It is amazing what tricks of temptation your will plays on you when you approach the age of 70 years. If you have been fortunate enough to have enjoyed robust health throughout your life, as have I, your psyche resists acceptance of the aging process. It wants to continue to do the things you enjoyed when you were much younger. It’s just one of the tasks that must be mastered, part of the price that must be paid for all those years of good fortune. I am physically the strongest person I know in my age group, but that means I would have to reach back into the younger population if I decided to aggrandize the inclinations that continue to assert themselves daily in my life. Every day fresh, ripe, luscious pluckables present themselves like produce in a market stall. It seems like it is always harvest time. Even a Parker House roll reminds me of female anatomy, and eating a taco is …… well…… what can I say? Did God make women to remind us of tacos, or did God make tacos to remind us of women? Would you name your daughter Medjool, hoping that she would grow up to be a great date? In high school I wanted to go out with the new Moroccan girl because I heard she put raisins into her tagine. Then I looked up the word tagine and learnt that it wasn’t part of anyone’s anatomy. The fantasies are endless.
I don’t want to do that for numerous reasons. While it would bring back many cheap thrills, it would cost me all the things that I treasure. Fortunately, I have daily reminders of how lucky I am, and this helps my intellect to deal properly with my opportunistic inclinations. It is a struggle to deal properly with seasonality. I understand what Jimmy Carter meant when he said that he lusts in his heart. This is the fall of my life, not the summer and not even the autumn. I may even be a tad delusional for thinking of it as fall and not as winter.
Whenever I think of the urges that are exerting themselves, I also am able to think back on moments when I observed other older men following the same urge. How ridiculous they looked. How everyone laughed at them and their out of season relationships, and the terrible stories of how so many of those relationships really worked and did not work. I recall vividly the stories of their performance anxiety with those younger women, and their paranoia about what the younger women in their lives might be doing with other younger men behind their back, most of which concerns were justified because that’s exactly what the women did. The supposed youth restoring surgeries and the awful and obvious hairpieces more frequently than not produced a macabre, freak show appearance rather than anything youthful and vibrant.
Belinda and I are in season with each other, but she is a very lovely and very much younger looking person than her chronological age. People think we are much farther apart in age than we really are, and I recall vividly an occasion when someone on a cruse to Vancouver Island asked her if she was my secretary. I also recall another snide remark that the speaker thought was out of my hearing. Older men can never recapture youth by consorting with younger women. It isn’t transferable. It doesn’t rub off. You are who you are, and the more ardently you fight it, the more ridiculous you seem. Belinda is so exceptional that when I jokingly refer to her as my daughter, most people accept that as true. We sometimes go shopping on weekends and she will go look at what interests her while I do the same in some other area of the store. Frequently a female sales clerk will approach and ask if she can be of assistance. I usually say that I am just looking around while my daughter is doing the real shopping - - that my daughter comes and fetches me one weekend a month and takes me out for the day, with lunch and shopping and mall walking. The sales clerk always comments on how lucky I am to have such a thoughtful daughter. If Belinda is in sight, I point her out. Eventually the sales clerk will approach her to ask if she can be of assistance, and comment on what an attentive daughter Belinda is to fetch the old man and get him “out walking around”. The first time was funny. Now she just rolls her eyes and gets “that look”. I have a picture of her with “the look”, but I dare not insert it into any story for fear of being whacked. If she would go for it, I would make the joke a bit more realistic by wearing my pig pajama pants and a pig shirt, with my old fart hat with all the pins I got in my travels indicating where I have been, and that Alzheimer’s stare that I can put on on demand. When I wear that hat, I tell people that the hat is the only record I have of where I have been. Surely you’ve seen old farts wearing hats with all those destination pins stuck in them. When the old poops have a motor home for their vacations, they stick on decals from everywhere they have visited or draw a USA map on the side of the vehicle with the states they have visited painted in. It’s a genre in itself – old fart art.
My daughter, Dr. Muffy, enjoys the old fart humor. As a doctor, drug reps are always giving her novelty items advertising the drugs that they sell. She sends me all the ball point pens, note pads and other trinkets that have logos on them for Viagra, Levitra and Cialis. Face it. When you get to that old fart age you might as well learn to enjoy the age appropriate humor.
All of which brings us to the question, what are the age appropriate thrills of this season? Is this simply an endless period of pills and ailments and doctors visits, and a social life that consists of conversations about pills and ailments and doctors visits? Are we living longer, or does it only seem longer because we aren’t having as much fun anymore? My life isn’t about pills and ailments and doctor visits.
