that. I want to get it right, or not say it at all. So I ask in English, rather than expose my failing.

Llave is feminine, by the way, as I found from looking it up yet again


Today, all celebrities are more than 50 years old


Harry Harris brought up AARP, which reminded me of something I noticed on the way out the door this morning.

All of a sudden, all truly famous celebrities, all the big names, are over 50.

That hit me when I noticed the latest AARP magazine on our kitchen table, with Steve Martin on the cover. Of course, we all knew Steve Martin was old — he was white-headed when all the world was young.

But the more I’m exposed to this magazine — I never pick it up, but I do notice the covers — the more I’m convinced that everyone famous is now older than 50.

Look at the recent covers above and below.

  • Dustin Hoffman — We boomers think of him as the ultimate exemplar of youthful angst. If he made a move on someone Mrs. Robinson’s age now, she wouldn’t give him a second glance.
  • Bruce Springsteen — OK, I get it: Everyone called “boss” is a white guy over 50, right? Except in this case, he’s more than 60.
  • Michael J. Fox — Yep. This time Marty McFly has traveled way, WAY into the future.
  • Diane Keaton — OK, we saw this happening over the years. What can be said about it? That’s life. La-dee-dah, la-dee-dah
  • Kevin Spacey — Again, not surprising.
  • Dennis Quaid — I remember when “The Big Easy” came out, and a review called him something like “our best breezy young actor.” I’ll always picture him with that crewcut, playing the brash young Gordon Cooper in “The Right Stuff.”
  • Brad Pitt — OK, I’m not sure this was actually a cover. I think this was something AARP does when they’re calling out a celebrity for crossing the line. Anyway, I read something recently about him and other big-name actors not getting the great roles any more, as Hollywood turns away from big names and relies on interchangeable young actors named “Chris.” I’d link to the story, but I can’t find it now.
  • Kevin Costner — Remember the goofy, gawky gunslinger in “Silverado?” Now he might have to turn to playing the crotchety, grizzled prospector, à la Gabby Hayes.
  • Ron Howard — Opie! I see Opie on those reruns now and I think of my grandson — not someone old enough to be a grandfather himself.
  • Denzel Washington — We’ve watched him get gray, but did you know he’s 62?
  • Cyndi Lauper — Now you know why she keeps dyeing her hair those crazy colors. It’s not just to have fun.
  • Sharon Stone — Which, of course, is why you don’t hear about her any more.

Sure, there are some recognizable celebrities who are under 50. There’s um, Taylor Swift! And that little Bruno Mars guy. And maybe one or two others. Dave Matthews? Nope — he’s 50. All those superhero actors named “Chris” don’t count, by the way. A celebrity needs to stand out distinctively.

When I was young, not even the OLD stars my parents liked were over 50. Take 1965, which I have written about in the past as the most fevered time American popular culture (it was for me because I had just returned from years in South America without TV, and soaking up pop culture was like overdosing on a powerful drug — but I don’t think it was just me).

Dean Martin was 48. Frank Sinatra didn’t turn 50 until the end of that year, and he seemed ancient! Kirk Douglas, father of the now 72-year-old Michael, was only 49. James Garner, who was born looking like somebody’s dad, was 37. Nat King Cole, who died that year and whose daughter now graces the cover of AARP, was only 45.

While all the celebs we kids were interested in were in their 20s, if not teens.

Anyway, that’s the way I remember it. Your mileage may, you know…