A few weeks ago a friend of mine had a mid-30s birthday for which her mother bought her a great many dollars' worth of anti-aging cream. It is one thing to look in the mirror and notice that time has faded you around the edges a little, like a photograph obviously shot on that 110 film that was popular only in the '80s. It is another thing to have your own mother imply that you should caulk yourself up before another piece of you comes off.
This girl believes in the exfoliating, rejuvenating, time-machine qualities of this stuff and she looks great, but she looked great before. I wanted her to put all the stuff on at once and come over, thinking the concentrated alchemy might make her about five years old by the time she got to my house. It isn't that I don't believe in anti-aging products. It's that I can't bring myself to believe in aging. I know other people are getting older, but it had never occurred to me that I am, too.
At least not until I went to a David Byrne concert at the House of Blues some weeks ago. Aside from the music, the most gripping thing was that this punk innovator, who I remember as new, had gone totally gray. So had a remarkable number of people in the audience. All those little heads looked like charcoal briquettes that had been smoldering in the grate for hours. Those heads were talking and saying, "I don't usually stay out this late anymore." And this, I realized, was my crowd.
Reeling in the years
Since then, the signs have been popping up everywhere. Tears for Fears turned up on the "soft rock" station and a good friend confided that she had started lying about her age. She found that if you write "1964" illegibly enough, it can pass for "1969," which would make her 32: respectable, but young enough to have skin that springs back when you poke it. The last time this girl and I discussed fudging our ages we were worried about rounding up to buy beer. Nobody, it seems, wants to age. Even AARP can't bring themselves to put a person with gray hair on the front page of their web site www.aarp.com, where the only person close to gray is a Betty White-ish champagne blonde.
Also, aging is something people talk about having to do "gracefullyÃ¢" and anything that has to be done "gracefully" is always unpleasant: you have to "handle it gracefully" when you break up with someone, you have to "say it gracefully" when you're going to fire someone, so aging is clearly something to be feared and avoided with due cowardice.
In light of this I've been debating whether to bother aging or to just work harder at the few self-destructive habits I haven't outgrown, thereby dying young and leaving the proverbial good-looking corpse, or at least one that doesn't look like cypress furniture. Like everything else, aging has its pros and cons:
When I'm 64
PRO: Forgetfulness. While I realize this can be scary, I also realize young people pay good money for drugs that will make them forget their problems, worries and address. When you're old this comes free. Plus, imagine how much more entertaining the world would be if no matter how often you'd seen a movie, you'd never seen it before.
PRO: Frightening children and talking weird is in the job description. When I asked my mother for some advice on how not to be miserable in old age she had me repeat the question four times. (Another PRO: Selective hearing.) Her reply was this: "Old age comes on so slowly Ã? then it comes on so quickly. One day you'll look in the mirror and say, Ã?Who the hell are you? My God, look at all those wrinkles! You miserable old crone!'" Then she laughed in that way people do when a bad experience is behind them but ahead of you.
Reminded that no matter how much she enjoyed this mean teasing it wasn't really advice, she said, "Take care of your health and do what the hell you want to do. Enjoy the beach and the little waves hitting your big feet." (Another PRO: When you're old you can talk like this and no one suspects you of having been drinking.)
CON: When imagining you in a sexual situation, most of the world recoils.
That's four pros and only one con (but it's a pretty big con), so while I'm willing to keep the tally running, for now I'll wait out the years to see what happens next. It might not be so bad after all. Isn't there some saying like, "You're only as old as who you feel?" If it's all as easy as the selective hearing part, it looks like I'll have it made.