Billy “Weekend” Weizner, an old college friend, called recently. When Weizner and I talk, I have to make sure my kids are asleep because it gets a little bawdy. We call each other names, argue politics, bring up funny stories. During these conversations, the memories of playing football on the field outside Fargo Quad and pursuing co-eds at The Wilkeson Pub seem awfully close. “What would you give to go back there?” Weekend asks. I know what he’s asking. To be young, carefree, fast, healthy, able to eat and drink anything and have our bodies rebound, quickly. “I wouldn’t,” I say.
Weizner’s incredulous, “Really?”
Really. Occasionally, a precocious 8th grader will say, “Mr. Spinner you’re getting old.” My retort, “Beats the alternative.” Some will realize I mean, if you are not getting older, you’re dead. One of the benefits of losing my father when I was in college, is an underlying appreciation for our mortality. Stevie Nicks sings in Landslide “Can I handle the seasons of my life?” I want more than that, I want to enjoy the seasons of my life in a Morrie Schwartz/Tuesdays With Morrie kind of way. But the gods don’t make it easy.
Those of us who are lucky enough to grow old ( isn’t it weird to have friends passing from things reserved for grandparents?) have to enjoy the ride. Our lives are cliché in that, we are aging, like those who have come before us. I can write about growing hair in useless places, ears, nostrils and losing it in more useful places, like on my head. But as I am heading toward the Big 5-0, my radar is up for other things.
Suddenly, I can’t ride rollercoasters. I was the parent that rode the crazy rides with the boys, they wouldn’t even ask Kira. I love that stuff. This past summer, my three boys and I went on the Wooden Warrior, a fairly benign coaster at Quassy, our local amusement park. As we rode, clankety-clank to the top of the first hill, I am contemplating leaving my hands up the whole ride. I thought I would be goofy and make Charlie, my 8 year old, less scared. This “coaster” is barely 4 stories high At the apex, I am admiring the view of Lake Quassapaug, smiling at Charlie. Schwoosh! After the initial drop my heart is in my throat. Into the first turn, I am squeezing the safety bar, holding on for dear life, wondering, why am I so scared? I look over at Charlie, he’s laughing hysterically, many more rollercoaster rides ahead for him. Brian, my 11 year old, has his hands in the air. Every turn, dip and dive I’m counting the seconds until I can get off. The entire ride might be a minute? When we pulled in I knew I would never ride another rollercoaster again. Okay Weizner, maybe I would go back?
Middlebury Park & Rec runs pick-up basketball for men, over 30, on Monday nights. A group of us have been playing together for years. Monday nights are sacrosanct, our routine, routine. We know each other’s games, personalities, t-shirts. One thing does change, each year we see an influx of guys who recently hit the over thirty mark. Nearing 50, I am almost 20 years older than the new, more agile hoopsters. Over the past decade of Mondays, I see a growing lack of respect for my game. It starts with the defensive match-ups; I can tell by who covers me, usually one of the older, slower players on the other team. If the other team is stronger, and I wind up with a tough match-up, I catch the comments, “Are you sure you can cover him?” Or the other team, with a nod to some athletic prowess will say, “You have to cover Spinner, he can hit that outside shot.” HEY, I’m standing right here! I’m not deaf, just slower.
Increasingly, I’m a non-issue with the younger women at work. I have now reached the age that with anyone under thirty, I can’t make the double-entendre joke, it’s just inappropriate. When one of the younger, cute staff members slips and hangs a curve ball, something ripe for a sexual joke, I have to let it go. If I make the comment, I get the look that says, Eww, creepy old guy. So I hold my tongue. At least I know to stop; some guys don’t figure it out.
Not only can’t I say anything, I can’t even look. If my glance lingers on an exposed leg in a skirt or a buxom blouse and I get caught, I am no longer in the, Oh, he was checking me out category. Now I’m just leering. I have to be clever about appreciating beautiful women, which I am sure I am not. Clever that is. I know I don’t want to be old dude who stares. Can I rethink my answer Weizner?
