Tag Archives: Aging

Perpetual Snooze

I have an alarm clock on my nightstand, as I’m sure many people do.  Maybe not as many as before the digital age, but I have been in enough places to notice that alarm clocks are still common (although the selection at the local retailer is getting as small as the software isle).  I have this clock set to go off at 6 am.  It does this without regard to which day of the week it is.  Even though it is Bluetooth enabled, it does not have programming options to set which days it goes off automatically.  I have to manually tell it to go off or not.  I also have my cell phone set to go off every weekday at 5:30 am and unlike my clock, I don’t have to turn off the alarm on the weekends because it does that by programming.  And just as a backup, I have a Zigbee automated outlet that turns my lamp on at 5:30 too.  I have to be up and heading for the shower by 6 to make it to work on time and this regime helps to keep me on time.  Of course, no one wants to get up early if they don’t have to.  The weekends have long been the respite from early mornings of buzzing clocks and chiming phones.  But the sad truth is I don’t really need any of this stuff.  As the years go by, my body has developed a more annoying way of ensuring I get up before 6 everyday, regardless of which day of the week it is.


When I was young, my parents were always up before me on school days.  Even though we had to leave for school before they went to work, mom was up and about ensuring we had everything we needed to get off to the bus stop in time.  On the weekends, however, no one needed to tell us to get up.  My brother and I made a point of being up and in front of the TV for our Saturday morning cartoons.  Superfriends, Scooby Doo, and Bugs Bunny set our internal alarm clocks and we never hit snooze.  By the time Fat Albert came on, we were ready to head outside for whatever mischief we could dig up.  This internal alarm clock didn’t work on Sundays, however.  Mom had to drag us out of bed in time to get ready for church.
As I got older, sleep became more alluring.  In my teen years, my internal alarm clock got stuck on perpetual snooze.  Either that or it broke entirely.  Most adolescents share this antipathy toward getting out of bed, which lasts well into their 20’s.  I thought it would last forever.  I imagined spending long, languid days lounging in bed on the weekends.  I didn’t count on aging.  I didn’t remember my Granny’s example.
Every time we went to visit Granny, she was out of bed and in her recliner with a steaming cup of Folgers and the morning edition of the Democrat-Gazette before any of us had even shuffled to the bathroom.  This happened seven days a week.  This happened even though she was retired from her position as a teacher.  I remember, as a teenager, being in awe that she was always up so early, even though she didn’t have to be.  Why would any sane person be out of bed at 6 am if they didn’t absolutely HAVE to be under penalty of death or dismemberment?
Well, now I know.
Once a body hits a certain age–and this age is different for different people–it has different requirements and priorities.  While sleep is still important, the priority is often just a short walk down the hallway or in the adjacent room.  This priority is often attended in a semi-conscious state if awake at all.  Now, after relieving that priority, one might assume one could just drift back to bed, but no; the body has yet other ideas.  After trying to nestle back into the just-starting-to-cool sheets of the bed, I feel like a dog turning circles trying to settle in.  I end up flipping back and forth, rolling from one side to the other trying to get comfortable again to no avail.  With a groan of frustration, I look at the clock.  6 am.  Almost every day.  Some days it’s even earlier.  Most mornings, I spend a few minutes counting down until the alarm clock sounds. 
The true frustration is on the weekends, when I would really like to spend a few hours catching up on some Z’s as the morning light begins to stream in through the windows.  Alas, the times my body lets me stay in bed past oh-dark-thirty are few and far between, to the point of being rare.  Even this morning, I was awake and doing my horizontal rolling dance, trying to find a comfortable position until I surrendered to the inevitable and got up at 7:30.  Most weekends, I lay in bed and listen to my lovely wife softly snore and other times, I sit in the family room and listen to her not so softly snore.
There are benefits to this internal alarm clock.  I never oversleep.  I am usually on time for work.  I am rarely affected by time changes messing me up.  My internal clock seems to be on daylight savings time at the appropriate instances and it accounts for time zones when I travel.  Perhaps I could try to package this.  I could single handedly put the alarm clock industry out of business.  Too bad my internal clock doesn’t have Bluetooth.

