Category Archives: Aging

Extreme Bucket List

The one positive I’ll acknowledge about growing older: I no longer take life for granted.  As a young person, I used to think, “I’ll do X, Y, and Z when I become famous and make a million dollars.”  (Yes, I suffered from delusions of grandeur.)  But as I’ve grown not only older, but more mature, I realize how quickly I turned from a 24 year old into a 44 year old and I never did do X, Y, or Z.  So I’m doing them now.  I’ve published two books.  I’ve flown across canyons harnessed only to a zip line.  I’m even acting in a short film I wrote that a friend is directing.

Me on the Hawaiian Zip Line

And disasters such as the earthquake and tsunami in Japan only bring home the urgency to live now.  After all, as a Californian, whenever the San Andreas fault decides to shake off its pent-up energy, I could find myself floating in the Pacific on what used to be a chunk of the Santa Monica pier.  So while I can, I’m going to slow life down and speed it up at the same time.  By slow it down, I mean I’m going to stop and smell the roses while tip-toeing with Tiny Tim through the tulips.  In non-clichéd terms, I am going to do my damnedest to enjoy the small moments in life: walking the dog, reading a book, writing a blog.  And to speed up my life (at least my heart rate), I’m going to dust off that bucket list and shake myself up before the Big Quake does so by crossing off some long-held aspirations.  For years, the top of that list has denoted my desire to parachute out of a plane (see blog entry from November 29).  I need events to mark time in my life.  I suppose not having children has made my adult years fail to distinguish themselves.  Year thirty-two feels like year thirty-eight which feels like year forty-three.  So instead of watching my kids grow up, I opt for extreme sports.  At least one extreme sport every forty years or so.  Any parents out there who feel similarly moved to hurl themselves out of an airplane (perhaps because of your kids), feel free to join me.  Otherwise, I’ll be parachuting and pursuing other creative ways to mark time on my own.  If nothing else, I’ll have memories to ruminate on as I’m clinging to my piece of the post-quake pier.

Retirement Plan: Prison

Pension gone?  Retirement fund stolen?  Cost of health benefits unaffordable?  Consider the retirement plan I’ve decided on for my future: Prison.

My Future Self

Radical, you say?  Unreasonable?  Mad?  Just listen to the advantages: Days spent lounging in your room with dedicated time outdoors.  Three square meals a day.  An extensive library.  Free gym membership.  And, best of all, the most comprehensive health care coverage that money (but not yours) can buy. Is this a vacation in the Bahamas, or a fiesta in the big house?  ¡Ándale! ¡Ándale!  Sign me up!

First, how to qualify.  Of course the options are as numerous as the human imagination.  Choose the ignominy that is right for you!

Smile! You're set for life now!

Know someone who really sticks in your craw? Take out (Extinguish! Silence! Annihilate!) that someone.  Let’s face it, he or she is probably a public nuisance anyway (or at least a major buzz kill).  (Visualize yourself as the titular vigilante from the TV show “Dexter.”)  Should you have your sights set on a big fish, don’t hold back.  As a liberal, perhaps you’d like to “stare down the cross hairs” at a certain Alaskan pundit; as a dog lover, then perhaps you’d prefer to assault a particular NFL quarterback; as an honest citizen who is against stealing from schools and non-profit foundations (and pretty much everybody else), then you can always perform the ultimate swindle on everyone’s favorite Ponzi schemer.  The options are limitless!

Or, instead of going rogue, go Robin Hood!  Rob a bank or (better yet!) a Wall Street brokerage firm with the intent to “take from the rich and give to the poor.”  You’ll qualify for the retirement plan and look like a mensch!

The point is Get out there and commit a felony! Prisons are already overbooked and your bunk won’t be held forever.  Give your soul a quick shakedown and decide as soon as possible what criminal offense has your name on it!

Your New Homies

And for your effort?  A fully paid retirement in prison (ah, my mind is at ease already).  Lounging, reading, working out — all at the taxpayers’ expense!

So stop worrying and put your retirement plan into action!  Your new homies are waiting to meet you!

Full disclosure:  Not responsible for injuries encountered in qualifying for plan.  Entrance into the retirement plan available for all, excluding celebrities as they are impossible to convict.

