Coming of Age

I’m sitting in a dentist chair recovering from my latest oral sandblasting when the dentist pops in for his mandatory “dental consult” – a “drop-in with remarks,” as my grandmother used to say, which adds $150 to my bill. He has noted a possible “trouble spot” on my left sublunary molar tusk – I forget the exact dental nomenclature – and explains “our” plan for me entering the afterlife with gleaming teeth and rosy gums.

I ask about the cost. “About $4800,” he whispers, none of which is covered by Medicare. I ask if he has any stopgap fixes for, say, $200?

Sensing futility, he displays his own pearly-whites and leaves for the adjacent examining room, where perhaps a better prospect lies on his back awaiting the pitch.

I’m 71 years old for heaven’s sake. Why would I spend the total cost of my first ten vehicles on a tooth? “All things considered,” as the radio goblins like to say, I’d never get my money’s worth out of that tooth before my funeral.

Even more annoying… from what I read, the most lucrative profit-center in retailing is “warrantee extensions.” I recently bought a $18 battery replacement for my $17 Timex watch, which, even with a nightlight, has lasted four years.

“For only $25, I can offer you a lifetime of battery replacements for your watch. It’s a terrific deal. Never buy another battery again,” the clerk chirped earnestly.

“I’m 71 years old, I muttered. How many more watch batteries will I need before I die?” The flustered clerk fell silent and I left the store with my Timex back on time.

I have yet to spend over $10,000 on any car in my 71 years. It was only a decade ago when my car psychologist told me he could no longer get me inspectable cars for under $5,000. I typically buy cars with 70+,000 miles on them and drive them another 100,000 miles. I never fall for the “lifetime warranty” with its myriad exclusions… not worthy it when the end of one’s life is in sight.

Acknowledging one’s mortality is practical. I don’t start new hobbies. I don’t covet new things. I try to match the lifespan of the few things I acquire with my own. “Used” is okay at 71. My durable goods are already too durable and clutter up my remaining years.

My Christmas and birthday lists are for consumable goods, the pleasure of which I will live to enjoy: savory foods, music, and books.

Truth be told, I don’t want to live forever. Age loses its allure sitting in a wheelchair waiting for the next meal. Quality of life means a lot to me, as does the cost of extending it beyond its natural limits. I have too many friends my age, caring for a parent in their late nineties and watching the fruit of their hard work dwindle in nursing home costs until their life’s savings are gone and Medicare cuts in.

Attaining great age can be a blessing when accompanied by clarity, memory, and a modicum of physical health.

Absent that, extending life with medical heroics becomes a burden on one’s loved ones and society at large. Remember, half of all health care costs are incurred in the last six months of life.

I hope to live long and well, and when I no longer do, I will have come of age.

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