Friday, May 18, 2012

Old Men

There’s no accounting for what images adhere and which get transferred in our brain to spam & trash. We’ve been twice to Venice, Italy and many pictures remain crowding my diminishing brain-space. One of them is of four or five elderly men in suits without ties standing around a piazza smoking or playing checkers or just staring into eternity together, as if a daily ritual. Being silent among old friends can only be earned after years of close friendship.

I expect old men do this everywhere. In much of the world old men become so designated at age 55 or 60. Now in my 80th year I almost see myself as one of them, reluctantly. When I was young I regarded 40-year old men as old but now that I’m twice that age I still have trouble seeing myself in those terms. I fully understand people in their 90s refusing to move to facilities because there are too many old folks there.

In 1935 Pres. Roosevelt called the Supreme Court justices, nine old men. It turns out their average age was barely 70 and only one, Louis Brandeis, was older than I am today, young by my standards.

About half my friends are older than I, which is one way to stay young. When we get together for lunch it is often at restaurants with octogenarians at other tables. Their conversation is not unlike ours; universal complaints not only of our withering bodies but the state of things. How to explain this unrecognizable, new-fangled world of astonishing gadgetry, yet devolving, dumbed down, coarse, with government and transit in gridlock? Has it always been thus, with grumpy old men idealizing a time seen through innocent eyes?

What ever happened to…? What are we doing in….? Remember when….? It used to be that… Did I ever tell you about the time when…? Back then we…

One table at the coffee shop might be re-enacting Jackie Robinson’s steal of home with a knife and fork while another is moving the salt and pepper shakers around with napkins to illustrate, to the tedium of others, how his infantry division fought their way onto and out of Normandy Beach.

If we old men take refuge inside our memories we can be excused because there is such a vast landscape in that rear-view mirror. Of course the stories get embellished with each telling. We are all leading men in our movie. Maybe it’s just a way of staving off mortality or going out with the belief that we left our fingerprints at the crime scene and our footprints heading to the getaway car.

Yesterday, in our three-some, one shared his worry over a life-threatening disease. Another asked if his wife had our email address in case he died. I told him I needed him for my eulogy. This sort of black humor can only happen with old men. Old women would never risk that depth of crude candor and intimacy which bonds old men.


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