I wasn’t expecting it to be a great year, to be honest. Price of doing business – aging sucks, and there’s no getting around it. “Forty is the age that forces you to stop pretending.” I nailed that.
From a sporting perspective, it went well. Vandy basketball won its first SEC tournament in 61 years and managed to get out of the first round in the NCAAs. Vandy baseball came back from a dismal start to make the title game of the SEC tournament and return to the postseason. Vandy football – well, the best season since 1915, and I got to see some of it in person for the first time since 1996. The Redskins collected the most electrifying young player in pro football and swept Dallas (including their first Thanksgiving win). Golden State picked up a Vandy player and sprinted out to its best start in twenty years. Even a dismal Cal football team finally replaced Jeff Tedford (albeit two years too late), and the San Francisco Giants won their second World Series in three years. So sports, at least, went well.
Friends did pretty well. The cousins finally had to move out, but were replaced with a perfectly pleasant housemate who was not at all averse to Sundays camped in front of NFL RedZone and busting open a bottle of something. We got to take a most excellent trip to New York for an old-style gathering of the old tribe and finally patch up some old ill feelings, which was nice. We did get visits with friends near and far, we rocked the 4Ps one last time, we hosted some very good parties (some better survived than others), and I even got to meet some of my actual fans (well, sorta) as part of a Vandy tailgate or two.
The defining story of my last 12 months was the story of health issues. The shoulder flared back into misbehavior worse than it had for a couple of years, and the usual course of prednisone and NSAIDs availed little. Two steroid shots directly into the disc only barely staunched the pain, and the drama with the drooling idiots of Blue Shield undid a lot of the otherwise good work at pain mitigation. The numbers are in: HDL, LDL, triglycerides, blood pressure, TC/HDL ratio, fasting glucose, BMI – right down the line, everything worse than the year before. And then this past February at work came along and took my back pains right back to 2005.
Because work has been a shitshow. Dullard users, feckless management, too many people who think IT is a form of magic that will do whatever they want by rubbing the lamp, and then a crisis, badly mismanaged with a poorly conceived response that – as usual – only led to more expense and agony down the stretch And ended up with me personally imaging 230 laptops in a day to be sold along for personal replacement at 75% off. I’m really hitting the limits of what I can continue to do without inevitably flipping out – and I need to find some way to transition into a role that’s not customer-facing. Not just for my psychological well-being, but because I firmly believe that “workstation support,” as a job, isn’t going to exist in its current form ten years from now. Which at age 50 will be just in time to ease me out the door as an unwanted expense in favor of some cheap young wide-eyed naif fresh out of school who thinks $50,000 is a king’s ransom.
And the fact that I’m even thinking about that sort of thing at all is the surest sign that things have changed. I have to start taking seriously concerns about my health and potential retirement income. The sight of my 401(k) is disconcerting because the needle never seems to move that much – and that’s money that needs to be growing if I’m going to live off it. It would be just my fucking luck for the baby boomers to cash out and then decide on behalf of all society that “70 is the new 50” and lo and behold I’m working for a living until 2042. I don’t think I have thirty more years of this bullshit in me. Hell, I know I don’t.
