The Muddle of Middle Age
February 9, 2011, by Prudence Baird
A telephone survey has Prudence coming to grips with middle age and beyond
Recently, a marketing firm contacted me looking for a Baby Boomer willing to talk candidly about a variety of subjects ranging from plastic surgery to (ahem) performance-enhancing supplements.
Never shy about broadcasting my opinions, I agreed. I am, after all, a member of the me generation that was promised 15 minutes of fame. Each. Never mind that the infant terrible who made this promise is long dead, so can’t be held accountable. And talking to a telemarketer isn’t exactly fame, per se.
The thirtysomething professional on the other end of the phone reminded me of myself—albeit a two-decade-earlier self, when I, too, thought of age 50 as an impossibly faraway place that would somehow recede into the distance the closer I got to it. Her tone was all Law & Order; clinically pleasant with a dash of disbelief, as if she were interviewing a member of a soon-to-be-extinct species, which technically she was. After all, a Baby Boomer dies every 34 seconds, roughly 2,500 every 24 hours, a rate that is expected to increase with each passing year.
The interview, mostly about my purchases aimed at enhancing my health and longevity, goes well until, “So what do old people think about….”
My stunned silence forces the interviewer to rephrase her question.
“What do older people think about…”
What the fuck difference is there between old and older?
Besides, isn’t the point of the interview that we Boomers—my peers and I—are a vital, and influential group of consumers; not young, but certainly not old?
In truth, “middle age” is a misnomer. Looking at the issue from Chandler Bing’s point of view (sorry, he’s the only actuary I know), at 55, I’m past middle age by about 15 years. If I die smack dab in the middle of the actuary tables, my middle age—middle as in median—was 40.5 years old; a time when I was still nursing baby #2. Every year after that is a walk down Banana Peel Hill in slippery bottomed shoes.
When she turned 50, Dorothy Parker observed that “People ought to be one of two things—young or old.” She quickly recanted, “No, people ought to be one of two things—young or dead.”
Apparently, Mrs. Parker isn’t the only one who thinks poorly of the transitional period between true middle age and, well, death.
I remembered standing curbside in Los Angeles a few years ago with a 20something friend as a flotilla of fat geezers roared by on Harleys, strands of frizzy silver hair flying out from under helmets, leather vests festooned with studs and fringe; sun-burned upper arms jiggling from the strain of controlling 100 horsepower machines. The noise from half-a-dozen dual exhaust valves was deafening. When we removed our hands from our ears, my companion snarled, “Boomers! Can’t wait ‘til they’re all dead.”
I don’t blame Generations X & Y for feeling that way. They’ve been tossed about in our wake for decades. And, while we’re still here, cutting a wide, possession-strewn path across the planet, we American Boomers tie-up $28 trillion in assets—everything from beachfront second homes to 401(k) accounts groaning with cash. Who can blame those in our shadow and Madison Avenue for circling us like buzzards?
But back to the phone call. After it is over, I glance outside. A leaden gray winter’s sky struggles to snow, and the earth, barren of green, awaits a mantle of white.
For all intents and purposes, many of us are in the winter of our lives. But winter isn’t the end; winter isn’t something that needs to be “fixed” with products and procedures. Winter is not a punishment for summer’s excess, nor should we pretend it away.
Winter has its own majesty as do spring, summer and fall. And while marketing types scramble for new ways to cure winter and milk the Baby Boomer cash cow at least one more time, I’m going to settle in with a nice hot mug of green tea and appreciate however many winters I have left, one snowflake at a time.