Saturday, June 2, 2012

Milestone or Millstone?

At precisely 12:01 am on June 1, the chronological odometer on the tiny space in time that’s been allotted to me rolled over into what society considers ‘milestone’ territory. Today marks the date of my birth, and I have been officially handed over to that group of wizened, older, people whose job it is to train me in the fine art of pissing off anyone younger than me.

I have already received my official 1,035 page Old Person Training Manual, which to be honest, would only be about 32 pages if not for the extremely large print. It’s beautifully bound, with my name embossed in gold, and has a picture of the drop-dead sexy actor Wilford Brimley on the cover. The book is chock-full of great information which I’ve already begun to implement into my daily regimen. And though I run the great risk of being drummed out of my new gang, I’d like to share some of our trade secrets.

Rule #1- Younger people will rarely punch you in the face no matter what you say to them.

This is an important rule because for many years I have harbored a secret jealousy over this power. Old people use the Law of Presumed Insanity to get away with almost anything.

For example, let’s say you’re in the supermarket and some little snot-nosed punk bumps into you. He says “excuse me” in the proper, polite way. Now prior to becoming an official old person, I would have cheerfully said, “Oh, no problem”, and went about my merry way. But now, being fully and duly authorized to use the Law of Presumed Insanity, I can turn to this kid and say, “HEY! What the hell is wrong with you? I’m walking here, okay? Didn’t your mother teach you any respect for the elderly?”

Pretty cool huh? In the old days (yesterday), such a statement would have gotten me nearly beaten to death with a frozen Cornish game hen. But now, the kid just keeps on going, while muttering something about how miserable old people are!

Rule #2- Pull out of an intersection at full throttle and barely miss getting T-boned by an oncoming vehicle. Then slow down to 3.2 mph.

This is a great one! On a good day with the wind in your favor, you can actually hear the person behind you demanding that God revoke your driver’s license and hear the rounds being loaded into his semi-automatic as he plots his revenge. You can actually learn to read lips and some creative swearing by looking into your rear-view mirror at him.

Rule #3- Carry a change purse and pay for EVERYTHING with change.

I don’t care if you are buying a car! Pay for it with change, and if you are feeling particularly daring, try convincing the clerk at the Home Depot that postage stamps can be used as currency! NOTE: The goal here is to see how long a line you can create and to make them open at least one additional register. Try it, it’s a hoot!

I can’t really share any more than these, but trust me, there are some doozies!

But getting old isn’t all fun and games folks. Hitting a milestone like this can get you down or it can lift you up. It all depends on how you look at it.    

The major issue I have with all of this is that my brain doesn’t know how old my body is. If you took a tour inside my head, you’d find a being that wants to go ride her bike with the other kids after school, play softball in a league, move to New England and open a coffee shop, get back to flying planes, and perhaps be the first woman something or other. And while I know that reality lives in there somewhere, the older I get, the less I want to deal with it, because there’s a part of me that feels like I can still do anything; until I try to do something. Then, when my body rejects the idea of taking up jogging or javelin throwing because it is unable to any longer, I understand the anger and frustration of old people. I understand that their passive aggressiveness isn’t an act of meanness, but a response to the injustice of getting old. So it’s not like I resent getting old, I just wish my brain understood it a little better.

And of course, the idea of being closer to the Grim Reaper’s mini pickup bus doesn’t exactly thrill me either.  Within the last month or so, I have seen at least four comedians pass away, some of whom were friends and all of whom were members of my new club. I’m not afraid of going, mind you; I just have too much to do yet before I get on the bus.

I’ve said before that being a stand up comedian teaches you everything you need to know about life, including when to get off the stage. As I move into this first decade of my sunset years, there are a couple of things I know for sure. And just like I shared the secrets of the Eldherhood of the Traveling Adult Diapers, I’d like to point out some of the things I believe about life.

#1- Life isn’t about quantity, but quality.

To be perfectly honest, I don’t give a rat’s ass about making it to Willard Scott’s friggin 100 year old list, if I can’t do at least 74.9% of what I can do now. For whatever time I have left here, I want to make some noise, scream and dance, make people laugh and go out on my terms. Because if I have to wind up in some nursing home having imaginary conversations with Eleanor Roosevelt, I’d rather jump into the bathtub with the clock radio and end it now.

#2- Money is cool, but love and friends are way better.

Last Tuesday, my friend Nick, along with several other people who I love dearly got together and gave me a surprise birthday party. It was the first birthday party I’ve ever had and I will carry the memory of it with me to the end.

If you’ve never had a surprise party given in your honor, it is a surreal experience. You are led into the room expecting one thing and suddenly, you are faced with people who have played both major and minor parts of your life. One by one, you spot new faces, and it takes a second or two for their presence to remind you of where they fit. And in a blink of an eye, the whole of your life is presented to you. You understand that life is not a day by day experience but merely pages in an entire book. And although each page can make you laugh or cry, love and hate, be grateful or be vengeful, it is the book which has the true meaning. 

There were about eighteen people there at my surprise party, most of them comics. As you might expect, the lines were flying around the room like lightning bolts.

While all the laughing and playing was going on, at one point, I just stood back and looked at these wonderful, creative people who had chosen to be there. Some were relatively new in my life, and others I have known for nearly thirty years. Scanning the table, I had little vignettes in my head of some moment I had shared with them as my eyes rested upon each one. Most were happy times, with a few moments of sadness. With others, there had been long gaps in our friendship over this thing or that. Some I had lost contact with just because of geography and changes in our lives, which caused us to have less contact than we had in other times. But the book, the sum total of it all, filled me with joy because in that one instant I thought, gee, maybe I didn’t waste my time here.

I very rarely share my fear of wasting time with anyone, so I want you to know how difficult it is for me to write this on something as public as this blog. But I promised you my truth in the beginning, and so here it is. My single biggest fear in life is that I will have wasted it on trivial things, like regret and revenge, fear of trying and trepidation over monsters under the bed, and of course, the wasting of time itself. Looking around that room, I understood, maybe for the first time, that our time here is one thing, one finished product, one edifice. Our days here are just the bricks in the wall and not the wall itself. I know now that while I have not always adhered to a proper appreciation of life and thus have weaknesses in my wall, I can remove those bricks and build a doorway where they once prevented entry. Passing through it, I can build the wall of my life from both sides with stronger bricks from the lessons I’ve learned.

I suppose that I ought to end this essay with some pearl of wisdom gained from a life lived, or some quote from someone more eloquent about these matters than I, but really, I got nuthin! There’s really no secret to life other than to live it with a child’s energy and innocence. There’s no shame in getting older because there’s always SOMETHING new to be done. There’s no shame in not being rich because you chose a different path than the one who focused on wealth. There’s no regret needed for mistakes made unless you didn’t learn from them. Finally, there is nothing worse than living a life that has not given love to all, even those that piss you off. Love keeps you young. Love gives you joy and hope. Loves allow you to take that last breath and say, “I’d do it all again, just like this.”

So, when the time comes to get off the stage, I’ll know. I’ll wrap it up with my big closing bit, and if I’ve written it correctly, go off with a big laugh. Or maybe I’ll do the hands bit and just piss everyone off.

That’s it, I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat. Abbondanza!



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