I also have the good fortune to still be working full time. My mind isn’t blown from lack of use. I hope I never stop working full time. I love it. It makes me a better person. It is an enormous blessing to continue work and to love it. Physically and mentally, it is the best medicine for good health. We weren’t designed to stop being productive. Sometimes circumstances make us unproductive and then we go into decline. Illness and injury befall us just as they do animals in the forests, and when that happens death is never far behind. We mistakenly have arranged to have access to life prolonging support systems when we are no longer productive. We can be utterly immobile and useless and, with sufficient economic resources, we can be “kept alive”. That is delusional. That is existence, not living. No thanks. To me life is sacred only if you do something with it. Unless you have a game plan that will keep you mentally and physically engaged, retirement is often a death sentence. I have noticed an apparent high incidence of fatal heart attack following not too distantly behind retirement that consists of “just taking it easy”. You can’t just go fishing for twenty years unless you become a professional fishing guide. I intend never to retire. I think I may be more useful now than I ever was. Productivity is life.
This age has enormous psychic rewards in the form of younger colleagues to work with. Mentoring the young is simply wondrous. Young and absorbing eager minds coupled to high energy are works of fine art. In my teaming arrangements these days, my “go to” people here are much younger and extremely capable. Every encounter with them is an event.
There are other natural rewards of this age. Whatever may happen to your other abilities, your gastronomic pleasures more than compensate for any off peak moments. The olfactory senses become sharper. If you don’t smoke or have awful allergies, everything tastes really grand.
One thing new is that no one my age who is not an idiot is laying down young wines for improvement over significant periods of “aging”. I never did that anyway, but I know many who did, and a few who dropped dead before they got to taste what they were treasuring. Wine is something to drink, not something to worship. I have one friend in New Orleans who accumulated a bloody fortune in “fine wines”. His living room wall was completely covered by a bank of especially climatised storage/display cabinetry, all of which failed when hurricane Katrina blew threw town. Moreover, he has a bad heart and lives on pills. Why, I remonstrated with him, are you saving this stuff? You surely aren’t saving it for yourself. Drink it before you leave the scene on very short notice and this treasure trove is wasted on some younger man/men by your widow. Hell, I said to him, I might start courting your widow myself just to get at that wine. After the hurricane, he did start drinking it. He is a happier man for that. I hope he gets to drink every last drop.
As for myself, I have had the grandest time searching out young wines that are delicious now and that do not need further nurturing. As these younger and absolutely delicious vintages do not enjoy a cult following, they are amazingly reasonable in price. [Cross reference “Veni Vidi Vino” elsewhere in this series] Of course the price is also affected by where you buy wine. Here in Houston we have Spec’s. Spec’s is the best mode model for how to run a retail booze, beer and wine retail chain. The selection is universal and the prices are the best anywhere. Spec’s makes Houston a wino’s heaven. Of course, if you’re an imbecile and want to patronize the new groovy bozo in town who claims that he “hand selects” the wine he sells, why that’s your loss. How stupid do you have to be to recognize that “hand selected wines” is total bullshit, and not even good bullshit. Now if he said that he selected wines with his dick, that might be a viable promotional statement worth paying the higher prices for. But since his message is addressed to yuppie idiots, “hand selected” must convey to a yuppie idiot that something special just happened and that if he shows up there, he might just get in on the trend.
The trend amongst the winery refineries these days is to make wines that used to be kept for aging ready to drink with some semblance of maturity at an earlier date – hopefully even on the date the wines hit the stores. Maybe market research is telling the vintners that there are lots of people out there who share my opinion about buying wines that are not to be touched for several years. All markets change. All trends expire. What was WOW last year is not WOW any more. Somehow, though, I do seem to have missed out on the generosity of securities underwriters, investment bankers and broker-dealers who used to (and for all I know still do) order from Sherry-Lehman in New York City those $100,000 per case presents of La Tache, Richebourg, Grands Echezeaux and Romanee-Conti as gifts for those who sent them underwritings business and issue allotments for initial public offerings and much sought after secondary offerings. DAMN!
