Middle age hardly all the rage

The older I get, the younger everyone else seems. My parents, each on opposite sides of 60, don’t seem at all like fogeys now. I meet young professionals and assume they’re summer interns, only to learn they own the place. And don’t even get me started on the embryos who can legally get into bars these days. When I ask where they were when the space shuttle exploded, they reply, “I’m sorry, sir, but I’m not really into ‘Star Wars.’ By the way, does the old folks’ home know you’ve escaped?”

Everywhere I look, everyone seems entirely too young to fit their station in life. It’s possible the problem here is that my eyesight is failing. But more likely the issue is that I turn 40 this week.

Signs of aging abound. Bending down to tie my shoes now evokes a groan. My hairline is retreating as if it were French. And for some reason I am suddenly forgetting to zip my fly on a regular basis. It’s an innocent oversight, but if this problem persists, I won’t be allowed within 100 feet of an elementary school.

Forty is a difficult age to grasp. It’s in the middle of nowhere, like the Dakotas and the nearest authorized repair center for any product under warranty. Thirty is a milestone because it marks the end of youth.

Sixty signals the onset of old age. But 40 and 50 leave one lost in the hazy wilderness of midlife, not quite sure what to make of it all. This is why we grow goatees and buy Camaros.

Are we young? Are we old? Let’s leave the philosophers to ponder existential questions: We’ll just crank up Whitesnake and focus on the home equity and 401(k) funds we’re accruing. Nothing says “youthful vigor” like a diversified portfolio with J.P. Morgan.

The other day it struck me that I am the age my parents were when I was in college. They had their ducks in a row and seemed, in my 20-year-old eyes, kinda old. Whereas in my case, the ducks are free-range and I feel kinda young. Until I bend over to pick up something.

People say age is a state of mind. But people are idiots. Some point to aging’s benefits - the wisdom, the appreciation for small joys, the calm of knowing oneself. But would anyone NOT take a chance to go back and be 20 again? Sure, you’d have no home equity, but you wouldn’t be sweating that first visit with the proctologist.

People also say another year gone by puts you another year closer to retirement. But these people aren’t newspaper writers. They don’t know we can’t afford to retire, and most likely will die at our desks while typing up bowling results.

I’d like to think I’m a long way from my 10th frame at age 40. The signs Father Time has begun sending me - the wrinkles, the aches and pains, the sad realization that “L.A. Law” is never coming back on the air - are just the beginning of a long, slow aging process. It’s only matter of time before I start forgetting who people are. I can only hope it’s the people I didn’t like in the first place.

Come to think of it, forgetting certain people - or getting away with pretending to, anyway - could be a benefit of growing old. Aging really could be a lark: I’ve always enjoyed how seniors get away with wearing whatever they want. Yellow golf pants with an orange “World’s Best Grandpa” T-shirt and white buckskin shoes? Sure, why not? This age group also gets away with saying whatever they want. I already do this, but in a couple decades I might be considered a charming card, rather than a blunt jerk. “Is that a toupee your Uncle Milt is wearing,” I’ll ask, “or did a dead possum fall on his head?” Perhaps at 70, acting one’s age finally will be fun again. And I’ll totally get away with walking around with my fly open.

Too bad I’ll have to wait a few decades for aging to become fun. Oh well, patience is one of those virtues we acquire as we age. That and a fully vested 401(k).

Send columnist Ben Bromley birthday wishes at bbromley@capitalnewspapers.com. A former editor at Lillie Suburban Newspapers, Bromley now writes for the Baraboo News Republic.

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