Wake up and Smell the Chinstrap

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Sixty is not the new 40 and I’m tired of being coaxed into believing that it is.

Welcome or not, mortality looms large for each and every one of us. Unlike most people I’ve ever met along my six decades on this planet, I never feared or lamented milestone birthdays. 25? Ridiculous! 30? I’m just getting started! 40? Insignificant! 50? No problem. In fact, when I turned 50, I looked 35.

There was that one day somewhere around age 52 when I looked in the mirror, saw my first wrinkle and said, “Oh! Thank GOD!” I didn’t want to have a wrinkle-free, “ageless” face. Coming from excellent DNA, however, I knew there was nil possibility that I’d ever end up looking like painter Georgia O’Keefe, whose roadmap of a visage was a work of art in and of itself.

And speaking of O’Keefe’s dessicated mug, I’m certain it was caused by her decision to take up residence in New Mexico, ancient territory with about 12 percent humidity. I speak from experience, having lived in the Jemez mountains for two months some years back. After just a few weeks, the skin on my lower legs literally resembled that of an alligator. One day while talking with an elderly Buddhist nun, the high noon sun blazing in my face, she warned, “You better get outta here. Your face is ageing like crazy”.

I didn’t leave two of the best months of my life to save my skin, however; I left because it was time. And when I returned to Atlanta’s intense humidity, my face naturally sprung back from California raisin to the plump and fully-realized, dewy peach it had always been.

Over the years, I’ve developed a morbid fascination with women who drastically alter (read: destroy) their faces via cosmetic surgery. Paying multiple thousands of dollars to have some criminal misogynistic surgeon mutilate your face does tend to peak the public’s interest. Madonna’s predicament right now is a case in point. She and I are the same age so I was looking forward to watching her grow old more or less naturally. Alas…

You see this a lot in Los(t) Angeles, Californ-I-A. My heart hurt the day I encountered what had once been a beautiful young woman of 30 selling her handmade candles at a market in Studio City, the victim of a terrible nose job that she didn’t need which left her looking disfigured.

Then there’s the former writing class mate who had been a B actress in the 60s hanging around with the likes of Troy Donahue. She read a story in class that opened with the words, “I live in a town where it’s a crime to grow old.”

She should have just let herself grow old, because what she did to her face was the real crime. One day before class, I was talking to our teacher and Former B Actress came over and stood beside me without my knowing it. When I felt a presence to my left and looked over, I was literally frightened to see her there. She was once a truly beautiful woman and was such a cool person and a great writer whom I liked a lot, all of which made her situation harder to swallow.

The most disturbing/compelling of anything I ever saw out there (or anywhere since) occurred on the day I went to the Laemmle theater in Encino to see a foreign art film. Afterwards, while I was sitting outside the theater, contemplating the merits of said film, a woman of at least 75 ambled by right in front of me, walking arm-in-arm with her husband, who actually looked 75. She must’ve gone to the same plastic surgeon as Joan Rivers because the finished product was strikingly similar: a polished, flawless, porcelain complexion that reminded me of one of my childhood baby dolls. Her skin was pulled so tightly that she looked like a 4-year-old girl.

Her appearance was grotesquely uncanny – yet compelling. I needed to see more!

But how? The real me wanted to stop her in her tracks and place my hands on her shoulders.  “Could you just stand there for a couple minutes please so I can take this all in?” I’d say.  Being Los Angeles, she probably would’ve obliged me just for the bragging rights to those two minutes of undivided attention. Nevertheless, I opted for a subtler path…

I got up from that bench and walked briskly past her and her husband until I got about 25 feet in front of them. Then, real non-chalantlike, I turned back around – walking slowly back to face them, gazing at baby doll as much as I could without being obvious.

I still hadn’t had my fill, so I turned around once again, this time walking on the opposite side of the shopping complex to head into the parking garage. There, I hid behind a high, squat, concrete column and took in a full show right up until they turned their backs on me to enter their vehicle. From this angle, I could see the old lady teetering on her inch-high heels, her dowager’s hump in full view.

Ageing is an interesting process which no one seems to enjoy. Do I like seeing this, that or the other part of me morphing, dropping, or just plain disappearing? Nope. Nope. No, I do not.

But I do choose to look at it like this: I’ve already been 20. I’ve already been 30. 40. 50. 60. I’m okay with it. I don’t want to go back. Yet, I am starting to vouch for that old saying, “Youth is wasted on the young.”

I’ve found that people have difficulty with ageing because they’re not ageing well. They don’t exercise or eat right or dress becomingly or groom themselves or wear a little makeup. I think ageing men would do well with a little makeup. Take a lesson from Johnny Depp. Too many people have given up just when they’ve got so much to give.

My mother died at age 92. My father died just six weeks ago, at age 95. If my DNA has any say in the matter, it looks like – God willing – I’m probably going to be here a lot longer than I even want to be.

When I turned 60, I became acutely aware that I’m closer to the end of my life than I am to its beginning. Sixty feels nothing like 40. And I can say that because I’ve touched both landmarks.

This morning, I briefly tuned into a woman doctor on YouTube talking about how hormone replacement therapy could “make 90 the new 40”.

Now I ask you: would you go to see a doctor who makes such a claim?


Earlier today, after sharing a lengthy conversation with a man and his wife at Alon’s,  swapping stories of caregiving, death,

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