What Happened: How Did I Ever Get to Be 80?


Sitting in her room at an assisted-living facility, my dear old mom said, “What happened dear? I was just 16!” It was a poignant moment. I thought if I were still working as a choreographer it would be a nifty title for a new dance. Twenty-five years later it’s now my turn to ask this same question — for which there is no answer.

As a youngster the most outrageously distant time that I might conceive of was the year 2000. I kept in mind the number 57, the age I would be when that date appeared on the wall calendar. It did come, and it did go. So did 65, 75, and this past year 80. As my dear decorous mother would never have said, but I will, “what the fuck happened?”

There is much research being done on how to stay young, how to live to be 100, how to remain sexually active into your 90s, how to not lose all your marbles as you age, how “80 is the new 60.” (If the latter is true, do I still get to keep Medicare and Social Security?)

A consistent mantra for a longer life is to eat less. There are many very thin, very old, and very unhappy mice that seem to support this. I admit I am far from the trencherman of days of yore, my digestive system may be in a state of disorder, even rebellion, my taste buds jumping ship at an alarming rate but, really, EAT LESS? Take a singular joy at my age and exchange it for a few more years to witness the downfall of American democracy?

Among the joys of aging are the little favors that others, always younger, bestow on you as a reminder of your declining capabilities. Getting up to give you a seat on a crowded bus, offering to carry the eight-pound bag of cat litter to your car, speaking slowly at a volume just south of a jet taking off, listening to your stories – over and over again — or suggesting they know the location of the defibrillator paddles.

Taken to its illogical extreme in the hands of overzealous or lame-brained protectors of the aged, real life will always intrude. My late mother-in-law, fortunately a woman with an excellent sense of humor, was at the check-out stand of a local garden shop. Asked if she needed help to her car, she assented only to be assailed by the public-speaker announcement for all to hear, “carry-out: old lady with bag of manure.”

When in the Southwest, I love to go to the baseball games of the home-town Fuego who represent Santa Fe in the independent Pecos League. In the middle of the fifth inning, children in attendance are invited to run around the bases. I’m not sure what seized me, but at one game I came out of the stands and ran, well jogged, behind a band of raucous ten-year-olds. When I rounded third base and headed home, I was alone in my glory and began to fake chest pain in the broadest way possible, a performance worthy of a Hackman or a Clooney. The Fuegos catcher awaiting me at the plate, a tall and broad young fellow, caught me in his arms and would not let go, convinced despite my protestations otherwise, that I was expiring. Fortunately, no defibrillator paddles were needed. When I returned to the stands, my friends for some reason, pretended they didn’t know me.

As unlikely as it seems, even with the glories of senior discounts, there are some pesky, minor downsides to the golden years. They are reminders that though we are who we are, we are not who we were. Witness my ballet class Waterloo.

This past summer what began as an itch, grew to a notion, and finally a festering demand that I return to ballet class. Mind you, the last time I had taken a ballet class was 45 years ago and it had never occurred to me in the intervening decades to ever do it again.

The class, held twice a week, was glorious. My muscle memory was intact after such a long break and remembered tendus, pliés, battements, jetés, arabesques, and all the other arcane French movements that make limbs do freakish things never intended by their original design. I was ecstatic, and throwing all caution to the wind, engaged in what former head of the Federal Reserve Alan Greenspan called, when speaking of the booming 1990s stock market, “irrational exuberance.”  At that point, I too was at a record high.

After three weeks I could hardly walk. The arthritis in my hips had kicked up a few notches and my lower back vigorously protested my slightest move. Worst of all, my sports medicine doctor discovered that I had broken my coccyx. BROKEN MY COCCYX? Who the hell breaks their coccyx? It made sitting extremely uncomfortable so I did my on-line research and bought a nifty and slightly perverse-looking coccyx pillow. It works great though now I have to decide for my upcoming Paris trip, given weight and size limitations of carry-ons, if I take my special pillow or my underwear.

Degradation of the body is of course not enough in the Grand Design. There needs to be more, so we were gifted with deterioration of the mind, or what we elders like to call, the “senior moment.” As life merrily goes along we accumulate enough of them that strung together it seems like wearing a permanent and somewhat decayed flower lei around our brains. 

A lovely younger person comes to our home to administer subcutaneous fluid to our old cat Maxi who suffers from kidney disease. A few days ago she could not remember when our next appointment was and commented this often happens. She turned to me and said, “does this get worse?” I nodded and said yes. She then took a few steps towards the front door and momentarily lost her balance. “Does this get worse too?” she asked. All I could do was laugh and nod yes. 

Thankfully, it’s not all senior moments. Small victories against those who would mock the old are very welcome, if few and far between. This past summer while driving I was stopped in heavy traffic while trying to get into a right turn lane. All of a sudden there was loud and persistent honking behind me and a young macho leaned out of his truck window and yelled “hey old man, you ever gonna move?” Had this been a film Western, I would have said, “old man? old man? why you young whippersnapper…” and taken out my six-shooter. As it wasn’t, and since he had me pegged right, I extended my arm out the window and gave him the old Brooklyn one finger salute. 

As the light changed and traffic began to flow he gunned his engine, switched lanes and sped past me, only to get stopped dead again 30 yards or so down the road. With the turn lane now clear, I went on my way, but could not resist throwing a smug little smile his way as I passed him by. 

A few weeks ago I went to a cardiologist, a beautiful young woman, to have my ticker checked. After our in-person meeting she had a monitor mounted on my chest to record my every beat for a week to see if there were any problems, which there weren’t. Curious, I then made the mistake of looking at her on-line notes from my examination. She describes me as a “pleasant, fit-appearing elderly male in no acute distress.”

“Pleasant, fit-appearing… no acute distress” all very good but “elderly.” Ouch, that really hurt. 

Spider Kedelsky
Spider Kedelskyhttps://spiderkedelsky.com
Spider Kedelsky is a former choreographer, performing arts producer, and a co-founder of Town Hall Seattle.


  1. As a fellow octogenarian, I share most of these same physical and mental surprises, and a few more of my own. It’s always valuable to recall Maurice Chevalier’s response to inquiries about his aging: “Consider ze alternative.” (!)

  2. As the legendary baseball pitcher Satchel Paige once said, “Age is just a case of mind over matter; if you don’t mind, it don’t matter”..!


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