It was a sunny, warm March day, the first truly pleasant day of the year, but there was a dark cloud on the horizon.
I had just finished a brisk walk around the block, enjoying the sun on my untanned face and the crisp winter air in my lungs, when I stopped at the mailbox. There was the usual junk: circulars, an ominous pink power bill, some coupons for junk food, and something that looked curiously like one of those magazines sent to AARP members.
It was one of those magazines sent to AARP members! There was the standard geezer actor on the cover grinning through his dentures (this time Michael Douglas), along with the stock articles: which adult diapers are the most absorbent, where to vacation free from obnoxious college kids on spring break, how to start your own geriatric motorcycle gang.
Granted, some of the articles interested me, like where to vacation without obnoxious college kids, but that was beside the point. Why was AARP sending me, of all people, their crummy magazine? I'm only 46, for crying out loud. Yes, I know "only 46" is a relative term. To my 16-year old son, I doubtless resemble some recently unearthed fossil from a bygone era. But I'm a long way from needing a walker. Most days.
Or am I?
That's how they get you, those dadgum AARP folks -- them with their fancy, high-priced marketing gurus. They plant little seeds of doubt and up springs the green shoots of uncertainty. Who knows, maybe they're right? Maybe I am getting old.
See what I mean?
Until that fateful trip to the mailbox, I had thought of myself as middle aged. After all, the life expectancy of the American male is 78. So half of that would be 39.
Maybe that's not a good way to look at it. A better plan is to see middle age not as an exact age, but more of a range. Like 35-45, more or less.
Or maybe the range shouldn't be ten years, but twenty. Let's say 35-55. Why not? I wanted to see what the experts thought, so I went online, which proves two things: that I don't know where to find experts, and that I'm still middle aged. A real AARP member couldn't even figure out how to turn on a computer, let alone look something up. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, which I would never dream of second guessing because it has both Oxford and English in its name: "the period between youth and old age [is] about 45 to 60." So, on the authority of the venerable and estimable OED, I've barely tasted middle age. Take that AARP.
Less reassuring was the definition of the U.S. Census Bureau, which, even though it is a government agency run by sluggish bureaucratic drones, still gets to call the official shots. The Bureau lists two periods of middle age, a sort of lower middle age of 35 to 44, and an upper middle age of 45 to 54. There seems to be no rhyme or reason to this division other than the general idea that, as far as bureaucrats are concerned, the more categories the better.
OF COURSE, YOU don't have to be a retired person or a person at retirement age to be a member of AARP. You need only be 50 years old, which I will be soon enough, thank you. And, as my much younger girlfriend never fails to point out, there are benefits to AARP membership. Such as "senior" discounts for travel and dining. Oooooh, I can't wait to sign up for one of their "exciting spiritual journeys and pilgrimages" to the Yakov Smirnoff Theater in Branson, Missouri.
Needless to say, I was, for the rest of the afternoon, in a blue funk, which soon darkened into a brown study. I turned up the thermostat and wrapped myself in a warm quilt and I sat in my rocking chair and fumed. My girlfriend brought me some chamomile tea and some stewed prunes and put on my Tommy Dorsey records to try to cheer me up. And there I sat, glaring at that damn AARP magazine in my lap, until, at length, I sighed and surrendered the last of my youth. "Might as well read this article about how to avoid telemarketing scams," I muttered to myself.
That was when my girlfriend leaned over and said, "You blind old idiot. This magazine isn't address to you. It's address to somebody named Gertrude Freen."
"What?" I shouted. "Quick, fetch me my readin' glasses!"
Sure enough, the post office had gotten the address wrong.
I jumped up and I threw off my quilt and I swept up my girlfriend in my strong, virile arms and I danced her around the living room, just like when we were kids.
For a good half minute, anyway.