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THIS IS NOT A TEST with Michael Phillips

Age is just a number – unless you happen to be old. THIS IS NOT A TEST #34 (transcript)

Published August 15, 2015 [Podcast link]

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Hi hi hi hi hi hi. It’s good to see you. What do you say? How you been? What’s the word? Me? Oh, I’m Michael Phillips, and this? Well this is not a test. But you knew that already didn’t you, you crafty bastard. Man, I’m in a rut lately. Do you ever wake up and walk to the bathroom or kitchen or wherever you go when you get out of bed and think, “Jesus Christ, I do the same thing every day!” Usually routine doesn’t bother me. I mean, you have to adapt to it at least somewhat if you work a regular job for regular hours away from home. I suppose even if you work from home you have to have some kind of routine. If you actually do any work. Yeah, I’m looking at you work from home types. I know how it really goes. Sure, you do some work, enough so that it doesn’t look like you’re doing nothing. But I know you’re also laying on the couch scratching your balls for part of the day. The same part of the day I’m behind my desk or sitting in a conference room trying not to murder someone across the table from me. And before you tell me that you actually work in your work from home job, let me assure you, you are the minority. Anyway, none of that has anything to do with me, because I work in an office. And I go in there every day and for the most part it’s fine. My job is interesting and it beats digging ditches, as the kids say.

But still, sometimes I can’t stand it. Not the job specifically, just the act of getting up every day and going to the job. It’s really idiotic. If we didn’t have this established work world already set up and you said to someone, “I have an idea, let’s all go to one building every day and sit around at desks and do relatively pointless work together.” they’d look at you like you were nuts, and then vote you out of the tribe. But here we are in the modern world and this is what we have: offices and jobs and even if you’re not in an office you’re still trapped. You’re trapped behind that counter or trapped inside that brown truck delivering a never ending mountain of Amazon boxes, or you’re trapped at the end of a ladder painting a different wall every day, but doing it in the same way, day after day after day. It’s a miracle we’re not all insane, not all running naked through the streets with our bosses severed heads in our hands, burning down buildings. There’s a school of thought that says people need work, and when people retire from their jobs they keel over dead because they have no purpose anymore. Well that may true be for some people, but trust me, I don’t need to work for someone else to have a purpose. Even if my purpose is to do nothing. Especially if my purpose is to do nothing.

And retire? Isn’t that a quaint Norman Rockwell bunch of shit. I suppose if you have a certain kind of job, like a civil servant or cop or army General you can retire and get into your RV and start driving through the Southwest in a big, endless loop. But in this new economy, the new jobs, the modern world, this great service economy we’ve built, how do you “retire”? The only way you can do that now is if you’ve squirreled away enough of your own money to just quit working one day. And I know some of you have. You’re smart, you’ve been working and saving all your lives and you’re all set. Good for you. This problem I have with working, this fundamental flaw in my makeup, has always prevented me from doing any of that. Getting into the right job or staying at a job for 20 or 30 years. That’s beyond my capacity to comprehend, so that kind of go to school, work, retire thing is alien to me. Pensions are a weird concept anyway. So – if I work for you for 25 years, after that I can just stay at home but you’ll continue to pay me? That’s kind of crazy when you think about it. I guess that’s why outside of government jobs, you never hear anyone talking about their pension anymore. because they don’t exist.

So here we go, day in and day out, to our jobs. What a treat. What a world. Yet another reason I don’t understand how anyone could possibly believe in a god. Though the god of the bible is evil and vindictive, with all of that old school blood and revenge and pestilence and hate, so I suppose it’s not much of a stretch to believe that someone like that would create you just so you could go to an office everyday and sit there with the florescent light bouncing off your head. 8 or 9 hours a day for 30 years. Yeah, now that I think of it, that’s probably what today’s god would have done to Job. He wouldn’t have tested him by taking away everything he had, slaughtering his family and then covering him with boils, he would have just given him a shirt and pants and a briefcase and said, “Show up at this address tomorrow, and then every day for the next 30 years.” So yeah, I need a vacation, I think is what I’m saying here. Something like that.

