Stem to Stern: Silver Hair and Silver Linings

Julia and I and our fishing buddies, Cory and Dan, were recently invited to Costa Rica to fish with Capt. John Adams aboard Griffin, one of our 65’s. Silly as it may sound, I had never been out upon the Pacific before. Those warm breezes and flat-calm seas are a far cry from the 6 to 8, 36 degree air, Gold Cup Atlantic seas that Dan and I fished together before I said “enough” and threw in the towel. We had a wonderful time down south, fishing with John and his crew and exploring the local area. While we were there, we discovered the hilarity of having four friends together with acute hearing loss, accentuated by the background sounds of boat noise and Bluetooth rock and roll in the cockpit. Dan and Julia developed a primitive sign language, which ended each declarative sentence with the middle finger as a punctuation of sort, like a “stop” on a telegram, and we laughed continuously until a loud shout from John on the bridge would direct our attention to the fish in the teasers. For all four of us, it had to be a loud shout. In between bites, I got to thinking about this and all the things that happen to us as we grow old. The truth is, it’s not all bad.

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Hearing loss is a common trait among the aging. In my case, it is a direct result of the pernicious effects of loud music and machinery over the course of a lifetime. When I was a young lad, I played drums in several local rock bands, stationed between the Marshal stacks, Leslie cabinets and Fender Super Reverbs. Our mantra was “Turn it up!” Vanilla Fudge’s “Keep Me Hangin’ On” at Warp 10, night after night. Huh? I eventually found a new mistress in boat building and amicably divorced the skins for saws, drills, planers, joiners and grinders. Ear protection? That was for sissies. Now I struggle to hear normal conversation but, I must admit, it can be a source of great entertainment. I can easily hear the screech of a hawk on a quiet morning up at camp. I can hear a trout smacking the bait in the marsh or the wind whistling through the long-leaf pines. It’s the “noise” noise that gets in the way. Recently, as we rode down a bumpy old road in the woods, my wife said to me: “These woods and riding through pot holes can wreck your steering.” I replied: “Yes, baby doll, but this truck was built Ford-Tough for off road use.” She looked at me in disbelief and scoffed: “I said: If we could, we should be driving to Costco to check your hearing. What in the hell did you think I said?” She grabs my hand and we laugh hysterically for the next few miles at our mutual handicap. Back at work, hearing loss can be a real blessing. With all the background noise in a boatyard, I can’t hear, or pretend I can’t hear, a salesman’s line of B.S. or a whining, entitled, employee complaining about the difficulty of his or her assignment. I just nod my head, smile and go back to work. “That old bastard is losing it,” I hear clearly as I walk away. Old bastard? I’ll make sure I take that into consideration in the profit-sharing calculations.

Poor eyesight is another inevitability that comes with age. My eyes began to fail me as soon as I hit forty. I started with readers and eventually graduated to extreme prescription magnification with progressive lenses. This was a very disturbing decline until I realized the up-side of an astigmatic error: What I can’t see, won’t piss me off. If the world around you upsets you with negative visual stimuli, just take your glasses off. There now, that’s much better. Gone is that stupid little yin yang tattoo on my granddaughter’s otherwise flawless, adolescent neck. Gone are the scratches in that toe rail under several coats of varnish that will need to be stripped again to repair. The abrasions in the hood on my wife’s new car have miraculously disappeared. And when I look in the mirror, it’s as if I just had a “Life-Style Lift.” The wrinkles, ear and nose hair, turkey neck and eye-bags are gone. Taking off your glasses can make the world a better place and potentially save you money on skin peels and plastic surgery. You can’t do that with 20/20.

Another advantage of growing old is the cumulative understanding of human nature. In your 60’s and beyond, you have been on the planet long enough to know that idealism is not a viable substitute for realism. You know how the world really works. When we are young, most of us want to believe in the inherent good in everyone. Treat everyone with kindness and respect and you will get the same in return. By the time your ears and eyes give you trouble, you realize that you can expect the same from most people: Trouble. People are trouble. You have learned that there are real a–holes out there and no amount of charity or un-earned respect showered upon them will change that. You learn to call ‘em as you see ‘em. In your later years, you’ve been burned so many times that the only sensible approach is to assume that everyone is untrustworthy until proven otherwise. This is a tactical advantage when driving, listening to politicians, or dealing with new doctors. Along with the hesitancy to place your trust in anyone, you now own the right to tell it like it is. You are now able to speak the unvarnished truth and get away with it, no matter who it offends, because you have acquired “Senior Privilege.” When my father reached this stage in his life, I was amazed by his disdain for diplomacy and the apparent right he had earned to speak candidly. I now understand and consider this another form of personal entertainment, especially when dealing with bleeding hearts, paint salesmen, or Fluid Dynamic “experts.” “Boys, I think this wake-adapted magic is really fascinating, but why does it cost upwards of a quarter million dollars to cast bent running gear? Does the word fleecing mean anything to you? You guys have all the ethics of a pharmaceutical company. Hell, our latest hull has Pfizer struts and Moderna rudders and we expect her to run like she’s on Adderall, but can’t you geniuses prescribe a generic equivalent? For us, and our customers, it still matters what things cost!” Like James Brown said: “Papa don’t take no mess! Unh!”

At this stage in life, I’m gradually becoming accustomed to being addressed by new acquaintances as “Mr. Rybovich,” without looking behind me to see if my father is standing there. I like to think this is out of respect and not a patronizing attempt at good manners. When you get closer to the dumpster, others tend to give you the benefit of the doubt. That would be the benefit of feigned courtesy and the doubt that you have any fight left in you. Think again. Like Clint Eastwood in “Grand Torino,” we have more fight in us than ever because we have been around and learned how and when to fight … punk! We have also learned when to pass on things that waste our time and energy. For the most part, we have learned how to choose our battles because, even with failing eyesight, we can see the other side of conflict and the consequences, which will remain after the blood dries.

The fourth quarter, as a good customer and friend of ours refers to it, can also inspire an appreciation for the best things in life. An exhale in the peace and quiet of the wilderness. The smell of coffee in the early morning. A warm shower when it’s cold outside. The smile on my wife’s face when I walk through the door after a long day of dancing in the dragon’s jaws. Music that has a real melody and lyrics that can make you feel the passion that simmered in the heart of the writer. Old appliances that still do the job with just an “on-off” switch and a rotary potentiometer, like an old Super Reverb. A visit with an old friend and the recollection of when we, too, were young and did all (and more) of the mindless things that young people do today. Above all, the joy and thanksgiving for answered (and unanswered) prayers. Yes, getting old can be a pain in the ass in many ways, but there are silver linings that come with silver hair. Those precious gems of wisdom can create priceless jewelry in the skilled hands of a wise old goldsmith. Old? Did I say “Old?” Not! Armed with hearing aids, glasses, knee replacements and Senior Privilege, we’re just getting started. Turn it up, boys! “Papa’s got a brand new bag. Unh!”

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This article originally appeared in the March 2024 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.


Boat Lyfe