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From the golden pen of Joe Klock, Sr.

THE SPIRIT (AND DISPIRIT) OF 76


Every September, I put pen to paper (finger to keyboard, actually) and reflect on my progress toward functional obsolescence and the bone yard beyond.

This year, I celebrated - in a hilariously non-celebratory manner - the completion of my seventy-sixth year on this troubled planet.

It was, to describe it from one of the more favorable viewpoints, a unique experience - unique being the most euphemistic adjective that comes to mind.

What made it not only tolerable, but quite pleasant, were contacts with a sadly diminishing number of friends and an almost frighteningly increasing number of descendants.

It was a memorable day, but not one of nonstop emotional fun and games, as were those of my youth.

Let's face it, gang - staying alive is second only to getting born as a basic goal in life, although what happens in the interim is what living is all about.

Therefore, birthdays are relatively irrelevant, except for that critical first one.

That said, though, certain milestones acquire pseudosignificance to most Americans.

Sixteen, for example, is when young men acquire both their wheels and an abundance of testosterone, major assets in the pursuit of young women. The latter group looks forward to the same age as the occasion for their "sweet 16" party (quince para las chicas latinas), an event to be overshadowed only by one or more weddings, not necessarily related to age.

With eighteen comes the privilege of voting, exercised by too many of our kids about as avidly and frequently as proctological checkups.

At 21, they're able to openly purchase and quaff the spirituous beverages that most of them have already been throwing down surreptitiously for some time.

Thereafter, anniversaries of note lose much of their attractiveness. People preoccupied with their physical appearance tend to see thirty as the dreaded point atop the peak of carefree and wrinkle-free existence, when they begin to view joie de vivre through a mental rear-view mirror.

This "over the hill" syndrome, if not experienced then, almost invariably weighs in at the "big four-oh," when several physical functions tend to start to weigh out simultaneously.

Males tend to fight this malady with frantic forays into past activities, while females resort to lotions, potions, dietary fads and hot tips in the media.

Middle age is difficult to categorize, although it is nearly always a moving target, being defined by teenagers as a thirtysome event, which they drive back in time as they "mature" (or deteriorate, in the minds of their successors-to-be in thirtydom).

Arguably, middle-age has arrived for sure when the half-century mark is observed, excluding only those who optimistically plan to buck for centenarian status and victims of blind narcissism.

Cutting back to the chase at hand, a reasonable person of mid-septuagenarian vintage (okay, so that's a heavy load of verbiage, but it's less abrasive than "old fart") should be - and this one is - grateful for however many years may lie ahead.

At the same time, that gratitude can be - and is - mixed with a mourning of the decades irretrievably buried in the past.

NOT FOR SISSIES

Advancing age is not for sissies, one discovers with increasing clarity after the blooms of youth and middle age have withered, that - cliches though they be - those whimsical references to the only known alternative are nonetheless both irrefutable and inconsistent with that second most important goal in life earlier cited herein.

Curiously, despite the grimness of the subject matter, there are far more jokes about being old than about being young, and we in Geezerworld laugh heartily at them all.

On the surface, this makes little sense, since we're giggling about aches, pains, memory lapses, malfunctioning equipment, replacement body parts, serial medical procedures and a growing preoccupation with our personal plumbing.

There are several reasons for this Pagliaccian behavior, the first of which is the obvious fact that there ain't diddly squat we can do about oldness.

Then there's the additional fact that we tend to take ourselves less seriously during our decades of decline than we did when preoccupied with hormones, acne, physical passions, pregnancy, others' opinions of us, our role in society, fashion trends, the taming of teen- agers, the pursuit of excellence, the long-term health of the planet and the short-term impact of current events.

It is not that we are insensitive to the world's problems or our own afflictions, but that we've come to buy into the philosophy of the mythical Puck, a.k.a. Robin Goodfellow, who confessed that "if I laugh at any mortal thing, 'tis that I may not weep."

Too, there's the classic pronouncement that "it ain't over 'til it's over," opined by either Casey Stengel, Yogi Berra or William F. Buckley, Jr.

Did I mention that we grayheads also develop a lousy memory for names?

Joe Klock, Sr. Is a freelance writer in Key Largo, Fl. Contact him by e-mail (JoeKlock@aol.com) or call (305) 451-0079."

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