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Noises Off!

As the years continue their inexorable march toward oblivion, one notices certain differences in the way one lives. And with a nod to Sheldon Cooper, one can also get one’s self beat up in grade school by referring to one’s self as “one.” But I digress. When I was younger, I could bounce out of bed, bound down the stairs and bolt out the door without making a noise other than a “whoosh” as I passed my parents on the way out. I would laugh with derision at my 40-something parents who crept out of their rooms, grumbling and grousing as they headed to the kitchen for their morning caffeine fix. They seemed to move so slowly and carefully as if worried about hurting themselves by moving too fast. When they sat down, they made the oddest noises, kind of like an old car that didn’t want to start on a cold morning. Meanwhile, I was in a late model sports car that ran nice and smooth. Of course, I teased and, of course, karma cannot allow one to gloat with impunity. I am now 46 and I have had to face the differences in how my body works these days. I find myself watching the new models run past me and I can no longer bounce, bound or bolt anywhere.

In fact, if I try to bounce out of bed, I am more likely to bounce off the floor after falling over. The only way I know I can make it to a standing position is because our bed is high enough that if I put my feet on the floor, I am already halfway up. If I had to actually rise to a standing position from a regular bed, it would take me about 15 minutes of warm up exercises before making the attempt. After getting myself to a stooped standing position, I amble in short, halting steps until the blood flows enough to get my muscles working right. A process that takes longer each day; soon I fear it might last until the next morning.

But the stiffness of middle age is not the worst thing about being—well—middle-aged. It is the noises my body makes as I go through the day that are the real cause for concern. I was laying in bed watching TV the other day when my stomach started a conversation with anyone who would listen. Now, I was not particularly hungry, but my gastric system was on a diatribe that would make anyone think I was on day six of a five day fast. And it wasn’t those subtle little rumbles you excuse in polite company. No, these were gurgles and churns that marine biologists might expect to hear from the depths of the abyss. My stomach was speaking fluent whale! But wait. There’s more. Not only can my belly communicate with cetaceans, it also imitates drip coffee makers. I’m sure the mister coffee in the hotel room in which we stayed was confused by what it heard. I know I was.

Of course, my digestive tract is not the only noisemaker I have at my disposal. In fact, if I want to get the attention of anyone in a room, I merely have to stand up. The resulting pop from my knees would silence a room better than a teacher smacking a ruler on a desk. It doesn’t stop with just one pop either. Sitting or standing sounds like a stampede of kindergarteners in a bubble wrap factory. Even my dog looks at me when I stand as if saying “Dude, can you still walk?”

And my joints are not the only noise makers when I get up. I sound like a professional weightlifter groaning with the effort of hoisting a world-class barbell over his head—just from getting out of my recliner. I’m sure small children down the street must think our house haunted from all the moans and groans that come from just doing everyday chores. I can’t blame them for being afraid; I know I have scared myself plenty of times.

Making noises really isn’t as bad as I thought it was when I was younger, though. Sure, I teased my folks, but it was easy to do when you’re in a body that hums like a new car and they are driving along in late forties models that have been in need of a tune up for 20 years. But now I know that while my body is not a brand new, top of the line sports model (as if it ever has been) neither is it a rusted-out old clunker. I prefer to think of it as a classic. And all the noises it makes just add character. Besides, once I stop making noises, then it is time to be worried. Call it an early warning system. And if you stop by and hear something you didn’t expect, don’t worry. It’s probably just some part of my body saying hello.

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The Price and Worth of Aging

It has been a while since I blogged. In my defense, it has been a busy month, but that really is no excuse. The only thing I can say is that, during this month of birthdays, anniversaries, holidays and work travel, I have found one thing I cannot deny: I am getting old. Not decrepit old, like a helpless stooped-over, cane-walking, can’t take myself to the bathroom old; but rather the kind of old that makes noises when I get up, can’t remember anything, and slowly going blind old.

Part of my business trip was to re-certify to train safety trainers on pole climbing. This is a very physical activity and one I have been doing for a decade now. The good news is that with all the practice, I can still do it without any stress-related injuries. Safety aside, there are plenty of other reminders of my advancing years, such as trying to find a sleep number I can live with. The Radisson—a comfortable enough hotel I have stayed at many times—uses the sleep number bed in all its rooms. For those who don’t know, a sleep number bed is essentially an air mattress on top of a piece of plywood. If you do not activate it, you get a very firm sleeping surface.

Well, the first night in the room, the dern-fool machine would not inflate. As it was late and I was tired from a day of flying, sitting in a classroom and then climbing a pole, I didn’t feel like fooling with it, so I slept on the uninflated bed. Fortunately, the next morning, I woke up without too much physical effects, except for the fact that both arms wouldn’t work and I had to walk to the bathroom slowly while trying to remember how to stand up straight. I managed to work the kinks out and had a very good day all the same.

That evening however, I was not going to endure the board and started playing with the control again. After pressing every button three times in various order, I managed to get the pump to fire up. I quickly retried the sequence until the pump resumed and I could feel the mattress inflate. It is an interesting sensation to lay on a mattress as it slowly inflates, lifting you up while you’re on your back. When I let go of the button, the indicator said “35.” I played a little more and found the more air you put in, the higher the number. It took that night and the next to determine I like it between 45 and 60, depending on my mood.

Now, an elusive night’s sleep is not the only issue I have with advancing years. Even on my nice euro top Restonic (and a more comfortable mattress I challenge you to find) at home, I still rise with a groan and more than a few creaks and pops. They could record my morning walk for the new soundtrack of your favorite breakfast cereal. Snap, Crackle and Pop could retire to a villa in the med for all the noise I make. And I have to make such short, little steps just until my body realizes it is walking, and the part of the brain that says “hey, I’m upright…I’d better take over the controls now” does just that.

You would think that the brain would have no problem doing that, though, with all the sleep it gets. If I sit still in a quiet room for five minutes, I yawn. I tell you it is a struggle to stay awake some times. I have to get up and dance a jig to keep the blood flowing in order to stay alert, especially when I have to sit in some of the meetings I am compelled to attend.

Which leads me to another thing: you know how your computer seems so much slower now than when you first got it? The brain is the same way. Why, I used to be able to do several things at once and never miss a beat. Multitasking was the way to go and I went. I could chat on the phone, watch TV, read a book, and cook a four-course meal with ease. On a good day, you could add paint the house and reshingle the roof—but only on a good day. Now if you try to talk to me while I am doing anything, anything at all—walking for example, I have to stop what I am doing to be able to process whatever it is you are telling me. My brain likes to do one thing at a time these days, and some days not even that. It takes a sharp kick in the medulla oblongata to get any neurons firing lately.

But there is one upside to all this: some call it wisdom, but I think it is more simply seeing stupid for what it is. Forrest Gump’s mom used to say “stupid is as stupid does,” and let me tell you that woman was brilliant. All around are people doing stupid things, saying stupid things and generally being—well—just stupid. In the news, politicians do stupid things, celebrities get caught being stupid, and at work, the powers-that-be make stupid decisions.

I find it amusing to see policy changes come down that look suspiciously like policies we used to have several years ago, but got away from because they didn’t work. Change your leadership and some new moron suggests the same lame-brained idea again, and none of the yes-men who remember the first time we tried that debacle will speak up to change his mind, so we do it again. And guess what? It still doesn’t work. It didn’t work then; it doesn’t work now. Einstein said the definition of crazy is doing the same thing over and expecting different results. Corporate America is, by that definition, crazy as a loon, and I get to sit in silent judgment thanks to my advancing years.

So getting older may come with more noises than I am comfortable making and less comfort over all, but at least I can see stupid right in front of me. Of course, with my failing memory, it may be only a matter of time before I forget what it is I am silently laughing at.


