The Great Boomer Shortage

Sunday morning at 24 Hour Fitness, and 35 or 40 people are working out. It’s the usual assortment of types — guys with major tattoos, guys for whom weight-lifting is probably an intellectual achievement, couples in sweats who park their kids in the child care room, guys whose bearing suggests they’re probably on parole after a few years in lockdown, skinny Latino teenagers slouching around, cute girls wearing iPods, whatever.

While marching along on the treadmill, and again while moving chunks of iron further away from the floor (temporarily) using handy systems of cables, gears, and levers, I’m looking around the room. And it strikes me that everybody there is at least 20 years younger than me. There may be a few over-40s, but not a single head of gray hair is to be seen.

So where are my peers? Is everybody else in such great shape that they don’t need to exercise? No, that doesn’t seem a very satisfactory explanation.

I’m not a jock, for Pete’s sake — I’m an intellectual. I don’t even know who played in the Superbowl, and I’m baffled that anybody would care. So why is it that, among the thousands of steadily maturing Baby Boomers in this town, I’m the only one who cares enough about health and fitness to get out on a Sunday morning and get a little vigorous exercise?

Sure, some of them are coming in in the afternoon, after I’ve gone. Or Monday morning or whatever. I’m not saying nobody ever works out. What I’m saying is that the demographic in the gym is seriously skewed away from my generation. Statistically speaking, if this is a valid sample (and it is — today wasn’t an anomaly), most people in the 55-and-over age group are not getting nearly enough exercise.

Considering the known benefits of regular exercise, this is a little weird. That’s all I’m saying.

Or … no, maybe there’s another thing. As much as I enjoy watching the cute 20-year-old girls work out, I wouldn’t mind feeling, once in a while, that I was doing an activity in the company of my peer group. It’s a little lonely, if you want to know the truth.

Do the Twist

Today I’m in pain, and it’s because yesterday I was having so much fun playing music. No, playing the piano doesn’t hurt. Neither does playing the cello (though I’ve been having a little problem with one finger, thanks for asking). What’s painful is using my computer music workstation.

Doing this type of work involves four separate components — the QWERTY keyboard and mouse (which we’ll count as one component, since they sit side by side), the computer screen, a pair of large stereo speakers (again, one component), and a five-octave music keyboard. The difficulty is, it doesn’t seem to be possible to get all four of those components into an ergonomically healthy physical arrangement.

The computer screen and QWERTY/mouse are in a good arrangement, considered by themselves. The table is the right height, as is the screen. But the music keyboard is off to the right, at a right angle to the computer table. In order to work with a music program, I find myself sitting in a twisted way, with my left hand near the mouse (yes, I’m left-handed) and my right on the music keyboard. This twists my right shoulder back at a fairly sharp angle. And while I’m editing on-screen, which I do a lot, I’m hearing the left speaker channel, essentially in mono, with my right ear.

I can roll backward and turn so that I’m facing the music keyboard and have the speakers directly in front of me in a good listening position, but then I can’t see the computer screen without twisting my head to the left, and I can’t reach the mouse at all.

I’ve seen charming (and expensive) pieces of studio furniture that are intended to address this type of problem. I used to have one in my office at Keyboard, in fact. This design puts the QWERTY keyboard and mouse on a little pull-out tray under the music keyboard, and the computer screen behind the music keyboard, between the speakers.

Swell idea, but in my experience it never quite worked. The pull-out tray is so low your knees bump into it, while the music keyboard is perched so high that it’s not at a good playing height. Plus, if the tray is pulled out (which it needs to be in order for you to use the QWERTY keyboard or mouse), the music keyboard is too far away to reach comfortably. And if your eyes aren’t good (mine aren’t), the computer screen will be so far away that you’ll constantly be leaning forward to see it.

Playing music should be comfortable. You want to be concentrating on the music, not constantly rubbing your shoulder. This is another one of those darn conundrums. I have no answers, I’m just grumbling.


Thinking vaguely about retiring. Or, to be more precise, about drifting into retirement. Gradually becoming more selective about the kinds of things I do. Turns out this is one of the benefits of being self-employed: You can retire gradually.

I expect I’ll keep writing for the music magazines for a long time to come. For one thing, I love getting free software to play with! But some recent physical problems with my left hand have shown me that my days as a cello teacher are numbered. I don’t know the number, but the number is writ in the place where such things are writ.

I’ve always enjoyed good health, and I’ve always (in recent years, anyway) had a very positive attitude about my activities. My plan for growing older is, I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.

It occurred to me last night that I’m operating under a false assumption. The assumption is that for as long as I live, I’ll be able to keep doing what I’m doing.

Today I love playing the piano. I play for an hour or so every day. But I’m remembering my parents’ friend Roger. Roger switched to electronic organ as he got older, because the sound of the piano became harsh as his ears deteriorated.

Today I love playing the cello. But why put myself through the wringer by playing in a local pit orchestra? That’s not a peak music-making experience, it’s a grind — a pit experience, if you will. Every hour I spend playing the cello should be an hour of unalloyed pleasure.

