55

February 19, 2020

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“I’ve never been this old before.” You heard a man say at an AA meeting. He wasn’t trying to be funny, but it was good line. You guffawed into the circle of chairs.

Sitting outside your home in the waning minutes of daylight, you think about your age. You are 55 years old. Double nickels. The speed limit. Rock singer, Sammy Hagar, who lives in Marin County as well, had a big hit in the 80’s: Don’t Stop at 55. He’s much older than that now and from what you’ve read about him, he’s still pretty active, in both his music and outside endeavors. An “adrenaline junkie” the writer called him.

You don’t want to stop at 55. But more and more the river of life recedes and your feet get evermore stuck in the mud. You’ve never been this old before. It takes getting used to. You fear you may never get used to it. You wonder, or is it worry, that getting used to aging means you have officially, irrevocably, become old.

The other day you while you were at the gym, fighting the good fight to keep your body in some reasonable shape, you saw an older fellow being helped into the workout area. He walked feebly and had a female caregiver by his side assisting him from one machine to another. In addition, a personal trainer was there, guiding them both. Together they would get the man into a machine. Then fasten the ties and set the weights to an appropriately low level. “Push slowly down taking care not to move your head forward,” the trainer said. She spoke loudly and declarative, the way a second grade teacher would. You found that sad, having to address a grown man like a child. But there it was.

Reflecting on that scene, you now realize how frightened it had made you. Not so many years separated you from that old man. Age may well be a state of mind but his decrepitude was real. Any person would dread becoming as he was, in need of constant help doing rudimentary tasks, like putting on a pair of jeans, wiping his ass. Did the old man have a nervous stomach like you? Every shit you take was an adventure, resulting in either gassy torrents or a painful dropping of pellets. Sometimes you pushed so hard it broke the membranes in your anus bringing forth pink blood. Whether the old man in the gym had these issues or not you knew they came with age. It scares you thinking of what else is coming.

You take a puff on your cigar, something you absolutely should not be doing. Like the caffeine you ingested almost hourly it was very unhealthy. But the pull is even more powerful than the fear of getting cancer or becoming decrepit. You’re an addict. Paradoxical behavior is no surprise.

Feeling good and feeling young are the same thing. During exercise, when the endorphins kick in, you become exalted. Your muscles tighten. You feel powerful. Fucking is, by definition, being virile, a stud. Using your muscles elicited a sense of youthfulness, vigor and purpose, which honestly was disappearing elsewhere. You chase that feeling like a good buzz. In this way you are like Sammy Hagar, a rock star, an adrenaline junkie. An addict.

Doctors say the mind stops maturing at the age one begins abusing drugs and alcohol. That means you were 16 years old when you stopped using at 40. Doing the math, now 55, you have a thirty-something brain assuming you’ve matured at all.

Does it matter? You are a man getting older. Maybe the last few years are merely a protracted mid-life crisis. Some men jump out of planes or climb an imposing mountain. Satiated, they return to their domestic lives and begin the process of aging gracefully, whatever the fuck that means.

You do not want to go quietly into that good night. Sometimes when your back aches and your eyes lose focus or the ringing in your ears become conspicuous you think you are going whether you like it or not. So you open a Monster and guzzle, the caffeine, taurine and guarana working their unsavory magic on your nervous system. You take your vitamins and supplements, including creatine and glutamine, two substances that are banned in professional sports. You pack your gym bag and get in your black Jaguar XF Sport and race to the Bay Club. Fuck the chronic strain in your right shoulder. To hell with the tweaking in your lower back. You press. You pull. You push. You do an hour and twenty before heading to the sauna. You take a multi-bladed razor and shave your head bald. In the shower you marvel at the muscles in your body, how they bulge and pulse, engorged with blood, their veins visible under the skin. When you dry off you feel electric, radiant, and full of life. You feel good. You feel young. It won’t last but nothing good ever does. So, you keep coming back.

You’ve never been this old before but right now you are as young as you will ever be again.

Author’s note: If you’d like to read the entire book or would like me to write something for you please look me up. Thank you!

Back to School.

February 16, 2020

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You’re studying to be certified as a drug and alcohol counselor. After 30 years, back to school. At Berkeley no less! Is this the end game: parlaying your alleged gifts as an AA speaker into a vocation? You wouldn’t be the first. In every class so far at least half the students are recovering alcoholics and addicts, like you. The others already work in the field, getting certified in order to advance their positions: in treatment facilities, government and social services, caregivers.

Your wife is at school, too, and is nearly finished getting her degree in interior design. For three years, she’s been dutifully driving to the city two nights a week. You believe part of a plan for when you’re out of the picture. A security blanket, if you will, having a job in a world she knows so well. It’s also admirable, her continuing education. That’s what people say about a thing like that; it’s the party line. Finally, you suppose, it is something to do. A learning experience, literally.

