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.
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.
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.
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.
Six or so years ago I found myself limping around the house, the office, the grocery store, basically everywhere. It wasn’t quite agony, but it wasn’t pleasant. A trip to my primary care doctor and a referral to a orthopedic specialist later, the diagnosis was plantar fasciitis. It’s a problem of the ligaments of the foot, which tends to cause intense pain after sleeping and long periods of sitting, both of which are activities I participate in on a daily basis. The basic fix was some over the counter anti-inflammatory, some icing, staying off the thing as much as possible, and a fancy set of orthotic inserts for my shoes. It’s all part of my look as the world’s youngest 70 year old man.
Mostly the inserts and an occasional handful of ibuprofen do the trick to stave off any further issues. About once a year though I unwittingly do something to aggravate the hell out of the little bundle of ligaments… at which point I’m right back to limping around from place to place and generally trying to keep off the damned thing as much as possible. It seems that this week is that magical time of year.
So if you see me gimping across the parking lot or I don’t stand up to greet you, a) I’m ok and b) don’t take it personally. I once heard it said that getting old ain’t for sissies. The older I get – and the more wear and tear I inflict on myself – the more I’ve come to appreciate that statement. For good or bad we’re all living in bodies that were designed by biology to last 35 or 40 years, seed the next generation, and then make way for them. We’ve pushed that frontier back through the audacity of our science… but the bits and pieces that wear out and break down along the way are a real pisser.
I’ve often wondered how it is that old people lose touch with technology – whether that’s the eternal flashing 12:00 of a generation of VCRs to or the firm instance that GPS will never take the place of a glovebox full of paper maps.
Once upon a time, I could build my own computer. Sure, I bought the components off the shelf and wasn’t making my own chips or anything, but I knew the specs I wanted, knew where to order them, and was able to slap the whole bit together into a functioning PC. I haven’t tried (or really even been tempted) to do that since the late 1990s. It stopped being a cost effective use of time. Easier to buy the whole rig off the shelf and go to work.
This afternoon I finally accepted that maybe it was time to update my iPhone playlists – that I probably haven’t substantively changed since the days when I had a Memphis address. First things first, it almost feels like with the bevy of streaming services available now, the whole idea of having a self-curated playlist may be a little old fashioned. It’s like having a bookshelf full of CDs or 45s. Its existence is a throwback to an earlier time. That’s when the first light of recognition came on – the way I like my media delivered is on the verge of being utterly overcome by the march of progress. I like having my “own” copy of my music – even if it’s just a digital representation. I made it from cassette tapes to CDs to mp3s and Winamp skins, to iTunes, but after four format changes, it seems I’m beginning to resist the onrushing future.
I wonder if this is how it starts to go off the rails for me. Am I going to wake up some morning in 2045 and wonder why I can’t make my 20 year old Mac Mini work. Are printers going to someday be as rare as 8-track players? Is this where tech abandons me to the future as I grow more and more entrenched with only the technologies that I fully understand?
I don’t want to be that guy who thinks of every device as a damned infernal contraption. There’s some way to head that off, right? Some magic bullet that will let us stay attuned to what the kids these days are up to?
I’m not ready to live in a world where the best device I ever bought is one I have already.
1. Creeping middle age. I’ve always been ok with going to bed sore. That was just the sign of a good productive day. Now that I’m waking up with sore shoulders, a sore back, sore hips, and even more tired than I was when I went to bed. I vaguely remember a time when sleep was restful. I wonder if it ever will be again.
2. When it’s too good to be true. At two acres of sweeping, manicured lawn, the back third naturally wooded, and a house that looked like every piece of it was designed by a master craftsman, I wondered a bit at the price point. I assumed it was a murder house or something. Under the circumstances I don’t think that would have been a deal breaker. What was a deal breaker, however, was pulling the zoning map and discovering that the property backed up to a large open field… that was designated as a dumping ground for the material that was dredged dredged out of the Chesapeake and Delaware Canal. According to nice folks at the EPA, this practice has led to a bit of contamination of the local groundwater sources. Sure, the state is going to pipe in municipal water, but there’s just something disagreeable about living next door to a site that probably a few regulatory changes away from being eligible for Superfund. Remember kids, when it sounds too good to be true, it’s just a matter of figuring out why. In this case, I’ll just blame the Corps of Engineers… at least it’s a feeling I’m use to.
3. Being the middle man. I find myself caught at least once a week between the demands and desires of my local management and the corporate guidance I receive from “oh high.” Occasionally it would be nice if those two groups ever wanted the same thing. As it is, I mainly find myself in the service of two masters. From long experience I know the reality of things is that it’s generally best to follow the lead of the boss closest to you. They’re the one who can cause the most pain or dispense favor with the most largesse… but the reality is when you find yourself serving two masters you’re not serving either particularly well.