Hella Mega…

Aging comes with some penalties. Sometimes body parts hurt for no apparent reason. There’s the indignity of bifocals and waking up in the middle of the night to take a wiz. Electronics are getting to be just a little too complicated. 

Whatever. In addition to the penalties, aging also comes with a few underrated perks. Twenty-year-old me usually couldn’t scape together the $20 or $30 for nose bleed tickets let alone the gas money to drive to wherever the concert was happening. Now, though, I’ve arrived at the age where I can finally see many of the bands I wanted desperately to see 20 years ago… and now I can get really good seats.

Even in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime plague, the chance to see Green Day and Weezer on the same bill proved too tempting to resist. I’m awfully mindful that this will be my first trip out into the plague lands into anything that could be remotely considered crowded. I’ve been bitching these last eighteen months about people who refuse to believe in science, so I suppose it’s a case of walking the talk. We’re outside, I’m vaccinated, and my risk of severe illness or death as a result of showing up here is low. Still, crowds make me vaguely uncomfortable to begin with. The plague adds several extra layers to that.

Once the music starts, though, I’m relatively confident I’ll be able to silence that little nagging voice in my head. So much of these band’s “best of” catalog plays out as the background music of my teens and twenties. I’m not one to say high school and college were the best years of my life, but I do have an awful lot of fond memories from back there and back then. These guys were playing the music that underlayers so many of those good times. 

So here I sit, eighth row, slightly left of center, behind the pit (because I’m damned well too old for trading sharp elbows for position and I like to have a tolerably comfortable place to sit down to rest my aching feet between sets).

It’s going to be a very rare late night for me – certainly the first time I’ll be awake to see one day change to the next in at least two years. If the weather holds (and I don’t end up with the damned plague), it’ll be worth it… though you might not want to ask me about it tomorrow when I inevitably wake up at 4:30 in the morning no matter what time I finally crawl into bed.

Sleeping arrangements…

Maggie slept on my bed at night for most of her adult life until fairly recently. Usually over the course of the night she’d find her way to the floor and sometimes fine her way bac to the bed sometime in the early hours of the morning. A few times I’ve had to lift her up since her days of making the jump on her own seem to be over. In the last couple of months, she’s opted to stay put at floor level. I suspect getting herself back down for a late-night patrol was getting to be as hard on her joints as jumping up to the bed was. 

I’ve offered up steps and ramps, but even when lured with treats she doesn’t seem to have an interest. I’m not going to force the issue, so I suppose this is just the new normal night time arrangement. 

As much as I don’t miss the nightly barrage of dog breath and farting, there’s definitely part of me that misses the convoluted positions I’d need to get myself into so she could sprawl. I miss the regular head butts requesting a few more ear scratches before sleep came on.

Everyone trips over themselves to post cute puppy pictures and talk about the challenges housebreaking and training. Not many talk about the unique and often more trying experiences of making home comfortable for an aging dog. I guess those posts don’t translate as well to social media. They certainly don’t garner as many awws and likes. I have to think if more people did have those discussions, it would help an awful lot of people be better prepared for some of the harder moments of pet ownership. 

On dogs that go thump in the night…

I don’t regret anything about my life with dogs. Sure, I wish vet bills were lower and the floor wasn’t constantly covered in shed fur, but on balance, I’d much rather have a house filled with dogs than a house filled with people. Even with that preference, that’s not to say there aren’t moments where I wonder what the hell we’re about.

Sunday morning, at our usual well before dawn wake up time, Maggie took a header while transitioning from the bedroom carpet to the living room wood. She was fully splayed – exactly like something you might see in a cartoon – with one paw slid out in each of the cardinal directions. She tried to get up, fell back down, tried again, and fell again. You’ll never convince me dogs don’t emote. Her face was the perfect picture of embarrassment and feeling sorry for herself. 

I was able to scoot her towards one of the area rugs, where I hoped her scrambling might find some purchase… and also where she would be less likely to tear the hell out of the floor. Look, I’m as big a dog lover as anyone, but that doesn’t mean I want to destroy the house in the process. Fortunately, with the rug giving a bit of extra traction, she slowly managed to get her feet under her. 

Mag’s has had a weak front right ankle for years. I have no idea what caused the original injury, but every so often she pulls up lame and refuses to do more than balance using that paw. She spent most of the rest of the day hobbling around the house. That’s no mean feat when you realize how much of the place is covered with wood, tile, or basically surfaces just made to slide on. 

By last night she was getting around fairly well. This morning was more of the same, so I’m hoping she’s on the mend without needing an unscheduled trip to the vet. 

