“You Look Marvelous!” Worry About Looking Good and Worry About Feeling Good

Knock on Any Door Poster[7]

We pass invisible markers on the walk along the shifting sands of life. The signposts signify three stages:

  • 1. The total unself-consciousness of a little baby, who only knows that he feels good or bad, but has virtually no concern about the impact that his appearance makes on others.
  • 2. The period where appearance and impression matter. Comparisons are all around. Are you as pretty as she is? Does your hair look right? Do you have enough muscles? When are your boobs going to show up? Are you tall enough, handsome enough, thin enough — just simply “becoming” enough to beat out the competition; for the people you’d like to think well of you, that is?
  • 3. The third stage. It isn’t that you don’t care at all about how you look as you get past mid-life, but how you feel becomes much more important. If the pants are comfortable, who cares if they aren’t fashionable? Why try a new hair style when the one you’ve been using since 1974 seems so much a part of you? When did it become hard to get a restful night’s sleep? When did the aches and pains begin? And then there are the dreaded medications that make one symptom feel better and give you three side-effects that require their own medical solutions. Your doctor visits become more frequent and your conversations change from “How about those Cubs?” to “What did your doctor say?” And the doctor isn’t talking about your appearance, he is talking about how you feel.

None of this is good news. You are paying for your diminished vanity with augmented, expanded, supersized preoccupations of a different kind. As the famous and elderly pianist Menachem Pressler once said from the stage of the Ravinia Festival:

I have a friend who says that if you wake up in the morning and your over 80 and you’re not in pain — you’re dead!

There’s got to be a bright side to this, right?

Well, for one thing, less vanity isn’t so bad. As long as you still take a regular shower and put on deodorant and wear clean clothes, there is no possibility that you will be arrested by the “Vanity Police” for offending the sensibilities of those who live to be seen. They spend their lives trying to look like models in Vogue or GQ or Elle. These same people waste their life savings on hair stylists and new suits and the best looking shoes. They are the kind of folks who buy new glasses with every passing season because fashions have changed even if their eye prescription hasn’t.

There is freedom in liking yourself for who you are on the inside rather than who you please by your outsides. A little more confidence and a little less insecurity go a long way to a happier life. If the crowd’s applause means less to you, you’ve figured out something pretty important about contentment.

Ah, but the downside. I will use myself as an example. I am reportedly in very good health for a man of 125. Sorry, I couldn’t resist that. I mean, for a man my age who falls into the category of the “young old” or just a little bit beyond. I’m doing just fine. Who thinks up these categories anyway? Are there job listings in the newspaper and on Monster or other Internet sites for people who make up names like “Generation Y” or “Baby Boomers” or “Millennials?” Then, of course, there are the “old-old,” the “preposterously-old,” the “disgustingly-old” and the “better off dead.” At least, I think so.

When he was 88, my dad said he wanted to live to be 100. Of course, many years before, he said that if he could get to 70 he would have had no cause for complaint on the time that had been allotted to him. I do not know when he started to push the goal posts back, but I do know that a week after he made his new target public he stroked-out and never regained consciousness. It was the kind of event that my good friend Dan Morrison likes to call a “clean get-away.” No muss, no fuss, no lingering and best of all, no great pain. The kind of death that most of us are hoping for.

Ursula Andress and John Derek

Ursula Andress and John Derek

Feeling good yet? I know that it is unseemly to talk about these things. They are the kind of subjects that seem morbid and don’t exactly lift the mood. And yet there is at least one advantage to feeling somewhat less good as we age: it makes the ending a little more attractive. No, I’m not talking suicide here. What I’m saying is that if you are in the prime of life at age 92, feeling just as fine and fit as you did 70 years before, the idea of your demise will be much more horrifying than if various body parts are starting to fall off and you’re wondering if maybe living forever is not exactly desirable. You begin to think that perhaps John Derek was right when he said “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse” in the 1949 movie Knock on Any Door. And remember, John Derek knew a bit about what it meant to be good-looking. This handsome actor/director married Ursula Andress, Linda Evans, and Bo Derek in succession. If there had been a Presidential Cabinet post for the evaluation of pulchritude, he would have gotten the job.

