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March 30, 2017

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For a man of my age, I’m OK

I know the exact day and time I grew old. It didn’t happen slowly, I didn’t ever so gently slide into the age of slippers and healthful toddies.

My arrival was sudden; brutal, you might say. One second I was going about my business, just like anyone else; the next I was an old man going about my business, just like any old man.

It happened on July 25, 2006, at the Amtrak station at the Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport. The young woman selling tickets looked at me and said, “You get the senior discount, right?” I looked over my shoulder to see whom she might be addressing, but I was alone in the ticket counter. In a small voice, I confessed that I was entitled to Amtrak’s pity.

I had almost forgotten that encounter when my health insurer wrote to tell me that it wasn’t their policy to insure people my age and it was time to accept Medicare’s fatal embrace — fatal because no one leaves Medicare without the aid of a box and mourners.

A helpful woman at the Social Security Administration recommended that I start drawing immediately because, as she said so sweetly, “You never know what’s going to happen.” Any thoughts of getting a bit more down the road evaporated. Persian poet Omar Khayyam’s stricture “take the cash in hand and waive the rest” was clearly written for me.

I had just gotten to feel that time was not of the essence when my doctors piled on a veritable regiment of fatalistic hand-wringers and the heartless phrase “a man of your age.”

It started with the orthopedic surgeon: “Your knees are not too bad for a man of your age.”

The internist said, “Do you want us to screen your prostate for cancer? For a man of your age, we don’t usually do anything even if it is positive.” To cheer me, he added: “If you get cancer there, it progresses very slowly and you’ll probably be gone before it’s a problem. That’s my advice to a man of your age.”

The final medical insulter is my dentist. Recently, I wanted to discuss implants. But clearly, he’s a man of fiscal rectitude. “We shouldn’t really undertake too much on a man of your age,” he said.

Social events are not where you can look for the milk of human kindness. A hostess introduced me this way: “He has known everyone who is anyone over the past — how long is it? — 60 years.”

For that kind of thing, I start shaking my quite firm hand and douse her white tablecloth in red wine. What can you expect from a man of my age?

People expect older men to be in the bathroom every five minutes, and I don’t like to let them down. Trouble is the mirror. There’s a man with white hair staring out of it whom I don’t know.

Like Henry IV addressing Falstaff, I tell the apparition, “I know thee not, old man.”

Actually I don’t look too bad, for a man of my age.

Llewellyn King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS.

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