Commentary: On Age

By Louis A. Zona

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – I realize that I shouldn’t tear up the AARP information and magazine that periodically come to my house but I just can’t help myself.

Frankly, if the township where I live allowed burn barrels, I’d take delight in watching this unwanted material on aging go up in flames. That would be me shouting at the barrel, “Burn, baby, burn!”

Now you might be thinking that I’m overreacting to an innocent mailing that some people actually look forward to receiving. I really don’t care if there are people out there who don’t care if they’re continually reminded that they are getting old.

One local politician goes so far as to call “his seniors” on their birthdays to wish them a happy day. On my most recent birthday, he called and I thanked him for the gesture but kept him on the line long enough to tell him that he’s no spring chicken either (as my mother used to say).

Somehow I doubt that I’ll be receiving his call next year, even at the risk of no longer being one of “my seniors.” That’s one category that I’d just as soon no longer be a part of.

I know that I’m aging, just a bit, but I sure as heck don’t need to be reminded from a magazine cover or a call from my representative at the state capital. Don’t they have better things to do with their time than to call Lou Zona to remind him that he’s an old guy?

It’s tough enough on those of us who are no longer kids to realize that we are living in a world that is all about youth.

Watching television commercials we come to realize that most products seem to be aimed at the younger crowd while the few of us who watch “The Andy Griffith Show” are learning about new medications for arthritis or devices that are intended to help us to walk upright.

I just read a news story about an elderly woman who was attacked in the parking lot of a grocery store. The attacker didn’t realize that while she looked like a vulnerable senior citizen – she was carrying her pocketbook and grocery bag to her car – she still wrestled her purse away from him.

The bad guy ultimately gave up and scurried away, sliding and falling on an orange that fell from her bag.

Somehow I don’t think that the attacked woman thought of herself as elderly or helpless in any way. And for darned sure she did not have to be reminded that she was capable of knocking that bad guy’s block off!

In some cultures, people of a given age are shown great respect because of their life experiences and for what they know. Sadly, our culture is not one of them.

I became a very close friend of the Chinese American artist Chen Chi. He lived in Greenwich Village in the city of New York. Chen Chi often told me how proud he was of his American citizenship but that he was concerned about being alone in the big city with the death of his wife and long-time colleague from Taiwan.

Ultimately, he decided to return to his native China where he would be respected for his age, experience and knowledge. He told me that when people saw him on the street in his native Taiwan, they would bow to him with respect.

Maybe, just maybe, the politician who calls me annually on my birthday is not reminding me of my eventual demise but is bowing telephonically to me, realizing that I’m neither weak nor stupid and might be a slightly bit older than he is and perhaps even wiser!

I hate to admit it but names don’t come as easily to me as they once did. So when I’m introduced to someone new, I concentrate on the sound of the name so that recall comes easier.

I heard one scientist theorizing that older people may be a bit slower recalling words since a lifetime of experiences and word usage has filled their brains to near capacity.

It’s like a computer that’s been overwhelmed with data and therefore is slowed in its ability to perform certain functions. That makes sense to me. Too much info in the old noodle!

I believe in the adage that age is just a number. And like George Costanza in “Seinfeld” who will never let anyone see his PIN, I feel the same way about my age. It’s no one’s business except my bank, my church, my Visa card, my cable company, my driver’s license, my doctor’s office, and the extended warranty of my washer and dryer. And, of course, an old buddy who threatens to blare it out whenever he has a beer or two at the neighborhood block party.

Otherwise it’s a sacred and secured number and no one’s business.

Another Oscar Wilde bon mot I believe to be absolutely true is that “Youth is wasted on the young.”

We older folks know exactly what we’d do do if given more longevity. I know for sure that I would have been like Joe Hardy in the musical “Damn Yankees” and would have been a pretty darned good baseball player if I had only taken what talents I possess and put my mind and heart into it.

Unlike Joe Hardy, however, I would not have sold my soul to the devil to beat those damn Yankees. In the end, I feel like a million bucks even if I probably look like a plugged nickel.

There’s a song in “Damn Yankees” called “You’ve Gotta Have Heart.” And as the lyric goes, ”miles and miles of heart. … When your luck is batting zero, take your chin up off the floor, mister you can be a hero. You can open any door. There’s nothing to it but to do it.”

 Hey, maybe I can sneak a burn barrel into my back yard!