“Throw it in the fuck it bucket.”
I almost passed this book over as the synopsis sounded…. well… judgey. After finishing Steven Petrow’s Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I’m Old, I’m glad that I
read listened to this audiobook. It is amusing but more than that, it made me think. The author starts with, as the title suggests, a list of things he swears he will NOT do when he is old, and this was generated by watching his parents age and grow ill. After the death of his parents, he reread his list and realized that the motivations behind the list were complex. He added that he sees “more clearly now that I meant the list to serve as a pointed reminder to me to make different choices when I eventually crossed the threshold into my senior, sunset or silver years.” The short chapters are infused with humour, anecdote, and then backed up with facts and figures.
My attention was almost immediately pulled into the author’s quest to understand aging and its challenges when he asks at age 63 “am I old?” So he begins asking friends on Facebook ‘when are we old?’ The answers were varied–some amusing, some poignant. Physical limitations were mentioned a lot, and I suspect that those markers were significant for those who define themselves by their physical ability. I wonder if this cohort will have a harder time aging–I suspect so. I was, then, interested to hear that “old is not synonymous with ill, disabled or even injured.” Researchers state that the old-age “threshold” in America is 71 for men and 74 for women, and that “our true age” contains many factors, including how happy we are.
In one chapter, “I Won’t Colour My Hair,” Steven Petrow describes his “unfortunate adventure in hair colouring.” After spending 100s of $ trying to fix a bad dye job, Petrow still ended up looking like a “trashy secretary from Staten Island.” It gets guts to publicly point out one’s mistakes, laugh about it, and move on. Other chapters include discussing habits that “mark” us as “geriatric” and “Elder Abuse of Technology“–phrases and habits that scream: “Old Person On the Loose Online.” (OPOTLO)
Another chapter, “I Won’t Lie About My Age–Even on Dating Apps” discusses the author’s experience with online dating. After separating from his husband, the author Joined Tinder, Match and OKCupid and here he learned that many people lied about their age while admitting he “used to be one of those people who shaved a few years, or more, off their true age. either to avoid appearing like a dinosaur or to improve their odds of finding a match online.” He joined in with the “fudging” but then was outed by his Wikipedia page. It’s funny, but not surprising, to hear how age cheaters on dating sites are prolific and that users screen for age-cheaters by lie-detecting questions, such as “where were you when…?” Petrow describes how an age-fibber created a “cheat sheet.” It’s really hilarious and sounds like so much work. Too much work.
Another chapter discusses sexuality. Petrow had testicular cancer in his 20s and so had to confront sexual difficulties early. Discussing sexual issues segues into the idea of how we all too often obsess on our health/issues/illness as we age in the chapter called “I Won’t Join the Organ Recital.” Recently, in line at the pharmacy, I noticed a few older customers, strangers, discussing their colonoscopies much to the disgust of a few thirty somethings also waiting–a trapped and horrified audience. This is a perfect example of exactly what the author means by talking, sometimes exhaustively, about health issues, which, let’s face it, younger generations must find boring and embarrassing. Hoarding, driving, falling, hearing loss, personal cleanliness, grumpiness all come up for discussion.
Ultimately this is an extremely positive, life-affirming book. One chapter that stuck with me is: “I Won’t Stop Enjoying Myself,” for its great outlook. This book has a target audience, and while most of the content can be applied to all of us–some things are considerations for those who have the extra funds to apply to life (wardrobe, assisted living, reconsidering employment options). This is not a criticism of the book–just an observation. I’m also going to add that some of this is easier said than done. It’s one thing to be old but still be able to go sit in the garden and smell the roses–literally or figuratively, but quite another to keep up one’s spirits if you’re the 90 something wheelchair bound lady with oxygen in her nose who’s parked in the doctor’s office by her family who will “send someone to pick her up” tout suite (and yes, I just observed this to my horror). Finally Steven Petrow kept me entertained and engaged. I’d already started Swedish Death Cleaning (without knowing the term) and I’d already committed to embracing and enjoying my old age. But then some of us have a high happiness set point, and some of us don’t. In other words, some of us are destined to be old misery guts/ratbags. You know who you are. … Obviously the author is NOT one of those people: he’s a fan of Mel Brooks and stresses the importance of laughter. So here’s to enjoying ourselves: After all, we’re only old once.
The late great Madeline Kahn as Lili von Shtupp in Blazing Saddles