By James Wallace Harris, Monday, October 24, 2016
October 22nd was the 3rd anniversary of my last day at work. The time has zipped by, but I feel I’ve already gone through several psychological phases. For the first year I used to occasionally revisit my old work place, but I don’t do that anymore. Even though I was at the university for over 35 years, I no longer feel part of that world anymore. I’ve entered a new territory, and I’m slowly learning to colonize it.
Joining Medicare feels like the gateway to the land of the aging. I don’t feel old, but I know I’m new old. I’m in the toddler phase for growing up to be old old. I now ask about senior discounts, and I notice just how much advertising is targeted to the elderly. Am I eventually going to need all that stuff? (Home catheterization, lift chairs, slim fit adult diapers, hearing aids, step-in bathtubs, electric stair chairs, medical alerts, motorized chairs, etc. – and all those zillions of drugs.)
I now watch out for scams. I keep seeing stories on the news about con artists scamming the elderly. I don’t know if its my new wariness, but I sometimes do feel extra sales pressure at stores or from hired workmen. I screen all my house-phone calls. Even though I’m on the national do-not-call list, I still get lots of calls. I assume since most people have switched to cellphones, there’s far fewer landlines to cold-call. And they seem more desperate. Most of calls I get are about selling stuff to people my age. Is that direct marketing targeting, or are older Americans the only ones with land lines?
And I hate charity calls. I feel bad about saying no to worthy causes, but I resent they feel they have a right to call my house and interrupt my life. Because I’m one of the last people on Earth to have a landline, it means I get a lot of calls. I just don’t answer my phone anymore, letting my machine reply for me. Supporting charities that call my phone only encourages them to call more. It’s time that all telemarketing becomes illegal, even for charities. (I’ve had three calls while writing this essay this morning.)
I spend a lot of time alone. My wife still works out of town, so I only see her on weekends. I visit with friends, but I like being alone. I’m getting addicted to it. I love puttering around with my projects. I hate when strangers come to my door. I can feel myself evolving into a crotchety old man. I used to be polite to con artists, salesmen, and church people knocking on my door. Now I just get rid of them as fast as I can. I’m not mean, or rude, but cut their spiel off quickly. Who knows how nice I will be in ten years.
I love quiet – unless I want to play my music loud. And I love to play my music loud for an hour or two a day, especially when I nap. It’s emotionally uplifting to hear my favorite oldies when I’m coming in and out of consciousness of a nap.
And my taste in TV has taken a very weird turn lately. I don’t have the patience to watch movies anymore. I can watch them if I have friends over, but not alone. And I still love new TV shows if I’m watching with friends, but again, not alone. My attention span for TV has shorten. At night, when watching TV by myself, I’ve become addicted to seeing an old Perry Mason before going to bed. That’s about 45 minutes. Growing up Perry Mason was my mother’s favorite TV show, and The Fugitive was my father’s favorite show. I couldn’t stand either. I’ve always hated mysteries – either books, TV shows, or movies. But for some strange reason, since I signed up for Medicare I love Perry Mason. I can always spot who is going to get kill, but I never can guess the murderer. Are we supposed to figure that out? I always feel they’re pulling a fast one at the end, plot-wise. But I’m not sure I care. I love the show because it’s in black-and-white, has old 1950s and early 1960s cars, and all the actors and actresses aren’t beautiful and buff. They even have a fair amount of bald guys, wrinkled, and fat people. Folks I can identify with.
One thing I have to keep remembering about getting older, is young people often feel squeamish about our appearance. Of course, most of my women friends have a great deal of self-loathing for their looks. They often complain about themselves and others looking bad because of age. They find getting old depressing. It doesn’t bother me. At least not yet. I was never good looking to begin with. And I have started noticing the affects of age on my friends. But I prefer looking at old folks to young people. I have nothing against the young, but I just feel alienated from the world of youth. I’d love to move to a small 55+ community. Somewhere where it felt like thinning gray hair, sagging flesh, and baldness, was the norm.
Being retired means living with less stress. I want complete control over my environment and habits, and I want to avoid all surprises, which usually involve me breaking in some way, or the things I own breaking. Everything wears out. Being old is mainly about worry about wearing out. I’m having to spend hundreds on my HVAC this morning. A couple weeks ago I had to replace the roof. Too bad they don’t have Medicare for houses. I wonder which of us will go first, me or the house? I’m trying to time it so the house collapses around my body when my heart stops beating.
And like I said, I’m just a toddler at this getting old thing. What will it be like to be in my 70s, 80s, or 90s? I get the feeling I’ve got many more psychological phases to pass through.