Archive for the ‘Aging’ Category.

Rattled

I’m now at the age where “He lived a full life!” will roll glibly from the lips of my survivors, and as my shade ascends, descends or simply hangs in the viewing room like a bad smell, it won’t really have reason to protest.  Such high philosophy is noticeably absent when incidents occur on this side of the Great Divide such as the one on our hike on Friday.

We were walking a section of the Pacific Crest Trail in what is now the Soda Mountain Wilderness (thank you, Bill Clinton, for your 9th-inning National Monument designations) just southeast of Ashland that we’ve been on many times.  It winds through mature second-growth forest, breaking out into slide areas that afford gorgeous views, either west towards Ashland and Siskiyou Pass, or southeast to Mt. Shasta.

Due to heavy winter snows and below-normal temperatures throughout the spring (sound familiar?), nature is somewhat behind schedule, and we’ve been seeing wildflowers on our hikes that are usually burnt out and gone by the time we get here, and things everywhere are lush and green instead of the more accustomed brown and sere, and we were literally reveling in every step.

Until this one step.  The one with my right foot as I was leading us on the trail through moderate underbrush.  About a quarter-mile before, we’d flushed a pair of grouse, and been startled at the loud, low vibration of their wingbeat, so we were on alert as we proceeded the rest of the way through the meadow.

So when I heard a vibration and scuffle on that fateful footfall*, I wondered for a second if I’d disturbed a grousing grouse*.  Two more strides, and I heard Mrs. Perils’ maidenly exclamation…”holy fucking shit!“, I believe it was…as she leapt up onto a log well off the trail.  What she had seen was a western diamondback rattlesnake, about 1 1/2″ to 2″ in diameter and at least 4 feet long, just to the right of the trail where I had stepped.

We were both pretty shaken, and as we proceeded each ensuing step was as fearful as they had been euphoric before. We froze at every rustle in the undergrowth.  As I had on countless other hikes, I turned to Mrs. Perils and assured her, “It is only the wind, Gretel!”

We tried to remember what the current procedures were for dealing with a snake bite.  Back in the 70s, we’d been sold snakebite kits that had razor blades and suction devices for draining venom; we knew that this treatment had been discredited, but were fuzzy about current best practices.  We got to a clearing with a sumptuous view of Mt. Shasta, but our enjoyment was muted.  We had a cell phone signal, so we made our one Lifeline call to a client of mine whom I knew liked to search the internet, and he pretty much confirmed what we thought we had remembered: immobilize the limb, keep the bite below your heart, no tourniquet, etc.  Oh, and call 911.

Our hike was not on a loop trail, it was an out-and-back, so we would have to walk past that spot again on the way back to the car, which was 3 - 4 miles beyond it.  Rescue would have been a major undertaking.  (did I really say “undertaking”?).  We walked on about another mile or so, hoping that, given time, our reptilian interlocutor would decide to move to a different snack bar.  Ultimately, though, we had to turn around and head back. We found a couple of sticks to brandish, and walked warily.  We didn’t know exactly where the encounter had taken place, but knew the general vicinity, and tapped our sticks ahead like blind people as we walked through.

Once we knew for certain we were past the spot, we built up an absurd sense of euphoria the rest of the way, as if we had a map that showed for certain we’d passed the lair of the only dragon in the forest.

Here are some photos to show why a person would undertake (there it is again) a stroll into the forest (click image to enlarge):

More photos in a gallery here.

* I know I can write stuff like this because I’ve read some Barth recently

Tiger, tiger, burning bright

I never remember my dreams.  And when I say, “never”, I mean that once every 4 - 5 years, I’ll awake suddenly and a vaporous 3 seconds or so will linger in my sentience, then make a quick exit through my nostrils when I exhale.  These infrequent and fleeting visitations are the only evidence I can cite that I actually have dreams, but they’re a comfort, because we all know that a person who doesn’t dream eventually becomes a serial killer (if he isn’t one already and has simply repressed the memory(s)).

This paucity of material is hardly grist for psychoanalysis, let alone for blogging, and you’re probably wondering why I’m wasting electrons and your precious time with it. Well, it’s a setup for this shocking disclosure: it happened this morning, and the sequence I remember lasted a good 5 - 10 seconds!