Alcatraz -- the Ultimate Retirement Destination

Half Life

Giant Sardinian Lemons (Probably what they eat to live so long)

Out of the blue the other day it dawned on me:  Half my life is over.

As some of you may know from reading this blog, I turned 48 in November 2010 and am en route to 50 in 2012 (which is when, as you also may know from reading this blog, the Mayans expect the world to end).  But let’s just say that the world does not end in 2012, I would still have to live beyond the age of 96 to contradict my recent realization that, again, Half my life is over.  Fin. Kaput.

So, I did a little research into the likelihood of me reversing this new revelation, in other words, living past 96.  First of all, let’s dismiss the fact that cardiac arrest is prevalent in the maternal side of my family:  my mother’s mother died of a heart attack at 66 and my mother had just-in-time double bypass surgery at 56.  My mother is still living (thank God) and in good health at 71, thanks to that double bypass, a change in diet, and the myriad of medications available to extend a comfortable and productive life.  When I say my mom changed her diet, I mean to say that what she eats adheres to the old joke detailing the cardiologist’s diet:  “If it tastes good, spit it out.”  Not only is she a model citizen, she is a model eater.  I’ve got the citizenship thing down, but the model diet — not so much.  I still cannot shake my cravings for carbs, fried carbs especially, which are, as one of my friends puts it:  “Crack.”

"Crack"

But, for now, let’s set aside the fact that I cannot yet vanquish my occasional fried “crack” addiction and look at the average lifespan of Americans like me. According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the average life expectancy for a Caucasian female is 80.3 years.  Holy crap (or, should I say, holy carb), it’s looking like I am well into the back half of my life.  Unless I have exceptional genes (which I have already established that I do not) or medical science progresses to such a degree that it can save an average old cow like me (possible, but I’m not holding my breath, plus Tom Cruise, Demi Moore and the rest of the soon-to-be-50 Brat Pack would certainly take all of the Fountain of Youth drugs for themselves), I am likely not holding on until I’m 96.  (I guess I should be grateful for how much longer folks are living these days, period.  Four decades ago, the Beatles sang that life was virtually over When I’m 64…)

My only hope might be to move from my native United States (ranked a disappointing 49th among countries in life expectancy for its population) to the number one ranked country in that category:  Macau.  In this region of China, women live, on average, to age 87 and a half.

The Old Macau Woman I Could Be

But I don’t speak Chinese and, frankly, I feel too old to learn.  I do like Chinese food, but I’ve got a feeling that’s taking me back into “crack” land and that’s dangerous.  I haven’t even called Allied Van Lines and I’m already feeling like a fish out of water.  Perhaps Macau is a place — for me — to visit someday, but not to live.

As I run through more online information, however, I see that there are dedicated blue zones in the world where folks live 100 years and beyond.  Oh, happy day!  I can chose between five of these blue zones:

  • The Italian island of Sardinia
  • Okinawa, Japan
  • Loma Linda, California
  • Costa Rica’s isolated Nicoya Peninsula
  • Ikaria, an isolated Greek island

Now that list holds some possibilities.  I’ve even been to one of the zones — Sardinia — as a stop on a 2009 Mediterranean Cruise.  That fact alone must add a week to my longevity.  And Loma Linda is, shockingly, a mere freeway drive from where I live (although that time spent on the Los Angeles’ freeways would probably take away the week from my life I earned in Sardinia).

Of course, I know that the real key to a long life (besides the luck of good genes) is lifestyle.  Eat right, exercise, decrease stress, blah, blah, blah…  We all know that.  So if I’m gonna have any hope of living to 96 (or perhaps even 64), I must realize that there is no quick fix.  I have to get up from my computer and actually use that stationary bicycle in my bedroom for something other than hanging clothes on.  I have to attempt to shut out the world — from external barking dogs to internal thoughts of self-doubt — and get a good night’s sleep every night.  And I have to give up fried crack.

More "Crack"

That is, unless medical science does discover a magical elixir that allows us to live forever.  Then I just have to knock the Brat Pack out of the way to get enough of the stuff for myself.

