The 50 Year Dash: The Feelings, Foibles and Fears of Being a Half Century Oldby Bob Greene (2)
The 50 Year Dash is a wonderful book of reflections on everything that's part of life at fifty: looking at aches and pains as a growth industry, and seeing the constant onslaught of new pain relievers as a new version of the British invasion of rock groups in the 1960s; finding that the world is no longer sufficiently quiet, and that you're the one/i>
The 50 Year Dash is a wonderful book of reflections on everything that's part of life at fifty: looking at aches and pains as a growth industry, and seeing the constant onslaught of new pain relievers as a new version of the British invasion of rock groups in the 1960s; finding that the world is no longer sufficiently quiet, and that you're the one yelling "Turn that down!"; realizing you're older than James Bond ever was; hearing yourself say, "The fruit plate looks good," and meaning it; understanding that the one thing that seems to be going away from you the fastest is that first-time feelingfirst job, first house, first kissand knowing that the best thing you can do for yourself is to find ways to keep finding those feelings again and again.
Between now and the year 2014, seventy-seven million American men and womenmost of the baby boom generationwill turn fifty. That's about ten thousand birthdays per day. The 50 Year Dash is the perfect book for every single one of them.
In a text shamelessly aimed at the blip in birth stats known as the baby boom, the author waxes, in turn, philosophical and nostalgic. The boomers, after all, are approaching an age when everyone's mirror starts to reflect a likeness of Ernest Borgnine or Barbara Bush (and which one it may reflect doesn't depend on gender, it seems). While the once evergreen Dick and Jane inevitably evolve into the quintessential oldsters Darby and Joan, old Mr. Greene mutters about past menus and mores and the odd ways of parents, children, and people in general. Junk food and junk music are recalled fondly. Replete with memories of cheeseburgers, the Beach Boys, and innocent childhood, the whimsy is good-natured, homely, and gentle. But it's better taken in column-size doses. A little of this sort of maundering goes pretty far. The approach can be trite ("Perhaps, at 50, we must become our parents whether we wish to or not") or strained ("When every house had a sewing machine," he supposes, "the national fabric seemed just a little stronger"). The writing can be simply careless ("in a country where the act of reading sometimes feels like an endangered species") or simple flapdoodle (a lone paragraph: "You begin to realize that the Reader's Digest has very interesting articles"). The one-liners, homilies, advisories, and anecdotes add up, after all, to less than a sum of the disparate parts.
Rampant nostalgia and inoffensive sentiment, marketed to the newly middle-aged. Here's a text that looks a lot like a mammoth Hallmark birthday card.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- Product dimensions:
- 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.75(d)
Read an Excerpt
Sleepless Nights, 50-Year-Old Feet, and Other Little Signs
You learn quickly: there are no lightning flashes in the heavens or bold and dramatic messages written across the night sky to let you know what being 50 means.
Instead, the feeling sneaks up on you in tiny ways, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle you're not all that sure you want to be putting together, but that you can't seem to stop yourself from working on.
On Halloween night, without thinking about it, you put a bowl filled with candy outside your door. You do it because you want a little peace and quiet, and don't want to deal with all the kids who come knocking. And as you lock the door after leaving the candy out on the mat, you think: Wait a minute. This must be what a 50-year-old person does.
You wake up suddenly, and you look at the clock on the nightstand, and you realize that it's only 1 A.M. No alarm has gone off; no sudden noise has awakened you. The same thing happened to you the night before, and the night before that, and the night before that. It will happen tomorrow night, too. Sleeping through the night, which used to be so routine that you didn't even consider it to be a pleasure, is suddenly the exception. In fact, you can't even remember the last time you slept all the way through the night. You would kill to sleep all the way through the night. Looking at the ceiling, you understand, with resignation: This must be how a 50-year-old person sleeps. Or doesn't.
You're in Sarasota, Florida, and to the side of the road you see a place called Cars of Yesterday. You remember it as a place that your parentsused to take you when you were a child on vacation. You're delighted to see it again. You go inside, expecting to see the cars of yesterday that so enthralled you: the 1910 Model T, the 1923 Pierce-Arrow, the 1911 Waverly Electric. And what you find are...
A 1963 Chevrolet. A 1957 Ford. A 1966 Lincoln Continental. The cars of yesterday at today's Cars of Yesterday are cars you remember from your own lifetime. Regular, familiar cars, cars you rode in, cars you drove. They're charging people admission to see these cars now, as if this were a museum. Which, in a way, it is. Why? Because you are 50.
