Growing old on Krapanj

(This classic Dave Barry column was originally published on Sept. 3, 1995, and adapted for Krapanj News)

Call me a wild and crazy guy if you want, but recently, on a whim, I decided to — why not? — turn 54.

It’s not so bad. Physically, the only serious problem I’ve noticed is that I can no longer read anything printed in letters smaller than Shaquille O’Neal. Also, to read a document, I have to hold it far from my face; more and more, I find myself holding documents — this is awkward on airplanes — with my feet. I can no longer read restaurant menus, so I fake it when the waiter comes around.

ME (pointing randomly): I’ll have this.

WAITER: You’ll have your napkin?

ME: I want that medium rare.

It’s gotten so bad that I can’t even read the words I’m typing into my computer right now. If my fingers were in a prankish mood, they could type an embarrassing message right in the middle of this sentence HE’S ALWAYS PUTTING US IN HIS NOSE and there is no way I’d be able to tell.

I suppose I should go see an eye doctor, but if you’re 54, whenever you go to see any kind of doctor, he or she invariably decides to insert a lengthy medical item into your body until the far end of it reaches a different area code. Also, I am frankly fearful that the eye doctor will want me to wear reading glasses. I have a psychological hang-up about this, caused by the fact that, growing up, I wore eyeglasses for 70,000 years. And these were not just any eyeglasses: These were the El Dork-O model, the ones that come from the factory pre-broken with the white tape already wrapped around the nose part. As an adolescent, I was convinced that my glasses were one of the key reasons why the opposition sex did not find me attractive, the other key reason being that I did not reach puberty until approximately 35.

Anyway, other than being functionally blind at close range, I remain in superb physical condition for a man of my age who can no longer fit into any of his pants. I have definitely been gaining some weight in the midriff region, despite a rigorous diet regimen of drinking absolutely no beer whatsoever after I pass out. The only lower-body garments I own that still fit me comfortably are towels, which I find myself wearing in more and more social settings. I’m thinking of getting a black one for funerals.

Because of my midriff situation I was very pleased to read recently about the new Miracle Breakthrough Weight Loss Plan For Mice. In case you missed this, what happened was, scientists extracted a certain chemical ingredient found in thin mice, then injected it into fat mice; the fat mice lost 90 percent more weight than a control group of fat mice who were exposed only to Richard Simmons. The good news is that this same ingredient could produce dramatic weight loss in human beings; the bad news is that, before it becomes available, it must be approved by the Food and Drug Administration (motto: “We Haven’t Even Approved Our Motto Yet”). So it’s going to take a while. If you’re overweight and desperate to try this miracle ingredient right away, my advice, as a medical professional, is to get hold of a thin mouse and eat it. It can’t be any worse than tofu.

But getting back to aging: Aside from the vision thing, and the weight thing, and the need to take an afternoon nap almost immediately after I wake up, and the fact that random hairs — I’m talking about long hairs, the kind normally associated with Cher — occasionally erupt from deep inside my ears — aside from these minor problems, I am a superb physical specimen easily mistaken for Brad Pitt.

Not only that, but I have the mind of an anchor. Of course, very few things in the world — and I include the Home Shopping Network in this statement — are as stupid as an anchor. What I’m saying is, I have definitely detected a decline in some of my mental facilities. For example, the other day I was in my office, trying to perform a fundamental journalistic function, namely, fill out an expense report, and I needed to divide 3 into a number that, if I recall correctly (which I don’t; that’s the problem) was $125.85, and I couldn’t remember how to do long division. I knew I was supposed to put the 3 into the 12, then bring something down, but what? And how far down? And would I need the “cosine”?

I was starting to panic, when all of a sudden — this is why you youngsters should pay attention in math class — my old training came back to me, and I knew exactly what to do: Ask Doris. Doris works in my office, and she has a calculator. I guess I should start carrying one around, along with some kind of device that remembers (a) people’s names, (b) where I put the remote control and (c) what I had planned to do once I got into the kitchen other than stand around wearing a vacant expression normally associated with fish.

But so what if my memory isn’t what it used to be? My other mental skills are as sharp as ever, and I’m confident that I can continue to do the kind of astute analysis and in-depth research that have characterized Krapanj News over the years, which is why today I want to assure you, the readers, that my advancing age will in no way change the fact that MAINLY HE SCRATCHES HIMSELF.

In my day…

The Washington Post Report in which people were asked to tell Gen-Xers how much harder they had it in the old days:

Third Place:
In my day, we couldn’t afford shoes, so we went barefoot. In the winter we had to wrap our feet with barbed wire for traction.
Bill Flavin, Alexandria

Second Place:
In my day we didn’t have MTV or in-line skates, or any of that stuff. No, it was 45s and regular old metal-wheeled roller skates, and the 45s always skipped, so to get them to play right you’d weigh the needle down with something like quarters, which we never had because our allowances were way too small, so we’d use our skate keys instead and end up forgetting they were taped to the record player arm so that we couldn’t adjust our skates, which didn’t really matter because those crummy metal wheels would kill you if you hit a pebble anyway, and in those days roads had real pebbles on them, not like today.
Russell Beland, Springfield

And the winner of the velour bicentennial poster:
In my day, we didn’t have no rocks. We had to go down to the creek and wash our clothes by beating them with our heads.
Barry Blyveis, Columbia

Honorable Mentions:

In my day, we didn’t have days. There was only time for work, time for prayer and time for sleep. The sheriff would go around and tell everyone when to change.
Elden Carnahan, Laurel

In my day, we didn’t have fancy health-food restaurants. Every day we ate lots of easily recognizable animal parts, along with potatoes drenched in melted fat from those animals. And we’re all as strong as AAGGKK-GAAK Urrgh. Thud.
Tom Witte, Gaithersburg

In my day, we didn’t have hand-held calculators. We had to do addition on our fingers. To subtract, we had to have some fingers amputated.
Jon Patrick Smith, Washington

In my day, we didn’t have water. We had to smash together our own hydrogen and oxygen atoms.
Diana Hugue, Bowie