The Aging Process
Come birthday time, I’ve always been comforted by the knowledge that I’m not getting older any faster than anyone else. My emphasis has been on the rate of passing years rather than the absolute number. It seemed an appropriate method to shield me from the reality of aging. Since my last birthday, however, Bob Hope’s observations on aging have had renewed pertinence for me.
On turning seventy, Hope said, “You still chase women, but only downhill.” Eighty, according to Hope, is “the time when your birthday suit needs pressing.” Ninety is, “when the candles cost more than the cake.” And at one hundred, Hope said, “I don’t feel old. In fact, I don’t feel anything until noon. Then it’s time for my nap.” Bob Hope died at age one hundred.
I never chased women uphill, downhill, or even on the level, so passing seventy was easy. And my birthday suit needed pressing long before I hit eighty. But one of the sure signs of aging Hope didn’t comment upon is when you hear yourself saying to friends and family, “Oh, for the good old days…” It’s a phrase I refuse to use, knowing it’s a sure way of getting labeled “geezer” by younger associates. I must admit, however, there are times I think, “Oh, for the good old days,” even if I don’t say it.
In the good old days…Senator, or Congressman, wasn’t a dirty word.
Sexting was something you did to chicks when they hatched, not pictures sent on the Internet.
A passerby on the street might look you in the eye and smile, not obliviously pass you wearing buds in his or her ear.
Nostalgia for the good old days isn’t limited, however, by decades. As I grew up, there was a picture in our row-house living room of a thatched roof Irish cottage with a wisp of smoke lazily drifting from the chimney. A rose covered trellis in full bloom was by the entry gate. The picture oozed peace, comfort and contentment. Engulfed in the angst of adolescence, I longed for that comfort and contentment.
Later in life, from a National Geographic article, I discovered my idealized Irish cottage had no running water and no indoor plumbing. The smoke was from peat burning on the hearth sending carcinogens into the room. It was an invitation to lung cancer. My nostalgia was misplaced.
I was reminded of that when a Rehoboth friend recently sent me an e-mail with magazine advertisements from the thirties and forties, most of which I recognized. There was the photo of an attractive young woman with her legs crossed wearing a below-the-knee skirt. The caption read, “You may think she’s your ‘gal’—But—she may be Everyone’s Pal. Pro-phylaxis prevents venereal disease.”
As a teen ager, my knowledge of venereal disease and prophylaxis was murky, to say the least. But I did know one kid in high school who always carried a rubber in his wallet. I wasn’t sure what he used it for but I envied his worldly knowledge.
Then there was an ad for Ecstasy. No, not the pill. Ecstasy and Me was a movie featuring a nineteen year old Hedy Lamarr running nude through the woods. Shot in Prague, the nude scenes were long shots, not close-ups. The “Adults Only” caption in the ad was undoubtedly a box-office booster. At the time Lamarr was on husband number one, with five more to follow. She was an avant-garde actress—ahead of the porn industry and ahead of Elizabeth Taylor.
One ad I remember clearly showed a handsome young doctor in his white coat lighting a cigarette. The caption said, “More doctors smoke Chesterfields than any other cigarette.” What the ad didn’t state, but what I found out when I went through medical school, was that part of the reason for this brand’s popularity was the distribution of free cigarettes to med students and in doctor’s lounges.
One of the e-mailed ads I’d never seen—I must have been reading the wrong magazines as a kid—featured an attractive slender woman admiring herself in a full length mirror. An address was provided where women could obtain tape worm eggs. Readers were told to ingest the eggs as a sure fire weight loss measure.
So maybe the good old days weren’t as good as I sometimes think they were. Maybe nostalgia, like my focusing on the rate of aging rather than the actual number of years I’ve lived, is simply an attempt to delay the inevitable. Perhaps Will Rogers had it right all along. “We could slow the aging process down if it had to work its way through Congress.” But short of Congressional action, I’ll continue to grow old at the same rate as everyone else.
John Siegfried, a former Rehoboth resident who now lives in Ft. Lauderdale, maintains strong ties to our community and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.