Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
WARNING: OBJECT IN MIRROR IS OLDER THAN YOU THINK
When I was young, I understood certain things were likely to happen when I reached middle age. I knew my hair would turn gray (if it didn’t fall out altogether); I knew I’d need reading glasses; I knew my mid-section would expand and I’d acquire an extra chin or two; and I knew I’d say dorky things to my teenage kids such as, “If all your friends jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?”
But now that I’ve officially reached middle age, albeit the younger end of the scale—mid 40s—many other things have occurred which no one warned me about. As a public service announcement for all young people, I’d like to offer these words of wisdom and warning.
The subject of “food” includes the entire gastro-intestinal experience, as food journeys from taste buds to esophagus to stomach to intestines to the very end of the trip (“Thank you for traveling Cramps & Gas Airlines and please remain seated until the bowel has come to a complete stop”).
The middle age rule for food is simple: If it tastes good, it’s going to hurt. If you don’t believe me, visit any pharmacy and walk up and down the “H & H” aisle (Heartburn and Hemorrhoids). You need a calculator to add up the number of products designed to relieve the discomfort associated with eating and digesting food.
People in their 20s can eat Mexican food for breakfast without a second thought. Middle age folks get severe cramps by merely viewing a Taco Bell commercial. The doctor-recommend middle age diet looks and tastes exactly like a bowl of wallpaper paste and lawn clippings.
When I was a teenager, I could run around the yard barefoot all day long and play basketball on the schoolyard asphalt wearing only flip flops. My feet never bothered me. I remember being puzzled to learn a physician in our town was a podiatrist. “A foot doctor? Why would a doctor specialize in feet? He’ll go out of business.” How naive I was.
Besides being fairly unattractive, middle age feet are fragile. Arches fall, heels hurt, bunions bloom, fungus flourishes, and toenails in-grow. I now know why middle age guys wear socks and sneakers at the beach: it’s too uncomfortable (no to mention unsightly) to walk around barefoot anymore.
As previously mentioned, I knew weird things would happen to my hair. I was not surprised when it began to thin out and turn gray. But no one ever warned me a whole new crop of hair would sprout from my ears, nostrils, and the sides of my neck. Ugh! What’s up with that? I once thought the electric nose hair trimmer sold at The Sharper Image was a gag gift. But now I know that countless middle age men (and let’s be honest, women, too) could not function in civilized society without that miraculous grooming product.
I’ll try to be delicate with this subject. Let’s just say that all the bodily apertures known for giving off fumes do so with much more frequency and intensity in the middle age years. Enough said.
Despite what has been written to this point, it is still possible to be middle age and have fun. The middle age definition of fun, however, is less likely to include hang gliding, dirt bike racing, trampoline somersaults, and staggering from seedy bar to seedy bar on Saturday night in a drunken stupor.
Middle age fun is more likely to involve sitting in comfortable chairs, wearing comfortable shoes, and conversing with comfortable friends, oftentimes telling tall tales about youthful events involving hang gliders, dirt bikes, trampolines, seedy bars, and most reckless of all, Mexican food.
Middle age is often the time when people lose faith in previously rock-solid institutions—government, business, money, materialism—and begin pondering ancient verities and the meaning of life. (Regularly seeing folks on the obituary page younger than yourself has a way of driving home the concept of mortality.) Middle age people have been known to enter church buildings with a sincerity and humility not present since, oh, about the fourth grade.
Not to be maudlin, but faith can be more comforting than all the H & H pharmacy products, and is essential for successfully dealing with the difficulties encountered during the second half of life.
Becoming middle age is not really so bad (especially when you consider the alternative). Twenty years from today I’ll write about the surprises of becoming a senior citizen. But for now I’m going to ride my dirt bike to church.
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