BY BOB VICKREY
As I took my morning walk recently, I looked up to see a friend coming my way. He flashed a big grin as he approached with a welcoming greeting, “I would know that walk anywhere.”
I knew immediately what he meant.
In recent years my body doesn’t always obey what I command it to do. My legs have a mind of their own and often seem to veer in opposite directions. I told my friend that I had inherited the Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch technique. I had imagined the late Rams’ Hall of Fame running back walking in a similar manner as he got older. I feel honored to be carrying on his great tradition.
So, it’s like this: My left leg goes one way and my right leg goes the other. I usually just let them fight it out and I go with the winner. I’m always the last to know which way we’re actually going. It’s sort of like walking your dog. You are supposedly in charge of the route you’re taking, but in reality, you’re inevitably going whichever direction the dog chooses to go.
We certainly can’t say we weren’t warned about getting older. Bette Davis told us many years ago that “getting old isn’t for sissies.” Playwright Tom Stoppard once quipped, “Life is a moderately good play with a badly written third act.”
I vividly remember when this whole aging process began. The way I recall it, I was standing at the corner of Swarthmore and Sunset about thirty years ago waiting for the light to change, when suddenly without warning, my chest simply dropped into my midsection. It happened so quickly that bystanders on the sidewalk audibly gasped.
At least that’s the way I imagined it happening. This was all very disconcerting for a guy who had always been thin and never had to hit the treadmill to keep his waistline in check.
I even imagined the news story that might have followed in the local paper:
Witnesses said the thin middle-aged gentleman was simply standing on the corner when his body changed right before their eyes. A paramedic was quoted as saying: “There was simply nothing we could do. It appears that Mr. Vickrey’s sedentary lifestyle led to this unfortunate incident.” He explained the condition was commonplace among many American males who watch too much football on television, and consider their trips to the refrigerator aerobic exercise.
As my high school reunion approaches this year, I searched Facebook to find photos of my former classmates. It appears that others in my class had made their own frequent trips to the refrigerator—not to mention the restaurant dessert cart. I decided that packing my wide-angle lens camera might be helpful in taking group shots at the reunion.
Consider all the television commercials that appear now during primetime hours featuring handsome gray-haired senior couples holding hands while walking on the beach, as the narrator talks about problems with incontinence, impotence or the chance of a stroke. The appealing images are in stark contrast to the message and the warnings given about the product’s possible side effects.
The narrator warns us: “However, you should not take “Stroke-be-Gone” if you are on heart, cholesterol or rabies medication. Side effects may include vomiting, diarrhea, foaming at the mouth, or barking like a German Shepherd.
When we were young, most of us took our vision for granted and never gave a thought about eye problems that might occur in later years. That has been the case for me and several of my friends, as we all make more trips now to our ophthalmologist offices than to the grocery store.
My peripheral vision loss has created its own problems navigating narrow doorway passages in my home, while regularly knocking off large chunks of the door facing. I’ve banged my left shoulder on the bedroom entrance so often that the door opening must be at least six inches wider now than when I bought the house.
I think I’ve built up enough calluses on that shoulder that I could offer my recently acquired blocking skills to the Rams on third-down, short-yardage situations—although a Rams’ tryout seems highly unlikely at this point.
I’m not quite sure who labeled these senior years as “golden,” since the journey has been like navigating a minefield of various health issues. But overall, I must say the retirement years have been pretty good, with the exception of a few speed bumps along the way to keep us humble.
Right now, I think I could use a good long walk to contemplate all this. But as usual, I won’t know which direction “we” are going until my legs make their decision. If I’m lucky, maybe I’ll run into you on my walk, and we can share our thoughts about these so-called “golden” years.
It seems like there’s lots to catch up on. As Larry David would say, we’re overdue for a “stop and chat.”
Bob Vickrey is a writer whose columns have appeared in several Southwestern newspapers including the Houston Chronicle. He is a member of the Board of Contributors for the Waco Tribune-Herald, and was cited by the California Newspaper Publishing Association for column writing awards in 2016 and 2017. He lives in Pacific Palisades, California.