The process of democratizing wine may have reached its farthest possible point of penetration in the reputed new arrangement between Wal-Mart and Ernest and Julio Gallo. According to today’s report of the venture, Gallo will produce a “wine” for Wal-Mart to sell at retail for between $ 2 and $ 5 per bottle/can/box. If they have a name-that-wine contest, I will submit Chateau Sam. At that price it will free the winos who live in our gutters from high priced exploitation by such highly advertised vinifications as Thunder Bird, Nature Boy, MD-20-20, and all the other snooty tanglefoot stuff that is now purchased mainly at convenience stores in tough neighborhoods. I hope that Wal-Mart has done some demographic estimates of the incremental population of down-and-outers who will now be hanging out in and around their stores and arrange for appropriate security resources. Some Wal-Mart shoppers may have a tough time trying to identify with/not be scared off by the Chateau Sam crowd. No doubt the pandering in Wal-Mart parking lots will increase as the Chateau Sam devotees aggressively seek to accumulate sufficient coin of the realm to afford their daily tipple. Right now the demographics of the Wal-Mart customer group consist of rather good folks who are not careless with money. We have been spared the unpleasantness of the trip to Wal-Mart including the need to run a gauntlet of aggressive, disease ridden and often dangerously psychotic winos. With that customer profile now about to be in abundance, Wal-Mart can now rent kiosk space to AA and to various local Save-A-Soul Mission organizations. Maybe that’s what they had in mind anyway – renting space to AA and their ilk but not yet having sufficient drunken bum traffic for those potential tenants to justify the rent. If you look long and hard enough, you can recognize the genius at work here. I suppose I will now hear angrily from the National Association for the Advancement of Dangerously Psychotic Winos about my unenlightened point of view.
Changing the subject, one should always strive to be aware of the context of any situation – who are the people amongst whom you find yourself – what are they accustomed to – what do they think they are entitled to by way of consideration. If you know that and think about it, you will never walk into a dinner party with the wrong wine. Even if you are dining with Hurricane Katrina evacuees beneath some freeway overpass, you will now be able to bring along the status appropriate Chateau Sam. The wrong wine is either wine that is beneath the dignity of the host or, conversely, wine that is beyond the experience of the host. Always shoot for a wine that is just a tad – but not a lot - better than the host is used to. If the host is a real oenophile, bring flowers. Be sure that you know the wine that you bring. You should have enjoyed it; know what it goes with best; know where it sits in its variety and genre; and be able to discuss it knowledgeably. Never walk in and be unable to discuss it – never say that it is just something that the clerk at the wine store suggested or recommended. That’s like wearing a shirt that says “I am stupid – DUH!” If you can’t handle that, bring flowers.
I have spent the last 15 years configuring my kitchen and pantry to address how I like to cook. It is wonderful. It is exactly what I like and use. The only problem is that I have very little to shop for, so I go to the grocery stores every day and shop for dinner menu items to prepare each evening after all the cats have been fed. [Cross reference “Night Sounds” elsewhere in this series] In the Central Market grocery I will sometimes be followed around by other shoppers to see what I am cooking that day and to be asked questions about the selection and preparation of various foods. That is a real pleasure. Belinda said that if Central Market were paying attention they would immediately hire me to conduct store tours and tell cooking stories, describing the process in word pictures that make you see and taste food that isn’t even there. Just the other night my daughter called from the hospital because one of the residents wanted a good recipe for what to do with a leftover ham shank from Christmas dinner. The young lady got on the line and I gave her a recipe and directions. She was actually moaning when I finished explaining what to do with it and how to use it. My daughter asked how I manage to do that all the time. It’s simple. I love the process of preparing something delicious. To me it’s romantic and sensual. I told her how to make a great bean stew with it. Beans have a very special and erotic relationship with older folks. They hold the promise of enduring physical pleasure.
Choices are different these days. Inasmuch as I have eschewed infidelity, I no longer have to choose between drinking and screwing around. I have bypassed that stage where you have to sip one glass of beer all evening to be sure your weenie will work when you get in bed. When you have lived with someone for as long as Belinda and I have been together, it’s OK to make love in the morning. But you can’t do it like they do in the movies - - you know - - the couple awakens and instantly start caressing and kissing. In reality, people first brush their teeth and go potty. At my age, when I see a couple on screen open their eyes, roll over and start kissing, my reaction is OH YUK!
This is the time of life when my friends don’t want to go play anything rough or jump on motorcycles and go raise hell all over creation. I rarely ever go to saloons anymore. When you have given up the dry martini, going into saloons is like having an affair with an ex wife. Quieter intellectual/cultural/entertainment pursuits are the plat du jour. You know, like watching the Sopranos and old John Wayne movies. When I look eastward, the rising sun is no longer in my eyes. It is behind me. It is late afternoon. Everything that was fresh with dew is now more sec and friable. What was faster is now slower. What was enduringly vigorous is now more in repose.
Having found, at last, where true value lies, I am more risk averse. True value is far too rare.
I am also conscious of a debt that can only be paid by answering a call to be worthy of my blessings. I am aware of moral compunctions. Why I would be selected to be the recipient of a blessing of moral awareness remains yet not fully understood. I owe it, however, at least the obligation to struggle against the temptations that abound everywhere I look. And I have so much to be thankful for that I don’t wish to change. And a new kitten curled up on your chest purring while you relax in your fat boy chair is really special.
By Seamus Muldoon, Himself
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