Boomer on Getting Old

SUBHEAD: Sage advise - Take it easy. Take it slow. Make it happen. Make it paradise.  

By Juan Wilson on 27 May 2012 for Island Breath - 

Image above: Cover photo for "Changing Horses" 1969 LP showing the members of the Incredible String in England. From (

Time is a funny weave of elements. After emerging from nowhere some strands disappear and stay under the surface for a long time, only to surprise you in the here and now later on. Tomorrow is my birthday and I'll be 67 years old... in human years. That's about age 470 in dog years. That's sounds old. On the other hand, in giant tortoise years, I'm still in my twenties.

Back in the spring of 1968 when I was actually in my twenties I was just finishing my first year architectural school at the Cooper Union College in New York City. I lived in Lower East Side and that summer was going to be steaming. I had no prospects for a job. There was poverty and much heroin addiction in Alphabet Town (between avenues A and D, above Houston and below 14th Street).

Lots of muggings and burglaries. The Vietnam war was at a raging peak. On top of that, Martin Luther King had just been assassinated, and the inner cities were ready to blow. One afternoon an official looking yellow Western Union Telegram envelope was slid under the door of my 4th floor tenement apartment. It was the genuine article from a architect I had drafted for the prior summer. He had moved to Hawaii and was offering me a job in Honolulu. The telegram specified that the all the arrangements would be made and paid for by his office. It was the only telegram I'd ever received and I jumped at the chance to leave New York. I spent the summer on Oahu.

Fell in love with Hawaii... but I went back to NY in the fall for more study at Cooper Union. After few more years of the school the administration at Cooper got tired of me and asked me to take a year off. It was for their good and mine. NYC was still in the shithole. Con Edison was burning high-sulphur coal. Each tenement building was burning its own garbage in incinerators. There was no sewer treatment plant in Manhattan and all raw waste was simply dumped into the Hudson and East River - at 20 block intervals.

My longing was to get back to Hawaii. I convinced my partner Diane to take a chance with me and take off to the islands. After a month or two living with Diane, on Oahu, in a VW Beetle, we got lucky and scored a job on a project on Kauai. After getting paid for completing the work we stepped up to living in a VW Bus. I remember a hit playing through its mono speaker on AM radio was Neil Young's hit "Old Man". Some of the words were:

Old man look at my life,
Twenty four
and there's so much more
Live alone in a paradise
That makes me think of two...
...I've been first and last

Look at how the time goes past.
But I'm all alone at last.
Rolling home to you.
The song was haunting in some way. In 1972 when I heard the song I thought of it entirely from the point of view of the 24 year old singer. Today when I hear the song I'm the Old Man listening to my younger self through a haze of time. Diane and I returned to New York City to finish school at Cooper Union.

Then, just as I was graduating in 1974, the effects of the OPEC oil crunch came and we tasted a preview of what's happening now, "Peak Oil". New York faced bankruptcy and jobs were hard to find. I remember listening to WNEW-FM, the album oriented radio station that played, without interruption, Jackson Brown's concept LP "For Everyman". The album ends with the title song:

Everybody I talk to is ready to leave
with the light of the morning.
They've seen the end coming down long enough to believe
That they've heard their last warning.

Standing alone
each has his own ticket in his hand
And as the evening descends
I sit thinking 'bout Everyman.

Seems like I've always been looking for some other place
to get it together
Where with a few of my friends I could give up the race
And maybe find something better.

But all my fine dreams
well thought out schemes to gain the motherland
have all eventually come down to waiting for Everyman.

Waiting here for Everyman--
Make it on your own if you think you can.
If you see somewhere to go I understand.

Waiting here for Everyman--
Don't ask me if he'll show -- baby I don't know.

Make it on your own if you think you can.
Somewhere later on you'll have to take a stand
then you're going to need a hand.

Everybody's just waiting to hear from the one
who can give them the answers
and lead them back to that place in the warmth of the sun
where sweet childhood still dances.

Who'll come along
and hold out that strong and gentle father's hand?
Long ago I heard someone say something 'bout Everyman

Waiting here for Everyman--
make it on your own if you think you can
If you see somewhere to go I understand

I'm not trying to tell you that I've seen the plan
turn and walk away if you think I am--
But don't think too badly of one who's left holding sand
He's just another dreamer, dreaming 'bout Everyman.
I finally did get a job with a big firm in the city, but the economy was falling apart. Instead of leaving the rat-race and returning to Kauai - I carried on. Soon I married my first wife, Margo, and began a family life. I moved to the suburbs along the shores of Connecticut and began to experience midlife. I remember Margo, getting me a card for my 35th birthday. On the front was a close-up of a disheveled cowboy with a black-eye and missing tooth. The greeting inside was:

If I knew I was going to live this long I would have taken better care of myself. 

