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ON TURNING 65

Even the benefits of Social Security, Medicare and senior movie discounts fail to offset the urge to scream

By Frank Kaiser

Turning 65 is one of those life passages — like college hazing and infantry basic training — many men would rather avoid contemplating until it's upon us.

At least that's the way I feel.

I suppose it's different if reaching 65 means retirement, a nice pension, generous social security and a move to Vero Beach. Especially if you're retiring from a job you hate.

Grabbing that gold watch, and peeling out of the workplace parking lot for the last time must be a fantasy right up there with winning the lottery or a hot Saturday night with Gina Lolobridgida.

Speaking for myself, I feel fortunate just to make it this far. My dad, who had looked forward to collecting social security from that day in 1935 President Roosevelt signed the Act into law, died at 64. So did his dad. Since I hit that age a year ago, I've been glancing over my shoulder more often than usual to see who or what was gaining on me.

In some societies, turning 65 means instant recognition for accumulated wisdom and the ability to embrace all things good and spiritual.

Oh, come on. Our culture knows better. In truth, it's more like what my best friend's dad used to tell me: "We get too soon old and too late schmart."

Sure, we've lived many of life's lessons. But they point to the past. What was important even 10 years ago often isn't meaningful today. These days we don't so much fear dying as not having lived. Today any regrets are of omission.

Racing past 65 has little significance to me. Oh, now there's Medicare in my life. But offsetting that is the increased expense of pharmaceuticals and my sudden lack of earning power to cover their cost. (Why does our society believe that, with the blowing out of 65 candles, we're suddenly worth only six bucks an hour as bag boys and burger boosters?)

I'd just as soon go without my 65th birthday.

I'm already enjoying the perks of geezerdom. Senior discounts at the movies, that kind of thing. Since AARP now considers anyone over 50 part of the geezer gang, by the time we're 65, we've been getting their discounts for a good part of our lives.

    Suddenly Trivia. From 1937 until 1940, Social Security paid benefits in the form of single, lump-sum payments. The average payment during this time was a) $142, b) $756, c) $58.

Most friends my age consider it a miracle that we've lived to this age. Says my buddy, J.C. Spitznagel, "If I'd known I was going to live so long, I'd have taken better care of myself."

But even when you're 50, you can't imagine ever being 65. It simply doesn't compute.

Then, without warning, you're there. You don't feel any older. Sure, your kids are in their 30s and 40s, but that's some kind of cosmic trick. You've got grand kids approaching high school but that, too, is an unexplainable aberration, a puzzling black hole in the fabric of your life.

The sad truth is, most of us are even beginning to look like we might be 65. That's the tough part. Personally, I choose to ignore those telltale nose hairs, the glare of my bald spot and my growing wattle. Not that I avoid mirrors. I simply don't recognize that fellow looking back at me.

Who is he, anyway?

I myself have a full head of hair, good looks, great muscle tone, and the flattest belly this side of the Fifth Street Gym. At least that's what I see in my mind's eye.

Why that 65-year-old guy in the mirror let himself go so, I have no idea. But he ought to be ashamed.

Doesn't he realize that folks like him give all us old coots a bad name?

© 2001—Frank Kaiser

Suddenly Trivia Answer: c) Exactly $58.06. The smallest lump-sum payment during this time was for a nickel.

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