Bo Derek in the 1979 movie 10

Bo Derek in the 1979 movie 10

Here’s the bottom line: We want to live forever but we don’t want to get old. A contradiction, for sure. Best to accept the nature of things, concentrate on what you still can do rather than what you no longer can do, and make the “clean get-away” my friend Dan describes. In the meantime, do some good for young people, live “in the moment,” and enjoy the sunshine. I’ve heard it’s a lot darker in the Underworld — the afterlife described by the ancient  Greeks.

Have a nice day. Really.

Teenagers, Chicago Parking Meters, and Left Fielders


The “Windy City” — the “City of Big Shoulders” — has a way of making some big mistakes.

Recently, they’ve come in the form of some fiscal short-sightedness affecting both baseball and government. Just over four years ago, the Chicago Cubs signed Alfonso Soriano to an eight year contract, all for the measly sum of $136 million dollars. Alfonso was 31 before he ever played for the team. They will “own” his contract (although the words “owe” and “ouch” come to mind) for three more seasons beyond this one.

After only the first three, he demonstrated that his sunny personality, million dollar smile, and ability to hit home runs when no one is on base don’t make up for declining offensive production and an attitude toward playing left field that suggests, according to Baseball Prospectus 2010, that Soriano believes the outfield wall at Wrigley is actually covered with poison ivy.

Not to be outdone, the local city fathers decided to lease every last parking meter in the city for a term of 75 years to an independent company that agreed to pay 1.15 billion in up-front dollars for the privilege. They doubtless wished to out-do the Cubs in boondoggles, since it is reported that the money is already spent. It has also been said that the city could have negotiated a better deal, and certainly one that didn’t so offend the parking populace by the inflation of parking fees to multiples of their previous size.

In both instances, there is more to come — more parking fee increases and further productivity decline from the Cubs left-fielder. And, long before the end of either contracted term, we will be saddled, metaphorically speaking, with the back-end of an animal that didn’t even look too great from the front-end.

When I think about this sort of short-sightedness in clinical terms, the behavior of teenagers inevitably comes to mind. Teenagers are stereotyped for taking risks, acting on impulse, and using poor judgment. Some of them tend to allow tomorrow to take care of itself, not fully grasping that tomorrow will indeed arrive soon enough and claim payment for the errors of today.

Now, I’m not talking about all teenagers, but rather those prone to vices like smoking, drinking and drugging to excess, blowing off academics, etc. And, it is not as if adults are free from this “live for today” approach, even adults not employed in management by the City of Chicago and the Cubs.

In a just world, all such folks would pay for their indiscretions somewhere down the line.

But, of course, the world isn’t just. And sometimes this works out quite well for the impulsive and heedless joy-seekers in our midst.

I recall one woman who ate and smoked and drank and had unprotected sex as if there would be no tomorrow. When I reminded her that tomorrow would likely come, she assured me that she would be dead by then, and so it didn’t matter. Even as she entered middle-age, she ignored the pain in her joints and her diabetes, continuing to indulge herself well beyond the bounds of medical advice and good sense. This lady believed in the motto uttered by John Derek in the old Humphrey Bogart film, Knock On Any Door:  “Live fast, die young, and leave a good-looking corpse.”

I doubted the wisdom of this, but she turned out to be right, dying of a cancer unrelated to her excesses in her late-40s. I guess if you know with certainty that your time is relatively short, then indulgence might become the preferred path, although it can also create a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Of course, most of us don’t know the appointed day of our departure with the prescience that characterized my acquaintance. Many decisions depend upon just such an estimate of the future: whether to go to college, how much to save for retirement, the care and feeding of your body, the need to exercise, and so forth. In a way, we all are gamblers, those of us who imbibe and those who abstain, those who are profligate and those who save for a rainy day.

We place our bets on what “feels” right now, how we expect to feel in the future, and how long that future might last, if there is one.

Let’s just hope that our bets are wiser than those practiced by the City of Chicago and the Cubs.

The photo above taken by Scott Ableman at RFK Stadium on May 5, 2006 is of Alfonso Soriano in his days as a Washington National. It was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.