Now it’s your turn. Advertising will be what you must now call your “previous life.” After 25 years, the ad game is over, its last cards turned over. You tell yourself that counseling is the door opening and believe it, for the most part. Helping others, you think, will have meaning, and be purposeful. Shame you’ve never been particularly good at it: helping others. There are those who called you a mentor but you can count them on one hand and, being honest, you think they may have been just saying so, for whatever reason. What you hold onto, what you must in order to continue the classes, is that you can and do help people who are addicts and alcoholics. They tell you so all the time, at meetings, after you share, and this was not a place for lying.

Author’s note: Would you like to read more of this? Or maybe there is something I can help you write?

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You walk through your house singing U2 or humming the theme from I Dream of Genie. Inane or sublime, the content literally could be anything. And often is. Usually it’s just the chorus. Rarely do you even get the words right. But you sing. Your family hears you. Does it reassure them? Dad is always singing. He must be happy. Or does it make them nervous? What’s up with father? He’s out of work. He had to sell our house and rent another. Shouldn’t he be miserable? It’s inappropriate. Whistling in the graveyard is bad luck. Hasn’t he had enough of that already?

Apparently not.

You sang all the time at work. Told jokes too… all kinds of jokes and all kinds of songs. Even during stressful times. What did people think? That you were ecstatic? Or weird? Probably both.

(Author’s note: This is a small section from an autobiographical novel I have been writing for some time. It’s looking for a home. Would you like to read more? Or maybe there is something I can help you write?)

Mist

February 12, 2020

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Everyone experiences situational depression. Conflict. Unresolved resentments. Sometimes it really is just the humidity. Having a bad day. You either accept the situation or change it. Regardless, it always ends. It is not clinical. Professional help and medicine are seldom required. What you are experiencing is neither clinical nor situational. Sadness descends upon you like mist. By no means pleasant it isn’t debilitating either. You can see through it. You can operate heavy machinery. You probably won’t drink over it.

Many people insist on finding a culprit for their misery: someone or something to blame. The world is filled with people making this mistake. One feels like shit because of a spouse, a boss, a relative, a neighbor, the President of the United States. You know better than to assign blame for melancholy. Yes. You’d like to make the blues situational. Then you could rectify the situation or be its victim. For years, you were the blindfolded child swinging madly for a target. Creating situations to meet your depression was understandable… and also idiotic.

You now have healthy ways to mitigate woe. AA taught. Others you picked up all by yourself. Be of service. Go for a run. Pray. Basically, do anything but wallow in it. You cannot think your way out of depression. If anything, thinking caused it. In the wild, animals do not get depressed because they do not sit around thinking. Food and shelter is their constant priority, their only priority. Put a bear in a zoo and it becomes depressed, anxiously pacing back and forth, sullen and surly. Domesticated, it turns neurotic.

Your mother was (and maybe still is) clinically depressed. She has spent her whole life (and so yours) dealing with this problem. You read somewhere that far more women are clinically depressed than men. Maybe that’s because historically women have been domesticated more than men, anxiously pacing back and forth in their kitchens, sullen and surly in equal measures.

This too shall pass your mother liked to say, even if she didn’t believe it. But she was right. Mist or fog, it evaporates. At times you embrace sadness, its depth and gravitas. But like an old friend he can overstay his welcome. Then you have to wait him out. Drag him along on your errands. Enduring his sourpuss and cynicism. Sometimes, you might ditch him on a hike. He couldn’t keep up in the gym either. If those things failed, you brought him to a meeting, tossing him center circle with everyone else’s shit.

Relief comes. And when it does you embrace it. Sing its song for as long as you can, feel your body electrified by it. Such joy is a blessing. And fleeting. A feminine spirit, she does as she pleases. An ephemeral pink cloud, you keep the window open for her.

You do miss the excitability of grandiosity. But ridding this was a fair price to pay for the leveling of valleys. Roller coasters are thrilling but no way to live. Soberly, you tread flat terrain.

But still…

There is the matter of your lesser addictions. Gluttony. Lust. It’s paradoxical, leaning in to them while turning away. You cannot resist the siren’s song.

(Author’s note: This is a small section from an autobiographical novel I have been writing for some time. Would you like to read more? Or maybe there is something I can help you write?)

Fire & Ice.

February 10, 2020

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As a child you feared an impending ice age more than global warming, like the one you were taught befell the dinosaurs. You remember winter in Chicago as eternal, the city defined by it. Wind chill. Polar vortexes. Snowmageddon! From the car, you’d stare at the vast, frozen lake, observing the gulls huddled on chunks of blue-white ice surviving barely, or the poor soul walking his dog amid the ruts passing for sidewalks. Wondering if winter would ever end.

Now the world is on fire, heating up as if in a microwave. From California to Australia all is burning. It has become the new normal. You once read that a frog will sit in a pot of water unmoved by the flame beneath it, slowly boiling to death. (That this craven experiment might occur is not the point.) Unable or unwilling to leave, the reptile allows itself to die one degree at a time. Complacency? One of these days, you need to start driving an electric car.

(Author’s note: This is a small section from an autobiographical novel I have been writing for some time. It’s looking for a home. Thoughts? In the meantime, I appreciate your readership.)