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I don't know when or how it happened. People warned me about it, but I wouldn't listen. Then, one day, it happened. I peeked in the mirror, and I was old. I am now a retired, gray-haired, direct-deposit-the-Social-Security-check senior citizen. On occasion, I make mistakes. But cut me some slack, this is my first time being old. There are no directions.

My medicine cabinet contains the latest breakthroughs in diet pills, balding pills and impotence pills. My mail consists of advertisements for prepaid funerals, steps to good nutrition, cyberdiets, wellness clinics and, say it isn't so, erectile dysfunction.

I have been "Roto-Rooted." Yes, the dreaded cystoscope and colonoscopy invaded those seldom-seen parts of my body. And get this, after my colonoscopy, my doctor gave me a picture of the inside of my colon! (Hey, it was included in the price). It's in living color.

I'm an educated consumer. I shop at Tops. And beware, I carry coupons and a Tops discount card. I've even earned Web Bucks and know how to use them. One time, I notified the Tops "Cart Crew" when a fellow senior's scooter stalled in the tissue section. He had a replacement cart in minutes, and before he burned rubber, I reminded him that the family-size box of Kleenex was "buy one, get one free."

I joined a senior citizen group, but after a few months, I decided it wasn't for me. After all, how many ceramic alligator ashtrays and popsicle-stick picture frames do we need? I tried playing bingo for a while. One night, I won a game and jumped up and hollered "Bingo!" as loud as I could. The granny sitting next to me snarled and shouted profanities that would've made George Carlin blush.

A major department store issued me an "Official Senior Citizen Discount Card." It stated that I could shop on Tuesdays for huge discounts. Sometimes I get a little crazy, and shop on Mondays.

I attended some computer classes, and guess what? I'm computer literate. Scary, huh? One time I was chatting with "Cat something or other," and I was asked my age and sex. I answered that I was 65, and no thanks, I'm married. When she called me a "geezer," I left the chat room to look up the word. I got as far as "gew gaw" and "geyser" and gave up the search. How was I supposed to know that "Cat something or other" was a 14-year-old girl?

To keep my edge, I took some dance lessons. Today, with a few minor modifications, I can execute a soft-shoe, stop, stamp, brush, scuff, chug and even a little hop. But when the wife and I tried to show off with the "pas de deux," we were hospitalized briefly.

Yet if you look at the alternative, the above situations are a breeze. I applaud and admire those seniors who suffer from debilitating diseases, and struggle to lead normal lives. I recognize and accept the unforgiving power of nature. We are all dependent on the kind of feedback that communication with others brings us.

I'm not as frisky as I used to be, but at least I've got a pulse. Every day, I live life to its fullest. If you catch me wandering around some mall, and I appear to be lost, I probably am. But that's OK. I can laugh about it, and I'll probably ask directions. I read somewhere that a simple laugh can burn off 35 calories. We could literally laugh our . . . well, you know what I mean.

We are more alike than different. Changing our lifestyles is sometimes difficult, but never impossible. Nothing ever stays the same, even change changes. So roll with it.

JOHN L. HUGHES III, the author of "From Buffalo to Bourbon Street," lives in Cheektowaga.

For writer guidelines for columns, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Opinion Pages Guidelines, The Buffalo News, P.O. Box 100, Buffalo, N.Y. 14240.

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