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And now, a time to savor the fury


© St. Petersburg Times, published September 26, 2000

I'm not middle-aged anymore. I'm 691/2. I'm old. Now, I'm an official curmudgeon, and I am "shocked, shocked" at the modern world and love to complain about it. I'm not alone. In his book The Force of Character and the Lasting Life (Random House, $24), James Hillman writes: "Fury in old age is a regular phenomenon."

"Neither Swift nor Mencken," he writes, "neither Marx nor Dorothy Parker could have written a word without it." He thinks maybe we should replace Descartes' "Cogito ergo sum" ("I think, therefore I am") with "I am irritated, therefore I am."

Here are some things that make me angry:

* * *

Daylight Savings Time. It doesn't save a minute. It's a mechanical pretense invented by humans. The sun and moon rise and set as usual, and so do I.

The huge amount of money spent on sports facilities compared to the small amount spent on schools and education.

Not being able to remember names and words. Memory is like a computer. After 69 years, I've stuffed so much trivia into my head that it takes a minute to bring it up on my interior computer screen. I see blueberries but can't remember the word "cobbler." I can, however, remember things from high school in the '40s, such as the name of that cute soda jerk at the corner drugstore.

I put eggs on to boil and remember them when the water is sizzling on the bottom of the pan and the eggs are about to explode.

"Alzheimer's," I think. "I'm getting Alzheimer's."

I do recall old stories, telling the favorites over and over, always repeating them word for word, exactly like the last time. Adult children are polite; they don't roll their eyes, but they do get a blank look on their faces as they wait for the story to finish ... one more time. (Want to hear my story about the time I got to interview Dick Cavett? He said an anagram of my name, Niela, is Alien.)

I scoff at tomatoes and other foods being labeled "organic." What else can they be? I know, I know, it means they were grown without harmful chemicals, but it sounds silly. Next thing you know, we'll have "inorganic" salt or maybe "low-fat" orange juice.

I go bonkers at hearing the word "like" incorporated into every sentence. Sometimes I begin repeating the word each time it's said, whether I know the speaker or not. In the grocery line, for instance, people ahead of me are, like, talking and I, like, start repeating the word, like, every time they, like, say it. This brings confused looks. I ignore them.

I rage when I hear people pronounce "nuclear" as "nook-you-ler" instead of "noo-klee-ar."

I rage at movies that have no dialogue except vulgarities and no plot other than car crashes. I've walked out of three movies in the last six months, asked for my money back and once got it. I know I am not alone, because the theater manager told me that several other people walked out of that film.

I still enjoy my old movies at home on videotape: Annie Hall, Life of Brian, Bagdad Cafe, Casablanca:

"Of all the gin joints in the world, she has to walk into mine," growls Humphrey Bogart, playing Rick. I am desolate that my favorite actor and grumpy old man, Walter Matthau, is gone.

Our sleep patterns change as we age. I go to bed early and get up early. Then I'm annoyed that no one else is up. It seems as if I've been up for hours but can't make phone calls because it is only 7:30 a.m. Why aren't businesses open and ready to talk when I am? Then I'm cranky when people call me at 3 p.m. and wake me from my afternoon nap.

But enough carping. Even young people are getting older. Boomers are turning 50. Serves them right, too.

- Write to Niela M. Eliason in care of Seniority, St. Petersburg Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731.

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