Once more, with meaning

By Chuck Sigars | Jul 25, 2012

“For identification purposes, can I have the last four digits of your Social Security number?”

You’ve been there, almost certainly. You’ve heard it, you’ve given it, you’ve moved on. A simple question and what should be a simple answer.

I’ve had this particular 9-digit number since I was a teenager; I’ve got longer passwords that I use on a daily basis. Those last four numbers? I would recite them if you woke me in the middle of the night with a flashlight in my face, no sweat.

Just not on this particular day, apparently. “That’s not going to happen right now,” I said after a few seconds, and we moved on to another form of identification. My mother’s maiden name, my shoe size, something. Something I had on me.

That’s the way I’ve come to think of this phenomenon, common to all of us on the other side of, say, 45. So common it’s hardly worth mentioning.

“I don’t have it on me,” I think or say, depending on the company, as if I’d simply left a certain bit of information – that guy who played tight end in 1982, that movie we saw last year – on the kitchen table, easily retrieved, just not right at the moment.

And if it hasn’t happened to you, it will. Do all the crossword puzzles you want. As with your eyes and knees, your brain will eventually let you down, refuse to deliver the goods when you ask, and it will happen all the time.

There are scientific explanations for this, although I’ve forgotten them now; ask me later. I just think of it as a neuropoltergeist who hides my stuff.

We learn to compensate, sometimes playing Six Degrees of the Aging Brain. “That actress, the one in the movie about L.A. or New York, with that good-looking guy who was in that other movie we saw just after you moved into that apartment on the street by that school, the movie with the lady who did those two films with the funny guy, you know, from the ‘70s with the gray hair, and she used to date WOODY ALLEN.”

There, an actual name pops out (not always Woody Allen, but surprisingly often), and we start to breathe again, the fear of early dementia pushed away for the moment.

Again, it’s so common that I’m little embarrassed to bring it up. It’s a part of life, just not one of the good parts, and it happens to everyone. Our retention/retrieval systems go haywire, and sometimes not even Google can save us.

For me, numbers and dates can be the worst. They jump out at me, bolded and in a weird typeface, screaming for attention. They mean something, I know; I just don’t have it on me at the moment.

So I’ve been wondering about 54.

Fifty-four. That’s the age I turn this week, easy to remember, just add one to the age I currently am, but there’s been something on my mind I couldn’t quite access. It’s an innocuous age, right? Not a big one, not significant in the world of birthdays.

I’ve been thinking of myself as 54 for a while now, actually, just because it’s an even number and the alliteration makes it easy to say.

But what is there about 54 I should remember? Why does it feel more important than 53? Is there some invasive medical procedure I’m supposed to schedule? A form I’m supposed to file? A thing I’m supposed to think, a message I’m supposed to deliver, a poem I’m supposed to write? Something? Woody Allen?

I found the answer, finally, in statistics, in the land of marketers, political consultants and ratings watchers. And it’s not so much where I am this week as where I’ll be next year.

In late July of 2013, I will be officially inducted into a demographic group, a cohort called “55 and older.” I will be able to live in certain age-specific communities then, but other than that, as far as I can tell, I will become statistically irrelevant, a gray graph line on a chart filled with younger people who buy things and see superhero movies.

Look for it; you’ll find it. Whatever the issue, there’s probably a category labeled “age 35-54” or “45-54” or “18-54,” but it’s there in the numbers. In a year from now, I will cease to be significant.

It’s OK. I’m not actually significant now.

But I’m a little intimidated. If this is my Last Meaningful Year, I should probably try to do something meaningful. Not in a bucket list or bungee jump way, but in a significant way.

I should make my voice heard and count before it’s too late, so I’m working on ideas. So far I’ve written down a few, but you know. It’s on the kitchen table. Let me get back to you.

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