While renting a tux the other day, I got to chatting with the young woman behind the counter, a smiling beauty who had the most gorgeous set of dreadlocks I’ve ever seen. I happened to mentioned that I was sixty years old. She looked surprised, not in a stagey way but guilelessly, and said, quite matter-of-factly, “You’re not sixty.”
Sweet words, those, but I’ve got the birth cerfificate somewhere around here to prove the impeccability of my sexagenarian status. I crossed that meridian right on time and without event nine months ago, and I didn’t feel any different on February 6 than I had on February 5.
This isn’t to say, of course, that I don’t feel any different today than I did ten years ago, much less twenty. To be sure, I don’t feel dramatically older. I’m in good health, infinitely better than in the fall of 2005, when I was slipping into what could easily have been a terminal tailspin. My appetite for work remains undiminished—if anything, it’s greater now than ever before—and nothing excites me more than the prospect of a brand-new professional challenge.
Nevertheless, I’m constantly aware that I’m older than I used to be. My knees hurt whenever I sit down in a chair that’s a bit too low for me. I stop cold in the middle of a conversation at least once a day and realize that I can’t come up with a name, usually of something or someone very familiar to me. Just the other day I was taping a podcast with a friend and found myself incapable of recalling the title of one of my favorite plays, Lynn Nottage’s Intimate Apparel. It came back to me a moment later and I made an on-air joke about my memory lapse, but I can’t tell you how much it irks me to fumble for art-related names. Time was when I had something close to a perfect memory for such things, enough so that I was vain about it. Now…well, I’m just like everybody else.
I have also reached a milestone of life that promises to grow steadily more disagreeable in the years that remains to me, which is that the pop musicians I loved in high school and college are starting to die off. First Leonard Cohen, then Leon Russell, and suddenly I caught myself yelling Enough already! But of course the obituary page is omnipresent once you cross the sixtieth parallel: it reminds you each day that it’s you or them, and that sooner or later the piece you’ll never read will finally see print.
Death, of course, has stalked me ever since I lost my then-best friend, Nancy LaMott, a few weeks shy of my fortieth birthday. My father died two years after that, and somewhere around that time I noticed that my hair was starting to turn gray. Now most of it is silver, “senior moments” (that loathsome euphemism) have become a regular occurrence, and I wince each time I turn to the obits.
Is there cold comfort to be found in the loss of youth? Yes and no. I wouldn’t willingly live much of my adolescence over again, but I had a happy childhood and loved most of my college days. For me the real nightmare decade was the forties, the years when people started dying on me and I weathered a midlife crisis about which the only good thing to be said is that I didn’t do anything grossly stupid in public. It ended with my calling an ambulance for myself and surviving a brush with death that preceded my fiftieth birthday by two months. Then I pulled myself together, set up shop with my beloved Mrs. T, retrofitted myself as an artist, and basically had the time of my life.
So what do my sixties hold in store? Judging by the chaos of the past couple of decades, I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t a clue, save for the iron certainty that I’ll continue to have trouble remembering names—but so far, so good. May it remain so. Nevertheless, do this for me if you will: should we meet in a public place, please, please don’t introduce yourself by asking “Do you remember me?” If you do, both of us may be in for an unpleasant shock.
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Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Peggy Lee and Louis Armstrong sing “I’m Glad I’m Not Young Anymore,” by Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe, with special lyrics by Sammy Cahn. This performance was originally telecast on The Bing Crosby Show for Oldsmobile on September 29, 1959: