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Notably Quoted

It’s good for an artist to try things. It’s good for an artist to be ridiculous.
Sheila Heti in How Should a Person Be?: A Novel from Life (p. 18)


Entries in Class Reunion (2)

Not As Young As I Once Was

I received the invitation to my high school class’ 50th reunion last week. How can this be?! It seems like only yesterday I was sitting in our school’s gymnasium, listening to some forgettable speeches, and awaiting my chance to walk the stage.

But, to be sure, it wasn’t yesterday. That event took place in 1965. How time flies.

Aging is the topic on my mind at the moment. And, of course, I’ve been thinking about this for quite awhile now. I attended my first reunion in 1985, having waited a full twenty years before finally getting together with the classmates of my youth. Upon entering that gathering, I remember looking around and saying to myself, “who are all these old people?”

It was at this point that the aging process really grabbed my attention.

So now, here it is 2015, and there are many more signs pointing to the fact that I’m not as young as I once was. I suspect that the things I’m noticing are many of the same ones my contemporaries are dealing with.

Here, in no particular order, are just a few of the markers of time that have caught my attention.

Housing. When I moved to Eugene last summer, I decided to rent a unit in a quiet, peaceful apartment complex that only caters to codgers (male and female) over the age of 55. There are no noisy kids around. And no out-of-control parties. There is a significant population of white-haired folks who use canes, walkers and oxygen tanks, however.

Mail. When I was 49 years old, my junk mail began to have a “retirement” theme – as this is age that AARP identifies you as a mark. And trips to the mailbox only get worse as time goes on. These days, I have lots of information flowing my way about the wide array of Medicare plans and burial options.

Diet. The older I get, the more my diet reminds me of medicine. I take numerous dietary supplements, so my daily pill count is way up. And a couple of years ago I bought a NutriBullet machine, so now, as has been the case for 25 consecutive months, I begin my day with a smoothie made of organic, raw fruits and vegetables. But, believe me, it’s not because I’m particularly enamored with the taste of the concoctions I come up with.

Skin. I have these benign brown splotches (I think one term for them is “age spots”) on my body, mostly trunk and scalp. Every so often I have a dermatologist reassure me that they’re not dangerous. I think these things are rather unsightly, but I see them on others my age. There seems to be nothing I can do.

Glasses. I was in the library at Indiana University, reading, in the early 1990s, when the realization hit me: I need bifocals! I made an appointment with the eye doctor, and sure enough, it was my time. Ever since, my eyeglass situation has become more complicated. For over twenty years now, I have worn progressive-lens bifocals for normal use, plus additional pairs for computer-only and reading-only.

Lifestyle. I live what I call a “rehab” lifestyle. No, I don’t mean working the twelve steps; it’s more a physical therapy kind of existence. Given that my life is, more-or-less, dominated by multiple aches and pains, there is very little time during any given day when that fact is not on my mind. To manage it the best I can, I have sought out practitioners of various therapies for years. You name an approach, conventional or alternative, and it’s likely that I’ve tried it. I’ve had three cortisone injections in my spine in the past three months. In January, I started seeing a local teacher of the “MELT Method” – which has resulted in spending a considerable portion of every morning and evening doing prescribed routines. I walk three or more miles a day. I wear a Thermacare heatwrap around my mid-section almost all the time, and I take a Epsom-salt, hot bath every evening. Every morning I wake up, groan, do my MELT routines before anything else, and start the whole cycle all over again.

Reading list. It’s probably no surprise, given the above observations, that the book I’ve most recently read is Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End. This work very elegantly explores the inadequacy of America’s health system when it comes to end-of-life care.

Well I suspect that’s enough of a list from me for now. I’m sure you have your own.

So, yes, I’m old. But I realize that I should be very grateful. I am living a long, full and interesting life. I got to be a college student in the 1960s. I’ve earned multiple degrees and had the opportunity to work on college campuses most of my life. I don’t rely on narcotics (or illicit substances) for pain management, and have escaped, so far, the trials and tribulations associated with baldness, diabetes, obesity and heart disease. I don’t need to take cholesterol or blood-pressure meds. And, I’ve avoided most mention of tumors. [In 1998, though, during one very long night in an ER, I was diagnosed with bladder cancer. Thankfully, that particular medical opinion, validated at the time by two doctors, turned out to be wrong. (I had a kidney stone.)]

It’s a little over three months until my 50th reunion. The celebration will take place in rural Northern Wisconsin, about two thousand miles from where I now live. I hope the stars are aligned appropriately so that I can make the trip.

Soundtrack Suggestion

No, no, no, no, I don’t do it no more
I’m tired of waking up on the floor
No, thank you, please, it only makes me sneeze
And then it makes it hard to find the door.

[“No No Song” – Ringo Starr]

The Class of ‘65

This week I received a CD with the photos from my (40th) high school class reunion, held last July in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. I don’t know exactly what took so long to produce and distribute the disk (they were all straight, un-manipulated digital files), but, at long last, I have the pictures. I went about copying everything to my hard drive, and, with some degree of anxiety, proceeded to take a look.

Here’s just a little bit of the story…

I had believed the journey to Rice Lake for the reunion was going to be a typical one: fly from Portland to Minneapolis (through Denver), rent a car, drive to Rice Lake (about two hours from the airport). It takes most of a day, but it’s always been a pretty manageable trip. Well, this time it was a little different. When I got to the airport here in Portland (early in the morning), the United Airlines kiosk would not allow me to check in. I found out that my flight was, at the very least, going to be significantly delayed, perhaps cancelled. The ticket agent looked for flights for me, and she was immediately able to find ones from Denver to Chicago to Minneapolis much later in the day, leaving only (only?) the leg from here to Denver in question. Well, without going into all the details: I waited and waited, and finally was able to make it to Denver after about a two-hour delay here in Portland. I missed my original connection in Denver, though, and had to wait (nine hours in the Denver airport) for a flight that evening. I had been scheduled to arrive at MSP late afternoon, but instead I arrived at midnight. I waited in line until about 1:00 a.m. before I had my rental car. By then I was thoroughly exhausted, though I started driving anyway. As I was weaving my way out of the airport, I realized that I surely was taking my life in my hands driving in this condition, but pressed on for another half-hour or so until I found a Super 8 that had a vacancy. I checked in around 2:00 a.m., as I recall.

Of course, I was so fatigued and stressed I couldn’t sleep. I tossed and turned until about 9:00 a.m., then slowly gathered myself up to be able to make the rest of the drive. I took the “long way” through Eau Claire, and made it to Rice Lake a little after noon. This calculated out to a full 30 hours from the time I left my house. I had missed the first night of the reunion (Friday), and the second evening’s festivities were scheduled to start in about six hours. I tried to take a nap at my brother’s house, but to no avail. I showered, dressed, dropped by my parents’ house to say hi, and arrived at Lehman’s Supper Club on time.

This was, I think, the fourth class reunion I was about to attend, though the first time I was actually showing up all by myself. I had, on the other occasions, always arranged to be with Bruce and/or Pete, two friends from the class who I’m still in contact with. Pete had remained at home in Arizona, and Bruce, although he was planning to go to the reunion with me, had called me that afternoon from his home in Minneapolis to say that he was sick and wasn’t going to be able to make it.

So, here I was: arriving at the reunion site alone. I had spent more than a full day getting to Rice Lake, on very little sleep. And, as I exited my rental car, I was wondering what the heck I was really doing this for! (This question had always been one that came to me as I arrived at every reunion.) Very likely, the folks in attendance, absent Pete and Bruce, were going to be ones that I had little interest in (and wouldn’t even recognize…thank god for nametags). But, here I was, trying to talk myself into going inside.

It was a long evening, as I hung out a lot longer than I thought was going to happen. And, to make this a manageable length essay, there are just a couple abbreviated stories I’ll relate about the evening…the first pertaining to my anxiety about the event photos.

I spent part of the evening talking to Gary and Diane: two from our class who had married each other. Diane was the class president when we were seniors; Gary was a person I had once worked with at a local grocery store during high-school years. (Oh, yeah, I once had a date with Diane. That happened, I believe, at some point when the two were taking a break from each other during their high-school romance. I recall being pretty infatuated.) Our conversation on this particular reunion night was very “real.” In my fatigued state, I imagine my defenses were at a low level, and when they asked how I was, I told them. I talked about my job uncertainty and stress, and about a years-long relationship that had ended just that spring. I tried to explain to them about my experiences with rejection and heartbreak. I imagine they were outright flabbergasted that I was so forthcoming about the state of my life. This was not, after all, the typical reunion small-talk that was going on all around us. After I had shared a good portion of my story, Gary observed: “no wonder you’ve shown up here tonight looking like you’ve been hit by a truck.”

I think my reaction was a stunned silence: perhaps even tacit agreement given my run-down state. At any rate, that remark is one of my two most memorable events of the night. Actually, it’s one that I could have done without, too. Please, Gary: Hit by a truck? Really? I looked that bad? (I left the building and called it a night shortly after that comment.)

Yeah, and if it really were true, did you have to say it? Geez…I’ve agonized over this for months now. (Very likely because, as I joke around and talk about my experiences at class reunions, I invariably mention that I walk in, look around, and ask myself the question: who the heck are all these old people?)

So, of course, it was Gary’s observation that came to mind as I was starting to browse through the photos taken that evening. I knew I was in at least a couple of them…was I going to see that it really was true? Had I really shown up looking like that?

The other story is a happier memory for me. Earlier in the evening, just about the time we were sitting down to dinner, a woman I had last seen at graduation spotted me from across the room and came over to talk. We chatted for a few minutes at the table, then I got up and walked us over to the other side of the room, away from the dinner activity, affording a modicum of privacy. Jeanie (we called her Carol in high school) was absolutely as delightful — and smart and beautiful — as I had remembered. She was our class valedictorian, and she and I sat next to one another during our graduation ceremony forty years ago; I had not seen her since. We talked about our lives, trying to cram eighty years of collective living into a few minutes. An impossible task. But, I thought our connection during that few minutes was totally delicious. I wouldn’t have missed it for anything. (Jeanie: thanks!)  

Here’s a photo of the two of us. [You decide: “hit by a truck?”]



 Jim Arnold & Jeanie DeRousseau
Rice Lake, Wisconsin
July 2, 2005
Photo by Rick Vesper