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Just a Kid at Heart: Battling age — shear power

When did it all change? To my generation “spam” was an inexpensive sandwich meat; now it’s unwanted e-mails.

To my generation a “curser” was someone who had a limited vocabulary; now it’s a little arrow that moves around on my computer screen.

To my generation “google” was a very large number – a 1 followed by 100 zeroes; now it’s the answer to any question you can possibly conceive.

Can you imagine the puzzled look you would get if you told your children or grandchildren to look something up in the World Book encyclopedia or if you asked them to put a roll of film in a camera, or if you told them to dial a number on the telephone?

I still remember all of my friends’ telephone numbers from over 50 years ago. Now I can’t tell you the telephone numbers of our own children. All I have to do is look at my phone and say, “Call Carrie or call Scott.”

In some ways technology has made life easier, but I think it has also made it more confusing. Sometimes I wish I could be a kid again.

When one of our grandsons was 4, I took him fishing. It was one of those perfect puffy- cloud kind of days so I paused to ask him what he saw when he looked at the clouds. 

Without hesitation he responded by stating, “I see a baby, a boat without a motor, a chameleon and a turtle with a fish in its mouth.” 

Youthful eyes see beyond the surface. My eyes had evidently aged, along with the rest of me and so I wrote:


Today I leaned back and looked at the clouds just as I had done as a child.  I studied them to see if I could see a dragon, an elephant, or maybe the face of someone I once knew. But I only saw clouds. My imagination was gone I had grown up And I was saddened

I may have been experiencing what is commonly called a midlife crisis. I was afraid I had forgotten how to think like a child and act like a child so my wife and I flew to Disney World. I was instantly transported back to my youth. There was definitely something magical in the air until I heard a small child ask, “Mommy, why is that old man budging in line to have his picture taken with Mickey?” The magic was broken.

I do believe there’s a tiny piece of Peter Pan in each of us – the remnant of a young boy or girl who just doesn’t want to grow up. In April 2002 I turned 52. Being of semi-sound mind and body I planned a day of activity to demonstrate I still had a few good years left before retiring to the rocking chair.

I began with an early morning bike ride. This was my day, and I was determined to make the best of it. While pedaling past the high school’s outdoor track I decided a little walking exercise couldn’t hurt. After setting a brisk pace for three laps, I jogged the fourth, stretching dormant leg muscles and breathing the fresh spring air. Nothing strenuous, mind you, just good old-fashioned, middle-aged exercise.

That’s when I saw it – the starting line for the 100-yard dash. I continued my jog while searching for the finish line. Even though it was much further down the track than I remembered, a ridiculous boyish thought floated through my mind. I could do it. I could go back and sprint those hundred yards. Oh, not in 11 or 12 seconds, but I could actually do it. Anything under 20 seconds would be considered victory at my age.

At the starting line I crouched and cleared my brain of all rational thoughts. Somewhere in the shallows of my mind, a starting pistol sounded. I exploded off the line, legs stretching to reach their full stride, and arms pumping like a well-tuned engine.

Twenty yards and everything was going fine. I was pushing past 30 yards when my rhythmic breathing turned to gasps. It was during one of those gasps that I swallowed a bug. I choked, coughed, and sputtered, but I didn’t stop. I pushed harder, and a pain shot through my right thigh. I limped across the finish line in just under a minute.

I felt like I had been in a battle with age, and age won. After a hot bath and an ice pack I would contemplate my next adventure. The score was Age – 1, Me – 0, but the day was young, and there were more battles to be fought.

Growing older isn’t so bad when you know your limitations, and someday, just maybe, I’ll realize mine.

Of course, Deb just shook her head before saying, “What were you thinking? You usually play it safe and don’t take chances. You’re not a kid anymore.”

As I struggle to understand my limitations, I am troubled by the fact that my adventurous, youthful side is slipping away.

Youth meant power and a carefree spirit that bordered on reckless abandonment. The reckless abandonment I can do without, but that “power” thing – a man still needs power, in some form, to feel complete.

