I feel old, especially in the mornings. I have my elderly affectations, of course - the pipe with a good Danish tobacco (though never in public), the licorice candy, and the occasional grunts of something that resembles "Get off my lawn".
But there are, too, concrete signs. Things that are supposed to make any red blooded American man want to run out and buy a fast car in flat denial of the tolls of nature, as much as the thought fills me with contempt.
Stray grey hairs, I think, would be the chief culprit here if I had a sense of vanity. The tough stuff is the hard hearing, tired bones, and a knee that still echoes fear in the cold morning air.
We used to joke about it, you know. Just like they say every cigarette costs you seven minutes off the end of your life, other things do to. There was an elaborate scoresheet, all reckoned by comparison with a constant, those theoretical seven minutes.
You have to take the theoretical damage of a single, amortized cigarette and judge (mostly subjectively, and mostly completely ignorantly of actual biology) the equivalent cost of similarly amortized physical insults inherent to doing stupid things in uniform.
How many cigarettes is jumping out of an airplane worth? Being shot in a given piece of anatomy? Being blown up in a particular way? How many fractions of a cigarette is each hour of lost sleep worth?
By the parts of the scoresheet I can remember, I'm about three hundred years old. And sometimes, I feel them all, like the wish for immortality without youth.
On my birthday earlier this year, I sat on a metal roof up in the mountains, watching early snow and throwing rocks. I made a few quick tabulations and found that I was a third of the way done with my time on the earth, and had spend over a quarter of my life so far fiddling around in Afghanistan like some kind of halfassed Connecticut Yankee.
Old, dammit. I feel old even as my parents evaporate in time lapse, growing less congruent with my memories each time I see them.
But today, despite the dicey trip down the stairs on a gimp hinge and knots in my back like golf balls, I felt buoyant. Invincible in a way that had been long lost, since at least the first time I got my ass kicked for real and had to stay home from school a few days to recuperate.
Today was Halloween, of course. My favorite day, my favorite time of year. Not yet the "holiday season" with all of the family baggage and insane consumerism that goes with it, the time of year I like to call "The Great American Mind Losing".
The weather was hideous. Grey and wet and freezing cold. The kind of day that, given the option, you would not move too far from an upholstered chair and a blanket and an oversized mug of anything steaming hot. No trick-or-treaters to laugh at our carved watermelons, so we laughed at them ourselves. And ate all the candy, too.
And as much as I would have liked to stay inside and sip tea all day in my disgusting faux-velvet robe and slippers, I got dressed up in my human outfit and drove the long gray drive down to the county courthouse. Open, of course, since Halloween is not a "real" holiday in the eyes of Authority.
We picked today to get married so that I'd never forget our anniversary. Never lose it among the dates and years and loose datum like an earring dropped in the dishwasher.
Even tonight, with the newly legal Mrs. tucked into bed for an early morning, I can't help but look back on the existential dread of life expectancy algebra and feel that the destination was worth the layovers.