(Shortly before its demise in 1998, The Miami Herald’s Tropic Magazine asked me to write a few words about aging. Jeez, I was only 50! I like to think my piece had nothing to do with the magazine going out of business. In any event, here it is, along with Photographer Charlie Trainor, Jr.’s nifty photo).
By Paul Levine
Just when I was getting used to my looks, when life had bestowed the dubious blessing of crinkly eyes and a furrowed brow, when it might be said that my face had acquired character, a plastic surgeon suggested he could take 10 years off my appearance by drilling holes in my head, slicing some muscles, yanking up my forehead, and fastening it to my skull with metal pins.
I received this heartening offer while standing in the gym near the bench press, having lifted a respectable amount of iron for a lanky fellow whose work requires mere mental gymnastics while seated in a cushioned chair.
“Look at that vertical crevice between your eyes,” the sawbones said with the same awe Spanish conquistadors must have expressed upon seeing the Grand Canyon.
“I know,” I replied. “It looks as if Lizzie Borden hit me with an ax.”
“We can get rid of it,” he promised. “And while we’re at it, we’ll take out some muscles to keep you from frowning or raising your eyebrows.”
“I need to raise my eyebrows to express irony,” I said, raising my eyebrows.
“Wrinkles!” he shouted. “It causes wrinkles.”
Smoothing out my forehead and plucking the fat from beneath my eyes, he promised, would leave me with a youthful demeanor reminiscent of my bar mitzvah photos.
“If you don’t do it,” Doc Hollywood warned me in solemn tones, “with gravity and aging, your forehead will slide even lower and eventually cut down your vision.”
“OK, so I’ll give up my dream of landing an F-14 on the deck of a carrier.”
But his words cut even deeper than his scalpel. I pictured myself as a beady-eyed Chinese Shar-pei, peering out from under a corrugated brow. Rushing to the mirror, I saw that he was right. Just when had my forehead slipped south? Most men aren’t aware of such subtle changes. As a man ages, I once read, his genitalia shrinks. Now, that we would notice.
“If you’re afraid of the surgery,” the surgeon continued, “I could simply inject Botox into your forehead. It’s derived from botulism and will paralyze the muscles and smooth out the wrinkles.”
“So would a ballpeen hammer,” I replied.
I sometimes think that every crease and crevice can be attached to a specific trauma, so now I chart my face as a botanist might the rings of a giant Redwood. Aha, there’s the year of my career change, my divorce, my father’s death.
My past is littered with youthful humiliations, including being dateless for the junior prom. Adolescence began with huge black eyeglasses and a four-inch-high dirty blond flat-top that resembled an Iowa wheat field.
I did, however, have a sparkling personality and a deadly wit that I mistakenly believed could convince a girl — once sprawled across the front seat of my ’56 Ford at the drive-in theater — to shed her blouse. This strategy failed, notwithstanding soaking my turquoise vinyl upholstery with English Leather, which I understood to be a powerful aphrodisiac.
Later, with anti-war rebellion in the late ’60s, I let my hair grow long and bushy until it must have appeared that a muskrat was sleeping on my head. But now, three decades later, with a decent haircut and having grown accustomed to my face, I do not want to be reminded that the downhill slide may be even more painful than my awkward adolescence.
Aging means more than sagging jowls and a wrinkled brow, of course. In the past three years, I have had knee surgery, two hernia operations, and my first colonoscopy . . . clean as a whistle, thank you very much. I have bone spurs in both thumbs; I have trouble with the small-print on menus in darkened restaurants; and I get whipped in wind sprints by my 17-year-old son.
When I turned 50 earlier this year, I began receiving mail from the American Association of Retired Persons and a men’s health magazine that promises sturdy erections into my 90s if I would only buy a variety of food supplements favored by ancient Indian tribes from Peru.
No Plastic Surgery for Me, Thank You
Oh, Botox, schmotox! No plastic surgery. I don’t want an eye job, a chin implant, or penile enlargement. Keep your liposuction, collagen injections, and endoscopic forehead lifts. I know men are doing these things, but it’s all too trendy for me, a guy as up-to-date as a Ban-Lon shirt. I don’t carry a pager or a purse or wear suspenders, cuff links, or even a watch.
I don’t have an earring or a tattoo, and I don’t smoke cigars or wax melodic over the smoky essence of single-malt Scotch. I’m not in touch with either my feminine side or my inner child. I’m not a man of the ’90s, much less the millennium. OK, OK, I’m a throwback. So sue me . . . but don’t slice me.
It’s not that I am unconcerned about my appearance. I will swim my laps and hoist my weights in vain efforts to stave off gravity and the passage of time. I will eat low-fat foods with an occasional timeout for an oversize steak at Morton’s. I will drink gallons of water, hide from the sun, and imbibe martinis only in moderation. I will be the sum of my aging parts, and the wrinkles will bother me not a whit. After all, I earned them.