Danger Deferred

By Victor Hughes

(Originally published in the Fall 2009 edition of Voices)

As a younger man spending years in advertising and teaching, I would sometimes have blood-pounding urges to throw off the confines of convention and live the life of devil-may-care, swashbuckling recklessness. With considerable effort, I smothered these youthful impulses, mentally delaying their fulfillment until I was old, maybe near eighty.

That’s the time to live dangerously, I’d think. I’d have nothing to lose but a few years at most, all downhill in states of increasing decrepitude. Then it’d make sense to go wild.

I envisioned myself as a crazy but wise old codger, heedless of all tiresome restraints like seatbelts and bike helmets, establishment mores, and public opinion. I’d play in Times Square traffic if I were so moved; maybe — eat a rock if it met my fancy. I’d go to war zones, embedding myself with front-line troops, have sex-crazed Hugh Hefner-type matinees whenever I wanted, zoom into orbit like the aging John Glenn, leap from airplanes a la Papa Bush. Old age would be the perfect time for high-wire acts of every sort. I almost couldn’t wait.

Well, I did wait. Hate to say it, but now I’d just as soon not go out after dark. Not only am I even more adamant about locked seat belts, but I’m a stickler for my reinforced harness and take great comfort in knowing I have inflatables throughout the car. Filtered water, low-fat cream cheese, and high-fiber cereals occupy far more of my consciousness than playing in traffic, crossing minefields or front-line fighting. A good night’s sleep certainly takes priority over embedding myself with anyone. I learn all I need to know about overseas battles, thank you, from The New York Times, large-type edition.

As for Playboy-type matinees, my present daytime interludes are far removed from sex; they involve another heavy-breathing three-letter word called “nap.” Instead of crossing minefields, I cross only on the green—the beginning of the green. Instead of high-wire acts, I clutch grab bars in the shower. Far from orbiting the earth, I circle calendar dates, too often for memorial services. I don’t parachute from planes, either, but will happily accept a bus seat from a middle-aged lady.

Old age, I’m learning, is not so much devil-may-care daring as clutch-the-banister caution. Gin-fueled carelessness has been fully replaced, I confess, by gingerly care.