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?
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.”