Friday, March 30, 2012

Wait, is that brain surgeon in high school?

You know when it hit me? When sports announcers started describing athletes who were my age as "old men" or "crusty veterans."

That's when I realized I wasn't 25 years old anymore and never would be again.

When you're growing up, most of the people you meet are older than you. That's all you know, and therefore it becomes your default world view: "I'm a young person."

There is no definite, defined time when you cross over from "young" to "middle aged" (or, in my kids' view, just plain "old"). You can't definitely say it happens at your 30th birthday or your 35th or your 50th or whatever. It just happens gradually and at different rates for everyone.

But at some point, you inevitably become not-so-young-anymore. And that's when you start to realize that many of the people in positions of authority seem to be 12 years old. Like policemen, for example. There apparently was a worldwide effort to install adolescents as police officers and no one bothered to tell me about it.

I look at the cops driving around my city and I want to say, "That's awfully nice they let you take the big police car out, Johnny, but you better get back and do your homework."

Same thing with doctors. I was under the impression that it took a certain minimum number of years of training to become a physician. Then I underwent a very male-oriented birth control procedure and my urologist looked like he was in grade school. Seriously, I couldn't figure out why they had assigned a sixth-grade intern to perform what I considered to be a very delicate procedure.

(For the record, Dr. Schneider was very good at his job. But that doesn't change the fact that once he finished with me, he probably went home to watch reruns of the "Power Rangers.")

It's the athlete thing that really blew me away, though. I've been a sports fan my entire life, and when I was a kid, professional athletes seemed impossibly old and mature. Then I turned 18 and noticed that most of them weren't much older than me. Then I turned 30 and realized that, if I had had the talent to become, say, a professional baseball player, reporters would probably be describing me as "on the downside" of my career.

Then I hit 40 and couldn't help but observe that there aren't a lot of 40-year-old professional athletes. And the ones who are still around are able to maintain their jobs mostly thanks to very favorable genes that make them appear to be 25.

Now many of the coaches are younger than I am. My last refuge is that the owners and front-office people are generally my age or older, so I at least have those guys to make fun of and call old fogeys.

Of course, athletes work on a very compressed timeline in which today's 24-year-old phenom is tomorrow's 31-year-old veteran journeyman. The life cycle of an athlete is relatively short, and I suppose the goal is to make as much money as you can by the time you're 35 so you can figure out what to do with the next 50-plus years of your life.

Another interesting thing I've noticed is that certain ages no longer seem old to me. When I was 12, if you would have told me that a 60-year-old had just died, I would have thought, "Well, YEAH, of course he did. He was 60, for crying out loud!" Now I hear about 60-year-olds passing away and I think, "That's terrible! He was so young."

I've not quite reached the point where I regularly read the obituaries (the "Irish sports page," as I've heard them called), but I admit that I will sneak a glance now and then. Usually it's just to see if I recognize someone's parents or grandparents. It won't be too many decades before I'll be adding "classmates" and "contemporaries" to my search list.

Having a daughter going to college and a niece giving birth in the same year doesn't help, nor does the white hair that rings my head (though my standards have shifted such that just keeping my hair, whatever color it wants to be, is the main goal).

The funny thing is, 10 years from now I'll be saying how great it would be to be 42 again. After a certain point, unless you're unusually well adjusted, you're never quite satisfied with your current age. So you complain. It's what we do, especially in this youth-crazed society.

Seriously, though, a urologist shouldn't look like he just came back from a school field trip. I'm just saying.

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