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The Great Follicular Expansion

One thing we as humans share with primates is a need for grooming. A whole industry has arisen to address this need, and many people think so much of it that they devote their lives to grooming others. They can actually make a good living at it. I once heard that to schedule an appointment with one Paul Mitchell stylist can run more than $400. But why do we groom? Why does a woman spend anywhere from one to five hours in front of a mirror on a daily basis plucking and primping? Why do men spend anywhere from five to ten minutes doing the same thing? What is the reason—to look good, to feel good about ourselves? Ok. I can buy that. But if that is the case, then why is my body constantly working against me?

When I was a kid, my mom took me to the barber shop for haircuts (this was before she started cutting it herself—a skill at which she got quite good) and the barbers and hairstylists would fawn over my hair saying how thick and full it was and that any girl would be envious of it. I was born blonde, but being a kid in the 60’s and 70’s I spent most of my time outdoors in the south which sun bleached my hair white. Now it is a sandy brown with light-colored (no—not gray…never gray) highlights, and I still have most of it left. It is a little thinner, but no bald spots and the hairline is not receding. I keep it shorter but not the buzz-cut that many vets maintain after they return to civilian life. No, my hair is just fine.

I think there is a part of my brain whose job it is to keep the hair growing. I’ll call it Pete. We all have it, somewhere up there next to the parts that track where you put the car keys and what the route is to work. A segment of the brain that says, “grow. Now, turn gray. And now fall out.” It has a simple job and for the most part it does it quite well. Oh, sure, some guys would argue that Pete is falling down on the job when they pull wads of hair out with a hairbrush, or when they see the gleam of the light reflecting off the scalp. Poor Pete pushed the “Fall-out” button too early. But be that as it may, and I say this as a man with a full head of hair, Pete is working ok in the head department.

But the head is not the only place with hair, and many of us spend countless hours doing our best to remove hair from any place that is not the head (and many remove it from there too) I never understood someone intentionally shaving every hair off of their body. My son did that once. He said he was bored. Go figure. But my point is that, because we are mammals, hair does grow aplenty all over.

The problem I have with good ol’ Pete is that while he seems to be keeping the hair on the head (although he seems to be focusing too much on the highlights these days) is that he has been springing up hairs in places that previously there was no hair. Why do I have hairs growing out of my ears? Not just from inside, but on the lobe, the auricle and just about any open space of skin on my ears seems fair game to Pete. It’s like he’s a gardener that decided bare Earth is a bad thing. And they grow so fast! The hair on my head loses this race like the south Florida luge team going up against the Swedes. I can pluck one in the morning, and it’s back to three inches by lunch. If I could figure out how to transplant these to bald men, I would make a fortune. They would all be Yani within a week.

I can almost see ol’ Pete sitting there looking around and saying to himself, “There’s a good spot. Oh, and right there,” as he sprouts new hairs between my eyebrows and on the tip of my nose. Lon Cheney would call me cousin if I didn’t pluck and trim (and if you didn’t get the reference, howl at the moon). Thankfully I have a lovely, loving wife who hates these errant follicles more than I do and she is quite diligent in reminding me to pluck away as well as taking tweezers in her own hands when needs be. She relishes making my eyes water going after the sprouts on my nose. I have to limit the plucks to three, however. I know women can take the pain of repeated yanking of these follicles, but I would much rather run my hand through a meat grinder.

I wonder why Pete waited until I was 40 before going on this great follicular expansion project. It’s not as though I don’t have enough to worry about with my failing eyesight and the annoying white noise in my ears, not to mention the every shrinking-wardrobe. Life was so much simpler when I was young. Just jump into whatever clothes were lying on the floor that didn’t stick to it, grab my stuff, push the hair out of my eyes and go to school. Now I have to find an outfit that fits, find my glasses and pluck and trim so I don’t get confused with a homeless person.

And I guess that is the reason why we do it. We want to set the right impression. You know what they say, first impressions are lasting impressions. I guess it’s a good thing they don’t know what we go through to make those first impressions. Unless the people we meet are over 40. By then, they should have a good idea, having spent the better part of their morning going through the same ritual. Thanks Pete!

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