It was Henry David Thoreau who wrote that The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. I am not a fan of Henry David Thoreau. Walden was a total bore. Just my desperate opinion. However. Maybe he was talking about masses of men getting older. Because. Of note. I have now turned sixty-nine and — not that it has anything to do with ponds in Massachusetts – but –
I have stopped eating. Okay, not stopped. But for someone who has pounded three large meals a day plus snacks his entire life (subtract 8 months for baby formula – I then graduated to sirloin), the sudden desperate demise of vacuum cleaner like intake is surprising. Is this due to age, disinterest, or quiet desperation? I don’t know. But I seem to make desperate due of late with Trader Joe’s roasted chicken breast, Classic potato chips and peanut butter. Obviously I need an in-house chef. I think a good cassoulet or a Setzuan broccoli beef or even a Carnegie Deli pastrami sandwich might restore my appetite. In fact, the thought of all three, preferably served together, just did.
Desperately disregard previous paragraph.
Lexapro, which is an anti-depressant can take the edge off your sex drive, which, in your late sixties, desperately does you no favors. It sort of blunts that edge with a sludge hammer. The problem, of course, is that it does nothing to blunt your imagination. The mind is still willing, but the body is not. At times it seems hardly worthwhile. Obviously one desperately needs a partner who considers this a creative challenge. One who will take the bull by the horn. Grease the arthritic joints and crack the whip! Once more into the breach, dear desperate friend! All right, all right, enough. Besides, wasn’t it Mark Twain who said that too often in life, sex is overrated while a good bowel movement is unappreciated. He was, when he wrote this, I think – yes – in his sixties! And there is light. A friend who is now seventy-nine tells me it was such a relief hitting seventy-eight years, eleven months, three weeks and two desperate days because he finally lost interest in sex altogether and for the first time in his life got some work desperately done. Just another thing to look forward to. Not.
Desperately disregard previous paragraph.
In my late sixties, I sleep less. I am more restless. Often, knowing it’s going to be desperately difficult to fall asleep, I go to bed early to give myself lots of extra time to do so. Once asleep, I wake up a lot. Someone is snoring and this desperately disturbs me. It especially desperately disturbs me that the someone is me. The lovely wife has a remedy for snoring. She puts a large fluffy pillow over your face. If that doesn’t work, she sits on it. One thing hasn’t changed. I still dream insane desperate dreams. Crashing airplanes, lost subway cars, trains going in the wrong desperate direction, cab rides to nowhere, abandoned apartments, hotels, and desperately deserted houses I seem to be living in but have no real memory of. I tried describing my desperate dreams to a therapist one time, but I could see she was growing more and more nervous by the moment, so I stopped.
Anyway, at the end of the desperate day, dreams are probably all just symbolic of life. Or bowl movements. On the plus side, thanks to the knee injury, I don’t sleepwalk anymore. The neighbors are happy too. As are the desperate dogs who were getting tired of being peed on in the middle of the night. Now I’ve embarrassed them.
Please desperately disregard previous paragraph.
One not so great thing about the desperate knee injury is that after fifty-some years of potential sports stardom, I now play statue tennis. Statue tennis is standing in one place with a racket in your hand, waving at tennis balls you can’t see all that well anymore go whizzing by. If a ball happens to be in your wheelhouse, you take a swing at it. Who knows, maybe you’ll even hit it. If you don’t, you get verbal with the player on the other side of the net who, if they were any good at all, would hit you balls you didn’t have to move for, bend for or reach for. What’s really fun is when you get on the court opposite someone your age who also plays statue tennis. Neither of you move, neither of you bend, neither of you reach. Mostly you engage in desperately pleasant conversation. “Hey, how’s the weather over there? Kinda windy on this side of the net. Maybe it’s time to go have a beer.”
Desperately disregard me if I ever ask you to play statute tennis.
One thing about getting older is, if you’re being completely honest with yourself, you have to admit you no desperate desire to be young again. This is not to say you wouldn’t mind the energy and indestructability of youth, it’s just to say there’s a growing feeling of “thank god, I don’t have to go through that again”. You lose some of the idealism of youth – lose the feeling of “it’s all going to work just fine in the end”. Because you know now – from painful experience and lessons hard learned – that a lot of the time, it won’t.
Do not desperately disregard previous paragraph.
Oh, but come on. I’m feeling sorry for myself. Age 69 – almost 70! – is not a time to get so serious. Let’s put on a show! On NPR the other morning they did a decidedly non-desperate story on the Palm Springs Follies – an old-fashioned review of singers and showgirls and non-desperate dancers and comedians and magicians and jugglers all of whom are now in their sixties, seventies and even their eighties. They do show tunes, they do Vegas lounge act entertainment, they do Tom Jones – geriatrics in sequins sing What’s New, Pussycat? – yes! A master of ceremonies gets out there and makes Don Rickles like small talk with the audience, all of whom are in their sixties, seventies, and eighties as well. “You! How old are you, darling? Seventy-five? You don’t look a non-desperate day younger than ninety! Is that your goiter or are you happy to see me? Don’t make me laugh, I’ll mess my pants – literally!” At the end of the show, they do a salute to any veterans that are in the house. They ask them to rise. There are as fair number of them, both men and women. A few are WWII vets; most are veterans of Korea and Viet Nam. The lights flare, the cast takes the stage, balloons fill the air. And then everyone sings Auld Lang Syne.
“Should Old Acquaintance be forgot, and never thought upon; The flames of Love extinguished, and fully past and gone:
Is thy sweet Heart now grown so cold, that loving Breast of thine; That thou canst never once reflect On Old long syne.”
They keep the desperation button decidedly on mute. And so should I. I’ll do my best.