Preview of Your Coming Attractions

When I retired after 40 years of writing columns for the San Jose Mercury News, I figured I'd said about all I could say. Wrong. I've realized that at age 76, I'm about 10 years older than the oldest baby boomers, who are now turning 66. My very average body has had a lot of experiences in those 10 years. I've learned a lot that could be helpful to people just starting on that same path -- what to do, what to avoid, what to keep an eye on.. Consider me your canary-in-the-coalmine for the boomer generation. Tune in regularly for the heads-up advice.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Stressed (and) Out

     I’ve written before about the dangers of stress, but I don’t think that we’ve had a more graphic example of what I was talking about recently than the last days of Joe Paterno.
     Yes, the former Penn State football coach was old. He was 85, and since that’s about 10 years older than me, I consider that definitely old.
     Yes, he had cancer – lung cancer – which is a particularly bad malady.
     Yes, the combination of the two can kill a person. A lot of people have died of similar circumstances.
     But Paterno was both old and suffering from cancer before his world blew up in the controversy over sex abuse charges against one of his assistant coaches. Paterno hadn’t been the healthiest guy in Pennsylvania before the scandal. When it erupted, though, the stress of the situation clearly accelerated his demise. A guy going downhill suddenly got a big shove. The result was a faster than expected trip out of this world.
     Now, I’m not saying that there’s much Paterno could have done to ease the stress of the situation. A completely clear conscience would have helped, but that admittedly wasn’t the case.
     As we go through life, though, we need to recognize the toll that stress can take. It can exacerbate whatever else we have going on. It makes average things bad. It makes bad things worse.
     So do what you can while you can to ease the stress in your life, whether it be yoga or meditation or exercise or doing good works.
     Just recognizing that you may be stressed is a good start.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Here's Looking at Us

     It’s intriguing how our perspective changes as we age.
     I remember when I was a little kid, wishing fervently to get older. Second-graders had more status than first-graders. And they were bigger.
     Later, when I was a teen-ager, I yearned to be 21 so that I could drink legally. Not that legalities actually were stopping me much at the time.
     Then, when I was 21, I’d get annoyed if someone would ask for my ID. I was a certified adult. Didn’t I look the part?
     For a long time thereafter, I didn’t think about the passing years all that much. But there came that time at O’Hare Airport in Chicago when a server carded me, even though I clearly was way, way over 21. She explained that her boss had told her to card everyone, no exceptions. I didn’t mind. It still felt sort of good.
     And now that I’m old enough for senior discounts at most places, I certainly want to take advantage of that privilege. I’m willing to admit I’m over 65 right there in public and ask for the discount. I don’t even get upset when I’m told that I’ve already been given the discount without my asking. I’d hate to look too young and miss a discount because I’d forgotten to bring it up.
     How about you? Are you happy with your age now?
     You should be. Eventually, it pays.

Sunday, January 15, 2012


     I do hope that you had a happier childhood experience with dentists than I had.
     Mine were in the days before fluoride made most tooth decay a thing of the past. I had so-so tooth-brushing habits as a kid, a taste for sweets and, as a result, a mouthful of cavities.
     These were taken care of by a dentist who thought such new developments as Novocain were for sissies. High-speed drills hadn’t been invented yet; his was so slow it could have been powered by a hamster-wheel. It felt as though it was throwing off huge chunks of tooth with every revolution of the seemingly huge burr tip. Rinse-and-spit meant expecting to see the bowl filled with gravel.. My mouth was like a quarry. Those were not happy times.
     And so, since, I’ve been something of a dental-care fanatic. I learned my lesson. My teeth are brushed after every meal. I floss every day. I have checkups twice a year. But still, those sins of my youth continue to catch up with me.
     Aging does that. As I said, I hope your earlier dental experiences were happier than mine. I hope you practiced better dental hygiene. But the ultimate truth is that your teeth age along with the rest of you. Fillings that were put in place years ago crumble, fall out and need to be replaced. Heck, even some of  the teeth themselves (my cavity-damaged ones, particularly) have crumbled and needed to be replaced. I now sport a two-tooth bridge and a dental implant in my otherwise happy smile.
     Hence this warning: Take care of the teeth you have. Don’t put off checkups. Follow regular dental hygiene practices. Use fluoride toothpaste, at the very least. Keep up with the latest dental developments (or make sure that your dentist does).
     Getting older leaves you with a lot of issues to chew on. It’s easier if you have something to chew with.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Re-solve Resolve

     It’s now well after New Year’s Day, so you’ve had plenty of time to make (and now break) those resolutions.
     No big deal.
     We run into the Resolution Regulars every year at athletic clubs across our nation. They’re packed during the first week after New Year’s, filled with people who’ve vowed to work out more regularly and get in shape. By the time the second week rolls around, their numbers already have started to thin (their bodies are another thing entirely). And by February, the crowds will be just about back to normal.
     Blame the younger, less experienced resolution makers for that. By the time people make my age – and, Boomers, yours as well – we’ve tended to learn that it’s better to be realistic. We know ourselves, our weaknesses, our limitations. We’re wise enough to not promise something that can’t be delivered.
     As a result, our resolutions – if we make any at all – are simpler and more direct. In my case, I’ve only added one additional set of 10 repetitions to my free-weight workout schedule this year. If I don’t die, I may add 10 more next year.
     That’s it. No big vows to accomplish something truly memorable (bringing about world peace, say) or promising to cut out something (like sweets) from my diet.
     Instead, I may think about ways to make the world better this year (no promises, though). I may even try to put some of my ideas into practice (on a small scale, but again no promises). And I’m not cutting anything out of my diet – or my life. I’ll eat, or try, or do, just about everything. But everything in moderation (sweets, coffee, booze, health food, fruits, tofu, foie gras, workouts – the works).
     Repeat: Everything in moderation.
     That’s a resolution I can keep.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Happy New Year

     Looking forward to what’s ahead in the new year? I can almost guarantee you that if you’re not, you won’t have too many more years, old or new.
      Researchers have found that people who anticipate what’s to come tend to live longer than those who dwell in the past. My personal experience bears this out.
     My mother-in-law has spent her life looking forward. She’s interested in her next book, her next bridge game, her next meal. She keeps up with the news of the world around her, not the remnants of days gone by. She’s curious about life and the other people in it. And I’d say this attitude has served her pretty well over time. She’s only 101. The key word there, she’d agree, is “only.”
     On the other hand, I’ve known people for whom life in high school was about as good as it got. They largely much spent their time looking back at what had gone before, unhappy with the prospect of things to come. Not that their worry about the future did them much good. They’re no longer around to see it.
     Life, obviously, is full of choices. You can choose to embrace what’s here and now and whatever is to come. Or you can choose to lament the loss of the good old days, sure that life will never be that good again.
     Face it: the good old days weren’t really all that good. Work to make the new days better, and you’ll see what I mean.