Local Lifestyle

Friday, Dec 20 2013 08:03 AM

HERB BENHAM: Not more 'un-old,' just less 'un-conscious'

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    By Henry A. Barrios / The Californian

    Herb Benham

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BY HERB BENHAM Californian columnist hbenham@bakersfield.com

I've peaked and I know it because another columnist wrote this: "Why are newspaper opinion columnists baffled by the politics, technologies, and social mores of the 21st century? We've figured out why: They're old as hell."

Columnists are writing bizarre things, the author says, because they're old. Not only are they old -- the average age is around 60 -- but only 38 of the 143 columnists examined were women.

Old men. There's nothing worse. Unless you happen to be one, then it's doubly bad.

Columnists on the list of shame include the Wall Street Journal's Nat Hentoff, 88; Phyllis Schlafly, 89 (at least she's not a man); the Washington Post's Robert McCartney, 77; the Wall Street Journal's Pete du Pont, 78; and the New York Times' Gail Collins, 67, who's 15 years older than her paper's median 52-year-old reader.

Top-tier columnists David Brooks, Richard Cohen and Peggy Noonan aren't spring chickens either.

Thankfully, the Washington Post employs the youngest male and female columnists in Stephen Stromberg, 30, and Alexandra Petri, 25.

The author concludes by saying: "It's clear: Newspaper columnists are old dudes. This is unsurprising, since columns are usually bestowed on the tried, true, and grizzled. But if you're staffing your back pages with all veterans, you're missing important perspectives -- like, for example, 'The Internet is a useful tool.'"

First, I want to apologize for being old. It's embarrassing. I wasn't paying attention and squandered my 20s, lost myself in raising kids in my 30s and 40s, and when I finally woke up -- poof -- my youth had evaporated like fog at a Queen concert.

If you're old, you're hopeless. You can't even find the bathroom anymore and, believe me, it's not because you're not looking.

When I was 25, there was no Internet, no Twitter and no text messaging or emailing. I don't know how we communicated given the number of face-to-face conversations we had.

If I had been a columnist in my 20s, what might have I written about? I may have started with an ice-cold Dr Pepper, or at least how good it tasted after a sweaty three-on-three basketball game at Mar Vista Park.

I could have written about how firm the sand was at Santa Monica Beach while running. How clear the San Bernardino Mountains were after a Santa Ana wind or a bracing winter storm.

How great the 1974 red wines were, no matter who made them. Cheap, too, at about $5 a bottle.

How pretty Sue was, and how I thought I might be 25 forever, and if not 25, some other acceptable age.

Life was a series of sunsets over the ocean, Laker games with Magic Johnson leading the fast break and parents in their 50s who had ruddy complexions and who never seemed to age.

Yes, newspapers could use that perspective. The one that says life is precious, sweet and moves so quickly that it is wonderful to be younger and have so much pleasure ahead.

Here's the rub: Most of us don't know this until after we've recycled the Dr Pepper, Magic has retired and we've moved 100 miles away from the beach.

That's why, rather than be un-old, it's better to become less un-conscious. If somebody can tell me how to do that, or more specifically, tell the younger, gifted people in their 20s and 30s, of which there are many, I'd give up my spot to somebody un-older than I am.

In lieu of my spot, advice: Start now. A Dr Pepper is a thirst-quenching delight.

These are the opinions of Herb Benham and not necessarily The Californian's.

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