My girl is going on 13 this year. She’s already far exceeded the average life expectancy of a dog following a Cushing’s diagnosis. Add in the two most recent rounds of violent digestive illness and I’m surprised (and a little impressed) that she’s still getting around at all. I know she’s not indestructible or immortal, but I could have done without yesterday’s reminder of just how elderly she really is.

I’m not sure there’s really a point to this post, aside from telling you to give your critters an extra pat on the head or chin scratch tonight. You’ll be glad you did.

Perfectly unremarkable…

It’s been a perfectly unremarkable Friday. The freezing drizzle and fog this morning was a nice touch… and just another reason why working from home is greater than working at the office. Otherwise, the day isn’t really distinguished in any way.

I’ve built a lovely cocoon for myself here at Fortress Jeff. With a few minor exceptions there’s not much I want to do that I can’t do here from the comfort of the homestead. Whether it’s plague, foul weather, or violent insurrection, I’m ready to ride it out right here with the critters. 

True end of the world stuff is another matter, but in fairness, I’ve grown rather fond of civilization and I’m not entirely sure I want to be one of those people who get to stick around and pick through its ruins.

Where you stand depends on where you sit, I suppose. There was a time I was the first to volunteer to fly off to whatever job needed doing and I rarely thought of what might be happening beyond the next weekend. Back there and back then, I could barely stay put for half a day before needing to be up and out on the next thing. The older I get, though, the more stock I put on the world being regulated by good order and discipline. Chaos, in the wide universe of things best avoided, is the one I loath the most.

I can’t control the world, of course, but I can control a fair amount of what happens here on my little piece of it… so I’ll be striving to extend this run of “unremarkable” as far past Friday as possible. 

My lying eyes…

I’ve worn glasses since I was in 7th grade – meaning I’ve had them now far longer than I ever lived without them. They feel like a natural extension of my face at this point. 

My prescription has changed over the years, but for the last decade or so has been fairly stable. That’s why it was painfully obvious early this year that I was struggling to keep the small print in focus. What’s worse, after long sessions with the book of the day, I’m regularly finding the words blurring together and my eyes just too tired to focus on anything that’s not halfway across the room.

It hasn’t been debilitating, but has been thoroughly annoying and disheartening from day-to-day as it sets limits on how many pages I can get through in a sitting. I don’t make a habit of living in fear, but if there’s anything in life that causes me an unreasonable amount of dread, it’s the idea of losing my vision. It’s precisely the kind of perverse plot twist the Olympians would devise for me. 

I took a few hours of sick leave this morning and schlepped over for my annual eye exam and diagnostic for this new issue. This appointment has been on the schedule for months and given the sum of other circumstances in this plague summer it’s one I would have probably cancelled… but since current situation is standing between me and fully enjoying the books, I’m 100% willing to risk painful, suffocating death to get it resolved.

As it turns out, Doc assures me I’m not, in fact, going blind… but it’s yet another instance of bodily succumbing to the ravages of middle age. My fancy new transition lenses should be here in about two weeks. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go find some tennis balls to put on the legs of my walker.

The cost of getting the job done…

I moved into my current house five years ago. Sure, the movers got everything through the door, but my job was making sure once it’s was in that it was situated in the right spot. Over the years I’ve acquired some cheats and tools – a vast collection of furniture dollies, hand carts, straps, and plastic sliders – to make moving large objects easier. Working smarter, not harder, is an absolute necessity when you’re an army of one.

I was more than capable of slinging my big oak bookcases through the house five years ago. That was 37. This morning I’m finding that getting them across the room left me twisted up in a curly que and just barely able to put down fresh water for the dogs. Yeah, I definitely pulled something. This is apparently 42. 

I still feel strong as a bull moose… and I still got the job done, though it seems there’s an increasingly high price to pay for brute strength-ing things into place. I’ve always tried to work smart, but it looks like I’ll have to work smarter yet to keep from wrecking myself.

If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here popping ibuprofen and and reeking of IcyHot.

Postcards from the past…

Two weeks ago I passed a few days in the house where I did most of my growing up. For all my travels, I’ve always managed to find my way home at least at Christmas time.

I get up early. That doesn’t change just because I happened to have a few days off. One of the perks of waking up before the sun is that you get to see it rise over the Appalachians. In a lot of ways, those clear mornings were a throwback.

On a dead calm Boxing Day morning, the wood smoke hung thick in the George’s Creek valley. A hundred years ago it would have been coal, but for a distant observer it didn’t make enough difference to notice.

For a couple of minutes, it was like watching a living picture postcard from another age – a sight that realistically hasn’t changed much from the 19th and 20th centuries into the 21st. It was one of the first times I think I really appreciated just how slow time can move out there in the hills.

