Tuesday, May 22, 2018
One of America's Great Newspapers ~ Toledo, Ohio

Paddy O'Gara

COMMENTARY

Setting the bar at 77

On Wednesday, I celebrated my 77th birthday. It was a muted affair, owing to my hermit lifestyle and waning faculties.

Carnival atmosphere was in noticeably short supply. If I was not a slippered pantaloon before, I certainly qualify now. As the veteran jazzman Eubie Blake once mused: “If I’d known I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself.’’ Too late now.

Strange changes are taking place in my body. I’m probably getting shorter by the year, but every day my feet seem to be further away from my hands — the sheer effort of putting on socks is beginning to defeat me. I now have the eyebrows of a symphony conductor, but I can no longer hear the high notes. Still, I will quash the rumor that a team of archaeologists unearthed some of my toenail clippings and reconstructed a pterodactyl. Fake news!

The grizzly process of becoming ancient makes me philosophical. Things could easily be far worse. For a start, I could be dead. Many of my dear friends are.

But I’m still on this side of the veil, and my life’s been a breeze, comparatively speaking. I’ve never had to hold down a “proper” job, for example. When I started out in journalism, well more than half a century ago, my first boss told me “you’ll never get rich doing this, but it’s better than working.” He was correct on both counts.

I’ve never been obliged to don a uniform, tote a rifle, march in lock step behind a flag along with a thousand other automatons shouting, “God save the queen,” or “God bless America,” or just “Yee-haw!” I am grateful. Albert Einstein felt the same way about marching men, “You don’t need a brain to do that,” he said. “Only a spinal column.”

I never had to carry a gun, and I have never owned, handled, or fired one, either. Pure luck.

There’s quite a list of things I’ve never done, and now never will. I will never buy Bitcoins, “tweet” anyone, get tattooed, watch the “Oscar” award ceremony, work at a Taco Bell drive-thru, or take Donald Trump seriously.

On the list of things I have done and won’t do again: marathon running, roller skating, skiing, scuba diving, riding a motorcycle, eating McNuggets, betting on harness races, drinking blue cocktails, dancing the foxtrot, and sitting through Porgy and Bess. All gone — gone with the wind, thank goodness.

So much to not do — so little time!

It wasn’t always so. Many years ago I was active on several fronts, including what some call “the Romantic.” Not long ago my wife pointed out that nowadays, when I see a pretty woman and a dog pass by, I focus on the dog first.

Which brings me to the final list: Things I haven’t yet done, but might, if I can summon up the energy. These include finally reading Proust, learning to use my hearing aid, and surviving to mark my 78th birthday solemnities.

A list that’s neither extensive nor ambitious. But at my age, it’s advisable to set the bar good and low.

Patrick O'Gara, a former Blade editor, was a journalist all his working life. He now lives in Northern Spain with five dogs, two cats and eight hens, and a tolerant American wife. Contact him at pogara@theblade.com.

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