Nov 25, 2012
If I Knew I Was Gonna Live This Long
All Rights Reserved © 2010 Thomas W. Day
One of my favorite R&R guys, Al Kooper, wrote an autobiography titled Backstage Passes and Backstabbing Bastards. For most of my life, I thought he'd planned to call the book "If I Knew I Was Gonna Live This Long, I'd Have Taken Better Care of Myself." Turned out, I was wrong. Mr. Kooper personally made that clear to me. He firmly claims he never said that. It turns out that an even bigger hero of mine, Will Rogers, made that statement. Even better.
Earlier this year, I had an article published in a music magazine and a friend used that as an excuse to reconnect. He was a little surprised that I was still doing stuff in music because the last time we talked I told him I was "retired." To me, being retired means I don't do stuff I don't like to do and I don't work 80-hour weeks. He has always been smart enough to avoid doing work he doesn't like and he still likes putting in long days. I did too, when I was 50. At sixty-something . . . not so much.
For some people, sixty feels a lot like fifty or even forty. I keep hearing "sixty is the new forty." For most of us, sixty is definitely sixty . . . and old. Exercise and diet help, but some of the most careful, conditioned people I have known have come apart and, even, died in what really was middle-age. Some of the least-cared-for folks I've ever known seemed to get a second wind at sixty and took off for a decade or two of high activity. Luck, as always, seems to have a hand in how we age. I've had more than my share of luck. Since I never expected to live past 30, living twice that long is freakin' amazing.
For those of us who have the "jock tendency," our past life catches up about this time. Every bone I've broken, every tendon I've ripped, and every muscle I've carelessly abused has its say when I get out of bed in the morning. My back--that poorly designed collection of soft tissue, hard tissue, harder tissue, and fluid--is so screwed up that I suspect I'm growing Stegosaurus plates just above my hips. I'm not flexible enough to inspect any part of my back, so if the plates are there I'm just going to ignore them until I discover I can't lie flat on my back. Some nights, getting into a comfortable sleeping position seems to take all night. My doc calls all this "the payback for years of use and abuse." Screw him.
So, while we discussed my ancient history, my recently-reconnected friend asked "Would you do it all over again, knowing you'd wear out this soon?" I don't know if I'd call myself "worn out," but I'm definitely worn down.
I was never a good jock, just an energetic one. I played football, basketball, baseball, racquetball, tennis, wrestled, bicycled, and did some martial arts. I rode a whole bunch of off-road motorcycles, from flat track to motocross to observed trials (chronologically). Pretty much every one of those activities cost me an injury or ten. I loved flailing away at all of those sports, especially basketball and cross-country motorcycle racing. I've always been short, slow, unable to jump over a brand new dime, and beginning in my mid-40's I spent a good portion of my time hopelessly trying to avoid being fat. But I've also been fairly strong with good endurance, I have a high threshold of pain, and a pretty good grasp of strategy. So, I suck; but not badly enough that I don't get to play.
That's all that matters. Getting to play.
So, would I do all the crazy crap I did, knowing that I'd be paying this aching price today? Yeah, I would still do most everything again. Don't get me wrong, if I could avoid repeating the really stupid stuff, I'd do it. But if the only way to avoid injury is not to play, I'd play. If the only way to avoid being a creaky old man was to be a careful young man, damn the torpedoes and let's jump into the fire mixing metaphors all the way.
I had some fun out there. I can remember the feel of the wind and dirt in my face from a thousand reasonably well-executed corners and jumps. I remember passes and getting passed and those moments still give me pleasure. I can close my eyes and feel the bike vibrating beneath me and all the motorcycles around me shaking the gate (or the stretched tire tube), waiting for it to drop (or snap) and the start of a race. I hope I will always wish I'd have played more, not less. I wish I'd have invested more money in a competitive bike and practiced more, been faster, taken more chances, started earlier. More memories would be better now than the minor advantage of a little less pain.
In fact, I am still planning a few adventures that could easily add to my pain locker's contents. If I can figure out how to get around the disadvantage of only speaking English, I want to ride the Pan American Highway. Compensating for the English-only disadvantage, I'd like to explore North Africa's Roman ruins. New Zealand, Australia, and Europe are on the list, too. I want to go back to Alaska and, this time, make it to Deadhorse. I still have a few Rocky Mountain ghost towns left to visit. If you have advice or suggestions on hitting any of those targets, I'm all eyes and ears. As every geezer knows, the only resource that is absolutely limited is time. Do it now, or risk never doing it. Life is shorter and sweeter than you think.