That struck home. By my 40th birthday the economy was clawing its way back to normal. I still felt like twenty-something on the inside, but I observed that on waking up I felt like I had a low grade hangover, whether I drank anything or not. It would disappear quickly with the morning sun and I'd be off into my commuter life. Maybe it was the Reagan years, or maybe it was just middle age. Who knew or cared. It was the late eighties and in 1986 John Fogerty gave us his warning with "Change in the Weather".
Change in the weather, change in the weather
Something's happening here
Change in the weather, change in the weather
People walkin' 'round in fear

Ah, huh, you better duck and run
Get under cover 'cause a change is come
Storm warnings and it looks like rain
Be nothin' left after the hurricane

This here's a jungle, it ain't no lie
Look at the people, terror in their eyes
Bad wind is comin' and can't be denied
They're runnin' with the dogs and afraid to die...
I took the cue and relocated to the Appalachian, Amish settled landscape at the western end of New York State. The old farmhouse had been my grandparent's and then my mother's. There I met my second (and last) wife, Linda, and we spent the 90's at that farm. We had 100 acres of woods to take care of. I was in my late forties, and early fifties. I could push myself hard all day long in order to do it. If I leaned too hard on a shovel or rake it would brake. I didn't worry about myself. In 1997, after a quarter century away from Hawaii, I returned for a visit to Kauai with Linda.

Soon after that, we determined to live out our lives on here. In 2001, just before 9-11, we came to live in Hanapepe Valley on a half-acre. I was in my mid-fifties. Soon after moving to Kauai, I rediscovered a song I had first heard in 1968 by the Incredible String Band. It was released the same year as my first visit to Hawaii, that was coincidentally when I was 24 years old. It's title is "The Circle is Unbroken". How true:

Seasons they change while cold blood is raining
I have been waiting beyond the years
Now over the skyline I see you're traveling
Brothers from all time gathering here

Come let us build the ship of the future
In an ancient pattern that journeys far
Come let us set sail for the always island
Through seas of leaving to the summer stars

Seasons they change but with gaze unchanging
O deep eyed sisters is it you I see?
Seeds of beauty ye bear within you
Of unborn children glad and free

Within your fingers the fates are spinning
The sacred binding of the yellow grain
Scattered we were when the long night was breaking
But in the bright morning converse again.

Audio above: Click on the "Play" triangle at left to hear "The Circle is Unbroken" by the Incredible String Band

Hearing it again thrilled me. It had been written and performed back at the time of my first visit to the islands. It is a song that can still bring tears to my eyes. It conveys some message that was in my heart back in the 1960s that is still relevant to me today. It is why I live on Kauai. Now, in my late sixties I wake up in the morning with a bit of feeling like I'd been in a fight the night before, or maybe taken a roll down the stairs.

By that I mean with some stiffness and soreness. It takes till after breakfast to get limbered up. That's the time I spend on this website. After the morning sun does its magic, I go to the garden or to whatever project is at hand. I still push my tools, but not so long and not so hard. If I lean hard on a tool today I'll break before it does. Turning back to the 1960's I remember another song by the Incredible String Band, from 1967, titled "Way Back in the 1960's". I vividly remember listening to that song and wondering how true what they sang might be when I was not just old, but ancient. I still hope I have a chance to find out.

I was a young man back in the 1960s.
Yes, you made your own amusements then,
Going to the pictures;
Well, the travel was hard, and I mean
We still used the wheel.
But you could sit down at your table
And eat a real food meal.

But hey, you young people, well I just do not know,
And I can't even understand you
When you try to talk slow.

There was one fellow singing in those days,
And he was quite good, and I mean to say that
His name was Bob Dylan, and I used to do gigs too
Before I made my first million.
That was way, way back before,
before wild World War Three,
When England went missing,
And we moved to Paraguayee.

Well, I got a secret, and don't give us away.
I got some real food tins for my 91st birthday,
And your grandmother bought them
Way down in the new antique food store,
And for beans and for bacon, I will open up my door.

But hey, you young people, well I just do not know,
And I can't even understand you
When you try to talk slow.

Well, I was a young man back in the 1960s. 
Now that I'm officially old, I get senior discounts. I'm on Social Security. I'm on MediCare. As such I can now dispense some bonafide wisdom. My sage advice to all is - keep working, with your mind and your body:

Take it easy. Take it slow. Make it happen. Make it paradise.

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