Confessions of a Happy Old Guy
And the joys of life in the slow lane
By Jim Dodson
A close colleague needed to speak in confidence the other day. She looked so serious.
“I don’t know how to tell you this,” she said, “but I have to tell you something important.”
I feared she might be quitting her job to join a kazoo band or something even worse, appear on a reality show. So I braced for impact.
“I was behind you in traffic yesterday. You drive like an old man!”
She burst out laughing.
I laughed, too — and agreed with her. She wasn’t the first to point out my maddening old-fashioned driving habits, or as I prefer to simply call them, careful. For the record I haven’t had a moving violation in 40 years, something one can accomplish only by moving slowly through the busy intersections of life. Knock wood.
A year ago, however, I turned 65. In the eyes of my government, my insurance agent and my beloved colleague, this apparently means I’ve achieved official Old Man status. So essentially, my driving habits are finally catching up to my age.
Over this year, in fact, since word has spread like kudzu on a redneck barn, I’ve received several “special dinner” invitations from companies eager to tell me all about their exciting products and services designed to “make your senior years happier, safer and more fulfilling.”
One was from a lawyer pointing out the dangers of failing to update my final will and testament, presumably so craven heirs don’t rob me blind. Another was from a financial firm eager to feed me at the Olive Garden in order to convince me that I should try a reverse mortgage that would allow me to sell my house piece-by-piece in order to finance a speedboat or buy a timeshare in Cabo San Lucas. Not long after that, two dinner invites from local funeral homes offered a fancy last supper with small talk of coffins over coffee.
The truth is, I’m perfectly fine officially being an Old Guy. I’ve never felt happier or more fulfilled than at this very moment, even without a speedboat. My health is good, the important parts all seem to work, I love what I do every day and look forward to many years of doing it as I chug along in the slow lane of life.
I never plan to retire or even slow down because I’ve always moved at more or less the same modest speed. Slow and steady wins the race, as the moral goes, assuming you even care about winning the rat race. Never hurry, never worry was the personal motto of the late great Walter Hagen, a dapper fellow who walked slow and lived large while winning 45 golf tournaments, a total that included 11 major championships and four British Opens. Successful living, said the late great Leroy Robert Paige, a.k.a. “Satchel,” — hall-of-fame Major League pitcher who played his last game for the Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League at age 60 in 1966 — is really a question of mind over matter. “If you don’t mind,” he counseled, “it don’t matter.”
Besides, the evidence is pretty compelling that I’ve been an old man since the day I was born.
A small chronological sampling:
It’s February, 1953, and I am born. My mother thinks I’m the cutest baby ever. My father jokes that I look like Dwight D. Eisenhower. My mother doesn’t think this is funny, doesn’t speak to my father for a week. Years later, whenever she’s annoyed with me, she’ll sigh and say, “I guess you were just born an old man, Sugar Pie.”
It’s 12 years later, 1965. My favorite Beatle is George Harrison, the “quiet one” whose guitar gently weeps. I teach myself guitar and spend endless solitary hours learning to play like George. Paul McCartney tells the Associated Press that “George is the old man of the group.” In tribute, I try growing a beard like George. It goes nowhere. Then again, I’m only in fifth grade.
Now we’re in the early avocado-colored ’70s. The music, the cars, the groovy way college girls look — it’s all quite wonderful. I grow my hair long and spend an entire summer at college smoking pot, which only puts me to sleep. So I quit smoking pot, buy a Dr. Grabow pipe and a corduroy sports coat with leather elbow patches. My hippie girlfriend jokes that she’s dating William F. Buckley and is shocked when I admit digging the music of Burt Bacharach. I am the only guy in my dorm who watches the Watergate Hearings from beginning to end — and enjoys it.
Now it’s the 1980s and I’m an investigative reporter for a magazine in Atlanta, engaged to a beautiful TV anchorwoman who works late on weekends. Way past my normal bedtime, she likes to unwind from her job by dragging me to glamorous late-night parties where everyone is buzzing from funny white powder inhaled off the bathroom counter. More than once I sneak off to a stranger’s bedroom to grab a quick nap or watch reruns of Hee Haw with a Falstaff beer. The engagement is predictably short.
In the late 1990s, I become a father of two, the happiest thing that’s ever happened to me. I build my own house and a faux English garden deep in a beech forest near the coast of Maine. I love reading books to our little ones and normally fall asleep before they do. We like the same G-rated movies and yellow food group. They grow way too soon. Apparently I never did. But at least I am fully trained for grandparenthood.
Two summers ago, while driving my vintage Buick Roadmaster in crazy rush hour traffic outside Philadelphia, a snarky young dude in a BMW opened his window and yelled, “Hey, Chevy, wanna drag race me to Wallyworld?” He howled at his own wit. I smiled politely back. When the light changed, however, I opened up my Roadmaster’s massive 350-hp, eight-cylinder Corvette engine and taught that little twerp never to mess with an old man driving his old man’s Buick.
For the record, old guys like shirts with roomy pockets. This is a known fact and I’m no different. I want a shirt with pockets large enough for car keys, screwdrivers, grocery store lists, directions to the party, a sandwich for later, a tape measure, various auto parts, mysterious things you find in the yard and so forth. Pocket protectors, however, are ridiculous. What do you take me for, a complete old geek?
Also, long ago, I decided that certain essentials in life should primarily be basic white. This includes, but is not limited to, golf balls, toilet paper, underwear, snow, vanilla ice cream, dress shirts, and the look on any idiot BMW owner’s face who thinks he can beat my Buick to Wallyworld. (By the way, genius, Chevy’s wagon was a Ford).
If you’re going to jabber during the movie, please do us both a big favor and sit elsewhere, preferably in another county. I have a hard enough time hearing what’s going on in the movie without having to listen to your witless commentary. And if you speak to me in a crowded party, don’t be surprised if I just smile at you like a drooling village idiot because I can’t understand a blessed word anyone says to me in noisy, crowded places.
Ditto if I forget your name. Please don’t take it personally. Next time just wear your name tag — preferably written in LARGE EASILY DISCERNIBLE LETTERS. For the record, I forget lots of names of things these days, including those of movie stars, old flames, neighbors, song titles, state capitals, sports stars, candidates I voted for, candidates I wish I voted for and so on. On the other hand, I can name every dog I ever owned, just one of many reasons a dog really is an old man’s best friend. You never forget them.
Finally, I love going to the grocery store without a shopping list. Talk about free-range fun for Old Guys! Roaming the aisles like a man on a mission who can’t remember what he’s looking for, I just grab whatever catches my fancy on the oft chance it might include whatever item my wife specifically asked me to bring home. True, this often means a quick return to the store to get the correct item but, hey, that just means you can repeat the process and double your fun, taking home other great stuff that captures your fancy.
Frankly, I could rattle on forever about the simple pleasures of finally being a certified Old Guy — going to bed early and rising before the chickens, reading poetry, biographies and histories in my tree house office, long walks with the dogs and road trips with my bride, small suppers with friends, stargazing, classical music, lonely back roads, rainy Sundays, weekend gardening, watching birds, early church, late afternoon naps, Kate Hepburn movies, historic battlegrounds, old houses, Scottish golf courses, expensive bourbon, bumping into old friends I actually remember, and other stuff I invariably forget how much I enjoy.
Whew, just the thought of all that activity exhausts me.
I’d better go grab a quick nap before I run to the store to fetch supper items I probably won’t remember to get.
Contact Editor Jim Dodson at email@example.com.