The other day I was discussing the film, “Once Upon a Time … in Hollywood” with a friend. When I referenced the scene where the fictional character Cliff Booth — played by Brad Pitt — gets into a skirmish with an actor portraying legendary martial artist, actor and philosopher Bruce Lee, my friend responded that she heard Bruce Lee wasn’t happy with how he was portrayed in the scene. My first response was, “how old can Bruce Lee be?” In doing so I failed to recall a fact I know very well. That would be that Bruce Lee is dead — and has been dead for a long, long time. He died in 1973 at age 33 of complications caused by multiple medications or whatever conspiracy theory is still out there. Yes, conspiracy theories existed even way back then.
I should remember it. I was 14 and tuned in to pop culture. The death of Bruce Lee was major news in the 1970s. He altered the cinematic scene and made the martial arts big business in America. He was an icon. Twenty years later his son Brandon Lee would also die at a very young age — 28 — because of an accident while filming “The Crow” in North Carolina. So yeah, I know Bruce Lee is dead, only I didn’t the other day. The Lee family isn’t happy with Quentin Tarantino’s film, which is what my friend probably meant and I misunderstood. I was later corrected by my longtime friend Eddie Huffman when I passed along the incorrect information on social media.
Now in the overall scheme of things, this is relatively minor. Only it isn’t. It’s one of those nagging issues that come through the aging process. I have monitored this closely over the past few years, especially as I approached age 60 — which is precisely where I sit today. I turned 60 last week. Yeah, I was born in the 1950s, which sounds like a long damn time ago. It sounds that way because it is.
Some colleagues in their 20s told me the other day that they would never guess that I’m 60 years old. I was flattered, of course, but we all slip as we get older. It stands to reason. All things break down with age. We peak at a certain point and then decline into a world of minor to major aches and pains, illnesses, chronic issues, failing senses and a softening of brain functions. For some it arrives earlier than it does for others. My wife has noticed for some time that my hearing isn’t nearly what it used to be — a friend once told me I had wolverine-like hearing, a likely compensation for a lifetime of vision issues. Speaking of eyesight, I have very little at the moment. Blind in my right eye since birth, the left isn’t what it used to be. Cataracts are the culprit and the doctor says the time isn’t right to do the surgery. From my perspective, the time needs to get right and soon. My back aches, sometimes my knee creaks, and I have daily neuropathy on the right side of my head caused by a bout with the shingles a few years ago. So yeah, like an old car I’m breaking down and need to go in the shop more often than I used to.
And then there’s the forgetfulness. My wife Roselee can attest to the fact that in my salad days — when I ironically rarely ate salad — I remembered everything. In the newsroom I was the go-to source for history about stories we covered sometimes years ago. I could recite details about issues, local murders, court cases and other events. Outside of work I was a walking trivia machine with a vast storehouse of generally useless knowledge about sports, movies, TV, music and politics. That changed a couple of years ago. I had to look more things up online. I had to send reporters elsewhere for details about local events. I found myself searching for the name of an actor or actress during a conversation. And at the moment I doubt I can name more than six National League baseball managers. Twelve-year-old me would find this unacceptable.
It was about that time I decided that a younger person needed to manage a thriving newsroom. When I tell people that I decided to leave the newspaper business in 2016 for a multitude of reasons, it’s the truth. And one of those reasons is that I didn’t think my mind was sharp enough to do the job correctly and give the staff all they might need from an editor who is required to work in a highly stressful atmosphere and make critical decisions immediately.. Today I manage a very challenging but not overwhelming workload where I have the time to look up the answers I need and think clearly about what I’m writing, not simply meeting an hourly deadline.
This is all a long way of getting to an important point. I’m 60 years old and already showing some clear signs of aging. I’m maybe landing there earlier than most, but it catches up with everyone. So when I look at a few of the people running for president I have to take pause. We’re talking about people in their 70s. The current office-holder — who seems incapable of remembering the previous day and is given to babbling incoherently — is 73. The Democrats running to oppose him include Joe Biden (76), Bernie Sanders (77) and Elizabeth Warren (70). Of the three, Warren seems the sharpest. Biden has always been gaffe-prone but that’s only getting more frequent. Just the other day he stated that he was vice president when survivors of the Parkland school shooting came to the White House — only that was in 2018, more than a year after he was out of office. It’s very likely he’s conflating a couple of stories, another happenstance of age. The other day I falsely recalled where I spent my 50th birthday, conflating it with my 52nd. As for Sanders, well he seems like a cranky grandpa. I like cranky grandpa at holidays but not every day and certainly not in charge of nuclear launch codes. I can’t really address Warren because women are generally better at most things than men so why would aging be any different. She seems sharper than her male counterparts at the moment. But she’s also younger by a few years, which makes a difference in the 70s and 80s.
Ronald Reagan at age 73 when he was elected to his second term, is the oldest person elected president, and he suffered signs of early onset Alzheimer’s disease in his second term. If the current office-holder is re-elected, he will beat Reagan’s record.
This isn’t about age discrimination or ageism, just life. I’m only stating that as a male at age 60 I don’t feel up to the job of running a newspaper newsroom of more than 20 people and making sound decisions in a second. Being the leader of the free world is somewhat more complicated. The chief executive of the nation should be someone at or near their very best in all possible areas. But as people grow older due to great medical advances and healthier choices for diet and exercise, perhaps a cutoff point should be considered for those with presidential aspirations. At the moment there is one age requirement, no one under age 35 can run for president. Perhaps there should be a cap on the other end as well.
It’s a discussion worth having.