by Eric J Baker
Like Shatner at the beginning of Wrath of Khan, I’ve been feeling old lately. The other day, I was chatting with the guys when I realized, for the first time, that I can sleep with a woman half my age and not get arrested. Sure, it would be creepy, just not illegal.
My buddy, who’s much younger than me, said, “I won’t date a girl unless she can walk into a bar and buy a drink.” I said, yeah, good point. I wouldn’t either. Then it occurred to me that a woman half my age can walk into a bar and buy a drink. A woman like Cassie Scerbo (pictured above) for example, who stars in the ABC Family show Make It or Break It and is a freshly minted legal drinker. Ditto for recent 21ers Kristen Stewart and Emma Watson, who probably would have made more clickworthy lead images. However, Scerbo is lovelier than those two waifs, and, anyway, Stewart and Watson would be nuts to walk into a bar without a team of security guards. Such is fame.
This past Friday I was at some corporate event in a posh country club – the kind of place that would have tazed me at the gate twenty years ago, when my hair was long – and the woman serving our table was gorgeous, reminding me quite a bit of Japanese actress Shinobu Nakayama, only blonder and whiter. Appropriate to the setting, she was poised and dignified. I tried unsuccessfully to crack her façade with jokes and a wink or two, but then I thought, eh, she gets this from guys every night. And not just guys like me, from old guys too, like some of the dudes at the others tables who… are… my age.
**insert silent scream here**
I’m fortunate that people often mistake me for being in my late twenties, and I don’t mind if they are so mislead, but the truth can quickly reveal itself. My abs certainly aren’t what they used to be, and that wince I try to conceal is caused by the pain I get in my lower back whenever I turn too fast. Worse, I can’t lift weights anymore because of the damage to my wrists and elbows from almost 30 years of drumming. My hands cramp after a couple hours of guitar playing.
That doesn’t mean I’ll pack it in any time soon. I’ve read that Michael Schenker – the world’s greatest obscure guitar player – can no longer spread his left hand flat due to 50 years of nonstop chording. As a point of reference, Schenker is the younger and far more gifted brother of The Scorpions’ guitarist Rudolph Schenker. Michael was a child prodigy on violin who switched to guitar and ended up in the ‘70s British band UFO before departing for a long (and tumultuous) solo career. But not without first rejecting Steven Tyler of Aerosmith, who tried to recruit him as a replacement for Joe Perry. Aerosmith went on to sell about a hundred million albums, and Schenker went on to sell about eleven, nine of which I bought.
I jest, of course. Schenker has a decent following, and you can check out his still amazing chops live this fall as he tours the U.S with fellow guitar hero Leslie West. He’ll hit the New York area midway through October and appear in L.A. on November 9. For a sample, check out this Youtube video from the early 80s. If brilliant, passionate guitar playing ain’t your thing, skip ahead to the singer with the anatomically correct pants. Is that his real gear or a rolled up sock? You decide. In the interest of full disclosure, I used to wear shit like that. One time, after a show, my girlfriend’s friend asked her, “Does it bother you that every single person in the building can see your boyfriend’s junk?” Ah, to be 20 again.
I can try to take inspiration from a guy like Schenker, who is in his late fifties and can still shred with the best, despite his permanent left claw. But I’m not a gifted musician, just one who practiced a lot, and I’ll never play like that. No, I need to look elsewhere, in unexpected places, if I hope to be like Shatner at the end of Khan, when he feels young again (though I doubt my best friend will ever be burned up by severe radiation while saving my spaceship from Ricardo Montalban).
What restores my sense of youthful vigor is old ladies, and not because I’m a pervert (well, not that kind) or because I know they’ll die before I do. It’s because they’re the toughest of the tough, and if they can be such, then I have no excuse. It’s true that they sometimes argue with themselves about what day something happened (Was it a Thursday? Yes. No, wait. It was a Tuesday. Well that can’t be right, because Gertrude gets her calluses buffed on Tuesday. Maybe it was Wednesday…). And you wonder why they don’t notice that long whisker growing from their chin. But I guess having balls leads to inevitable side effects.
One of our family stories that has been kicking around for years involves the time my mother fell down the front steps on the way to the supermarket. I was there: She wiped out, got up, dusted off, and declared herself unscathed. We piled into the car and went shopping. Like always, we stopped at all the stores in the strip. We ate greasy burgers at Woolworths, we bought a matchbox car at the auto parts store, we looked at dresses (yawn), and we filled two carts at the supermarket (to feed 4 biological kids, 1 foster kid, who knows how many dogs and cats, and probably an exchange student or two). Finally home, four hours after we began, my mom removed her shoe to reveal this hideous purple elephant foot. It turns out that she had broken her ankle in the fall, shopped on it for hours, and never complained once. She spent the next three months in a cast.
Old lady toughness is transcontinental. Seoraksan is a famous mountain in South Korea that draws hikers from around the country and beyond. It’s spectacularly beautiful (when it’s not obscured by choking ozone clouds). Anyway, I was hiking Seoraksan in 2002. At first it was a typical Korean mountain trail, which is winding and fairly steep but nothing you won’t find in the Catskills. Then the trail became rocks and boulders and turned vertical. Soon I was gripping huge slabs of stone and digging my fingers in to avoid sliding into the deep, dark crevices on either side. ME MOUTAIN MAN! I thought, feeling like Tom Hanks in Castaway when he learns how to start a fire. I finally reached the plateau (at the base of a sheer cliff), ready to thump my gorilla chest, when I see an old Korean granny with a refrigerated cart, selling sodas. Just standing there on the mountain with no road and no living quarters in sight. And no helipad either. I don’t know how she got up there, but I pretty much owed it to her to buy that can of Pepsi, didn’t I?
Another time I went to the DMZ. I was searched, questioned, and stopped by armed soldiers multiple times and had to sign declarations that I wasn’t a North Korean spy. Army choppers whirled 100 feet over my head. Huge concrete towers wired with explosives (to be detonated in case of a North Korean tank invasion) lined the roads. Checkpoints. Checkpoints. Checkpoints. Once again, I was feeling badass. Just over that ridge is the most heavily armed border on Earth, with two armies training missiles on each other. Just over that ridge is where bravest of the brave reside, and where badass civilians like me are unafraid to go. Just over that ridge was another old Korean granny with a soda cart. Damn.
Just a few days ago I was listening to an NPR story in which a woman was complaining about having to close her restaurant because of the bad economy. “I can’t stand this sitting around,” she said. “I need to get back to work!”
She was 88. I guarantee that bulge in her pants wasn’t a rolled up sock.