I can’t think of anyone who has come to me for wisdom, serenity, authority or power. People do come to sell me life insurance for $9 a month and medicines such as Prevagen, which is advertised on TV as making one sharper and improving one’s memory. Of course, that is beneficial only to those who have more things they wish to remember than to forget.
One thing I need to remember is which day for which doctor. Two years ago, my wife and I moved back to New York City after 24 years of living by the sea. The city is safer, we thought — just in case we may ever need to be near medical facilities. Since our move, not a day has passed without one of us seeing a doctor, arranging to see one, or thinking or talking about seeing one.
Activities such as getting out of a taxi are not only degrading and humiliating; they take so much effort, they simply make you tired. You may reasonably say, “Why not take the subway?” I would, except for the two hours needed to get up and down the stairs. Still, it’s all a matter of adjustment. It took me three or four years of taxi rides to finally admit to myself that I’m old.
Old. Even the word sounds like a sigh of surrender.
I wrote a book called “Rules for Aging” 25 years ago when I used to leap in and out of taxis like a deer if you can picture such a thing. The rules were less about aging than about living generally, one of the first being “Nobody’s thinking about you.”
In old age that’s true in spades. And that’s another of aging’s unnerving surprises. You disappear from the culture, or rather, it disappears from you. Young women and men shown on TV as world-famous, you’ve never heard of. New idioms leave you baffled. You are Rip Van Winkle without having fallen asleep.
To be sure, old age has compensations. Grandchildren. Their company is delightful, partly because they think you have something useful to impart if you could remember to impart it. Waitresses tend to treat you sweetly. Doormen and maintenance crews show respect. And there are positive or harmless activities for the over-the-hill. Women take up watercolors and form book clubs. Men find loud if pointless camaraderie in diners and on village benches all over the country. Hey, old-timer.