Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On Reaching 60....

Looking at myself in a mirror – if I am buck naked, wearing a ski mask and standing far enough away - 60 can look a lot like the new 17.

For some perverse reason, my body has elected to take the Dorian Gray approach to aging. Not a line or wrinkle can be found anywhere on my shoulders or chest – or below, but from the neck up…. well, my face more than makes up for the lack of aging on the rest of my body.

I’ve lived 60 physically hard years – and my face reflects every one of those years, and then some – to the point that catching a glimpse of myself in a mirror these days – startles me.

That is first of three odd things about my hitting 60 years of age.

The second odd thing is that hitting 60 means nothing to me. It’s only the attention other people are giving to this unexpected millstone, I mean, milestone – that makes me wonder why getting older has never bothered me. My age or what age I am about to is nothing I’ve ever paid attention to, even though pondering my health is another matter – but we’ll soon get to that.

As for the third odd thing about my turning this new age, possibly that particular anomaly helps explains this lack of concern.

My entire life has been lived by two very different me’s. Well, to be specific, there have been quite a fair number of me’s – but even then – each of those different lives could be placed within one of two different categories.

My life with a brain filled with dopamine and my life with a brain partly or largely deprived of dopamine.

My dopamine fueled brain – and thus a dopamine powered body - even today - is pretty much what it was when I was 17. When properly stimulated, I have the physical and mental capacities I had when I was 17 – the year my life so totally changed on a late night trip to the Owens Valley when I suddenly found myself living the cowboy life.

When my dopamine levels are up, I don’t have a single ache or pain and I can still catapult out of bed each morning with the same energy I once had every moment of my life.

And even after 20 operations to remove all the scar tissue and tumors caused by my 10 years of underground fighting, wild horse breaking and even more dangerous activities (and the complete replacement of my lower vertebrae with hip bone) – whenever my dopamine level is up, I have no physical pain or discomfort of any kind – much less anything resembling arthritic or rheumatoid problems.

I still can swim a full hour – non-stop - each day without ever breathing hard. And, on the days I have the time, I can still do non-stop laps for 2 hours – without even a 60 second water break – and still not be breathing hard.

I can also still hit the heavy weights in the gym for a full hour, then do an hour swim and then spar on a wrestling mat with a 250 pound wrestler less than half my age (and sometimes one-third my age) who is almost twice my weight for another full hour – and in ten minutes, he’ll be the one panting for breath.

And as for my better half – Mr. Cowboy – well, Mr. Cowboy still thinks and acts as if he’s 17 years old - and his endless enthusiasm continues to embarrass me in ways regular readers of mine will recall. So I’m certain his fans will be pleased to know my organ donor card has been updated with special instructions to find him a suitable new home once my time finally comes

But now there are my far too typical dopamine deprived days – and nights.

On the really bad mornings, it will take me two or three hours to even roll my body out of bed and onto the floor, my muscles are so frozen. Walking up a single flight of steps can be almost an impossibility for days at a time and breathing or swallowing – particularly at night – is often a constant ordeal.

On the worst days, though, I barely even know who I am and once, when I had to abruptly stop wrestling due to an injury some years ago – I walked out of my loft – and that sudden loss of dopamine caused me to end up living on the streets for over a year.

But none of this is (directly) age related. The first time a had a full dopamine crash (long before I realized what my problem was), I was hospitalized by doctors who were convinced I had polio.

I was in the first grade at the time.

Starting then – throughout my life – large chunks of my brain have just… vanished… overnight when I have crashed - usually to never open again – but other times those parts of the brain have reopened once I got sufficient physical or mental stimulation. As one example – I lost the ability to draw or paint when I was in the first grade – and that has never returned.

And ever since my cowboy – and fighting days - suddenly ended – my life has been an unconscious search for the mental dopamine rush to survive. The problem was, every time I succeeded at anything from writing TV pilots to feature films to doing real estate sales to doing development - or whatever – once I was successful at anything - there was no longer a challenge, and I couldn't do it any more – and I crashed and lost everything.

I then had to start my life over with whole new challenges until I finally gave up trying to make a living – and decided to devote myself to fixing LA and helping rebuild Downtown – pro bono. I finally realized that was the only job complex enough for me to always be challenged.

Unfortunately , though, the very last drugs that had worked to help my dopamine have just stopped working at the same time getting anything done in this city is getting harder and harder and finding local wrestling partners has gotten harder and harder - so everything has gotten tougher and tougher – but not because of my new age.

This is just one more time I need to find another way to return me to being 17 again – just like I have found that path back to who I used to be so many times before.

So the fact it’s my physical birthday is no interest.

My only interest is if there is a doctor who has found the new dopamine drug or if I can find those willing to tackle the 25 Projects for Downtown or if I can find the next opponent on a wrestling mat big enough to put the ‘fight’ back in my ‘fight or flight’.

And as soon as any of those things happens – that will be my new birthday.

And that’s when you can really wish me a happy birthday.

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