When I’m Sixty-Four
Facebook found me out. At least I think it must have been the Zuckerberg conglomerate that culled and sold my personal data so that months before I turned the age the Beatles sang about, I began seeing targeted web ads for retirement investments—401k, IRA and estate strategies, and wonder drugs for unspecified aliments that I’m urged to ask my doctor about. In addition to the periodic AARP signup appeals, financial services somehow got my mailing address to send me postcards warning of the “5 Retirement Dangers,” assuring me that I need expert advice to sign up for Medicare and pick a prescription plan.
This is the way of aging in America these days. Everyone with a financial stake has more information about me than do most of my friends, and they all stand ready to “help.” Yet, somehow, I feel more isolated than ever, like a carnival clown sticking his head through the hole while patrons toss cream pies.
Still, getting older, and even feeling older, are not all that bad. In fact, these seem like the natural developments of someone who has lived as many years as I have and, thank God, has the mental capacity to remember so much of what occurred, both good and bad. As my joints get stiffer and my muscles slacker, there’s a certain solace in the words of the psalmist: “Our days may come to seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures” (Ps 90:10).
Amazingly, this bit of Scripture has held true over some three millennia, despite the wonderful medical advances and drugs that at this moment flash in ads across my screen. In 1960, US life expectancy was a bit over 70; today it is just above 77, but declining. Both my parents, who were by no means fitness fans, lived into their late 80s. So, I may have about 25 years to fulfill my age. That suits me fine, as long as I know that this life does not go on forever. After all, the same Psalm states this about our 70 to 80 years on earth: “The best of them are but trouble and sorrow, for they quickly pass, and we fly away.”
For my birthday, I found the Beatles’ song “When I’m Sixty-Four” on YouTube and played it at breakfast for my wife and 16-year-old son, who said it was “fun, maybe even funny.” I explained that I was 11 when the “Sgt. Pepper’s” album came out, to which he replied quizzically, “Do you mean Doctor Pepper?”
My wife and I laughed and tried to explain that it was the one whimsical, endearing, seemingly straightforward song on a strange, ground-breaking album that included such timeless hits as “A Day in the Life,” the controversial “She’s Leaving Home,” and the totally weird “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “For the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” The last two songs, I told my son, were a mix of an acid trip and a funeral procession. Then I went on to explain the “Paul is dead” phenomena that swept across the radio waves in the late ’60s. To keep up with every new clue, my brothers and I would hand-spin LPs backward on our record player to hear such striking lines as “Turn me on, dead man” (“Revolution No. 9”) and “I buried Paul” (“Magical Mystery Tour”). Of course, older readers may recall that Paul “blew his mind out in a car” (“A Day in the Life”) and was replaced by “Billy Shears,” whose name is shouted at the end of the lead song on “Sgt. Pepper’s.” After the Beatles broke up and Paul went on to release the eclectic “Ram” album, with such anti-classics as “Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey” (what?), my brothers and I thought it was indeed possible that an imposter had replaced him.
All this I told my son during an extended breakfast on my birthday, and his patient listening and occasional comments were a great gift for me. I played “When I’m Sixty-Four” a few more times, listening closely to the lyrics and the familiar refrain “Will you still need me, will you still feed me, when I’m sixty-four?” I remarked how strange it was to realize that in the first stanza, the singer asks his wife to lock the door if he stays out till quarter-to-three. “That’s like asking Mom to lock me out of the house if I spend the night carousing with the guys,” I said. “You won’t have to ask,” my wife countered, with a smile. “If you ever dare stay out that late, remember to bring your keys. Good night, honey!”
Later that day, after dinner, the cards and little gifts were brought out. My wife of 23 years wrote some very endearing thoughts and closed by reminding me that we were fulfilling our promise, made soon after our engagement, “to grow old together.” Our son showed that the Beatles session from the morning had made an impression, writing in his card, “Yes, we’ll still need you and feed you, and we won’t lock the door—but don’t stay out late just in case.” Sometimes a father gets a sense that his kids are listening. We called my older son, away at college, who said that (of course) he knew it was my birthday and was waiting for the call.
I’m a Boomer, born in the year of the most post-war births (1957, 4.3 million), yet have never felt a part of the “Me Generation.” Growing up in New York City and coming of age in the 1970s, I somehow never touched a “joint,” though they were passed around at my Catholic high school, and never even drank a beer. The self-proclaimed rebels of the day, with their long hair and endless demands, seemed more like conformists to me. Beneath the anti-war marches, music festivals, and stylized anarchism was the yearning for sexual license that every generation coming of age desires, yet in this case the wish was granted by elders who saw a chance to get in on the action as well. The sexual revolution is the one enduring mark my generation has left on the nation, and it’s not aging well. The unleashed libido is exhausted and leaving the world with less sex, less marriage, fewer kids, a sea of contraceptives, unlimited abortion and, as a last gasp, “gender fluidity,” the ultimate destruction of sex itself.
Facebook, however, is coming to the rescue with a “metaverse,” in which we may “be” and “do” whatever we imagine. It’s the ultimate in Cartesian dualism, the separation of mind from body or any sense of objective reality: “I think therefore I can be anything, anywhere, anytime.” Take it from this Boomer: Even if it “works,” it won’t work. Deep inside each person is more than thought or desire; there’s human nature. Outside the mind is more than man-malleable matter; there’s God’s creation. The metaverse will run up against the metaphysics. We need not guess which will win.
So, when can I retire?