My Doppelganger

Lately, there seems to be a fad about doppelgangers.  To be honest, before Facebook announced its Doppelganger Week in February of 2010, I didn’t even know the word doppelganger.  So the good news: I’ve learned a new word (definition: a ghostly counterpart of a living person, or, more to Facebook’s purposes, a double or alter ego).  Now for the bad news: My doppelganger is Zero Mostel.

Zero Mostel, my Doppelganger

In keeping with my personality, Zero Mostel was never considered hip.  (For those who don’t know, Zero Mostel was an American actor of stage and screen, best known for his portrayal of characters such as Tevye onstage in Fiddler on the Roof, Pseudolus onstage and onscreen in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, and Max Bialystock in the original film version of The Producers.  He died in 1977.)

So, to recount, Zero Mostel, my doppelganger, is not hip, not alive, not even female.  So why is he my doppelganger?  He, like me, had massive comb-over hair.

Like Zero, I started losing hair early in life.  Inconveniently enough, the majority of my balding is taking place in the top front of my scalp, right where my hair naturally parts in the middle. Because of this, for years I have parted my hair on the side.  I’ve tried Rogaine for Women, various herbal supplements, and even a doctor prescribed pill (for slow thyroid or some problem I did not have) whose secondary effect was hair growth.  None have helped.

While in Texas over the recent holidays, I went to see the original cast in A Tuna Christmas, a hilarious, yet reality-based comedy about the fictional tiny Texas town of Tuna.   At one point, one of the characters refers to another’s coif by saying, “There’s more hair on an anchovy.” This is Zero.  This is me.

When I mentioned how I related to the hairless anchovy, my partner of eight years whom I call Bitty said, “You’re Zero Mostel.”

At first I was offended.  I mean, yeah, I have a hair loss problem, but, geez, couldn’t I look like someone younger, hotter… alive?

Then Bitty and I went out for New Year’s Eve, for the first time in, like, the history of Man.  We went to a nice dinner and a concert and, to commemorate the rarity of this occasion, I brought along a camera. Upon looking at those photos, I realized the truth of Bitty’s words.  There, in the photos (in which, for me, I am dressed to the nines) is the evidence: my parted hair and the first in what will surely be a long line of sweep-over strands, ala Zero.

So before this year’s Facebook Doppelganger Week begins in the first week of February, let me state it loud and proud: I wear the comb-over for all the non-hipsters, male and female, who may be nerds, but are truly, like our doppelganger, never zeros.

The Evidence -- My Budding Sweep-over Hair

Tick… Tock…

When I traveled home to Lubbock recently for the holidays, I couldn’t help but notice that I am not the only person focused these days on aging.  As I eavesdropped on the conversation of three older Baby Boomers in line behind me at the Vegas airport, I heard one of them say: “When I hear on the radio that someone famous has died at 82, I think ‘If that was me, I’d have 15 more years to live.’”  “Yeah, we’re all counting down,” the second one says.  “How’d we get so damn old?” asks the third.

How indeed?

Remember as a child how time seemed to pass so slowly?  Especially when whatever was consuming our time was B-O-R-I-N-G?  I thought I would NEVER get to adulthood where people were having all the fun, doing cool stuff like staying up late, going to fancy parties, and working important jobs.  Well, I did, of course, reach adulthood, but I don’t have the stamina to stay up late and still work my not-at-all-important job.  And I can count the number of fancy parties I’ve been to on my thumb.

The only fulfillment of my childhood fantasies is that, yes, time has sped up.  Not that time isn’t still often spent doing B-O-R-I-N-G tasks, but now I wish for time to SLOW DOWN.  I used to be able to mark a year by my grade in school, or the greatest of accomplishments like learning to ride a bike, or entering a real heart into a science fair; now, my greatest accomplishments are paying my taxes on time and remembering to take my daily baby aspirin for my heart.  How is it that 1985 still feels like yesterday, and 2011 looks like some far-in-future-date on The Jetsons?

I don’t think I’m the only one wondering, ala Rip Van Winkle, How the hell did I sleep 25 years and wake up in this foreign land of exhaustive technology and horrendous rap music? I say this because, from what I can see, hanging onto our collective youth is big business.  From last year’s tour of 62-year-old James Taylor and 68-year-old Carole King to the ageless rocking of the Rolling Stones, we like remembering (or recreating) our youth… if only for a two-hour concert.  It is a little bit of time travel.