As a kid that was demonstrated by careening down the highest hill on a bicycle in summer and a toboggan in winter.  As a teen, power and freedom were found behind the wheel of my ‘57 Chevy, but in past years that feeling has slipped away, like a chunk of Jell-O off a warm plate. 

Deb sensed my frustration, so to help me accept the fact that a more sensible lifestyle might be in order, she asked to see my hands. I thought she was going to point out my age spots or the thinness of my skin. It’s true that I have age spots and it’s also true that the skin on my hands is thinner than it used to be, but that can be a source of enjoyment. Go into the McDonald’s  restroom sometime and use the hand dryer. The blower is so powerful it makes the skin on the back of my hands move like waves on a lake. It’s kind of entertaining. 

But Deb didn’t want to see my age spots or my thin skin; she wanted to see my fingers. She said she had just read an article that explained that people who have a ring finger that is longer than their index finger are more prone to be risk takers. She was sure that my ring finger would be way shorter than my index finger. To her surprise (and mine) my ring finger was considerably longer than my index finger – on both hands. . . . I’m a risk taker! I had just never had it pointed out to me before. It felt as though I had found the fountain of youth.

It was time to take another trip to Disney. This time we took our kids and grandkids along. I remembered how young I felt the last time we were there, and I was sure this trip would put that missing bounce back in my step.

The grandkids rushed to every roller coaster, and I was right behind them. Signs were posted by each dangerous ride that said

Warning! “For safety, you should be in good health and free from high blood pressure, heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness, or other conditions that could be aggravated by this adventure. Expectant mothers should not ride.” 

That didn’t stop me. Disney employees looked at me as if to question my age, health or sanity and then they pointed to the sign. I quickly pointed to my fingers. “I’m a risk taker,” I proudly professed.

I was strapped into a seat at Tower of Terror. I road all the roller coasters we could find – Big Thunder Mountain, Splash Mountain, the Seven Dwarfs Mine Train, Slinky Dog Dash, Expedition Everest, Space Mountain (twice), and the Aerosmith Rock and Roller Coaster. It goes from 0 to 57mph in just 2.8 seconds, and it has 4 to 5 G turns. For comparison, a rocket launch is 3 G. I put the yoke down to hold me in, but my sweatshirt was in my lap so I don’t think I got it down all the way. We hit the first turn, and my head slammed into the yoke on the left side. We hit the second turn and my head slammed into the yoke on my right side. One minute and 22 seconds later I wobbled off the ride (unassisted). 

Disney is definitely magical, but there are also ways, much closer to home, to fulfill that need for power while rekindling that youthful spirit. 

A co-worker went out and bought himself a big, fancy fishing boat with a 225 horsepower outboard motor. Last summer, he took me for a ride, and as we sped down the lake. I could see the contentment on his face as his hand slammed the throttle down – a true sign of freedom and shear power.

A life-long friend, who can be a bit impulsive, went out and bought a Harley Davidson motorcycle.  Every time he turns the key, the throaty roar of the engine puts a smile on his face, and the vibrations send tremors through his thighs and forearms– a true sign of freedom and shear power.

So naturally, I was itching to get a machine that would rekindle that youthful feeling in me, too.  After all, my ring finger is longer than my index finger. I needed a machine that would fit my risk-taker lifestyle – and maybe even stretch my pocketbook to some degree.  

But, what the heck, sometimes you just have to throw caution to the wind, go out on a limb, and live a little. A feeling of power is a feeling of manhood. That excited me. I wanted something that would give me endless hours of pleasure while making me feel that surge of energy I’d been missing for so long.

I researched, talked to dealers, and tried out some of the better models.  Finally I was ready.  I bit the bullet and made my purchase.  Right when I got home I wasted no time in trying it out.  I flipped the switch, and it felt like I had unending power in my hands.  I felt like a man an uninhibited man able to do what I wanted, when I wanted.

Yes, without a doubt, the Hoover Wind Tunnel was the machine for me.  My middle-aged friends could leave others in the dust, but I . . . well, I could pick up that dust, every bit of it – a true sign of power for this 68-year-old risk taker.

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