S.M. Park’s column Risen Apes about being a 70-year-old boomer. In “Risen Apes,” Park talks about Port Townsend, walking every day, and being a 49ers fan.
Decrepitude is a minefield: you’ve gotta be as tough as the old bark you live in. Here in Port Townsend, for instance, the average age is sixty plus. (It’ll be sixty-five in 2021, making this the second oldest county in America.) It’s a sprawling outdoor rest home where everything revolves around us.
As it always has for boomers, plus we’ve most of the loot now. When I moved here in 2013 neighbors asked why I’d chosen this city for retirement. There were For Sale signs everywhere and the place had lurked beneath the radar for decades.
“Look around you,” I told them. “The baby boomers are turning sixty-five … we’ll ALL be here soon!”
They scoffed (they’d heard that one before), but seven years later there isn’t a hotter real estate market in the country. I listed this place in 2016 and it was seen by fifty couples in seven weeks. Given its size (six hundred square feet), they wouldn’t have been happy here even if they liked each other but so what? It was a foothold in paradise.
They were also older than I was and are probably dead by now. In the meanwhile the stairway to the second floor was a deal breaker:
“Oh my God, Richard … look at all the steps! I can’t climb up and down those every day!”
This baffled me, as the stairs were one of the reasons I bought the place, but I’m a lifelong walker. I finally sold it to Rick Silverdale, the old friend who I rent from now. (We’ve been buddies for fifty years and, like Tony DeBola, he’s never let me down.)
Anyway, the local motto is “We’re all here because we’re not all there,” while I prefer “The City That Whiskey Built.” When this was a small 1850s seaport a reporter from the San Francisco Chronicle visited. He was looking to interview an Indian and found the local chief passed out on the beach, surrounded by empty bottles and a pair of squaws (both with black eyes). Then he ventured into town, discovered it was mostly bars and whorehouses.
When he returned to San Francisco he wrote an article describing Port Townsend as a lawless, wanton seaport peopled by drunks and loose women.
A month later hundreds of guys like me had migrated here. (I’d say I feel their ghosts but I’ve plenty of my own.) In the meanwhile it’s my favorite of the dozens of towns I’ve lived in on the Left Coast.
Games are what I’ve missed most, in fact, during this Boomer Remover pandemic.
Then I suffered stomach distress last summer and had an endoscopy done. The surgeon told me afterwards that I had “auto-immune gastritis,” a precursor to stomach cancer. I might have been alarmed, except doctors have been telling me I’m a goner since childhood.
So I got a second opinion from a gastro specialist, who studied the results, said I was probably good for now and there was little they could do about it, anyway.
“But that’s the good news,” he said. “The bad is this blood test of yours: I’ve never seen anyone with less B-12 in their system.”
“Not surprising,” I said.
“Why? When was the last time you took a vitamin B supplement?”
“Forty years ago.”
Which isn’t precisely true: I’ve tried one every decade or so, just to confirm I’ll be poleaxed with mono symptoms the following day. It’s been my plight since I ate a tainted burrito in 1978 and came down with Hepatitis A. It was so severe that, in conjunction with the cirrhotic damage I’d done with booze, my liver was barely functioning. When I slipped into a coma the physician called my then wife and parents, claimed I’d be dead by morning.
This was the same “specialist” who did a biopsy on my liver later and was so mystified by the results that he sent them to labs across the country. When they couldn’t sort them out either he finally called me at work, said my liver was full of granulomas (whatever that meant) and I’d be lucky to live another five years.
Yet here I sit, forty years down the road, having done nothing healthy in the interim but walk. I was kind of proud of that in the old days, but now it nudges me into Trump territory. I think of our portly Prez’ when I’m at the local co-op: all this emphasis on good food and exercise and that character’s so lazy he drives his golf cart onto greens and lives on burgers, fried chicken and diet soda.
There’s no sense (much less justice) to a universe like that.
I reserve my own shame for sports fandom. (Games are what I’ve missed most, in fact, during this Boomer Remover pandemic.) Competition was a sacrament in my family, so it’s easy to excuse my slavish devotion that way, but it hardly justifies the decades I’ve wasted rooting for, say, the New York Yankees. I mean what kind of front runner does that, much less one who grew up in California?
At least the Niners are my hometown team. That’s some consolation when I’m sitting alone in a room, screaming at the television. (As if—even if they could hear me—those strangers in uniforms would be interested in my opinion.)
Last season (in a game San Francisco was leading by three touchdowns no less!) I heard a knock at my door. Opened it to find Tidy Ted and Tina, my OCD neighbors, standing on the porch. They wore anxious expressions.
“Are you all right?” asked Ted. “We heard screaming up here.”
“Yeah,” said Tina, trying to look around me, see who else was in the room. “Were you attacked?”
Yeah, I thought. By the refs!
“Uh, no,” I stammered, “I’m alone here. It was just me … you know … yelling at the football game. On the TV.”
They looked like I must when I gaze out the window, see Ted washing and vacuuming their car twice a week (whether they’ve driven it or not).
It was even worse in the Eighties, when the Niners were winning Super Bowls. Then I became so delirious during games that a thief backed a truck through the side of my greenhouse, stole two dozen pot plants while I was celebrating a touchdown.
Those plants were my babies: I’d nursed them day and night for six months. The theft cost my girlfriend and I tens of thousands of dollars (not to mention a year’s worth of highs).
And that wasn’t the worst part. That came when Chuck, a neighbor down the road, told me the thief had idled outside my greenhouse for an hour, listening to the game on the radio.
Waiting, in effect, for just the right moment to strike.
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Well, I saw and heard him in the lot next to your place, but I took a walk with my dog and when I came back his truck—and the side of your greenhouse—were both gone.”
I just stared at him.
“You mean to tell me,” I said finally, “that this asshole had ‘knowledge aforethought’? That he knew what a sick fuck I was!? That he could count on me making so much noise I wouldn’t hear him smash a truck through my fence!?”
“Well, yeah, High,” snickered Chuck. “Everyone knows that.”
Which meant that—in a town full of losers—I was the biggest one of all.
At least Ted and Tina knocked first.