Just as Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have fired up a new round of national debates on racism and sexism in America, Senator John McCain has inflamed the battle over ageism. He did, I think, a fairly good job of playing the subject off lightly during his recent appearance on Saturday Night Live, and has even inspired a new web site. (Check out Things Younger Than John McCain for some humor.) Up until now I had been taking on the issue from a fairly cold, analytical stance, checking out the ages of previous presidents and looking for McCain’s medical records. I think that came to a halt at six o’clock this morning.
What was I doing at 6 AM today? I was outside dragging a hose around, watering a stretch of new grass seed I put down and the plants in my small garden. (Today is predicted to be beautiful, but dry.) As often happens with middle aged men, I found myself having one of those “Rebel Without a Cause” moments. Why, I wondered, was I standing around watering plants at six in the morning in front of a house in the suburbs? Was this where my life was supposed to lead? What happened to the young man, brash and full of mischief, who would go out steaming on a weeknight, drinking with his buddies until the wee hours of the morning and generally raising hell? I was suddenly tempted to throw down my garden hose and e-mail some of my old mates to go out on the town tonight.
Then, fortunately, rational thought crept back in. I also remembered what that young man was generally doing at six AM. If I managed to be awake at all, I was downing asperin, gulping coffee and wondering how I would drag myself into work that day. I was living in a tiny, crappy apartment (alone) and burning through far too much of the money I earned rather than saving for the future. Would I really prefer that to my life now, where I have a nice home, a wife, and a small garden plot to tend? Would I, in short, rather spend my mornings battling hangovers or fighting the weeds that insist on cropping up between my tomato plants? I think I’ll have to opt for the weeds. These are the kinds of decisions one only comes to with a few more decades under your belt.
My grandfather lived well into his nineties. At the age of 72, having survived trench warfare in World War One and the great depression, he was still tending a several acre wide farm. He did it almost entirely with hand tools, the exception being a gas powered roto-tiller he used in the spring. He also ran a roadside fruit and vegatable business along with my grandmother. If anyone had tried, at that point, to tell him he was “too old” to do anything they would likely have been on the receiving end of a punch in the nose.
I’m not here to tell anyone that they can’t take John McCain’s age into account when deciding on a presidential candidate. It’s a fair question and you are welcome to consider it as you wish. But at least in this column, I think I’ll be restricting my questions of age to making sure all the candidates have achieved the age of 35 and leave it at that.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to fire up the hedge trimmer. Well, after I take my Geritol, that is.