Observations: Old and crabby

Published on: March 24, 2011

For some a motorcycle may seem to be a symbol of a midlife crisis.  For me it is an escape from the crisis. Mitch Traphagen Photo

For some a motorcycle may seem to be a symbol of a midlife crisis. For me it is an escape from the crisis. Mitch Traphagen Photo

By Mitch Traphagen

I woke up early this morning and realized that lately, more often than not, I have mundane dreams. When I don’t wake up screaming, that is.

Years ago, I heard an overly generalized maxim that stated if you haven’t contributed to science by the age of 30, you never will. In my case, it will no doubt be true. At 48, my sole contribution to science could only be as postmortem parts in specimen jar. I must have been daydreaming on the day we covered balancing chemical equations in high school chemistry and somehow I never caught up after that.

I’m sure there are a lot of things that should happen before turning 30, but that’s not really my concern anymore. I’m more concerned about what should happen before turning 50 or 60. I think that my sleeping brain is trying to tell me I’m in the wrong place. Unfortunately, it isn’t considerate enough to tell me where the right place is.

I sometimes think that people are getting nuttier by the day. I don’t mean individuals;  I mean the collective mind—it seems like society is losing it. What do we value?  What is the nature of our national soul?  At first glance, it would seem as though we value celebrity and ways to amass outrageous quantities of money, judging by the cash that sports stars, television and movie actors, Wall Street wunderkinds, and even celebrity politicians rake in. Science doesn’t seem to be a part of that fixation. Sure, Albert Einstein was a celebrity, but that was a long time ago. In 1921, New York City threw a ticker tape parade for Einstein. Can you imagine anyone throwing a parade for a physicist today?  Could most people even name a living physicist?

I’m not seeking fame or fortune (although the latter would be nice); I am seeking purpose and I don’t think I’m alone in that quest. I love Sun City Center and I am certain that I could randomly knock on doors to get interesting stories to fill this newspaper for as long as I live. Many people living there, perhaps without even realizing it, have found their purpose in life; but there is also a recognizable population that apparently hasn’t. They are easy to spot with their mouths formed into permanent frowns, visibly ready and loaded to attack anything they find irritating—and they find a lot that is irritating. Life, it seems, has ripped them off and they are angry about it.

I worry that will be me someday. I catch myself frowning. I catch myself being irritated at things that I would have chuckled at a few years ago. Is that what getting older is?  Does it mean losing elasticity and becoming rigid?

Seriously, when I was young, if a kid had his pants down far enough to show off his underwear someone would have smacked him. That kid wouldn’t have been safe on the streets of Worthington, Minnesota in 1975 because someone, somewhere, would have physically set that kid straight. When I was young, I would have laughed. In fact, I was something of a precursor. In high school, I played guitar in a bad rock band and I lived the role. One day I was pulled out of class by a teacher who suggested that I ask my parents to purchase new jeans because mine had holes in the knees. I thought they were cool, but though the teacher was courteous, he found them irritating. But oh—had I been showing my underwear, my head would have been stinging on the long walk home.

I thought I was being an individual, I thought I was expressing myself, and I expected understanding from everyone. Quite possibly kids with their pants hanging down think and expect the same thing. But now that I’m older, I find myself wanting to smack them upside the head. What has happened to me?  Even the preceding paragraph that began with, “when I was young” is a huge red flag that has old, rigid, crabby guy written all over it.

I’m starting to think that a midlife crisis isn’t so much a desperate attempt to reclaim lost youth as it is a last-ditch effort to find some purpose — and to prove that getting old doesn’t mean getting crabby. I think the fact that I have to stop myself from slapping obnoxious teenagers is a dangerous indicator that I’m heading towards old and crabby.

I’m worried my dreams at night are telling me the same thing. I know that life is short and I know the clock is ticking. But I also know it isn’t over yet, despite the fact that I haven’t contributed to science. I don’t know what the future will bring — I just hope I don’t find it irritating. And I seriously hope it doesn’t involve baggy pants with my underwear showing.

If you are older than I am and know the secrets — or if you are younger than I am and have all the answers, my email is I’ll be waiting to hear from you. Until then, I think I’ll hop on my motorcycle and think about quantum physics—because you just never know.

P.S.  It took a while to start it because I haven’t ridden in so long and in the process I think I irritated a neighbor. But once I hit the highway, I certainly wasn’t frowning.