So there’s no middle-term view these days. I either dread what may be coming in a couple decades, or else just try to focus on whatever will get me to the end of the week. Which presents its own difficulty. Is it better to spend $5000 on a week in London or $40 a week on pints and dinner down the pub – will two years of weekly indulgence provide the same quality of life as one big dream of a trip does? And do I need to be going out of the country every three years anyway, given that I’ve only been able to do it once in good mental health while not dragging unwanted relations? But then, I’ve been reading too much William Gibson to put off wanting to see Tokyo much longer, and the foreign travel should probably be done younger – Boston and Hawaii will be easier when I’m 60 than Tokyo or India or Ireland. Then again, will I be able to get the time off at age 60 go to abroad? Why couldn’t I just fuckin’ be rich? I wouldn’t be an ass about it, I’d pay my tax, you wouldn’t catch me doing any of that Kardashian douchebag shit…
All right, let’s face it, I’m a hell of a lot grumpier than I’ve been in a long, long time, too. Chalk it up to work stress, chalk it up to residual political annoyance, chalk it up to the ever-present shadow of my Confederate relatives acting like assholes, chalk it up to the fucking cyclists who glide down my crowded platform every day under signs reading “WALK YOUR BIKE” or “DISMOUNT ZONE”. Chalk it up to the fact that I can barely go downtown in Palo Alto or Mountain View without the dying-roadkill-skunk aroma of “medicinal” weed coming from somewhere. Chalk it up to people who repeatedly misspell my name in email when the correct spelling is right there in the sig file and in the address itself. Or people who I tell via help ticket that no, we don’t provide cat-5 cable, you need to buy some, and then email me directly wanting it. I guess I’m a cranky old man now, because nothing pisses me off harder and faster than people who won’t follow the directions. Yes, I fucking said fuck you, you’re bombing your bike down a tunnel full of pedestrians, you’re not Rosa fucking Parks, you hipster fuck.
Which is another thing that makes me feel old – this year is the 50th anniversary of the famous MLK action in Birmingham, the “dogs and firehoses” moment that shocked the nation into admitting how bad things were down South. I was born in Birmingham nine years later. Or in other words, that’s as long as I will have been a Californian come June. That’s a shorter time than the time that’s now passed since the September 11 attacks. I should feel well old. At the very least, I have the kind of perspective to see that it’s comical to assert that the hearts and minds of the South had somehow transformed by the time I was born – for crying out loud, it only took 13 years after Bull Connor for Time magazine to trumpet “The New South” on its cover, and yet I have relations by marriage that had a Rebel flag on a pole out front of their house in 2007. The Supreme Court may gut VRA, but until the generation raised by the last generation to remember segregation is gone (yes, that’s my generation, for what it’s worth) it’s moronic to think things have changed that much.
Then again, some things do change fast – a show like Seinfeld is already comically obsolete fifteen years on because nobody has a cellphone, let alone a smartphone. Even five years ago, people were digging for video cameras to record Punxsutawney Phil – now my iPhone will record higher-definition video than anything I would have taken on the last trip to see the groundhog. I remember when a 2400-baud modem to call into a BBS was an amazing thing; now multi-megabit-per-second wireless broadband is as mandatory a utility of modern life as electricity. For godsakes, a 42-inch widescreen television is $400. I could snap up a Nexus 7 tablet for $200, if I hadn’t just splashed out for an iPad for my last birthday…when once again, I didn’t know what I wanted for my birthday. I’ll admit, I don’t particularly need a laptop anymore outside work, and a good thing – traditional desktop computing seems to be one of the things that has done for my shoulder this year. It’s past time for an ergonomic assessment at the office.
And that’s another problem…I feel the pain in my back and shoulder, I work the long hours, and I feel the echo of the old man. “Do the best you can and don’t be a horse’s ass.” I don’t want to be a horse’s ass, but at the same time, I’ll be damned if I’ll exhaust myself and let my health and well-being be ground up for the sake of fixing somebody else’s mistakes. When the higher powers cock something up and it’s on me to fix it, I fucking well want the credit, and if I have to provide the solution I damn well want to be listened to and taken seriously in how I provide it. And there goes the abiding fear again…that if I wanted to be taken seriously, I should have gotten on the management path, or else climbed the technical ladder, and that when I inadvertently sandbagged myself in 2007 I permanently crippled my path to advancement.
Aging sucks. And yet I suppose it beats the alternative. Yes, the sleep is more fitful and the pain lasts longer and the drinks hit harder and the stairs knock the breath out quicker, but fuck it, you’ve been dying from the instant you slid out of the birth canal. You just never paid attention to the fact. Dwelling on it now isn’t going to slow the process down – just do what you can to stay healthy and get on with your life. But every February it’s the same story, and I’m starting to worry that I keep looking back because I don’t know what I’m looking forward to. If it’s not going to be a long slow grind of the same thing every day until the grave, I need to find something to shoot for. I need to get out of the rut and get beyond the safest, most secure option at all times.
Of which more later.