Blog: Just Shoot Me

Burt Ross

Several Sundays ago, I woke up in a relaxed frame of mind. I had my first, second and third cups of coffee and started to read an op-ed piece in The New York Times, which prides itself in writing “all the news that’s fit to print.” 

The piece was entitled “Better Aging Through Practice, Practice, Practice.” The writer obviously likes the word “practice.” The article starts on a downward trajectory and then gathers speed, “Sixty is not the new 40. Fifty isn’t either. Your lung capacity in late-middle age is in steady decline, as are the fast-twitch muscle fibers that provide power and speed. Your heart capacity has been ebbing for decades.”

It’s hard to believe the article could get any more depressing, but it does.

“Your sight has been getting worse, your other senses, too, and this, along with a gradually receding ability to integrate information you are absorbing and to then issue motor commands, means your balance is not what it used to be … Do not kid yourself about this. You are milling in the anteroom of the aged.” 

So much for my mellow Sunday morning. After reading this opening salvo, all I could think was “JUST SHOOT ME!” I don’t think this article was the least bit fit for print or, at least, not on my Sunday morning. This piece apparently had one purpose only — to boost the sales of Prozac. I was a happy guy until I read this, and now I am looking for a bridge to jump off. (Not easy to find in Malibu). 

I don’t need The New York Times to tell me I am not half the man I used to be. And by the way, their circulation isn’t half what it used to be either. If I want to be dispirited, all I have to do is read my endless assault of emails pushing walk-in bathtubs, adult diapers and free cremations. I don’t have to read my morning paper.

I was so depressed by the opening paragraph or two that I stopped reading the rest of the piece, but did return to it later when I regained what little I had left of my self-respect. The writer suggested that to find a “deeply satisfying sense of yourself that you did have when you were much, much younger” all you have to do is to improve a demanding skill or set of skills. That is easy for him to say. Unfortunately, I don’t recall having this satisfying sense of myself when I was younger, nor do I possess any particular set of skills to improve on. 

The writer refers specifically to something which will take years to get proficient at after “practicing, practicing, practicing,” such as playing the cello or cabinetry. To be perfectly candid, I would rather die now than take up either the cello or cabinetry. At my age I can barely lift a cello. The harmonica is more my speed. Frankly, if this is what I have to do in order to stay on this earth, count me out. 

A classmate of mine from high school just returned from China where he has recently taken up Mandarin. Give me a break! If I had wanted to learn Mandarin, I would not have waited until now to do it. I would prefer to engage in more productive activities like taking a nap.