I deny, but aging is a game I’m still trying to win

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Illustration by Marley Allen-Ash

“You don’t have to queue, sir,” says VIA’s signalman. “You can wait here at the front of the line.”

“Really why?”

“It’s for people who need help boarding. Families with small children and…”

He will say. I know he will say it.

“… Senior citizens.”

As we board comfortably ahead of everyone else, I say to my wife, who accepts our status far more confidently than I do, “Is it really that obvious?”

“Yes dear. It’s so obvious.”

But do I have to like that?

I don’t feel like a senior. I still feel, well, maybe not young, but certainly not old. shall we say – mediocre? Alas, my appearance says otherwise.

In fact, I really don’t like the whole concept of “senior”. It proposes early bird dinners at 4:30 and lawn bowling and walking sticks and places billed as ‘retirement centers’.

I know there’s a senior center in Kingston. I’m sure it’s a perfect place. They offer a plethora of classes and programs. I just have no interest in rug hooking or line dancing. At least not yet. Maybe they would lure me in if they changed the name to, say, “Lots of Interest for People of All Ages.” Or not.

My mother also hated admitting her age. It was only when I read my grandfather’s diaries that I found out that she was born in 1915 and not 1916. Mom moved into a retirement home when she was almost 90, but dismissed the identical building next door as a “retirement home.” Hers was just an “apartment”. So if I have a denial problem, I learned it on my mother’s knee.

Not long ago, at the box office of our local movie theater, they asked, “A senior?” I’d evade or do a silly crack, “Do I look like a senior?” But in the end, I’d take the cheaper price.

Now nobody asks anymore. I think it’s so obvious.

I’m not a puritan about that. If someone offers me a discount, I shut up and accept it. But as long as there is no tangible, ie monetary, benefit to my senior status, I do my best to ignore it and sometimes show small symbolic demonstrations of resistance.

“Would you like some takeout, sir?” asks the liquor store clerk as she wraps a case of wine. I have a standard response: “No thanks. If I can’t wear it, I shouldn’t drink it.” This usually brings a smile and preserves my dignity.

While I know that aging is a game where the house always wins in the end, I try to exercise and keep my body functioning so I can at least carry what I drink.

I assume you’ve heard that as you get older you should be walking 10,000 steps a day. But where does this number come from?

I Googled it and scrolled through topics like “Aging Better in Uncertain Times” and “Seven Soup Recipes for Seniors.” (Do seniors really need a special “senior soup”? I hope the café at the senior center knows this.) At one point I came across an article about the “10,000 step myth”. It has been claimed that the requirement stems from a marketing ploy for a Japanese pedometer called Manpo-kei, which – you guessed it – means “10,000 Step Meter” and has no scientific basis.

I’m relieved because I realized that 10,000 is a hell of a lot of steps. My favorite hiking spot is Fort Henry Hill in Kingston. There are beautiful sunsets and a hill big enough that my exercise can be described as a hike rather than a walk.

Which brings me to an admission. I own walking sticks, or as I prefer to call them, “hiking sticks”. I don’t like being seen with them, but I see others blowing up Fort Henry Hill with them, which alleviates the stigma. A little bit.

When I tackled the hill for the first time, I was sure that I had managed a good 10,000 steps. But when I checked my phone, ready to bask in my accomplishment, the step count read a measly 3,827. For real? Since then I’ve lengthened my route, but I’ve barely cracked 5,000 steps. Maybe something is wrong with my phone.

One day a woman in Fort Henry called out, “Young man!” Is she talking to me? “Young man! May I take your picture?” I can’t imagine why but she called me “young man” so why not? Then she dumps the moment I walk away by shouting, “Young man! Be careful! Do not fall!”

Do I really look that tired?

Last winter I did fall cross-country skiing. It was on a small hill but a ski twisted under me and caught in a bush by the side of the trail. I flopped around awkwardly, trying to untangle myself.

I blocked the slope and was soon surrounded by half a dozen skiers, all looking concerned – far more concerned than the situation deserved.

“Did you fall?” asks a woman.

Embarrassed at my clumsiness, I became a little irritated. “I’m fine. Please. Just keep going.”

Then another skier and his son: “Are you all right, sir?”

“I’m doing well!!”

The father said to his son, “We just want to make sure he’s okay… He’s a senior.”

Do these humiliations never end?

So, to sum it up, the tricks I learned against the creeping old age: Cross-country skiing and not falling, walk as many steps as possible and carry your own wine to the car.

And since there’s no shame, maybe just accept your seniority, your walking sticks and all, and the wisdom that supposedly comes with it. And next time the liquor store clerk offers me a takeout, I might just take it.

Douglas Bowie lives in Kingston, Ontario.

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