Men of a Certain Age

What I saw in the whirlpool

It was as a teen-ager that I first read The Great Gatsby and Nick Carraway’s oft-quoted, haunting line about middle age-the thinning list of friends, the thinning briefcase of enthusiasm, thinning hair. How strange to go back and find that he was talking about turning thirty. When you’re thirty, that’s unsettling. At forty, it’s outrageous.
Middle age is one of those places, I guess, that look pretty good when you’re leaving; but the arrival can be rough. Age, we reassure ourselves, is a state of mind-while mass culture screams it’s a state of hairline (even Nick knew that), a state of waistline, a state of jowl.

Last year I joined the local Jewish Community Center. I’m not Jewish, but the JCC has a gym, where twice a week I go to support a stubborn basketball habit. At forty I play in what is gently called the "Veterans League," soldiering on in the mind-body war whose chief spoil is the delusion of grace. And it is a delusion. My friend Rich tells about watching a tape of one of our games. "There was a loose ball on the floor, and here were these stumpy guys who couldn’t bend, waving at it." That’s us all right, the wavers, the no-longer-bendables. After a couple of hours on the courts you’ll find me groaning away in the JCC whirlpool, jets of heated water blasting my distressed lower lumbars.

Age is a state of back.

The JCC is a family place. Mothers push strollers, grand-parents...

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About the Author

Rand Richards Cooper is Commonweal's contributing editor.