Where Everyone Knows His Name
I recently turned 69. Thus begins the last year of my life when my friends can truthfully describe me to others as “a guy in his 60’s.” I am now flying down a freeway and the next sign has a seven and a zero on it. That is a big number, a scary number. Seventy is the new, well, 70. A time in life when there are so many more miles behind the cart than in front of the horse.
We tend not to think of old age when we are on vacation in Kauai with our young family. Downing two or even three mai tais at dinner, up early the next morning, jogging three or four miles in the warm, sweet air of Hawaii, and then body surfing with the kids. Old age? No way, I was Dorian Gray.
But aging is a process we cannot reverse. I just did not think it would sneak up on me so quickly. It is my companion now as I am reminded each time I look in the mirror. The words of the late Andy Rooney echo in my ear, “It is paradoxical that the idea of living a long life appeals to everyone, but the idea of getting old doesn’t appeal to anyone.”
How then to deal with advancing age and its concomitant physical breakdowns? The devout journey to Lourdes; I go to Bushard’s Pharmacy. Often. In the old TV series, “Cheers,” Norm would enter the bar, and everyone would call out his name. When I enter Bushard’s everyone yells out, “Jim.” Blood pressure meds, blood thinners, statins, and anti-anxiety pills (just in case people post nasty comments about my column). All are provided with smiles and excellent service.
When I retired from teaching, the plan was to try my hand at writing and that has been a partial success. The other goal was to sharpen my tennis game to a fine edge. “He doesn’t play like he’s in his 60’s.” “Look at that old guy serve.” “Wow, what a two handed backhand!”
Trying to hit like you are still in your 30’s comes at a price. Here is mine: partially torn rotator cuff, partially torn labrum, partially torn meniscus, and a tennis elbow operation. Throw in a reoccurring case of atrial fibrillation and my trips to the court are about as frequent as Donald Trump’s trips to black churches. If you could see me in the morning when I get out of bed, it would remind you of the Tin Man before Dorothy oiled him.
Don’t go gentle into that good night. Rest, rehab and a return to the courts! Two weeks into my comeback, I awoke with blurred vision in one eye. The ophthalmologist, who was a former student of mine, said I had a posterior vitreous detachment. It could have caused a detached retina, but did not. However, I was left with what is called a “floater” in my left eye, a gray mass that moves around as my eye moves. It is like my eye is a windshield of a car and a bug is splattered against it, except this bug moves. Bushard’s can’t help me here.
Now when I play tennis and it is my turn to serve, I throw the ball up, see the ball and the floater. My concentration is easily broken and my serve is now a threat to low flying birds and the back of my doubles partner’s head. But I will keep playing, taking as my inspiration a character from the film “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” There is a scene where King Arthur’s path is blocked by the Black Knight. A sword fight ensues. First, the knight loses one arm, then the other. He refuses to quit and begins to head butt the king. The fight continues and King Arthur cuts off both of his legs, reducing him to a torso. The knight looks up and says, “I guess we’ll call it a draw.”
In the end, it is not if we win or lose, but if we keep playing. And, yes, I will settle for a draw.
James Utt is a retired social science teacher who remembers the days of wooden racquets and short shorts on the court.