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November 2012
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January 2013

December 2012

80-Something Guest Appearance

Hi.  I’m Judy’s husband, Peter.  Because I’m  eight years older than she is, she invited me to tell you how things look to an eighty-something.

In your seventies, you’re part of what gerontologists call the “young old”.  Some time in your eighties you graduate and become one of the “old old”.  Of course it happens at different times for different people, but it’s starting to happen to me now.  At eighty-two, I look like old man and I walk like an old man. But I don’t feel like an old man so it startles me when pregnant women offer me their seats on the bus.

I take pills like an old man (seventeen a day).  And when I wake up in the morning, I can appreciate the old joke about how, if you wake up one morning and nothing hurts, you’re dead.  Luckily I still hurt in the morning.

I think that I hurt less than I might because (thanks in part to Judy’s example) I stretch before breakfast and go to the gym during the day.  I realize that aging is inevitable unless you avoid it by dying.  But I’m convinced that exercise makes it less bad, not only by slowing it down, but by making you feel better while you’re doing it.

When I walk or bike, almost everyone else passes me.  In the olden days, when we went on biking vacations, I was usually at the head of the pack.  Now the pack has to wait for me.  I used to run marathons.  Now I can hardly run.  I make lists to help me remember what I want to do but I forget where I put the lists.  Almost everything I do takes longer and I don’t do it as well as I used to.

What surprises me is that that doesn’t make me unhappy.  Recent research into happiness (Yes, there is such research.) suggests why.

Happiness seems to be a relative thing.  Like perception.  A flashlight that doesn’t look like much during the day can look quite bright at night.  And happiness researcher Daniel Kahneman suggests a way to demonstrate that relativity.   Fill three bowls with water, one lukewarm, one a bit cooler and the third a bit warmer.  Put one hand in the cooler bowl and one in the warmer.  Leave them there for a minute and then put them both into the lukewarm bowl.   It will feel cold to the hand that was in the warm bowl and warm to the one that was in the cool bowl.  Same bowl.  Different perceptions.

Fortunately happiness seems to work pretty much the same way.  Although doing things as slowly and badly as I do in my eighties would have depressed me in my forties, it doesn’t depress me today. I still enjoy learning new things, working on new projects, drinking martinis, eating chocolate, listening to Mozart, seeing my grandchildren and going to bed with Judy (although it reminds me of  The New Yorker cartoon  that shows a middle-aged couple in bed with the caption “WHERE THE WILD THINGS WERE”).

As Chekov put it: “Even in Siberia, there is happiness.” 


Our New Acquisition

Most holiday seasons when the kids ask us what we would like, we don’t have a clue.  But this year, I had an idea.  Although we don’t spend a lot of time watching TV, we do miss some great shows. So, I suggested they give us a DVR. 

My amazing daughter-in-law Katrina did all the research and recommended Tivo. But when she told us she had ordered the lifetime guarantee package, meaning you pay up front rather than monthly, I was skeptical. 

“What’s a lifetime guarantee worth at our age?  Can we pass it on to our children?” I wondered. When I pushed back, she said, “Well, you only have to use it for three-and-a-half years to break even as compared to the monthly-pay plan.  After that, it’s like free.”

“OK,” I said.  I turned to Peter and announced,  “Honey, this means I need you to stick around for at least three-and-a-half more years.

We have to get our money’s worth!”


I have mixed emotions about the holidays.  It’s all about expectations. I try to keep mine in check.

The Good:  My workplace is closed for a week.  Although I love my job, there is no need for the alarm clock. Not having to drag myself out of bed in a pitch-black house at 6:00 a.m. is a huge plus. 

I love Christmas music. We saw a wonderful production of Handel’s Messiah earlier this month. Now we listen to carols non-stop.

Although our family is elsewhere (We had everyone for Thanksgiving.) good friends include us in their celebrations.

The Bad:  Our family is elsewhere.

It’s a good time to think about others.  So many people have so little compared to us.  We open our checkbooks and give to our favorite charities.  We buy gifts that benefit good causes.

And we count our blessings.

Happy Holidays.

C is for Colonoscopy

I try to focus on the good things about growing older, but I can’t think of anything positive to say about a colonoscopy.  I don’t know what I was thinking when I scheduled it so close to Christmas.  Maybe I thought that work would be quieting down and that I could skip a day at the office without missing much.

I didn’t remember that my healthy diet would be turned upside down for five days. (Didn’t it used to be three days?)  It seems that everything that is good to eat is verboten.  What’s worse is that at holiday parties, foods with nuts and seeds and other forbidden ingredients prevail. 

I haven’t had canned peaches or any canned fruit since I was a kid, but at least yogurt with canned peaches is better than yogurt without.  That was my pre-C lunch for four days.  On the fifth (or liquid-diet) day, lunch was my first-ever glass of Gatorade which actually isn’t all that bad.

