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I am old. To be exact, I am sixty-nine years old. I am not sure precisely when I got old, but I didn’t fight it. Being old fits me better than any other stage of life.

When I was studying gerontology, we were all keen to identify stages of adult development, much as Piaget identified stages of cognitive development in children. I can’t say we were successful, but I know from my personal experience that being old is different, and, for the most part, I like it.

I wasn’t good at the early and middle stages of life. I got along, but I was an unremarkable high school and college student. I don’t look back fondly on my student days and have never thought attending a class reunion would be a pleasant experience. I have acquaintances that were great young people. Their high school and college days were their halcyon days. Others I know went into the military when they were young and think of those days as the best of times. …


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At one point in my past, I was a graduate student in gerontology at Portland State University. I was studying the social aspects of aging. I don’t remember a lot from that experience, just as I remember little from any of my other academic adventures, but a few things stuck with me. One of those was that loneliness is as dangerous to one’s health as smoking.

Loneliness in old people is most acute among men. Men get married and thereafter depend upon their wives for a social life. Wives not only handle the couple’s social life, but build and maintain all-female social groups. When a woman’s husband dies, she often has a bevy or female friends she can turn to for support and companionship. …


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When I first got sober, I was terrified of hypocrites. The counselors in treatment told me that without the companionship of my drinking friends, I would face some lonely days. They suggested that I join a church. I couldn’t do that because churches, I believed, were filled with hypocrites, and despite my significant personal failings, I would not lower myself further by associating with hypocrites.

As I look back, my abhorrence of hypocrisy was silly. I was emerging from two decades of alcoholism. I had been a terrible son, a terrible husband, a terrible employee and a terrible citizen. The task before me was to clean up the damage I’d done and earn back a lost reputation. I had a lot on my plate. …


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“My name is Orrin. I am an alcoholic.”

I first said those words twenty-eight years ago. At the time, I was a resident at a bottom-of-the-barrel drug treatment facility. Since that day, I have said that phrase thousands of times. I believed it the first time I said it, and I believe it when I said it yesterday.

Back at the treatment center, there were other ‘I am” statements I could have made.

I am bankrupt.

I am unemployed.

I am unhappily married.

I am ashamed.

But the one that interested my counselors and colleagues in treatment was

I am a lawyer. …


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We can predict the future, but no one will believe us

In Greek mythology, Cassandra was a Trojan priestess. To win her love, Apollo gave her the ability to see the future. When she still rejected his overtures, he became angry, and, finding that he could not revoke the gift, he cursed her so that no matter how true her prophecies, no one would ever believe her.

Aging, particularly aging in recovery, makes Cassandras of us all. We can see younger people — sometimes family, sometimes people in the recovery community — taking roads that we have traveled. …


And I am enjoying the ancient game more than I ever have

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I am about to turn seventy years old. I started playing video games in the mid-1970s on a coin-op Pong game in Circus Circus Casino in Las Vegas where I was working a summer job while going to college. I liked Pong and went on to play every major video game produced in the last four and a half decades. …


And some love for the internal combustion engine

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After a year of driving an electric car, I wrote about it in my first Medium article. Now, two years later, I drive the same Chevy Bolt EV. Since writing that article, I retired from being a lawyer. My wife and I no longer needed two cars, so we gave our Toyota Camry to a deserving grandchild. We are one hundred percent electric.

After two additional years driving electric, including driving without a gas fallback option, my opinions have both changed and remained the same. …


And I didn’t want to admit it

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I have written three novels, and I am close to finishing another one. I wrote the novels in my spare time while I practiced law.

Practicing law the way I did meant I spent most workdays reading law and writing fiction. There was a little more to it. I had to talk on the phone, meet clients, go to depositions, and occasionally go to the courthouse, but mostly it was reading and writing. Novels and legal briefs, I realize, are different kinds of fiction. When I wrote at work, I fictionalized someone else’s story. …


Advice from a fictional character on how to find a lawyer you will love and who will love you back.

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There are 1.35 million lawyers in the United States. A handful, like me, are fictional. Most are not. I practice law in a two-room office on the east side of Portland, Oregon. I mostly help people fight over inheritances or put their demented relatives in care homes. Over a couple of decades of doing this, I met a lot of lawyers and a lot of clients. This is my guide to the uninitiated on how to hire a lawyer.

Understand Who Lawyers Are

Lawyers are everyday tradesmen who wear suits.

Lawyers in private practice include geniuses, idiots, saints, and psychopaths, but as a group, they are statistically average Joes and Josephines. The strategies that work for getting along with mechanics, retail clerks, accountants, programmers, cops, and the person behind the counter at Arby’s will work with lawyers. So read How to Win Friends and Influence People, by Dale Carnegie, a book that has been rewritten by others a thousand times, and you are probably good to go when it comes to lawyers. …


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It started with Moby Dick.

I was in college and twenty years old — about the same age as Ishmael and the only age at which one can actually revel in Melville’s masterpiece. The book was assigned reading, but once I began I could not stop and plowed straight through, skipping both college classes and personal hygiene until I reached the end.

Over forty years have passed since I read Moby Dick and my college days are a distant memory. However, on a regular basis over the past decades, when I was at a loss for something to read I would turn to books that involved nineteenth-century sailing. The stories, sometimes fiction, more often not, always told of a bunch of nineteenth-century men deciding to sail somewhere or explore something and thereafter having a really miserable time. …

About

Orrin Onken

I am an elder law attorney in Portland, Oregon who is trying to retire. In my spare time, I write legal mysteries for Salish Ponds Press.

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