Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Journal of the Plague Months: Vol. 2:, No. 4 -- I'm now invisible — and it ain’t no movie

In a long-ago conversation, Patti Thorn — then the book editor of The Rocky Mountain News — told me that she once asked her father to tell her what he considered the worst thing about aging. A lawyer by trade, her father told her that as one becomes older, one becomes increasingly invisible.

If you haven’t had your 70th birthday yet, you may want to stop reading here or you can consider this a preview of coming attractions.

The argument goes something like this: Once you are no longer a certifiably productive member of the economy, your status as a human being begins to diminish. If you don’t believe me, I can assure you that it’s true: Even doctors, who should know better, don’t talk to me in quite the same way they did when I was 50 — and I’m in relatively good health on the eve of my 77th birthday.

The average lifespan for an American male in 2017 was 78.5 years. On average, women get another three-plus-years?

Should I allow that number to determine whether I get my next colonoscopy? Do I really want discounted multiple-year subscriptions to any of the magazines I read? How soon will it be before I'm reluctant to start a 500-page book?

One of the signs that you’ve gotten old arrives when you’re in a room full of your grown children and their children and they all begin talking about you in the third person. They might say things such as, “He didn’t hear you,” which might or might not be true, but which they yell at one another as if they’re the ones who are having difficulty hearing.

And, yes, my hearing isn’t what it used to be.

My personal march toward invisibility took another big step Monday, when Gov. Jared Polis of Colorado, debuted his “Safer at Home” plan as part of his phased (I’d say jumbled and possibly unworkable) plan to reopen Colorado’s economy.

As a person who by age has taken up residence in a high-risk group, I’m not ashamed to say I'm rattled. But wait: If I get seriously ill, there may be a hospital bed for me. Capacity levels are strong in Colorado. I’ll have a fighting chance at recovery. What more could I want?

My governor tells me that the solution for me is to remain in self-isolation. So unless we grocery shop at the same stores, you won’t be seeing me for at least a month. And even, then, you may not recognize me because I’ll be wearing a mask.

In fact, I may be wearing a mask well into the indefinite future whenever I’m in public. My face will stay hidden until there's a vaccine, a fact that many may regard as one of the few blessings of this otherwise cruel moment.

“Now it (social distancing) enters the time of individual responsibility and choices,” said the governor at a Monday briefing. “And I trust the people of Colorado to make good choices.”

Individual responsibility is good, but it's no substitute for vigorous government action during a life-threatening pandemic -- at least that's my view.

For the record, I’m going to remain self-isolated, invisible to most, and, if I’m lucky, alive.

For some seniors, it’s also a time of Russian roulette should they choose not to stay home.

“Your May will look like your April if you are 75 or 80, and this is important because this is Russian roulette if you are that age,” he said.

Russian roulette? He couldn’t find a less ominous metaphor? I and many of the people with whom I socialize during normal times are now playing Russian roulette with our lives? Maybe we should all re-watch The Deer Hunter (1978), the movie that dealt with Russian roulette as a form of war-induced madness. We can imagine the virus screaming as it leers over us, enjoying our fear.

But back to the more general subject of invisibility. Let me say it plainly: The fewer predictable life years that lie ahead of you, the less valuable your life may become — economically and socially.

Albert Einstein was 76 when he died. Einstein or an unemployed member of Generation Z who’s living in his parents’ basement? I don't mean to be crass, but bye-bye, Albert.

Feel reassured by the steady, data-driven intelligence of Dr. Anthony Fauci. He’s 79. See ya, doc.

Just turned 80? Prepare for society to say bon voyage. Oh, and by the way, no one’s going to be popping any champagne corks at your farewell.

You may be gone old-timer, but — at least in Colorado — the nail salons will be open and those who wish to do so will be able to get a tattoo.

Hey, no one ever said life isn’t about trade-offs.

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