You look at your handwriting one day--something you've seen every day for your entire life--and this time instead of just glancing at it, you stop and stare. You think: What is that? Your handwriting is sloppy, scratchy, lazy, loose--it appears to be falling apart, disintegrating. You look at it, and you think back to when you were first learning to write script in elementary school, and there is almost no correlation between the careful penmanship of you as a younger person, even of you as a young adult, and this pathetic scrawl on the piece of paper in front of you. You think: Do I have arthritis, or am I going nuts, or what? These words on this piece of paper, you think, were written by a different person than you used to be.
Yet when you receive letters from your oldest friends, or from your parents, their handwriting seems to you to be like their voices, instantly and warmly announcing who has written to you, touching you before you even read the specific words. How can this be? Your own handwriting strikes you as foreign, dissipated, yet theirs is as clear and evocative as their faces. What does this mean?
It means--it must mean--that you are a 50-year-old person. Your friends, you should relievedly know, are occasionally puzzled by the changes they think they perceive in their own handwriting, too--but when your friends see your handwriting, they can still see you, you as a kid, you as they've always known you, standing in front of them.
They're 50, too. That's what all of this means, to you and to them. And it announces itself in all of these small, insistent ways.
Those announcements often don't have their full impact on you until some time after they have occurred. Then you realize what has happened.
An instance from my own recent experience:
I had been staying in a hotel on business, and from upstairs there was a loud, almost constant banging on the floor. I'd been in the same hotel room for several days, and this hadn't happened before. I assumed the noise must be coming from guests who had just checked into the room above mine.
It didn't stop, and it was so loud that I wasn't able to get my work done. I considered calling the front desk and asking the clerk on duty to look into it, but then I figured: No need to do that. I'm a reasonable person; I'm sure the guest upstairs is a reasonable person, too. I'll just dial room-to-room and, in a pleasant way, explain the noise problem.
I dialed the room number--I knew the room would have the same digits as my room, but one floor higher--and a man answered. Now I could really hear the banging, through his telephone receiver. I told him what the problem was.
"I'm sorry," the man said. "My son's bouncing a ball." I heard him say to his son: "Hey! I told you to stop that! You're bothering the man downstairs."
I thanked the man, and hung up and went back to my work. Only a few hours later did I realize:
To that kid upstairs who was no longer allowed to bounce the ball, I wasn't some pleasant guy, a guy who had gone through many of the same things the kid was going through, a guy who had handled an annoying situation reasonably. I--even though the kid had never seen me--was a crotchety old man. A classic American icon: the crotchety old man downstairs.
And the thing is, the kid was right.
There are nights when all the food on the menu seems too rich for you.
Too rich? When did that start? When did you become a person into whose mind the concept of food being too rich could ever possibly enter? Food was never too rich before. Food was just there.
Probably the too-rich-food phenomenon sets in just about the time the Weather Channel phenomenon sets in. Sometimes you will be in a restaurant where there is a television set turned on in the bar area. And sometimes the TV set will be tuned to the Weather Channel.
The younger people in the restaurant will barely even glance at the Weather Channel. The weather evidently is not something they think about. The weather just is--it's out there every day, and it's good or it's bad, and they deal with it.
You and your contemporaries, however, stare at the Weather Channel. Those green areas of precipitation--and those red areas of severe storms--are of great concern to you. Look at that bad weather moving this way. Will it be here by tomorrow morning? Am I going to have to shovel the driveway? Should I remember to get the umbrella out?
The satellite weather pictures from space keep filling the screen of the Weather Channel, and the younger people in the restaurant talk cheerily among themselves and have their cocktails and wait for their tables. You and the other people who are 50 and up fix your gazes on the Weather Channel as if the screen contains the most compelling drama since the days of Shakespeare. John Glenn went into space when you were in junior high school, the first American to orbit the Earth, setting the stage for all the space satellites, with all their technology, that would follow. It had seemed so brave and heroic on that day--a man being shot out toward the stratosphere, for the betterment of the future of mankind--and even if you weren't quite sure of the details of how mankind was going to be helped by those satellites, you knew it had to be in some great and vital way.
It turns out that what John Glenn risked his life for was to provide satellites for the Weather Channel in the restaurant bar.
You wonder where John Glenn is on this night, but you think you know. He's watching the Weather Channel.
On a related note:
An appropriate time to sit back and consider what you are becoming is when you are at home watching the news on your local TV station, and the bright young weathercaster comes onto the screen, and you think grumpily to yourself:
"I liked the old weatherman better."
When you start missing the old weatherman and being resentful that he is gone, you are deep into being 50.
There are nights when you will actually hear yourself clucking as you watch the news.
Out loud. You. Clucking at the news.
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