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Be Old Now

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I must be the only member of my generation—the Baby Boomers—avidly courting old age. Everyone else is trying like mad to stay young and live past 90, but I want to be old now and die before I’m decrepit. It’s not that I want to die sooner rather than later—it’s that I don’t believe I’m going to live past 70, or that if I do my quality of life will make it very pleasant. I’m so eager to be old that since my last birthday, in March, I’ve been going around saying I’m 63—until last weekend when Larry, whose birth date is three weeks after mine, reminded me we were born in 1946.

I’ve written about this issue before, so I hope my readers (if such a category exists) don’t think they’ve already read this. The fact is, I think about aging constantly, and this is an entirely new riff on the topic. I understand if you’re getting bored with it, but I’m not.

For years I’ve been ranting about kids on the bus who don’t give up their seats for me and other elders. Yesterday I was subjected to a twist on this experience. I got my coffee in Starbucks and took it outside to the tables that sit on a strip of concrete I think of as Smokers Alley: on one side of the street is Starbucks, on the other side Gaylords Café, and in between are more smokers than I’ve seen anywhere else in the Bay Area. When I’m out of butts I lurk around here to grub, or trade cookies for smokes. Yesterday no chairs were available…Correction: There were several chairs with people in them, one table without any chairs, and one table where sat two younger women and two empty chairs. Naturally, I asked if I could take one of their chairs (in my mind a rhetorical question). The women smiled charmingly and informed me that people would soon be using them.

The women were probably in their late 30s, early 40s. When I was that age, I used to jump up from my seat on the New York bus whenever an older woman got on. It seems to me shockingly inconsiderate that these women didn’t’ immediately give me one of their empty chairs. Irritated, I went inside to get one to haul outside, but there weren’t any spares there either. On impulse, I walked back out, grabbed one of the empties and said, “I’m taking this chair and you can do what you want about it.” I mean, what were they going to do, tackle me?

One of them said, “How rude!” and the other said, “Or crazy!

I am deemed crazy for defying the bullshit niceties of California society. That’s actually one of the perks of growing old—defying social niceties.

Ten minutes or so passed without anyone sitting in the remaining empty chair. At last the women left, giving me an opportunity to vent about them to someone I frequently talk to in Smokers Alley. IMO, it’s an unwritten law that you don’t get to save chairs for contingencies while other people have to stand. This isn’t strictly an age issue…but I can’t help being insulted by the women’s’ lack of respect for an older woman. In the blink of an eye they’re going to be me–not that they’d believe it.

Although older people apparently don’t get no respeck! in our culture anymore, I still want to experience being old, if only in my own head. With age comes freedom from social constraints and from the rat race of frantic ambition. I’m eager to embrace that freedom.

If I don’t make it past, say, 70, then I’ll never get to be old unless I carpe diem. I figure that if by some miracle I happen to last longer, I can always announce, a la Bruce Springsteen, “I’m ready to grow young again.”

Old Women in Arles, Gaugin

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4 responses »

  1. I don’t see the need to wait until old age to challenge social constraints. There appears to be a double standard in this post though. Respect is ideally bilateral, instead of one person due to some quality benefiting from some social convention in the detriment of another.

    I agree with your first sentence…but it does seem to be easier to flout social mores the older you get. I don’t know what you mean, though, by “double standard.” If you’re talking about giving up seats…the reason younger people ought to give up their seats is that older people find it more difficult to stand. Nowhere did I say that other people don’t deserve respect.–MS

  2. “Respect” is a tricky word. Often can be seen as consideration and/or observance to our common humanity in a spirit of fairness. Some interpret it as obedience, or added reverence to some authority. If you meant it as the first case, my apologies.

    A double standard would be that one expects to be entitled to “rudeness” towards others but expects others to observe social mores.

  3. Oops.. forgot. In this specific case, I would have asked if someone was sitting there, and if they said they are waiting for someone and there are no seats available, I would have took it and said “Well, I’m here now.” I don’t think my age is relevant. Is that rude? 😉

    Not rude. But not really getting what I’m talking about, either.–MS

  4. I get it, and you’re right. The idea that anyone would expect anyone to stand when they are hoarding an empty chair (esp. for a non-existent “other”) is deplorable. Sure, your remark could be considered rude, but I am reminded of Kathy Bates’ line in Fried Green Tomatoes: “Face it girls, I’m older, and I have more insurance.”

    Sometimes age gives us the excuse we need to tell it like it is. As if we need the excuse.

    Thank you, Laurie, for that validation, and the reminder of Kathy Bates in FGT: a great role model.–MS

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