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Aging Angry Young Man or Bitter Old Fart in Training?
Colin James Haslett
'Mostly I’ve been the kind of person who walks around wanting to punch those shiny, happy people right in the pie hole and then ask them what they’re so bloody cheery about.'

I’ve got another birthday coming. It’s really not that big of a deal. Because it falls at exactly the halfway point of the calendar year and because the last digits of the year and my age always match, I generally start bumping up my age about six months early if people ask, and that’s usually a great cushion to the whole getting older thing. But, as my father so often paraphrases George Burns, getting older isn’t the same as getting old. Getting older just means more candles on your birthday cake. Getting old means getting bitter, crotchety, rambling and broken down. And for some reason this year’s upcoming birthday has started me thinking about that second part.

I’m in my early thirties, so I’m not a kid anymore. But I didn’t think I was a kid anymore when I was in my early twenties, and I know now how wrong I was then. And people in their forties and up keep telling me what a kid I am still. Regardless of when I stopped, or will stop, being a kid I am nonetheless getting steadily older, and I do realize that it does beat the only alternative. But what’s got me worried is that I think that I may already be old.

I think that I may have been old for a long time now: since those early twenties maybe. I mean, I never have been one of those shiny, happy people who walks around with a big smile looking at the bright side and pointing out silver linings. Mostly I’ve been the kind of person who walks around wanting to punch those shiny, happy people right in the pie hole and then ask them what they’re so bloody cheery about. I’ve tended towards the grim, the brooding, the indignant.
I also suffer from a brutal case of selective nostalgia: I’m absolutely certain that the world used to be a better place, even though I know that it wasn’t.

And physically? Sometimes I think I’ve been creaking and cracking and moaning and groaning forever. As far as the rambling part goes, just see how long this goes on for. Yep, no doubt about it, I’ve been old for a while now.

But in fact, when I closely examine my life then and now I may have even been older ten years ago than I am today. I’m in marginally better shape these days; eating a little better, exercising once in a while, sleeping regularly instead of trying to make up on the weekends. I have more energy now than I used to. I’ve begun to find new outlets for my artistic and creative energies for the first time since high school. I’m not as negative about the direction the world’s headed in these days, or at least I don’t dwell on it as much, and thus my stress levels are lower than they’ve been in years. I’m calmer nowadays. And every once in a while I catch myself smiling for no reason as I’m walking down the street, silently inviting others to punch me right in the pie hole and ask me what I’m so bloody cheery about. Am I actually getting younger?

No, I’m getting older and the only alternative to that isn’t younger. But I might be getting young. Or less old, anyway: I’ve reversed the aging process. I wish I could tell you how I did it, I could make a fortune or put a lot of cosmetics companies out of business, or a lot of therapists. The truth is, though, that I have no idea how it happened. Worse still is the fact that I have no idea how long it will last. What if it’s just a phase I’m going through? Maybe I’m in some kind of transitional period. Maybe the early, Angry Young Man version of myself is just hibernating, gathering its energies, waiting to inevitably reemerge when I’m in my seventies, or my sixties, or my fifties even – can I hope that this respite will last through my forties at least -- waiting to wreak havoc on my life and relationships in its Bitter Old Fart incarnation.

Don’t misunderstand me, I’m still old. I’m just not as old as I used to be, and I like that. I’d like it to continue this way, and I’d really like it if I could progress in becoming even less old as I get steadily older. I’m happier this way: I’m still not one of the shiny happy people full on, probably never will get to that point, but I am happier. So the prospect of regressing at some time in the future disturbs me. The simple comeback is that I just shouldn’t let that happen, that it’s up to me whether I go on to become an old man or an older man. But as I pointed out earlier I don’t know how I’ve managed to become less old in recent years, so how can I prevent the opposite from occurring just as ineffably? Could it just be as simple as eating a little better and exercising once in a while, letting my creative juices flow more freely and not dwelling on the negatives of the world? Do I just have to make it a point to occasionally smile for no reason as I walk down the street, even if that does make some other people want to sock me one? And will it still work if I have to make a point of doing it? Or is all of that irrelevant; is it just that my bio-rhythms have temporarily converged at some incredibly high peak or perhaps it’s some other, equally nebulous metaphysical happenstance?
It’s a lot of questions is what it is, and I’m not convinced they even have answers. I guess the best that I can do is just to keep doing what I’m doing and try to enjoy the ride while it lasts. That and feel secure in the knowledge that if things do go completely for a stinker at least I’ll be able to regale younger people with stories of how I had to walk five miles uphill through waist deep snow to get to school when I was a kid, or how ten of us lived in a one room shack with only beans to eat once a day and no door on the outhouse. I’ve always kind of looked forward to that.

© Colin James Haslett June 2002


This is the first piece on Hacks by Colin, for whom the word 'curmudgeon' was invented. Ed

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