April 13, 2008
I hate to admit it, but I've been feeling my age lately.
I'm 59 years old but until the past few weeks, I never really felt
59. In my head, my age was some nebulous number, maybe around 30 or
so, or at worst in the 40-somethings. Some of my thinking hasn't
changed since I was a student in my 20s, a fan of Otis Redding and
The Stones and The Beatles, staunchly opposed to the Vietnam War.
But these days, I can't duck reality. My ankles ache. My knees hurt.
When I rise from my chair, it takes a little while to straighten up.
And sometimes those first few steps are shaky.
Memory? The second thing to go for people my age has caught a fast freight.
And damn, the deference! I've even had doors opened for me. It's embarrassing.
I've almost gotten accustomed to younger reporters in our office
calling me "Mr. Windham." At least I've stopped trying to correct them.
But other things seem to come out of the blue, like a woman who
approached my wife in the grocery store the other day. She'd seen me
drifting around the aisles. Did we want to enroll in a special-needs
medical support group she knew about?
I tried to walk straighter and behave better after that, but now it
seems that everywhere I go, people ask about my health. Maybe I just
notice it more because I've grown sensitive in my old age.
Among journalists of my generation, sensitivity was something to be
dreaded more than cancer. The public pummeled us for our callousness,
perhaps rightly so. But we learned early on that within our
profession, the measure of good journalists was the thickness of our hides.
When I was a beginning reporter, I was shown a photo of my city
editor interviewing a man after a car accident. The police hadn't
arrived yet. The head of the man's girlfriend, severed in the mishap,
rested on the hood of his automobile.
That's the level of toughness and intrepidity to which rising
journalists should aspire, I was told.
Today we're nicer, more compassionate. A colleague recently brought
me a little space heater to use in my office. She'd noticed me
warming my hands in my armpits.
And it's hard as the dickens for me to stay awake past 9 at night. I
snooze while the Atlanta Braves lose.
But I still can't accept everything about aging. Something hacks me
off about getting unsolicited mail from AARP. I generally hurl it in the trash.
I suppose that makes me part of the target audience for those
Ameriprise TV commercials where Dennis Hopper says my generation is
"definitely not headed for bingo night." We can "turn retirement
upside down ... I just don't see you playing shuffleboard," he says
as Spencer Davis' 1967 hit, "Gimme Some Lovin'," pounds in the background.
But the ads make me sick.
Hopper, of all people. The icon of nonconformity. The star of "Easy Rider."
Back in 1967, we would have called his shilling for Ameriprise "selling out."
I think there are still a few like-minded souls. A recent issue of
"The Onion" posted a satirical piece about Hopper's hype:
"Retirement planning means a lot of decision-making, and thank God I
still have the soothing presence of that amyl nitrate-huffing,
obscenity-screaming, psychosexual lunatic from 'Blue Velvet' to guide
me through it."
"When I hear him in those commercials," the piece goes on, "it's the
familiar voice of a coke-dealing, LSD-fueled hippie cowboy biker
putting me at ease."
I mean, would you trust Dennis Hopper with your retirement?
But there's been a lot of water over the dam. A few years ago, Bob
Dylan pimped women's underwear for Victoria's Secret. The Royal
Caribbean Cruise Co. used Iggy Pop's "Lust for Life" to sell
vacations at sea. George Carlin appeared in TV ads for MCI.
It's not bingo. But it's not exactly what I envisioned back when I
was 20, either.
We were watching a biopic the other night titled "The U.S. vs. John
Lennon." It had a brief clip of the 1969 March on Washington.
"If you look hard, you can see me," I joked to my wife as the camera
scanned the hundreds of thousands of protesters on the Mall in Washington.
But the documentary was no laughing matter. Watching and listening to
idiots like G. Gordon Liddy made me reach for my blood-pressure medication.
I thought I'd buried my negative feelings for Richard Nixon one of
the worst presidents, dead or alive, of my lifetime but the anger
wasn't far beneath the surface. The Lennon biopic touched on Nixon's
hatred of the press, his "Vietnamization" program and his FBI's
notorious Cointelpro operation, with its illegal wiretappings and
surveillance. The negativity came flooding back and I couldn't help
but draw parallels to today.
The documentary also had footage of Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin and
Bobby Seale idiots in their own way, perhaps, but righteous idiots.
And then, in the midst of it all, a commercial pops up for a
hair-coloring product, featuring a baby boomer who still surfs. The
Ameriprise influence was obvious.
"Don't trust anyone over 90," the hair-color boomer said.
It was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek, a mockery of a slogan we used
in the '60s. But it turned my stomach.
"Everything went to hell in a hand basket," I muttered to no one in
I don't know if my wife heard me or not. One of our corgis cocked its
ear, sighed and went back to sleep while I did a slow burn.
I guess that being grouchy just comes with the territory.
Reach Editorial Editor Ben Windham at 205-722-0193 or by e-mail at