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Top row, from left: Carolyn Gould, office manager; Lynda Furlow, stylist; Marilyn Minter, artist. Bottom Row, from left: Ramón Mercado, film extra; Rasim Muminovic, retired; Michel Richard, chef.   

This new paradigm took hold as a scattershot succession of time-specific mini-epiphanies. One of these realizations came while thumbing through a book titled A History of Old Age. In addition to detailing Aristotle’s distaste for the aged, whom he thought to be excessively pessimistic, malicious, and small-minded owing to their extended interface with life’s grinding “disappointments,” A History of Old Age featured a number of Enlightenment-era drawings titled “The Stages of Man’s Life From the Cradle to the Grave.”

In this scheme, life is depicted as an eternal staircase; the steps ascend, reach a topmost platform, then go down. The traveler begins on the ground floor as “a lamb-like innocent,” then climbs upward, each step signifying a ten-year interval. The “eagle-like” 20s lead to the “bull-like” 30s, nearing the apex in the 40s, when “nought his courage quails but lion-like, by force prevails.” (A companion chart notes a woman’s peak to be 30, when she is said to be a “crown to her husband.”) From this upper perch, it is all downhill, through the grasping, Scrooge-like 60s; the languorous, ineffectual 70s; and ending in the largely symbolic “one-hundredth year,” when, “tho’ sick of life, the grave we fear.” In a French version of “The Stages,” called “Le Jugement Universel,” the final downward phases are known as l’âge de décadence and l’âge décrépite.

Probably even Anna Karina in Vivre Sa Vie couldn’t make l’âge décrépite sound sexy, but it was no great task to create a personalized, modern-age version of “The Stages.” A pattern of whiplash upheaval emerged. I was born in 1948; my “lamb-like innocence” was spent learning how to be a Cold War kid, schooled in the nuances of 1950s preteen reality, Have Gun—Will Travel and Gunsmoke on the tube every Saturday night. Then, just as I mastered my kidlike state, becoming a King of Kids, the rug was pulled out. Without warning, I was thrust into a hormone-laced universe of spouting pubic hair and the Rolling Stones. It was back to square one, a whole new playing field to navigate. The ensuing “eagle-like” adolescent-cum-teen quake lasted through the lionization-canonization-commodification of youth culture during the 1960s and early ’70s, during which time I would grow to become an exemplar, warts-and-all specimen of my burgeoning bunch, who were on the cover of Time magazine every other week. This period also ended with unprecognitioned abruptness when I became a husband, a father, and a simulacrum of a grown-up. It was one more Sisyphean moment, a brand-new rock of unknown size and density to roll up the hill. This was the structure, a repeating push-pull of stasis and change requiring periodic recalibration of self.

So here I am, again, in this as-yet-uncharted territory, working through the break-in period. It isn’t that I’m any further from l’âge décrépite. With my silver hair (better than none!), I still look the part. I continue to rack up the requisite litany of pre–alter kaker woes: the lower back, the plantar fasciitis, the floaters in the right eye. An arthritic right shoulder has joined the left in the crosshairs of the surgeon’s hungry arthroscope. Plenty of my parts are out of warranty, or close. My whole corpus delicti could go at any minute. It is just that as an old man, I am new, as fresh to the scene as when I turned into a teen on the 7 train, riding into the Village to see Muddy Waters for the first time at the Café Au Go-Go on Bleecker Street.

That was the real epiphany, what I told myself when I looked into the mirror this very morning—that, ear hair and all, I remain resolutely myself. I am the same me from my baby pictures, the same me who got laid for the first time in the bushes behind the high-school field in Queens, the same me who drove a taxi through Harlem during the Frank Lucas days, the same me my children recognize as their father, the same me I was yesterday, except only more so by virtue of surviving yet another spin of the Earth upon its axis. I was at the beginning again, stepping off into one more blank space of the Whitmanesque cosmos, a Magellan of me.

I mention the above because even if there is nothing new about getting old, it is always good to beat the traffic. As we speak, more people are growing longer in the tooth than at any time in the history of the species. I’m talking about my generation, the one that claimed to want to die before it got old, one more bit of moldy bravado only Keith Moon was bonkers enough to make good on. Every day, 10,000 fellow Americans I might have shared a joint with in a freshman dorm join me here on the downside of the stairway to Heaven and/or Hell. I am in just the first wave of the so-called baby-boomers to line up at the cashier’s window. The tide will be coming in until 2029, 70 million souls all told, enough to bankrupt a hundred Obama­cares. And take it from me, if other generations might have been willing to quietly fade to black, it is going to take a way bigger hook to get the Boom Krewe off the stage.


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