But can’t someone invent a colonoscopy preparation that doesn’t taste so awful?  Or that doesn’t make you shiver?

It’s all behind me now—so-to-speak.  And miracle of miracles, no polyps—which means I get to go five years before I repeat all this fun.

I do admire the nurses and doctors who respond to us grumpy, starving colonoscopy patients with a cheerful outlook and lots of warm blankets.

They deserve a Merry Christmas.


Sandy Hook Elementary School

On Tuesday of this week, it felt like Friday. It was a challenging week at work.  In addition, we had spent a good part of last Sunday in urgent care because, when Peter got up from the sofa that morning, he could barely walk. The diagnosis of an inflamed sacroiliac two days later was not great news.  Add in another trip to the lawyer to sign a bunch of depressing documents.  It wasn’t my best week.

And then on Friday, the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings…  Unspeakable tragedy.  Disbelief that this could happen again.  Disbelief that the NRA had “no comment until the facts are in”.  Pleased that the social media lit up in outrage and that residents of DC flocked to the Mall to rally for gun control.

No parent or grandparent can imagine the pain of the loss endured in that sleepy hamlet.  Life is fragile for my generation.  But it shouldn’t be for five-to-ten year olds.

The minor inconveniences of my week no longer seemed to matter.

I could think only of Sandy Hook.


On our weekend walk, a guy zipped by us on his bicycle.  Outfitted in blue and black Spandex, his bike was thin-wheeled and fast.  I told Peter that I didn’t think he noticed us.

Even if he did, he probably didn’t imagine himself as one of an elderly couple like us who had once zipped along bike paths in Spandex or its earlier equivalent.

And that got us to arguing.  Peter claimed that we focus mainly on people in our own age group and that is why he didn’t notice us.  Three-year olds look at other three-year olds; teenagers at teenagers and old folks at old folks.

No, I insisted.  Every workday I focus on people in younger generations because no one at work is my age and that is what I like to do. 

We then launched into full bickering mode, moving from where we focus our attention to what defines happiness and more.  At one point we found something to agree on, but I forget what.

Our walk takes about forty minutes.  Any longer and our marriage might have been in trouble.


Visit to the Lawyer


Most people agree that it is prudent to review their wills periodically.  And many might agree that it is not fun.  Personally, I hate it.

We spent the better part of a gloomy afternoon last week in the somber conference room of our attorney.  I was struck by the plushness of the office, by the receptionist who answered each call at the modern equivalent of a switchboard. (Don’t most offices just have voice mail these days?!) 

The phrase “passes on” appeared in every other sentence uttered by our lawyer.  Of course, we do not expect to live forever.  That’s why we have wills.  But Peter and I just don’t talk about “passing on”.  Dying maybe, but not “passing on.” And when the lawyer mentioned the possibility of our children passing on, that was no fun at all.

Lawyers charge a lot of money.  I pay it reluctantly, but with appreciation. 

Appreciation stemming from the fact that we don’t have to do it again any time soon.





The Sleepover

Remember sleepovers? (With girlfriends I mean.)  On sleepovers when I was young, we played lots of bridge, ate bowls of pretzels, drank too much Coca Cola, and gabbed into the wee hours of the morning.

I thought about sleepovers for the first time in ages when I was staying with my cousin Joannie while visiting family in Buffalo.  

When her husband Arnie announced he was going to bed early, Joannie and I got into our p.j.’s and talked non-stop way past my usual bedtime.  The subjects were, of course, different, but the conversation about our lives was as intense as that of four teenagers in their p.j.’s.

More than sixty years ago.

Near Miss

November started badly.  First, the time changed and that always is hard for me.  Since I decided to give up riding my bike home in the dark, I went from parking below my office window and leaving at my convenience to waiting for a bus on a windy corner. 

On top of that, I got sciatica.

Unless you have had sciatica, you cannot imagine the pressure and pain that runs down your leg. Colleagues at work took one look at me and recommended a chiropractor just minutes away.  I walked there stopping every few moments in agony.

That weekend, I could barely move off the sofa.  I was miserable.

This, I told myself, is what depression must feel like.  I had a sense of hopelessness and Why-bother? I pictured myself lying on the sofa on Thanksgiving, shouting directions about how to roast our turkey.  No one would want to be around me. But especially me would not want to be around me.

I stretched and iced and, with three more visits to the chiropractor, somehow made it through the following week. I began to believe I might get better.

And I did. 

I know that one is not considered clinically depressed until some time has passed with no relief.  So when I realized just before Thanksgiving that I felt much better, able to cope even if not at my best, I knew I had turned it around. I had dodged the depression bullet.

But it was a near miss.