So the clock may be ticking too quickly, and we’re definitely counting down, but let’s also take moments to remember the days when time was so infinite that it dragged on forever, life was so simple that riding a bicycle meant freedom, and memories were brewed courtesy of Sweet Baby James with a scoop of Brown Sugar.

Cancer Dog

Last week, my black Lab, Jack, started limping as we were playing ball in the backyard.  I looked at the paw he was favoring and noticed a little blood beneath one of his nails as if it had been nicked.  Against Jack’s wishes (evidenced by him baring his teeth), I tried to wipe it with antiseptic. Then, to alleviate further trauma for either of us, I opted to let it heal on its own.  Since that day, Jack has regularly tended to his wound via licking and — voila! — the healing process is very nearly complete.

This reminded me of when I was visiting my parents in Texas recently and my father let his Bichon Frise, Ally, lick a wound on his own hand, swearing by the curative powers of her tongue.  Once I got over the gross-out factor (which is hypocritical because, to be honest, I make out with Jack plenty), I got to thinking, Do animals really have healing powers?

Oscar on the prowl for his next death watch

Yes, I remember the story of Oscar the cat in a Rhode Island nursing home who curls up on the bed of a patient hours before the patient’s death.  In fact, Oscar’s predictions are so accurate, the nursing home now calls the family to alert them to a death watch once Oscar has settled on a bed.  True, that’s not healing per say, but, according to numerous patients and their families, it is comforting and in a way that’s healing, isn’t it?

As for my Dad, he calls Ally his “Cancer Dog,” meaning not that she has cancer, but that she has the power to cure cancer.  Well, shouldn’t this win us that long awaited trip as guests on Oprah?

Okay, Ally may not cure cancer, but according to several experts, dogs do have antibiotic properties in their saliva and some of those experts have even conducted studies to see if dog saliva could be the next wonder drug.  And, yes, for those naysayers out there, a lot of bacteria does also reside in a dog’s mouth.   But when it comes to a dog healing a minor wound on himself or on his master via licking, the prevailing theory seems to be:  Why the hell not?

Ally the cancer dog

After all, maybe my canine step-sister is on the road to curing cancer.

Lobster Bake

Lobster Claws

Battling carpal tunnel in my left wrist and tendonitis in my right arm, I have been instructed by not one but two orthopedic surgeons to wear a tennis elbow band 24/7 plus splints on both hands at night.  I go to bed resembling a giant lobster.  Able to clasp only the tips of my fingers as if they were claws, I become Lucille Ball struggling to change the channel on the television remote as it repeatedly shoots out of my hands like a wet bar of soap.  Even pulling up the covers is a challenge in dexterity.  I yank and yank on the heavy comforter without it budging until a last ditch effort simultaneously releases the blanket and sends my fists careening into my face.  After my jaw stops seizing with pain, I can cocoon into the depths of the bed, swaddled in the warmth of the plush blanket and the comforter.  Soon, however, I am flashing with pre-menopausal torrents and floundering like a crustacean to escape my self-imposed boil as the Velcro of my hands’ straight jackets locks me into the threads of my cheap 100-count sheets.  Squeezing out from this Chinese Torture Chamber feet first saves me from further suffocation. Using my arms as pinchers, I drag my pillow down beside me and fall asleep on the floor flush with newfound respect for those crusty little critters I once only thought of as tasty delicacies.  That is, until I am overtaken by the cold winter air and faced with freezing or beginning the ordeal all over again… Note:  After months of nightly imitations as the snail of the sea, I am undergoing carpal tunnel surgery tomorrow which I hope allows me to return to a state of humanness.  As a nod to my transition and to the upcoming holidays, this blog may take a hiatus until 2011.  Until then, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.  Or, as one lobster said to the other, “See you in the stew.”

The Calf Becomes a Cow

Cybill Shepherd was on a repeat of Oprah yesterday discussing aging. She said that when she turned 50, she stopped looking in the mirror. Hell, I haven’t looked in the mirror since 1988.  Which is why when I see myself in current photos or, god forbid, on TV interviews, I can’t help but wonder Who is that fat, pale cow? “Cow” is a term first hurled at me in 2004 by an angry motorcyclist whom I honked at to “go” at a green light in Santa Barbara.  Unfortunately, I was driving a convertible with the top down and could feel the spray of the spit hurled by his three-letter curse. But I digress.

