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The surprise at being suddenly senior | Chuck's World


Last updated 7/8/2020 at 12:25pm

I was wandering around the edges of a luncheon that was winding down, looking for a job to do or else a stray cupcake I could swipe. We were loaded with cupcakes that day.

I’m not one of those people who look back on the past year through COVID-colored lenses. I’m a social person but a solitary man, and while I miss picnics and parties, where I can dip in and out of socialization, life now isn’t all that different.

But this was a fun event, in late January, mostly because, as I said, there were cupcakes.

And then I felt the buzzing from my pocket, and I pulled my phone out to read the news alert about Kobe Bryant.

I had the sad news all to myself, then, for a few minutes anyway.

I was well aware that this would be the story of the day, and probably for some time to come, and as I looked around at the large gathering I was struck by being the wrong person at the right time. I didn’t really know who Kobe Bryant was.

Stop. Of course I knew. You know I knew. But knew? Nope.

I’m pretty sure I never watched Kobe Bryant play basketball. Not in a real live game, as opposed to highlights. Like Beyonce and “Game of Thrones,” there’s collateral cultural exposure going on here. I can’t help but know some things, if not well at all.

I just stopped watching the NBA, particularly after the Sonics left town for Oklahoma. I kept up with the news but I lost the connection, if you follow. It’s been over 20 years since I’ve followed professional men’s basketball. I wonder about Gary Payton sometimes. I hope he’s well.

It’s an oddity of life, the way our interests wax and wane, often forced by circumstances but sometimes just the whimsical nature of aging. I stopped drinking milk at some point, and now it’s been decades.

I always drank milk. Who doesn’t drink milk? I don’t, now.

I rarely read fiction anymore. I almost never read a printed book, for that matter, relying on the electronic kind.

I don’t follow celebrity news. I don’t know what the new plays and playwrights are, something I always paid attention to in the past.

I have a vague awareness of new movies, but the vast majority of those lost their immediacy a long time ago. Maybe I’ll catch it in a few weeks, or a couple of months. Maybe next year. It’s not going anywhere.

All of this feels natural, and normal. Technology, circumstances, and then just age all play their part in this evolution of awareness. I know what TikTok is. I’m unclear about how to pronounce “bae” or when to use it. I probably shouldn’t be using it.

I’m OK with my cultural ignorance most of the time. I can’t know everything, and I don’t really want to. Even my children, now both in their 30s, probably shrug at the crazy stuff the kids are doing.

But there is something that bothers me, and it has nothing but still everything to do with age.

Katherine Ellison wrote an interesting essay last week for the Washington Post, speaking for the 20 million or so of us who were born between 1955 and 1960. This is me, and my tribe. We’ve been slipping into our 60s for a few years now, barely noticing aside from maybe a big celebration and ironic comments.

“We’re old!” we shout at each other as we party into the wee hours (not really). “We’re too old for this!” we warn each other as we join a rugby league (also not really).

My point is, we don’t really feel old at all. We just joke, because it’s 60. It sounds old. People who were 60 when we were young were very old, halfway into the grave and leaning in the wrong direction. They were people to be revered and honored, although maybe you didn’t want to get too close in case the oldness brushed off on you.

So, obviously a lot of us got too close.

But we were fine until this stupid novel coronavirus. As Ellison notes, suddenly a bunch of us became formally senior citizens, potential victims, and younger people started looking at us differently.

This is the main emphasis of the masks, in fact. Wear them to protect the old folks. “Think of Chuck,” the signs might as well say.

I would be glad to license my name for the common good, by the way. Just talk to my people about the details.

You see, though? Most of us weren’t used to thinking of ourselves as anywhere near being an at-risk group for anything other than hearing loss.

We work, we play, we misappropriate slang, we’ve taken over social media. We all love Adam Driver. We’re on top of this.

And now we have to stay inside. Now we’re vulnerable because of an accident of birth, and I worry that this isolation, as necessary as it is, is just going to make us older.

I really don’t think things will go back to the way they were, and I suspect at least I’m going to feel more out of the loop.

Maybe that’s where I belong, too. Me and my bae, hanging out at home, watching old episodes of “Cheers,” talking about how they don’t make shows like this anymore, because they don’t, and how would we know, anyway?


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