The calamity of so long life

By Chuck Sigars | Jul 11, 2018

I’m only a couple of weeks away from my 60th birthday, and I still haven’t received my copy of “Survival Skills for Senior Citizens.” Honestly, this is sort of a lifelong complaint. I keep missing out on the instruction manuals. Or else I was sick on that day in the eighth grade when they gathered all of the boys in the cafeteria and showed us how to replace washers.

I could have used the help. I had no idea how to be a spouse, or a parent, or a homeowner, although those are progressive stages and learning is part of the process. The mortgage company will help you remember to make your payment. Children will grow, etc. I managed.

But the aging process is essentially one of adapting to decline. Instructions would be helpful.

I think by age 50, for example, everyone should know how to turn on closed captioning. By 55, you should just leave it on. I had to figure that out all by myself.

There are other useful tricks to compensate for senescence. I can only hope someone is writing all of this down. It’s not like any of us are going to remember.

Having some facility with mental math also comes in handy. It’s important to be able to count backwards spontaneously (not out loud), if only to recognize that the recent memory you have of that particular historical event is a lie. It wasn’t recent at all.

And younger people won’t understand, which is why it’s important. The other night, I was talking with a couple of guys in their early 30s. I started to make a classic Pacific Northwest reference, and then I reconsidered.

“Are you familiar with Tom Robbins?” I asked, feeling foolish until I saw blank faces and knew I was right.

Robbins is about to turn 86 (happy birthday, Tom). He began writing his first novel, “Another Roadside Attraction,” 50 years ago. It was less than a decade old when it became required reading for a college class I was taking, and it gave me my first taste of the Northwest culture (and climate), a few years before I headed in this direction.

I’m not a huge Robbins fan, although “Another Roadside Attraction” remains a favorite. And I understand how these two young men, even being thoughtful, educated, well-read people with an interest in culture, could have missed him along the way.

So much to read, so little time.

I just thought the regional connection might have some legs, but I get it. The last Robbins novel I read was written several years before these guys were born. See? It’s important to count.

Something similar happened a few months ago, when some young writers I admire began exploring the Watergate story and era. It was a fascinating time in American history, and I was 15 years old and very interested.

I was baffled by the way these writers marveled over trivial details that I assumed were common knowledge, until I did the math. It was 45 years ago. I’ll give them a break on their knowledge of Martha Mitchell.

This is what I’m talking about. I need a list of subjects I shouldn’t bring up, or at least need to explain, to people who have no memory of watching “The Partridge Family.”

One of those subjects would be “The Partridge Family.” Duh.

But what else is off limits, or else needs a little closed captioning? These would be mostly cultural things, and honestly I spend more time wondering about this than probably is healthy. Does Mac Davis still ring a bell? He was a big star for a while.

How about “The Piña Colada Song,” or CB radios, or the Fonz? I have no idea. I assume Mark Twain and the Beatles are safe for the time being, but I really don’t know.

I don’t know how to find out, either. I can’t ask my children, both of whom have spent three decades pretending to listen to my stories. I guess I could carry a clipboard and wait at the mall, pestering random young people with weird questions.

“Do you know who June Lockhart was? How about streaking? Do you have any awareness of The Monkees? A lot, a little, or none of the above? Can you take out the ear buds?”

Again, this doesn’t sound like a good idea, or even all that necessary. This is the way of the world, in with the new and out with the old. I haven’t seen a single episode of “Stranger Things” or “Rick and Morty.”

I’m not sure why I’d expect a 30-year-old to pick up on a reference to “My Favorite Martian.”

This is the point, I think. I don’t know why the trivia of my wayward youth, which might or might not include commentary on Laurie Partridge, would be of any interest to someone half my age, particularly since this is me we’re talking about.

A guy who literally had never heard of Bruno Mars before he performed during halftime at a Super Bowl. A guy who has never seen “Guardians of the Galaxy” or played a non-Mario-based video game.

A guy who just wanted to talk about his adventures with blackberry brambles to a couple of young men, and you know who wrote quite eloquently about blackberries in the Pacific Northwest? Tom Robbins, but whatever.

Turn on the closed captioning now.

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