In it, I was walking down a long hall that extended through several rooms, and this place was presumed to be my residence, although it didn’t look like my real residence and in fact was more like one of my clients’ warehouse. Two or three rooms in the distance, I caught a glimpse of a large cat (cougar, leopard) crossing the hall and headed outside through an open door.  I had a half-second to register relief and begin to jump up on a table just in case (thinking as I did that a cat that size wouldn’t be deterred by a quick leap up onto what I then realized, with dawning irony, was a dining room table), when the lights went out at the end of the hall. Just then, I saw the cat rushing toward me out of the darkness.  I threw my arms up and yelled, “No! No!”. In the next half-second I realized that the cat had been in the process of running past me, and that I’d been a fool to attract its attention; and then I awoke, sitting bolt upright.

I wondered then if I’d actually hollered aloud, or only hollered in the dream.  Then I thought, no, even if I had that dream, which I’m not admitting that I had, I’m sure I have a healthy firewall between the alleged fantasy me and the real, dreamless me.  And then: “Was that you yelling? You woke me up!”  So I explained what I’ve just told you, and got a comforting hug in return, and I pretended not to notice “911″ dialed but not yet called on her cell phone.

I guess if you’re going to go to the trouble of remembering a dream that you might or might not have had, you may as well take a stab at interpretation. Why a cat? Why now? Does my subconscious know I have cancer and has cast it for its own purposes in the form of a dangerous feline? And has been trying its best to keep the bad news from me, and just fucked up big-time?  What is that thing on my arm?

And again, if I’m going to go to all that trouble, why this, and not a wild and vivid sexual fantasy instead (one that would certainly last more than 5 - 10 seconds, thank you very much)? Just my luck, I guess, because if I’d rent the night with cries of “Yes! Yes!” instead of “No! No!”, I’d have been beaten to death with her current nightstand collection of Virginia Woolf novels instead of the wary cosseting I was actually afforded.

OK, can we sleep now for another hour?

Scalped

I’ve needed a haircut for the past couple of weeks (or more), and Saturday night was pretty dead around here, so I walked over to 45th to the sort of “alternative” salon I’ve been patronizing lately.  I go there mostly because I can almost always just walk in and get a decent haircut.  I used to patronize a perfectly fine and professional woman at a regular salon, but I increasingly find it impossible to make an appointment for non-work activities and actually show up.

I’ve been perfectly happy with the haircuts from the “alternative” place.  I usually end up with the same woman despite the lack of an appointment.  She’s pretty cute, and my haircuts with her begin startlingly like a lap dance (Not that I’ve ever had one - ED).  She stands directly in front of me, legs slightly apart, but that’s where the fantasy ends.  She’s totally focused on how my head looks from the front, and how she can possibly do anything positive with it.  I don’t envy her that task.

Well, Saturday night was a different kettle of fish.   The sign said “open” when I arrived, but the guy at the desk looked like he was getting ready to leave.  “Do I have time for a haircut?”, I asked.  He hesitated, and I turned to head for the door, but he called me back and said he could do it.  Once I was this close, I had to follow through, cuz it might be weeks before I got myself back there.

Once I was seated, he asked me what size clipper, #2 or #3.  I had no idea ( “Elena” never used clippers), but instinct told me to choose #3, presuming it would leave me with longer hair.  He snapped on his clippers and started mowing my head.  After the first stroke, I knew I was getting more of an amputation than a haircut, but after two strokes there was really no alternative to letting him finish, unless I wanted a mullet.

“You’ve got really thick hair, mister!”, he said.  I replied, “It’s thick on the sides, but thinning way too much on top.”

“I don’t really talk much when I cut hair - sorry.”  A few seconds pass, and he ventures, “What’s your name?”

“Phil,” I reply.  “What’s yours?”

“Blue Bear.”

Uh-oh.

Although the guy was pasty white with assorted head piercings, my mind immediately flashed to Blue Duck, the lithe Indian villain in Lonesome Dove.  We were alone in the shop, and even though it was next door to the wildly popular Molly Moon ice cream store, it was still the middle of January, and the street was deserted.

Despite these misgivings, my haircut ended uneventfully, I paid and left without further harm.  But a look in the mirror confirmed my initial suspicions - he’d cut it preternaturally short - shorter, perhaps, than it’s been since junior high.

When I arrived at my client’s office this morning, people were taken aback at being able to see my ears. They both insisted that it made me “look younger”, which might have seemed flattering if the corollary didn’t immediately present itself: they thought I “looked older” before.

This would have caused me much more angst when I was in high school, college or even a young adult.  These days, I’m only concerned about how much heat I’m losing through my skull.  Old age can be liberating.