It’s the rare moments like this one that fill me with the idea that maybe someday I’ll go back to stay… but before long other realities of time and space crowd in and the moment is gone. There are real reasons I’ll never really go home again, not to stay… but those reasons will never, ever be because I’ve gotten tired of the view from down the crick.

Old dogs…

People will spend a lot of time telling you about the trials and tribulations of life with a new puppy. Poke around Google and the internet is littered with Twitter and Instagram accounts dedicated to the foibles of puppy ownership.

You’ve got to dig a little deeper to find the blogs and message boards that talk about what it’s like to live with an elderly or ailing dog. It’s not the wide-eyed adorableness and puppy breath side of having pets. It’s the astronomical vet bills, fists full of medications, and a body slowly wearing out even when the spirit is still more than willing.

Old pets are heartbreaking not just because we can sense that our time together is growing short, but also because their compressed life cycle points us inexorably towards our own fate at some point in the future. It’s one of the reasons I’m always a little bit perplexed by people who give up and give away their old pets. They have no sense of the broader context of life.

My dear sweet Maggie had a bad morning today. After years of perfect behavior, I knew she was embarrassed and upset. I could read it all over her face – and especially in her eyes. Climbing out of bed to scrub the bedroom carpet wasn’t exactly on my list of things to do today, but looking at those cloudy brown eyes I couldn’t even bring myself to scold her. Going on 11 years together she’s earned the benefit of a few hundred doubts.

Maybe this morning was a one off. Maybe it’s a warning sign of things to come. I’m trying not to let the first thoughts of my sleep addled brain read too much into it. I hope beyond measure this isn’t something that will become the new normal… but if it does, we’ll cope. Maggie is the grand dame of the family I got to pick for myself. She’s entitled to expect that level of effort in her golden years.

I wrote most of this before seeing the bloody urine this evening that set my alarm bells clanging – and before I took off to the local emergency vet to have my girl checked over. Maybe I’m paranoid or at least a bit too cautious. I’ve also seen how fast things can go bad and when warning signs start stacking up, it’s not the moment to prioritize time or money.

Forty and one…

First off, let me say thank you to everyone who took a few minutes over the weekend to text, email, or post birthday wishes. I’m happy to report that the day arrived and passed quietly. As you might expect, fanfare, parties, and being the center of real world attention aren’t really my style.

I don’t think I’ve really “celebrated” a birthday since I turned 21. I’ve noted them, of course, and measured my progress against their passing. I use to hate birthdays, now I just kind of nod in acknowledgment as they pass. Simple. Dignified. And above all quiet.

I’ll admit that 41 lacked the gulping existential horror with which I faced 40. That one was hard to get my mind wrapped around. This latest iteration of the day, not so much. This one was (hopefully) just another waypoint en route to further destinations that are still over the horizon.

Looking not all that far down the line, fifty feels like it could be a real gut punch – though part of me thinks if you’re fortunate enough to hit that milestone maybe your outlook on birthdays starts improving. The “big one” after that is 57 – a long range goal way out in 2035 to be sure, but one that feels a lot closer than it use to. If all the Junes between now and that far off date are waypoints, I’m hoping all of them after that are gravy.

Maybe it sounds odd to spend time thinking about the 50th or 57th so soon after the 41st, but to me it feels like the perfect chance to do a little reflection on what we’ve done, where we’ve been, and where we’d like to be headed in the future… and now that it’s out of my system for another year, we can get back to observing the passing world with boundless snark and cynicism.

Divisible by ten…

Every year I’m surprised at the end of May when I find myself inexplicably even more irritable than usual. Like salmon returning up river to die, the run up to June comes on without me consciously taking notice of it. Or rather not taking note of it until I sit down and ask myself why I’m dramatically more agitated that normal.

Yes, friends, you guessed it. It’s birthday time again. You see, the fare that accompanies the traditional American birthday is just a little bit of personal hell as far as I’m concerned. A room full of people, dumb hats, forced polite chatter – it sounds perfectly awful. It’s more tolerable when I’m not at the center of it, but I’d just as soon the day slide astern with as little fuss as possible.

It does explain why I’ve largely been feeling “off” this last week or so. Once you’re past 21 – or maybe 25 if you’re really excited about being able to rent a car – the whole exercise of birthday celebrating takes on a decidedly “so what” flavor. Maybe that flavor is even worse this year because it’s one of the big ones divisible by ten.

I take more than a little comfort in knowing it will be past soon and once that happens my mood will improve dramatically if I can go out on a limb and use past performance to predict future results.