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Washington Voices

Tough job navigating old age

Thu., May 6, 2010

“Old age ain’t no place for sissies.” – Actress Bette Davis

Boy, did she get that right. Never mind those fuzzy-focus ads on TV with handsome senior citizens holding hands in adjoining bathtubs (a concept I never did get) or vigorous octogenarians playing tennis. It’s tough out there, baby.

I did a rough inventory of things going on to one degree or another with some of my peers. An abbreviated list: Hearing loss, bad knees and/or hips, insomnia, loss of hand strength (can you open this jar for me, honey), enlarging prostates, problems seeing at night, stress incontinence, inability to eat spicy foods and way too much time focusing on bathroom matters. These are the ticking sounds that time is marching on.

We all know there is more life behind us than ahead of us and that the machinery that keeps us going is beginning to break down, eventually not to be jump-started again. We make peace with that in our own ways, but there are so many little indignities along the way that, I’m sorry, just aren’t fair. Maybe they are preparing us for the worse ones still out ahead of us, but I’m just not happy about them.

With that in mind, I’ve been noticing eyebrows, women’s eyebrows especially. What prompts this is what’s happening to mine. I am growing these pure white, corkscrew pieces of wire where my eyebrows formerly lived. Yes, yes, I know, less estrogen, more testosterone at my age, but c’mon, this isn’t right. Even the hairs that are still brown are longer and denser and less willing to be tamed.

I don’t mind getting curmudgeonly as I advance in years, but I really don’t want to end up looking like my hero, Andy Rooney. I don’t know what he does with his eyebrows (nothing, it appears), but I now have to deal with mine. When I remember.

And men’s earlobes. I’ve been staring at them. OK, I’m getting peculiar. Blame it on aging. But have you seen the amount of hair growing out of the earlobes of men of a certain age? Nothing on top of their heads, mind you, but a great crop on the ears. The worst, the absolute worst, was the earring I spotted amidst the foliage. That is just so wrong.

And, ladies, how about trying to buy a pair of jeans that isn’t cut down to there or a bathing suit that isn’t cut up to the other there? Sure, one can browse through the uber-matronly catalogs, but as long as I have a pulse, I’m not going there.

There’s a self-awareness adjustment that’s hard to face at this time of life. I still feel kind of middle aged, and it’s a rude awakening to realize that I’m really not. Have you ever found yourself at an event, probably a matinee of some sort, and looked around wondering if there was still anyone left back at the old folks’ home? And then realizing you fit right in yourself? Shocking.

And, I confess, there’s my favorite challenge – fun and games with word retrieval. This is something one writer has referred to as “one of the inconveniences of leaving youth behind.”

So there you are at a restaurant with a friend and someone approaches, someone you know pretty well from work, the gym, church, the neighborhood, some organization you belong to or wherever, and you get halfway into introducing this person to your lunch mate – and you blank on her name.

Or you’re describing the movie you saw last night, the name of which you cannot recall no matter how hard you focus on it. Actually, focusing on it only makes it worse. But don’t worry, it will come to you – at 4 a.m. while you’re on your second bathroom run of the night.

And then there’s the word-retrieval corollary – why did I come into this room? There you sit, perfectly happy in your recliner reading a book when you get up to go into the bedroom to … hmm, just why did you do that? So you stand there for a minute wondering where your mind has migrated off to and then return to your chair, at which time you realize you went to the bedroom to retrieve your reading glasses. Back you go, but they’re not there. Oh right, they’re in your purse, which is – um, in the den? No, in the kitchen. So it’s off to the kitchen, and while you’re there, you tidy things up a bit, make some orange juice and decide maybe you’d like to go read for a while. So you head for the recliner and pick up your book.

Gee, if only you had your reading glasses.

Voices correspondent Stefanie Pettit can be reached by e-mail at upwindsailor Previous columns are available columnists/

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