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Essay

Almost 60

Something New Comes Into View

January 26, 2003|Aram Saroyan | Aram Saroyan last wrote for the magazine about big band leader and clarinetist Artie Shaw. His most recent book is "Artists in Trouble: New Stories."

An astonishing life passage, a sort of reverse mirror image of the hormonal surge of adolescence, is the more gradual but insistent waning of sexual preoccupation, sexual focus one might say, that occurred over the course of my 50s. Part of what made it astonishing and, to be honest, rather frightening, was the complete media blackout on the subject. Women address the subject of menopause voluminously, but there is little on the subject of the equivalent passage for men.

Indeed, one's first response to this change, given the societal blackout, is to confuse it with a personal failure, and to reach for tried-and-true sexual quickeners, from well-thumbed passages of Henry Miller to video pornography to the Internet varieties to, for not a few in our phase, a younger woman.

Then, too, in place of any serious forum or context for discussion of this issue, the boomer generation is treated to a glut of products to arrest or postpone the passage: from Viagra to the SUV to the lap dance emporium.

One night, amid the sea of commercials, one saw a professional baseball player. "I take Viagra," he said firmly. How old was he? He was a member of the team, not a coach, and players seldom play beyond age 40. What is this about? And can amyl nitrate inhalers be far behind--as the new "legal recreational drug," as Hugh Hefner, a septuagenarian still in his swinger's bathrobe and pajamas, christened Viagra?

There is a solitariness for me, and I imagine for many my age, in coming across such an ad, as if I'm terribly out of step with my society and my time. What all this is about, I think--the Viagra and SUV and lap dance bars--is late-phase capitalism hitting the wall and running amok. It's Enron and Andersen for your nervous system--a special Cayman Islands account of your own with windfall payments out of nowhere.

But let me get to the other side of the coin. I'm sitting in the waiting room at Las Islas Family Medical Group, which caters to Latinos in Oxnard (where I have an office), waiting for a friend to retrieve a video cassette he's lent to a staff member at the clinic. It's around lunchtime, and there are several young children at large in the big room with its many chairs and sofas.

I watch two little boys racing around, suffused with the joy of being young and unencumbered by problems of anything more than momentary duration. One of them is in love with moving swiftly across the floor, the other only slightly less given to feats of mobility.

A little girl, surely not more than 3 years old, sits and sporadically observes these two children with a contemplative, slightly distracted air. It seems to me that she is already several lifetimes wise.

I observe both the boys and the girl with an almost otherworldly pleasure. "If the doors of perception were cleansed," Blake told us, "everything would appear to man as it is, infinite." I wonder what age he was when he wrote that.

It's as if consciousness, as well as libido, is diffused at this age, and the trade-off is that while the focus loosens, one sees the broad field of particulars, young and old, dark and light, rain or shine, suffused with eros. One loves with a kind of disinterested joy. This is it, one sees--everywhere, all the time.

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