Monday, June 14, 2010

68 days to Bar Mitzvah: as young as you feel

Do you remember a commercial, aired sometime in the 1970s, that included a woman repetitively saying, “You’re as young as you feel!” until watching became a study in anticipation as we waited for someone else in the ad to suddenly snap, grab the “You’re as young as you feel!” lady around the neck and shake her until her eyes fell out? Obviously borne of the “annoying song stuck in my head” school of brand strategy, the spot was equal parts successful and a failure; decades later, I know that “You’re as young as you feel!” comes from a commercial; I can hear the exact inflection of the woman’s voice who said it, but have no idea what she was pitching. Geritol?

I just Googled it and went to YouTube. The origins of “You’re as young as you feel!” will remain murky. While it is very easy to call up the Alka-Seltzer, “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing,” commercial, and YouTube has several variations of the pre-PC “ancient Chinese secret” Calgon spot, “You’re as young as you feel!” is lost to history.
Just as well. “You’re as young as you feel” is annoying. Especially when you’re not.

Once the generation that preceded mine turned 30, they started saying things like, “I may get older, but I’ll never grow up!” (variations include “I refuse to grow up”) to explain that their childish behavior was not due to character flaw but instead a shrewdly concocted life strategy whose core belief boils down a psychotic need to demonstrate to your parents that while they are stodgy and old-fashioned, you are the living embodiment of nothing less than a new way to live. It is necessary to pledge 100% fidelity to this concept if you’re planning on spending your 50s attending Rolling Stones concerts and/or enjoying a rousing game of kickball whenever the mood strikes.

However hard you can try to fend off what you perceive as the dull conformity of old age, I’m here to tell you that your body is going to age at whatever rate it wants. Your mind may tell you you’re 18, but your body can’t lie. In two hours, when I get off work, I can walk right into Hot Topic and buy myself a crate of ironic black logo T-shirts; it won’t change the fact that I am 45 years old. It might actually amplify it.

Yesterday, I did something simple: with Sandra Bullock and the Jawa gone for an unplanned all-day trip to Six Flags Discovery Kingdom and with me having a few hours to kill before I had to go to “work” (call it what you like; driving around on a Sunday, looking at multi-million dollar houses and having Realtors suck up to you because they want you to write about their listing isn’t really like work to me), I decided to follow up on Saturday’s poor driving range performance by heading to the range and hitting a bucket of balls. My head was full of Teduardo’s advice: “Front arm straight; wrist cocked. Don’t turn your wrist in your backswing! Feet planted; follow-through; get under the ball; slow backswing. Front arm straight!”

Once I got there, though, it took only a few swings before I became very aware that golf is a repetitive sport that requires repeated upper body and core torqueing and delivers constant punishment to your hands and wrists. About halfway in, I really started to hurt, pretty much all over. I was as young as I felt, and I felt 70.

How was this going to work in six weeks, when I was expected to play 18 holes for four consecutive days? At an elevation of 7,000 feet, for crissakes! Would I hold up?

Way too often, we sit back on our couches and watch pro athletes run around. I can’t speak for you, but it never occurs to me that Kobe Bryant might be sucking air after 45 minutes of running up and down the court. And I certainly never thought that golfers – golfers! – whose physique often trails only that of professional bowlers in resembling your Uncle Morty or that guy in Accounts Receivable who always eats egg salad sandwiches at his desk, would wake up on Tournament Sunday, having already logged 54 holes since Wednesday, and feel as beat up as Brett Favre on a Monday morning in November. I’d gone back-to-back to the driving range and already my hands were on fire, my left wrist was throbbing and my back was all bent sideways.

It was pathetic. I could go home, drop off my clubs and troll Squid List for the next scheduled Bigwheel flash mob event. I’d still feel old. Probably even older. When was the last time you tried to fit yourself into a Big Wheel? I tried it last year at the Surrey Street block party. Didn’t get ten feet before the dumb thing went into a wheelie that continued the entire time I was on it.

Thirty-five years ago, our house in Clarks Green, Pennsylvania had two good surfaces at which to throw a ball. I used the garage doors to throw grounders to myself with a tennis ball. Sometimes Mark “Red” Comerford would come over from next door and we’d have day-long one-on-one wiffleball tournaments.

In front of our house, underneath the front deck and behind a small flowerbed whose contents interested me not at all, we had a smaller brick wall. It was about three feet high and fifteen feet wide. Our lawn was sloped, but there was enough flat space at the top for me to get a decent distance from the wall, throw a hardball against it as hard as I could, then field the rebound, which, because the wall was made of bricks, always came back in some erratic, unpredictable way.

I’d be out there for hours, throwing a ball against the wall, diving in the grass to make the stop, jumping up and throwing against the wall again, then diving to make the next stop. Repeat, rinse, repeat.

Some summer nights I’d be out there until it was so dark out that I could barely see the ball, my shorts and New York Mets t-shirt grass-stained, sweat rolling into my eyes, my hands shaking because I hadn’t eaten in several hours, all alone, throwing that baseball against the wall, completely destroying whatever had been in the flower bed because either it wasn’t just me that didn’t care, or my parents just considered dead flowers part of the price of doing business when you were raising an obsessive little boy.

In the summer of 1975, I could throw a ball against a wall, dive in the grass a thousand times, hit my elbows against the dirt with the entire weight of my body, then wake up the next morning and do it all over again for a month solid.

My dad once told me that he spent his entire career wondering when someone was going to break into a meeting, call him out for pretending to be an adult, then drag him away so the real grown-ups could get to work. I don’t think that’s the same as bouncing around saying, “You’re as young as you feel!” but it kind of sums up the idea that, while we weren’t looking, 35 years passed. And as much as we profess to not remember that passage of time, our bodies will always be there to dutifully remind us.


Butter Goats said...

"crissakes!" That's almost an actual swear word!

Dave K said...

I battled an eyeball floater while reading this entry.