This article was originally published in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on August 8, 2016.
Local Dispatch: Everything you need to know as 50 looms
AUG 8, 2016 12:14 AM
I recently scored my first senior discount.
When I casually informed my wife I’d pay only half-price on an outing to Kennywood with our nephew because I’m 55, she made an incredulous huffy breath and said, “No you aren’t.”
“Um, I’m pretty sure I know how old I am: Cinco-Cinco. Double nickels. Nixon’s speed limit.”
“Then that would make me … ” Her brow furrowed as she counted silently. She’s younger than me but between us we’ve done more than a century of living. (And let me just pause here to say she is holding up fabulously.)
I share this signal moment as a service to my fortysomething friends who are likely beginning to experience a vague but growing sense of existential anxiety: Guess what? Before you know it you are going to be 50! And that’s if you’re lucky!
Turning 30 doesn’t feel like much. It’s 20 with money. You can work like a dog, party like a frat boy, smoke like a stack and feel nary a hint of gravity’s tug; at 30, I liked to smugly quote Warren Zevon: “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” (Excitable Warren passed into eternal slumber at 56, incidentally.) By the time you hit 40, you’re so busy working and paying a mortgage and raising kids that you find you’ve passed the milestone in a blur, your head swiveling like when you zoom past a billboard on the highway but don’t quite catch what it’s for.
Fifty is different. Fifty is undeniably the other side of the slope and you will literally feel the gravity. Within 24 hours of your 50th birthday, the reaper will appear at your door to hand you an AARP application. Membership includes its very rad magazine with articles detailing how Bruce Springsteen manages his cholesterol on tour and why Fonzie set up a reverse mortgage to ensure financial security in his dotage. Everyone in AARP the Magazine looks robust, and tellingly there is no obit section.
You’ll need your local newspaper for that. And, trust me, if you glance idly at obituaries now, in your 50s you will study them with the intensity of Tom Hanks parsing the Da Vinci Code. At 40, you’ll joke when yet another symbol of some geezer’s feckless youth exits stage left, but soon enough the muses of your own youth will begin to join the heavenly choir. BuzzFeed will keep you up to date on how well or how poorly Joanie Cunningham or Marcia Brady are aging (substitute your favorite ’80s icons here).
While you can look forward to a discounted ride on The Phantom (if your heart can bear it), other developments will surprise and dismay you in your 50s:
- Eventually, the president of the United States will be younger than you.
- Your children will mock the Hollywood-sign-sized font on your computer.
- You’ll tell your spouse “some older couple” bought the house up the street and then, upon meeting them, discover they are precisely your age.
- The impact of even trifling injuries will be alarming: Banging your knee on the corner of the coffee table will leave you hobbling as if you barely survived the Battle of Shiloh. To quote that old codger Bobby Dylan, “you can always come back, but you can’t come back all the way.” (Dylan, ever the outlier, reinvented himself at age 56 with his darkly brilliant, mortality-obsessed “Time Out of Mind” album: “It’s not dark yet, but it’s getting there.” Stark realization that life ends: It’s a 50s thing.)
Speaking of Dylan, it will dawn on you that culture-bending developments are the work of the very young (Dylan, Albert Einstein, Honey Boo Boo) or, sometimes, the very old (Col. Sanders, Grandma Moses) but virtually no one “comes out of nowhere” in their 50s.
Cheer up, though, you rising seniors. Sixty is right around the corner. Seriously.
Your 50s are weird and awkward, like your teens. You are clearly no longer young but not quite yet old. Hair begins to sprout where God surely did not intend it to. You find yourself turning your head toward whoever is speaking and probably, unconsciously, tilting your earlobe up with your index finger.
And then comes 60 and, hey, presto, you’re old! Of course you walk a bit slower and drive college-kid servers insane as you fumble with reading glasses and scan the Olive Garden menu as if it is more nuanced and complex than the dashboard of an F-16. “I think I’ll have … no wait … do I get unlimited breadsticks with that?” You will eventually be that tortoise-like driver who made you boil with rage: “Hey! Grandpa! Chop-chop! While we’re young!” But 60s-you, up ahead, won’t notice. You’ll be too busy humming along to an oldies station and marveling that Tom Petty is about to turn 80.
It won’t be easy. But at least you’ll know who you are (a dignified older person) and who you aren’t (a spring chicken).
So good luck getting to, and through, your 50s.
I won’t be here when you get here.
I’m going to Kennywood!