Someone asked me the other day how it felt to be a senior citizen. I almost decked the dude despite the torn rotator cuff in my right shoulder.
For me, the golden years came and went decades ago. It began the day my mother pushed me out and ended the day before I started kindergarten. It has been pretty much downhill from there. OK, I'm kidding. Maybe I'm not.
But really. Think about it. We had food, clothing and shelter on the cuff. We were played with and cared for. We did not have to, say, go to school, hold down a job, pay bills and deal with idiots on the road or throughout most walks of life. Everybody, most everybody, thought we were cute. Nothing in our bodies ached at all.
These thoughts popped into my noggin as I took in a Prudential Financial TV commercial asking folks who was the oldest person they knew.
Someone in my family reached 104. Of course, it was a woman, my paternal grandmother. American guys, on average, die at least five years before the fairer but stronger sex. We don't need no stinking scientific study to know why. Honey-doing and the stress from trying to complete the to-do list that never gets completed usually signals an earlier grave for the average married stiff. I mean "stiff" literally here.
That's why my will directs my lovely wife, the benevolent despot and prime minister of everything, to tape my list to my headstone or urn when my ticket gets punched.
"Here lies Ruben, a decent chap who never got to building that deck or ...."
TOO LATE FOR THE BABE
Now, senior citizen is a relative term, depending on the circumstance. I'm 59, pushing 60. I can order from the Perkins senior citizen menu and save a whopping $2 for less food on an order. Problem is that I don't yet eat like a hummingbird. Regular menu for me until further notice.
I've yet to fill out that AARP membership, which I've been getting in the mail since I turned 45, I think. Not ready mentally. I'm a year away from getting a discount to my neighborhood movie theater. Yet I'm eligible and play in a 50-and-over softball league. But the government doesn't officially consider me a senior citizen until I turn 65.
My kid, though, thinks I'm ancient. He inquired one day if I had seen Babe Ruth live or watched the Sultan of Swat on a black-and-white TV. Mickey Mantle, Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron, Tony Oliva and Willie Mays for sure, I tell him. Who are they, he asked. Thankfully, YouTube had some footage of these greats.
And, yes, we had just those two hues on the boob tube when I was his age. He looked at me with confusion when I volunteered that I was my family's remote control and rabbit-TV-antenna adjustment technician. We actually had to get up from the couch and rotate a dial on the set to change the channels. He was stunned. And the channels, if I remember correctly, went from just 1 to 13.
BLESSEDLY STILL BREATHING
I got a kick recently when I read the definition from Ask.com, a popular website, of a senior citizen.
"Seniors have been through the many ups and downs of life which helps to give them wisdom based on experience," it said.
Now that is a well-intentioned but seriously flawed statement. It's the "wisdom" I'm hung up on. I know youths who are much wiser than their years and old-timers who get dumber by the second. Older does not automatically translate to wiser.
Other sites consider a senior citizen "one retired from active work." Really? In this economy? I plan to work through at least my 70s to put my youngest through college and to wipe out the mortgage.
Age in general, to my frame of thought, is ultimately a state of mind and attitude and cultural outlook. My quibbles are nothing compared with someone my age in a Third World nation. For example, the average life expectancy of men here is 78.57, according to the World Health Organization. American women? How about 80.93 years. Japanese men rank first at 79.45. Yet the life expectancy of Japanese women, not at all surprising, is 85.82. I wager there's a do-list also playing a factor in the land of the rising sun and on other planets where we will ultimately find signs of life. The worst? Africa's Swaziland, at less than 33 years for both men and women.
I make it a point to tell my son that every day, babies are born who will not survive the day. I also let him know, given that we are commemorating Memorial Day, that several members of his family were seriously injured or killed in combat or service to this country in their early 20s. He understands that I'm dealing with an incurable cancer.
However you define a senior citizen, I feel blessed to have reached that stage, aches, pain and everything else that comes with it. I realize I'm still breathing in and out when I wake up in the morning as of this writing, and that is golden to me.
Last Sunday's column detailed the frustrating attempts of aspiring nurse and college student Trinayani Christiansen to cut through government red tape to apply for federal financial aid.
Christiansen, adopted 22 years ago from an orphanage in India, was given conflicting answers and instructions on whether she needed a copy of her foreign birth certificate to obtain a passport to prove her citizenship.
Unlike the old Cabbage Patch dolls, many orphans like her do not come with birth documents. Her passport application was shelved in spite of a law passed 13 years ago that made her and other legally adopted children automatic citizens.
The nearly seven-month effort ended last week after Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., intervened. The holdup apparently was caused by a State Department foreign birth certificate requirement put into effect last summer to better track intercountry adoptions.
Klobuchar said Christiansen is among a number of adopted Minnesotans who have had similar experiences in recent months. The senator fired off a letter to the State Department to convince them to make exceptions for such children.
"When you start getting that number of calls to your office, you realize that it is a bureaucratic problem that needs to be corrected," Klobuchar said.
Besides better clarifying the policy change to adoptive parents, Klobuchar has asked the agency to make "common-sense" exceptions for inter-country adoptions where the native country does not include a birth certificate.
"Washington has approved my passport, and it's in the mail and on its way to me!" Christiansen, 24, a nurse's aide taking courses at St. Catherine University in St. Paul, said in a voice mail. "Thank you for everything."