Gary Horton | I’m Not Zuul, Just Hearing Impaired

Gary Horton

Carrie and I were strolling through the hipster “Gastown” area of Vancouver last week. Call it an extended celebration of our 44th wedding anniversary. Passing by the various trendy cafes and cool clothing stores, we bumped into an extremely serious-looking vinyl record store. Hey: There’s good news for us oldies. Those old 33’s and 45’s of our youth are now hipster and oldster gold.  

There’s a “smoothness” to the sound of vinyl that just isn’t captured on a microscopic silicon wafer. Vinyl is the original real deal, with that tiny diamond needle gliding nearly frictionless across carefully etched grooves. That a tiny needle rubbing along tiny etched vinyl canyons could be amplified with tubes or transistors to create such a full, stereophonic (and for a short time, quadraphonic) sound is ridiculously wonderful. And to think: Thomas Edison had essentially figured out the technique way back in 1877, with his etched-cylinder voice playing machines … 

Now, 150 years later, in Vancouver, British Columbia, sits this homage to vintage technology and incredible music! For an American, this experience was even more special, as back in the 1950s-’80s, Canada got British album versions we never saw in the USA. From the Kinks to the Beatles, to American soul artists – the concerts, recordings and the studio mixes were just different “up there” and “across the pond.” 

“Different” is wonderful to vinyl record enthusiasts. 

Our son Jonathan is a big vinyl fan. So, we stepped inside this vinyl temple to see what perhaps he’s never seen. Christmas is around the corner yet again, so better get ahead with our early shopping! Once inside, unique LPs were indeed abundant. Finally, narrowing our stack down to four, we took our treasures to the counter to seal the deal. 

The woman on the other side of the counter held out a hand-held credit card reader and asked, “Are you the Messenger?” 

“No dear, I’m just buying these records.”  

“Are you the Messenger?“ she repeated. 

“No miss, I’m not the Messenger,” began what I thought would be a clever retort. “I am Zuul, the Gatekeeper, waiting for Gozar the Destructor.” 

With this, the eavesdropping shopkeeper burst out a loud laugh, while Carrie leaned over, speaking loudly into my ear, “Gary, what she said was, ‘Visa or Mastercard.’” 

Yes, there was a lot of background noise, and yes, a beautiful version of the Beatles’ Revolver album played loudly – and yes, at 67 I have distinct hearing loss – but I still think the counter girl muffled her words so sufficiently that what I heard was a funny line from “Ghostbusters” and simply figured cosplay is a thing for hipster Canadians. Disappointingly, all she wanted was to take my money … 

“Mastercard the Destructor,” sounds plausible, and for many, it’s reality … 

One thing most folks of our advanced age learned long ago was discipline in managing our lives — and our money. Us oldies reflect this with our emergence as the single largest wealth group in America. We saved more, we’re living longer, and today, despite our apparent frumpiness, seniors as a group are the financial heavyweights – thus making some targets for manipulative exploitation. 

I sometimes visit the Quora “question and answer” website, or rather, Quora self-invites itself to me, and I’ll waste otherwise valuable time “reading around.” One funny question recently asked was, “I’m 72. Does that make me late-young aged, or early middle-aged?” 

The answer was true-ish, but rudely abrupt: 

“At 72, you’re already late-old, and if you’re getting around well, you’re also lucky.” The blunt responder continued, “American life expectancy is about 78 years. By that standard, you’ve already burnt your wick. ‘Young’ ended at 27-28. Divide 78 by 2 and you’ll see 39 is ‘middle, middle aged,’ and by logic, 51 is the end of middle age, and the rest is ‘old age.’ Anything over 78 is a bonus, and if you’re still vital beyond 78 you won the genetic lottery.”  

OK, so the respondent was unnecessarily harsh. But it is also true that we view things per our biases and can engage in self-deception. The question-asker apparently feels young despite age. Yet for most, 72 is far from “young.” At 67, I hear “Ghostbuster” lines instead of credit card requests, as when memory fails, after required morning stretches, I’ll neglect my hearing aids. 

I recently read “The New Alchemists.” The book discusses our propensity to fall for the health fads, questionable health-extending procedures, and the celebrity-driven “wellness” industry that surrounds us. Naturally, as we age, we care more about our health and are thus susceptible to pitches promising to “miraculously” forestall inevitable decline. Seniors can be easy “wellness” scam targets. 

The good news? Almost all but the most basic wellness practices are bunk and should be ignored. Simply eating well, breathing clean air, avoiding smoking and excess drinking, and getting good exercise, is what will dictate most of the quality and duration of our lives. This, and luck. Save your money for fun. Your favorite movie star’s pricey serum is a hoax. 

The rude Quora responder turns out somewhat incorrect. While 78 is the life expectancy for average Americans, those who follow sound self-care practices and who get reasonable medical care will most likely far outlast 78 with vibrant, extended lives. Paradoxically, the older we get, the longer our future life expectancy becomes. At 67, perhaps for me at least, I’m still late-middle aged – perhaps in my self-deception … 

I’ll accept the embarrassment of mistakenly playing Zuul at a vintage record store. I’ll remember my hearing aids when I venture out. I’ll keep riding my bike and stay in shape and avoid unhealthy food. I’m writing back to Quora that indeed, if you want it, 60s, 70s, and even 80s can still be fairly “youngish,” given your effort — and luck.  

Of course, your mileage may vary – there’s no guarantees in life. So, don’t forget to “live it up” while you can … 

Gary Horton’s “Full Speed to Port!” has appeared in The Signal since 2006. The opinions expressed in his column do not necessarily reflect the opinions of The Signal or its editorial board.

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