I talked about being too old to go to concerts anymore last week and I’m afraid it’s just true. People who say that age is just a number are like the people who say they “don’t see color.” They’re full of shit. Age is real, brothers and sisters, and I’m here to testify. I’m 55 years old so I think I have earned the right to talk about it. Though they’ll tell you – the mass of the world “they” – that being in your 50s is still young these days. I don’t know how they come up with this crap, that this is the new that and 90 year olds are the new teenagers. I suppose it’s just something to write about, to fill magazine or Internet space. And they’re trying to fill Internet space, even though it can never be filled, it only continues to expand. They don’t care, they are still frantically typing out crap, hoping to catch the Internet right at the edge of fullness, to be that one who finally filled the thing. The one who made it complete. I can feel it. And reading some of the things that masquerade as articles on the Internet you can only come to the conclusion that it’s an attempt to fill it. Fill it with shit.

But being too old to go to concerts is the least of it. And really most of not wanting to go to concerts is voluntary. Rather than being physically or psychically too old, you just gain the hard-won experience and story book wisdom to realize what an imperfect situation it is for hearing music. I know, last week all I did was gush over First Aid Kit for 20 minutes and say what a wonderful experience it was. But I’ve seen more bands play live than I can count or even remember, and the wonderful experiences can be counted on the fingers of my hands. Okay, maybe a couple of toes too. But usually it’s just a so-so experience and often it’s a downright shitty experience. And if you love music, guess what? It’s always going to sound better at home. Even if your stereo sucks, or you don’t even have a stereo and torture yourself with those misery buds jammed into your ears. Even those – the worst way to experience music that man has yet created – sound better than live music. If you insist on going to concerts here’s my advice: sit as close to the sound board as you can. They won’t be great seats, depending on the size of the venue you may not even be close enough to see the musicians faces on stage, but trust me, that board is the only place in the venue where the music sounds good. The only place. It doesn’t sound better right in front of the stage, it doesn’t even sound better on the stage. It only sounds good right where the person mixing the show is standing. 50 feet in any other direction everything goes out the window.

But whether age is simply realizations of the foolishness of certain things or the actual degeneration and decay of our physical parts, it’s a real thing. Okay, so how do we age? Slowly. Insidiously. I can tell you that much. For instance: I type out anything from an outline to a page to an entire script for most of these podcasts, and I used to print it in the 10 point courier font that my text editor uses. But now that I’ve moved the recording stuff into the music room here I don’t have the benefit of the bright overhead lights, so just to be able to read the page in here I had to print it in a larger size, in Arial, so my old eyes can make it out. “Why not just wear glasses?” you might ask, and that’s a reasonable question. I have glasses. I have reading glasses and regular seeing glasses. And when I say that aging is insidious, the eyes may be the best example. I though my vision was wonderful and I was very smug and proud that I had an eagle eye well into my 40s. Then I started noticing that when driving at night the colors of the lights in signs – certain colors, greens and blues – were kind of fuzzy. I still refused to accept that it had anything to do with my eyes, I figured that’s just how those colors were at night for everyone.

Then something happened, I don’t remember what exactly, probably Carol made me get my eyes checked. But when I was in there with my head strapped into that bug eye machine and they were flipping through the lenses it was pretty clear that my eyesight was less than perfect. Then when I got the glasses it was like seeing everything for the first time again. Like HD TV for $150 is how I think I put it at the time. So the gradual decay of our bodies is tricky. It lulls us into a false sense of wonderfulness and feeling like we’re forever 18 years old. Which is interesting anyway, how we perceive ourselves, because despite everything I’m about to tell you, the endless list of horrors and decrepitness, I still feel like I’m 18 years old. I think I’ll feel that way forever, if I still feel that way now, in my mid-50s. And that makes me look at really old people differently. Maybe as they’re shuffling around the bus stop they feel like kids too. Or maybe I’m deluding myself, and when I hit 60 suddenly I’m not going to feel like a teenager anymore. When I say I feel like I’m 18 I don’t mean I feel like I did when I was 18 year old, though I’m not sure that I’ve changed much, but what I mean is I continue to believe – despite all of the evidence piling up in front of my failing eyes – that I can do anything I could do when I was 18.

In my mind I can do those things. But I don’t actually try to do many of them. Or any of them. In fact it’s a lot of the things I did when I was younger that now come back to haunt me. And I’m sure people older than me have been warning me about this for most of my life, but I probably just didn’t listen, as it is the luxury of the young to do. I was banged around a lot when I was younger, but I always healed and rebounded quickly. It didn’t occur to me that those injuries would have any long time effect, since when I felt better I felt better. But a funny thing happens as you get old – suddenly that knee that you tore the tendons in starts to bother you from time to time. At first you think it’s coming out of nowhere, then you realize, “Oh, right, that’s the knee I tore up on the bike,” or “That’s the shoulder I separated dangling from those bars that one time…” All of those injuries that you suffer and then heal from, they aren’t all the way healed, I hate to tell you. I hate to be the bearer of such terrible news, but here we are, so what can I do.

