Columns

2008.04.09 The last game for boomers

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

An article I read last week prompted a column about toys for children. This week I saw something about toys for adults.

Michael Kinsley had an essay published in the New Yorker about what he calls “the last boomer game.” Kinsley, a Detroit native, is a well-known political commentator. He’s served as a moderator on the TV shows “Firing Line” and “Crossfire,” he helped found the on-line journal Slate and he’s currently a columnist for Time magazine.

He also suffers from Parkinson’s Disease and at age 57, he describes himself as an advanced scout into old age, taking glimpses into the inevitable future for his baby boomer generation.

About every four hours Kinsley takes a medication that rushes him through a life span of about 60 years. At first, he witnesses a sunny disposition and feels like he’s 20 years old, ready to go out and jog for a couple of miles.

A couple of hours later, it starts to wear off and eventually he’s back in middle age. Another 30 minutes and he’s feeling “old, stiff, tired and gloomy.” He takes another Sinemet and the cycle begins again.

He was about 50 years old when he went public with his disease and he remembers it as instantly pushing him to 60. At that age, he said, people stop being surprised if you look old or drop dead.

At 60, some people don’t look a day over 40 while others appear eligible for a rest home. There’s your true age and then there’s the age you appear. It depends on how you look, how much hair you have, how fast you walk, how fast you think, etc. Some 71-year-olds hobble with a cane; another runs for President.

The age 63 has a special meaning to the typical American, Kinsley writes, because your group begin disappearing then.

Assume there are a hundred people close to your age that might be invited to your funeral. This is a crude way of looking at the situation, he says, but it gets across an important point.

On the average, half of those people will already be dead when it’s your turn to go. One of them will have died, on average, when your group reaches 16 years old. At 40, your life expectancy is half-way gone.

When you reach age 63, you should expect to lose one member of your group every year, then the pace accelerates.

Kinsley’s article is called “Mine Is Longer than Yours.” It refers to what was mentioned earlier—the last boomer game, the person who lives the longest.

Those who are winning tend to have no reluctance in bragging about it, Kinsley notes, as if reaching 90 might have come from hard work or prayer. Maybe they were just lucky not to be part of the accident they passed on the highway. Maybe it will be all over on the next shopping trip they take.

The longevity game never ends until the last breath is drawn and it trumps all the other games, including the Baby Boomer means of happiness—material possessions. The big house, the small cell phone, the expensive cars, the winter vacations to the south, the best of modern electronics—all of those things are the games of the boomers, Kinsley says.

But is there anything among your most coveted possessions that you wouldn’t trade in for a few more months of life?

Kinsley recalls the popular bumper sticker from the 1980s—“He who dies with the most toys wins”—and sees it as a perfect encapsulation of a generation marked by shallowness, greed, excessive competitiveness and love of possessions.

He also notes that it’s wrong because those things mean nothing if you’re dead. The winner is actually the one who dies last, the one who can say “mine is longer than yours.”

Seeking longevity is a very selfish motive, Kinsley says, and he urges you, by all means, to seek it. Don’t expect applause for your combination of good genes, right living and luck. Don’t look so proud when you walk out of the swimming pool at age 90, but do play the game until the end.

It’s a little ironic at the end, Kinsley notes, because he who dies with the fewest friends wins.

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