White Male In His Sixties

My youngest brother, who turned 50 this year, called me Wednesday and said, “Old man, we’re getting to the age where you might have to start changing my diapers again!”

As many of you know, I passed one of those auspicious “0″ birthdays on Wednesday (or as KathyR called it, “uh-oh”).  I made a little run at developing something lofty and philosophical to blurt here, but just couldn’t get that worked up.  Not that it doesn’t affect me at all, and that I blithely cruised through the week; the sound of “in his 60s”, while not profound in the sense that “dying of cancer” or “symptoms of Alzheimer’s” would be, nevertheless has implications for my self-image.

And maybe that’s it: that I’m simply sort of ashamed of turning 60, in a way that I wasn’t at turning 50. At 50, I rented the back of a restaurant and invited most of the people that I knew or had known, defiant and devil-may-care.  This week, it’s more a feeling like I’ve screwed up and gotten fired from my 50s, and I’m trying to hide it from the neighbors.

I’m just musing here, not looking for sympathy, just screwing around with words.  I’m healthy, happy, reasonably secure.  I’m engaged all of a sudden in new ventures (adult band and the rental house).  I could lose a few pounds. All in all, though, I think I miss last summer more intensely than I miss six decades.

Thanks to all of you in my life who helped get me here.

Reprieve

Went up to the doc today for a checkback on my leprosy status.  The point of my elbow is still swollen and tender, which is probably a bursa sac still bitching about the gouging around they did getting a specimen to test.

The bigger issue I wanted to address was some alarming blood pressure readings I was getting over the weekend I was schlepping up to the ER to treat the infection, stuff like 167/96.  Blood pressure has never been on my radar, since I’ve always been OK, and I get a fair amount of exercise, and there’s not much family history.  But I’ve been a little wigged out the last couple of weeks since then, lying in bed listening to my heart rattling around in my chest and wondering when it would blow up, making abject promises to myself about losing weight, eating un-buttered toast, circumnavigating Antarctica on my bicycle.

It was hard to reconcile, though, with how good I felt, even hiking 10 miles at 3,500 ft or so down in Ashland, keeping to my Nautilus workout schedule, etc.

So, I approached my appointment today with more than a little trepidation, prepared to negotiate with my doc about bargaining lifestyle changes for a respite from drugs, wondering if (as with any visit to the doc) any discovery would affect my ability to secure insurance next year, since I’m self-employed and purchasing from the individual market.

So I wander into the office after a stressful drive there across the 520 bridge and through a thicket of red lights and clueless midday drivers and plop down for the triage.  Sweet deliverance.  My blood pressure is 132/83 (not bad for my age), and I’ve lost 5 pounds.

I feel like I’ve gotten a heart transplant, and the rhythmic clunk in my chest is my friend, not an enemy battering my gates.  I’m still gonna keep the weight loss thing going - I weigh about 160, and I should really weigh under 150 before I take my shirt off in broad daylight.

But it looks like I’m gonna live a bit longer.  I’d gotten into a mindset where I thought my longevity might be circumscribed by circumstances that I didn’t control, circumstances that contravened the assumption that I was good for another 25 years (based on genetics), and that I was owed a dividend from the exemplary lifestyle that I’ve crafted .

But then, I could have been killed driving up there, pumping a lethal amount of blood into the street regardless of the pressure behind it.

The message for the day is, I’m gonna live, but I’d better do some stuff before I get sideswiped by some other unforeseen medical malady.

Fear The Reaper?

These things kind of sneak up on you.  I turned 59 1/2 today, and while I’m certainly not so excited about birthdays at this stage of my life that I mark and celebrate half-birthdays, this one is remarkable for an inexplicable quirk in the tax code.  Today, if I had chosen, I could have withdrawn money from my IRA accounts without being subject to the 10% penalty that would have applied to any such withdrawal in the 35 years since my 25-year-old self started dropping his spare change off at some long-defunct bank. (I’ll still have to pay income tax on whatever I withdraw).

So, I wonder, what’s magic about being 59 1/2? (Ed: less and less!)  If I cross an eddyline in my kayak, there’s a palpable realignment as my bow gets jerked in a new direction.  I felt no such jolt today as I crossed into the downhill part of my 60th year.  Congress, however, must have felt, back in 1974, that 59 1/2 was the very moment when we need to pick up our scythes and start gettin’ the harvest in.

I think I’m going to play the grasshopper on this task for awhile, though, let things ripen and even do some additional planting.  It’s been a lousy growing season this year anyway, and I’m hoping for a long Indian summer.