If the old injuries coming back to haunt you wasn’t enough, the ease of acquiring new injuries as you age is really quite astounding. You can pull a muscle tying your shoe or getting a jar of pickles out of the refrigerator. Or wiping your ass, that’s a good one. And you think, “Jesus man, I’m not that frail and debilitated am I?” But you are. Well, not really, but things are just different. I worked with a guy who climbed mountains and only ate seaweed and granola and was 150 pounds in his 60s, but he’d still come in to the office some days not able to move his head or limping and he’d say, “I have no idea what happened, I was just filling the hummingbird feeder and suddenly I couldn’t see out of my left eye…” So I don’t think it makes any difference if you’re a big health or exercise type who’s constantly running from something or stepping up imaginary stairs. I mean sure, it makes a difference, you probably feel better than I do, but you are still falling apart, baby. You’re still human, and humans weren’t made to live as long as we’re living.

It was only a couple hundred years ago that being 55 would have made me the oldest man in the tribe or the village. People who lived into their 70s or 80s were around, but uncommon. More common – in Europe or the fledgling young America anyway – was working like a dog every day of every week for your entire life and then dropping dead on your 35th birthday because you caught a cold or ate the potato with the weird spot on it. So really, a lot of this age related stuff is our own fault. We’ve advanced too far too quickly and now we’re living too long. We start falling apart in our 50s and 60s because we’re supposed to be dead already. But I suppose that for everything that falls apart, for every human part that wears out, they’ll figure out how to patch it or replace it. I know I could get a new hip – and between you and me I could use one – and a new knee, those are pretty common now. And for all I know I could get a new shoulder – or shoulders – and I could use those too. I could get those things. But probably won’t. The things they can’t replace drag you down too, like your lungs. Breathing is probably not something you think about too much, but it does have a tendency to weaken in inverse proportion to how many birthday candles you have to blow out. One day you realize that you can’t fly up three flights of stairs anymore, or even one flight of stairs, without getting winded and wondering what the fuck. And that lack of wind decreases your overall stamina. I always had a lot of stamina. I could always endure, could always walk or climb or pedal forever. Just get into a zone and go until there was nowhere else to go. Now I don’t put myself in those situations because I don’t want to disappoint myself by failing. because like I said, I still think I could do any of it. So when the newly developed 3D printed lungs are ready, call me. I’ll talk to my insurance agent.

The reality is I don’t benefit much from medical advances because I try to stay away from doctors. I pay a ridiculous amount of money to a health insurance company, but that’s just like lottery money. You pay it so in the unlikely event that something really horrible happens to you and you’re in the hospital for three months or something you won’t be bankrupted and in debt until your great-great-grandchldren finally pay it off. Maybe your insurance is different, but mine doesn’t seem to pay for much in the way of real world shit. Sore shoulder? Doctor says try this cortisone shot! Bill comes in the mail for $650. Insurance doesn’t cover it. Fall down in a drunken stupor and bust up your wrist? Go to the hospital, get an x-ray talk to a doctor for two minutes, get a prescription for antibiotics. Get a $950 bill in the mail. And it goes on and on from there. So when I get a random ache or pain or something weird is growing on me somewhere, I just deal with it. Wait it out or tear it off or try to ignore it. Because really, any good and honest doctor will tell you that they rarely “cure” anyone. People either get better on their own or they don’t. Most of what they’re doing is making you feel better while the pain decides whether to go away or to kill you.

The people who go in and talk to a doctor when they think a mole they’ve had all their life is imperceptibly larger somehow, or when they have a cold or the flu, or stub their toe – maybe those people just have better insurance than I do. Or maybe they’re just crazy. And I don’t know if they’re benefiting from medical advances any more than I am. They way most of us benefit from advances is in the way of things like sanitation or workplace safety. Those kinds of advances do much more to keep the bulk of us alive than some weird $80,000 heart surgery or experimental brain or endocrine system replacements. That space age shit, the things we read about whenever we accidentally read about medicine, those only benefit a small percentage of humanity. The rest of us live longer because the world has slowly become a less filthy and dangerous place for most of us. But that’s hardly progress either, because it’s still filthy and dangerous for a lot of us. The filth and danger just migrates to wherever the most poor people happen to be at the time. In the 19th century it was the East coast of America, now it’s India and parts of China. The shit just keeps rolling from place to place, as shit will tend to do.

