Getting up there 


When Ronald Reagan was 77 years old and our president, the comedian Dennis Miller said, "Seventy seven, and he has access to The Button? My grandfather's 77. We won't let him work the remote control for the television."

Now former astronaut and current Ohio senator John Glenn is 77, and this October they're sending him up in the space shuttle.

One down, a few million to go.

This isn't a knock to John Glenn. He's displayed courage, a frontier spirit and a likeable public persona, all the things you could want in a genuine American icon. In 1962 he went into space all by himself, something that I, who doesn't even like going to a bar alone, see as a tremendous display of cojones. But at 77 they're going to send him up again? If I were 77 and someone wanted to put me in a rocket and shoot me off into nowhere, I'd think they were trying to tell me something.

Detractors of this mission have called it "a tax-funded joyride," a last hurrah with a "this one's on us ..." gift tag. But part of the reason he is going is to test the effect of space on the aging process, which could only mean one thing: They're planning on putting a lot more of the olden ones up there in the future.

A wrinkle in time

And really, is that such a bad thing? Not only for us, but for the olden ones themselves? There are a great many advantages to blasting old people into the atmosphere. In fact, the transition seems to be automatic:

It's fairly obvious that one of the effects of weightlessness on aging will be an instant reduction of wrinkles. All that excess skin goes floating upward around their ears, shaving years off their appearance, and without having to lie to the insurance company about how necessary the procedure is.

We've all seen an old person commandeering a car the size of the Battleship Potemkin, driving slower than an inch worm, with their eyes imperceptible behind lenses as thick as the glass they use to build shark aquariums. Old people might be good drivers in space, where they could swerve in any direction and hit nothing, and that turn signal blinking from here to the moon wouldn't be a problem with no one behind them. Everything in space appears to move at a glacial pace anyway. Going slowly to absolutely nowhere would suit them perfectly.

The moon rovers they used to drive around the lunar surface bear a remarkable resemblance to those little electric buggies the elderly use to block up the aisles at Publix. It is a natural progression from one to the other. Plus, those giant Blu-Blockers they wear are just a few components shy of being helmets anyway. They're all set.

Hold up two pictures in your mind: alien/Hume Cronyn, alien/Hume Cronyn. They're almost the same thing. Old people should be used to encounter aliens because they will look familiar and therefore appear friendly. In fact, they should go find some aliens, land for a minute, ask where the Quincy's is, and take off again, leaving the grays as shell-shocked as humans who allegedly have encountered visitors from outer space. Come to think of it, the aliens that turn up here with an apparent aimlessness and leave quickly probably are just old aliens who wandered away from the home.

A leg up

A leg up

In a weightless atmosphere, you wouldn't need a walker. In fact, in weightlessness, who's to say you couldn't waltz the afternoon away no matter how much your rheumatism was acting up on earth? Time is irrelevant in space, so no one would care if you wanted to eat dinner at 3 in the afternoon. The food is already squishy and compartmentalized, and you wouldn't have to take a cab to Morrison's to get at it. With NASA piping in instructions whenever necessary, you wouldn't have to remember anything at all, either. And I've never met an old person who wouldn't have the nerve to go into space. They didn't make it to 80 years old on earth by being wimps.

Old people are forever looking to group together in retirement communities, and space is ideal -- just one big, floaty rest home. It's slow, it's quiet and there aren't any rotten kids with their dang rap music skateboarding into your milkweed garden (although some could be flown in, lest the pastime of complaining be missed).

So it shouldn't be a real surprise that they're putting an old guy into space to see how it works out. The only real question is why no one thought of it sooner. My mother is 206 years old and I'm thinking about volunteering her for the first retirement bus to Mars.

In space, no one can hear you bitch.


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