My wife and I tease each other about being single. We joke that if we were to get divorced, there might be opportunities out there. We take the next step and joke about our dating prospects. “Sure Jim, you’d be hot ticket, three boys, no money, sometimes grouchy, only one dance move.” I continue the joke, recognizing that if I was single, I don’t have much game left. The flirting part of my brain has atrophied. Whenever there’s a cute bartender, or waitress, that used to be low hanging fruit. I do know that they are working for tips, but back in the day, I had some game. Today, not so much. I want to say funny things, I want the bartender to linger a little longer, to think that I am clever but I think of stuff to say, too late. The things I do say wind up being weird and I get that look over her shoulder as she walks away, What was THAT supposed to mean? Is he hitting on me? Or just weird?
And I am getting weird. I talk to myself constantly. At least I think it’s to myself. I worry that, while perusing the produce section, the things I am thinking, I am saying out loud.
I am starting to gross myself out. When did I start growing fungus on my toes? Now my farts can make me leave the room. Sometimes when I see myself in a window at the local supermarket, I think: You left the house looking like that? You have food stains on your hoodie, your hair is a mess. Your father used to not care what he looked like.
Of course we are turning into our parents. I sweat the decision to drive if it’s going to snow. Right after college, we rented a ski house in
Other things are changing. The unwritten rules I have are starting to increase. You know the rules, like: I will never wear a jean jacket with jeans; because it looks like a jeans suit. Never will you see me wear the logo of two teams simultaneously. If I am wearing a Notre Dame hat, I will not wear a Met t-shirt. Once I have on one team, I simply cannot wear the logo of any other team, college or pro, on my hat, t-shirt or shorts. Why? It’s dork city. It’s a slippery slope. Wearing multiple logos of the same team at the same time? You are saying to the world, I have no life and I just might still live in my parent’s house.
There are some good parts to aging. I have carte blanche to tell the same stories. I know you’ve heard it before, but I like the story, so I am going to tell it anyway. After you say, “Yeh, you told me that already.” I’ll bulldog forward because I like the story. Hey, if you can’t ride the rollercoaster and you’re petrified to drive in the snow, I'm not building a reserve of new stories.
Becoming crotchety old guy has other benefits, I only drive, kinda fast. If I’m doing 74 in the left lane and slowly passing cars doing 68 in the center lane, I will ignore the flashing brights behind me. “You’ll have to go around! I’m not changing lanes, those people in the center lane are doing like 70.”
In my early days as a subway commuter, I would always give up my seat for anyone who needed it. Recently, I was taking the train after a long day of sightseeing and I was happy to get a seat. It was rush hour and with each stop, more passengers. Watching the throngs spill into the car, some clearly in need of a seat, for the first time in my life I’m thinking, I really need this seat. Why doesn’t that young guy get up? I’m tired, and we’re only on 34th St. As you get old and tired, you get to keep your seat.
While giving directions to my 8th graders recently, one of my students dropped a pen off the front of his desk. Six months ago, my reflex would have been to bend down and pick it up while continuing to teach. This time, I looked at the pen, the class looked at me, the student looked at me as if to say, “Mr. Spinner can you grab that pen for me?” I ignored him. He groaned. I said, “I’m too old kid, it’s nothing for you to bend down and grab that pen. For me, it’s a monumental effort and might actually be dangerous.”
Pretty soon I will get a pass on saying exactly what I want to say, what other people want to say, but don’t because they’re polite. When a new mom tells me she named her child Pooh Bear, I can say, “What the hell did you name her that for? You just set her up for a lifetime of abuse.” It’ll be okay, people will say, “You know, he’s old school.”
In the end, like most of us, I am ambivalent about aging. Part of me longs for the days when I was faster, carefree, reckless. However, I do look forward to becoming this wiser, grandfatherly version of myself. And that version thinks of the people who I’ve lost in my life, people my age who left in an untimely manner. I know they would love to be playing hoops, even a little slower. They would love to process getting older, dealing with acid reflux, creaky knees and thicker glasses. How happy they would be to age with friends and family, to watch their kids and grandkids grow up. Wouldn’t it be cool to get a do-over so that they could continue to do the things they love like: going to ball games, skiing, family trips to the beach, playing golf…I think of Al Duarte, Randy Giles, Andrew O’Callaghan, John Quinn, Drew Thomas, Georgie Ullman, Craig Summa, Jeff “Canarsie” Karchensky, Pete Vega to name a few. I know I am forgetting some and I know they would all be, just happy to be here.