But medical science and cultural luck aside, age has advantages too I’m sure. I’m not quite old enough to enjoy most of them, so I don’t know, but I know that make more money and get more respect now than I ever did, whether or not I deserve either one. Which I probably do not. I don’t know if you get any smarter as you age, but when you get to the point where you’ve seen everything at least once, you seem pretty smart to younger people. There aren’t many situations that can pop up that you haven’t already dealt with. And of course everything is easier the second time around. Or the third or fourth time around. Carol and I were headed downtown on the freeway one night, probably ten years ago, and the car got a flat tire. I pulled onto an off ramp median and said, “Wait here for a minute,” and jumped out and changed the tire in about five minutes and Carol couldn’t believe it. But the thing is, I’d changed a hundred tires before that night, so it wasn’t exactly an amazing feat. It was easy. But it seemed amazing to her. What’s amazing to me is I got a flat last week and I just called AAA to come fix it. That’s how I do it now. It’s less impressive, but fuck if I’m going to bust my knuckles changing a tire now. That’s what I pay those guys for. I don’t have anything left to prove where that kind of shit is concerned.

Which is probably one of the main benefits of age, not having anything to prove. You don’t have to prove your physical prowess because no one expects you to have any, and you don’t have to prove you’re smart or wise because everyone just assumes you are. Which for most of us is probably an incorrect assumption, but still, it’s an assumption, so just accept it and keep moving. It can be a relaxing stage, having nothing to prove, especially if you’ve gone through your life on the lookout or ready to prove yourself at any moment. That shit is exhausting, and really, in retrospect, a waste of time. Go ahead, be vigilant. Be ready for anything. Be prepared. Walk around like a coiled spring or a cocked hammer or a latched blade, ready to jump out and cut a path through whatever. Go for it. Unless you live in a really bad neighborhood, odds are you’re never going to need any of that, so you’re wasting your time and your energy. You could be learning how to jet ski or decoupage. And all those lines in your forehead – totally unnecessary. Take it easy.

But yeah, there’s something great about being young and indestructible and stupid and thinking that life goes on forever. I mean technically life does go on forever since your forever is kind of done when you die. That’s forever for you. But after a certain point you start to realize that this shit moves fast, really fast, and it’s all over before its begun. It’s laughable, how important we believe we are and how we worry about things that don’t matter. It sure seems like they matter to us at the time, but they don’t. None of it does. If you have love – any kind of love, don’t be picky – you’ve got the world dicked. You’ve got everything you could ever have or will ever have. More money isn’t going to do what love will. Being famous isn’t the same, isn’t as good. Being the king of your won island or a monarch or a oligarch or a dictator – none of those things is as good as one person’s imperfect love. So look around. You’re probably already a success and a billionaire and a king or a queen. Or both.

What else can I say about that? What else can I say about anything. It’s warm night here in Los Angeles, and people are out on their porches and steps looking up at the sky and wondering what happens next. We know what happens next – nothing, but who wants to face that? Better to believe that something’s about to break. Something’s going to tip somewhere and everything’s going to change. For the better. because the tip the other way – no one wants to think about that. Except the people with basement full of water barrels and blankets and submachine guns. Which always make me laugh. That there are people who are so full of themselves that they believe they can and should survive when everyone else goes down the fiery waterslide of doom. I suppose they’ll get their comeuppance if they actually do survive, and end up eating each other and jumping off cliffs.

Well that’s funny, we’ve kind of gone from a positive, uplifting thing to the end of humanity, all in a couple of minutes. You’re welcome. Where else are you going to get that kind of action? That kind of wide ranging human emotion? Not from any of those other podcasts out there. No. Just here, so let’s keep ourselves right and tight and soldier through to the next week. Or through to the next day or hour or minute. Because, why not? The alternative is no fun. Adios. See you next week, if we’re both still upright and breathing. Oh – smoke alarm update: the neighbor’s smoke alarm is still chirping every 15 seconds, crying out for a new 89 cent battery. That makes six weeks now that they have been denying the poor thing and letting it complain. Every 15 seconds around the clock, day in and day out. Welcome to my world. Now run away!

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