Today I love reading. And my eyes still work. But the truth is, my left eye works better than my right one. At any moment I could find myself otherwise healthy but unable to read. Yeah, there are books for the blind, but it’s not the same thing. For one thing, a lot of the things I read are not mainstream. They won’t have been recorded.

So as I contemplate my piecemeal retirement plan, I need to be conscious of the need to create more free time to do things while I’m still young enough that I can physically do them.

Loading In, Loading Out

Thinking vaguely (and not for the first time) about doing some gigs as a solo cellist. I have a couple of hours of very nice backing tracks, which I recorded into my computer. All finished, mixed, and ready to go. Doing two sets would be easy.

Not easy: cartage. I’ve had a minor but persistent backache for the past three days. Looking at the amp I use for my electric cello, I’m thinking, “There is no friggin’ way I could lift that thing in and out of the trunk of my car.” I’ve done it many times, but this week I wouldn’t even attempt it. I know better.

This whole thing about being 60 — it sucks. And I’m ridiculously healthy compared to a lot of people my age. I work out. I look around 24 Hour Fitness and I’m generally the oldest guy in the gym. But then I get a backache from sitting too long in my easy chair.

I need acolytes. Minions. Roadies. Servants. I suppose I could dragoon one of my high-school-age cello students into helping me load in for a gig. That would work once. But not as a regular thing.

Last year I looked into buying a car with a lower rear cargo compartment. Forget it — they don’t exist. And you don’t even want to know how much a van with an electric lift costs.

If I book a gig, I have to know I’ll be able to show up and do it. A backache is not a reason to cancel a gig.

By Bread Alone

I’d like to reorganize my eating habits. Having read the first half of In Defense of Food, I’m convinced: The standard American diet is really bad news. But because I live alone, have never done much cooking, and get nauseous at the thought of eating a salad, developing viable options may not be a stroll in the park.

Yesterday it occurred to me that I’d love to bake my own bread. I used to have a friend who baked bread, and it was always wonderful. But I own none of the required equipment, and I’ve never baked a loaf of bread. The probability of ineptitude is very high. And if I buy all this fancy equipment and then get discouraged when my first efforts are inedible, I will have wasted a lot of money. (I have a history of novel enthusiasms; gotta be careful about spending the bucks on them.)

I may start with vegetable soup. That’s almost bound to be easier. I wonder if they teach bread-making at the local community college, or at the local community center. And if they don’t … shouldn’t they? If I could learn to do it, not just adequately but well, I could teach other people. Yeah, there might be something in that. But first I have to learn to do it.

Food Flashback

Is that a Frito slathered in sour cream dip on your plate, or are you glad to see me?

Just started reading In Defense of Food, by Michael Pollan. Excellent book, not only for its insights into healthy eating but also for its pitiless dissection of the American obsession with junk science.

I’ve had high cholesterol for probably 30 years. Pollan’s mention of the oat bran fad took me back to the early ’80s, when a doctor first recommended that I change my diet to lower my cholesterol. I took to baking oat bran muffins. And because they were so dreadfully dry and crumbly, I’d splot big wodges of margarine on them.

As we now know, the margarine was really bad for me. I thought I was taking steps to stay healthy. Somehow I seem to have survived, in spite of my own best efforts.

Cooking anything is basically too much trouble for me. I’m sure my diet would give a nutritionist hives. Just watching me eat it, I mean. But after reading even part of Pollan’s book, I wouldn’t let a nutritionist in my kitchen. So I guess we’re both safe, me and the nutritionist, for the time being.

Taking Drugs

I’ve had high cholesterol for at least 25 years. I tried adjusting my diet, but found that difficult. A couple of years ago I tried niacin. That didn’t have much impact. Finally, last year, I let my doctor talk me into trying Lovastatin.

It worked — but it may also have been wreaking havoc in other parts of my body. Anecdotally (a sample of 1 is not statistically significant), I developed severe torso itching in cold weather, chronic muscle problems in my left elbow, a separated vitreous gel in my right eye, and severe depression.

When I stopped taking the Lovastatin, the depression cleared up completely within a week. The muscle problem has diminished more gradually, to about 50% of its former level. This winter I’ve had no itching. The problem with my eye is irreversible.

So I asked my doctor, what now? Read more

Those Zany Statins

Doing a little online research into statins. I’ve become very suspicious, not only of the possible role of statins in my own problems, but of the medical establishment (in my case, Kaiser Permanente) that prescribes them so blithely.

I’ve had high cholesterol (at least it’s “high” according to the standard definition used by doctors) for 30 years. But I had always resisted the idea of taking medication, because I had no other risk factors for heart disease. Finally, last year, I allowed my Kaiser physician (Dr. Combitsis) to persuade me to take 40mg of Lovastatin daily. Sure enough, my serum cholesterol level dropped dramatically.

But that may not be the whole story.

Read more