We all know aging is hard.  Or, to put it more succinctly, it sucks.  But after watching Linda Evans (also on the same Oprah episode) say she never thought of herself as pretty (yeah, Oprah didn’t buy it either), I couldn’t help but wonder Is aging harder for beautiful women? Okay, for the majority, their self-worth must be wrapped up in their looks.  It’s gotten them magazine covers, star turns on Dynasty and Moonlighting, famous lovers and husbands such as Peter Bogdanovich and John Derek.  So, sure, when those all go away, it’s a bummer.  But what for those of us who never had that?  Is aging any easier?

I don’t have an answer, but I do know this:  I really must look in the mirror (other than to occasionally pluck my eyebrows); I must see myself as I am now.  Not as a svelte, yet shapely 26 year old, but as the beautiful heifer I’ve become, complete with multiple chins and thinning hair and a too big belly and a just right-sized big heart.

Happy Birthday to Me

Well, here it is.  The Big 4-8.

For my fortieth birthday, I seriously contemplated jumping out of an airplane. With a parachute.  And an instructor strapped to me.

I wimped out after watching a news story about a woman who did just that, but then her parachute did not open and neither did the instructor’s. But he was heroic and did break her fall with his own body.  She survived; he is paralyzed. That didn’t settle my fears.  Maybe I’ll mirror George H.W. Bush and parachute out of an airplane at periodic birthdays as I age.  I mean, what the hell, at ninety or a hundred, I might want the end to be expedited.

But for this birthday, on December 7, Pearl Harbor Day (is that an omen?), I am going to have endoscopic carpal tunnel surgery. Supposedly, I am going to be back to normal the next day, driving, typing, living… but I doubt I’ll be jumping out of any airplanes.  Not until I’m ninety.

Cursed

On this day after Thanksgiving, a day in which I stuffed myself fatter than a steroid-induced turkey, I’d like to reflect on a time in my life when I could eat like this on an almost daily basis.  It was 1989, I was 27 and working on a half-hour sitcom on the old Lorimar studio lot in Culver City, California.

All was well.  The writing staff with whom I worked as a writers’ assistant was genial and non-egotistical.  The hours were as regular as they get in television production.  And my fellow assistants were supportive and helpful.

And I was cursed.  Not by some voodoo schmo, no.   I was cursed by the female television writer/producer whom I personally assisted on a daily basis. On the TV show for which we worked (and on most TV shows at least in those days), dinners were brought in for the writers and their assistants when working on late night rewrites.  Those were still the money days of TV, and we ordered from the best restaurants in Los Angeles.  And, I, a lowly assistant who ate ramen on most other days, felt it my duty on these occasions to up my pay grade by eating three-course meals.

One night as I was enjoying my appetizer, entree, and chocolate cake dessert, my boss, a crinkled old thing of 50, stared at me.  She was trying to choke down her pre-packaged cardboard diet food.  “You won’t be able to eat like that forever,” she said, her French manicured hand creeping uncomfortably close to my fudge cake.

Aha, what do you know, I thought.  I have high-speed metabolism and always will.

Guess the joke’s on me.

Now, twenty years later at 47, I eat three French fries and gain three pounds.  Per fry.  I must limit my food intake, watch my cholesterol, and, ugh, exercise. And with all of that, my metabolism is still on life support. Ugh, indeed.

I know I am not the only aging gal in this boat.  I do listen to common sense studies like the one The Today Show‘s Matt Lauer told me (speaking to me personally from my TV screen) about choosing between a glass of wine at dinner OR dessert.  Well, at Thanksgiving dinner yesterday, I had BOTH. And as I washed down my post-meal statin with a swig of wine, I reminisced about being 27 and the days when my rapid-fire metabolism allowed me to eat to my heart’s content, and then about my boss who cursed me.

“Damn you, bitch,” I inadvertently said out loud.

My mom looked at me from her perch on the couch.  “Excuse me?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at my curse word.

“Nothing, Mom, sorry.  It’s just…”  I sighed.  “You know, I’m gonna go wash out my mouth with another piece of pie.”