Aging gracefully, a trick best done without mirrors


April 28, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

A terrible thing happened to me the other day while visiting my college-age daughter. As we walked through the dorm hallway, we happened upon a young woman cradling a bottle of beer.

This seemed normal enough. After all, drinking in the middle of the day is what people do in college. What -- you went to classes?

But as we approached, all conversation ended. It became clear rather quickly what the problem was: An intruder had stumbled into Miller time. A grown-up. A parent. Yes, me.

The young woman was the deer; I was the headlights.

I wanted to tell her, "Hey, no sweat. Don't worry about it. You know, I used to be a college student myself. In fact, I personally know people who have thrown up in 30 different states and four foreign countries.

"Hey, I just look old."

Actually, I didn't say anything. I just walked on and got very, very, very depressed, knowing I was old.

(A note to young people, meaning all of you out there smirking: This will happen to you. Someday you, too, will watch VH-1. Someday you, too, will have lunch with your friends and discuss cholesterol counts. Someday, if you're not careful, you'll know people who go to Neil Diamond concerts.)

It isn't as if this were a complete revelation. There had been hints before. A few years ago, when Oliver Stone made "The Doors," a friend in his mid-20s started asking me about Jim Morrison. And then the conversation led to the '60s and protests and drugs and why Bobby Seales now sells cookbooks.

Then it hit me. This was like asking your uncle about World War II. Do you know what it's like to be an oral-history project?

But that's not the terrible thing. The terrible thing is that, feeling old, I looked at myself hard in the mirror, sort of taking stock of my life and where it might lead. Maybe you can guess what the mirror revealed.

That's right. Not only was I no longer young, I was no longer thin. Actually, I was about as close to thin as the Orioles are to first place.

There are a couple of lessons here. One, after you've reached a certain age, never look in a mirror without a professional nearby. Two, never forget lesson No. 1.

What now?

My wife suggested a diet. Then, as she pointed out, you can be depressed and hungry at the same time.

Was she unaware of the literature on the subject, which says that no matter how much weight you lose, you will inevitably gain it all back? That explains why there is a movement afoot to have Oprah Winfrey's picture placed on all diet products as a warning label.

Besides, would she be happy if I dieted and ended up looking like Tommy Lasorda?

Then she suggested exercise. That's when I started looking at dieting more seriously. All exercise does, besides causing pain, is make me hungry. Put me on a treadmill, and five minutes later, I'm at the Burger King scarfing down an extra-large order of fries.

Try to imagine how long you've got to stay on that treadmill to work off the calories contained in a single Whopper.

So, I'm on a diet. This would be my first day. As this is being written, sometime in the midafternoon yesterday, your faithful correspondent has not eaten since lunch.

I don't know how much longer I can take it.

For lunch I had a salad and a side order of spinach. The idea of eating spinach is that it will make you so sick at the thought of it you will not want to eat any food ever again.

This plan might have worked, too, except that the person who sits across from me -- in a move that must have been designed to torture a good friend -- has bought a package of M&Ms.

As this sentence is being written, I have eaten only three. One red, one yellow, one green.

There was time when I could eat three bags of M&Ms.

Of course, there was a day when I was thin. Sometime in my 30s, when I stopped playing basketball and continued eating, the pounds started to glom onto my body. And they won't stop.

I've dieted before. Yes, the weight always came back. But sometimes it took months, even years, before I noticed the extra pounds. And, this time, I've vowed to stay away from all college campuses.

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