Take Elder

Long-time readers are well aware of my obsession with old-man tendencies. There was a time, long ago, when I did interesting things with interesting people. There was a time, even longer ago, when people mistook my long hair and seething anger for coolness. But I’ve always felt like an old man. Hormonal rage and teen angst masked it temporarily, as did the alarming social life I developed during college and abandoned almost immediately afterward. The only things that have ever led me to willingly go outside are confusion, anger, and desire to have sex with women who have little to no interest in a guy who would rather be at home, in a flannel bathrobe held together by patches, reading Dickens in an easy chair, a pair of half-glasses perched on the edge of his nose. I hid from that, but now I don’t give a fuck, even though I probably should.

My sister once observed, with frustrating astuteness, that I always seem “sorta bored.” This is absolutely true. Everything bores the shit out of me, unless it’s something I really dig, and I don’t dig pretty much anything my peers do. I don’t like being around a lot of people, I don’t like mood-altering substances, I don’t like attending events celebrating or paying homage to people I don’t know and/or things I don’t care about (read: everything)… All right, this list could go on forever. The list of things I enjoy is much shorter: books, movies, TV, music, one-on-one conversations, caffeine, and beating off. Keen readers will note the majority of these are passive, solitary activities. But some of them, particularly going to the movies and beating off, are vaguely youthful activities. And, as I understand it, if I finish on my face, it’ll add a youthful vibrance to my skin.

But even these activities can go awry. It leads with the terrifying realization that I am at a point where “MILF” porn is age-appropriate, and “barely legal” porn is sort of gross and weird. I don’t like that at all. I also don’t like the fact that, not only have I only seen two of this year’s top ten box-office draws — I don’t give a fuck about the other eight and will never, ever see them. Not even on TBS one lazy Saturday afternoon. Instead, I go to see movies like The Tree of Life and complain that the eight people in the theatre have made it too crowded. And why do the trailers have to be so goddamn loud when the movie is relatively quiet? And what is the story with AMC theatres forcing you to either shout over their obnoxiously loud pre-trailer bullshit, or simply sitting in silence and enduring it? That is fucked.

Anyway… On Saturday, I planned an evening of romance and merriment with my special lady. We drove down to the artsy-fartsy theatre in Highland Park to see Take Shelter. Now, I wouldn’t presume any film playing at the artsy-fartsy theatre would draw a heavy teenage contingent; neither did I expect the vast field of white and gray tufts in the line ahead of us.

“It’s not a big deal,” I told myself. “They’re probably all going to see Margin Call.” Fun fact: old people are obsessed with movies about the economic collapse. If Hollywood had any interest in courting this audience, they would flood the multiplexes with them. How do I know this? Because I’m a fucking old man. I’ve seen all those movies about the economic collapse, too! In theatres.

But they weren’t all going to see Margin Call. Most of these gray-haired Lake County Republicans were inexplicably drawn to a movie about a potentially insane man whose apocalyptic visions drive him to expand his storm shelter while causing everything real in his life to fall apart. I hope they brought their Food Insurance.

There we sat, amid the ocean of withered follicles and sagging skin, watching a movie that was much more depressing and upsetting than frightening. Thanks to my lady friend’s tantalizing combination of panty hose (I don’t know why — they have an effect, ladies) and a slinky, red top, it took every ounce of strength to resist pawing her. I’m not above such things in a darkened theatre, but not in one where everyone else looks like a stern, disapproving grandparent. So we sat and watched the movie, and I found myself distracted with attempts to control the Strangelovian movements of my pawing arm.

When the movie ended, the crowd in the lobby had multiplied exponentially, blinding us with white. As we waded through the thicket of slow-moving elders, my lady excused herself to the restroom. I inched anxiously along the wall, willing myself to turn invisible. I hate crowds generally, but I especially hate being alone in crowds, because I never know where to look, where to stand, or how to ignore the trill and squawk of those surrounding me.

Our elders survived in coteries, not couples, and when I overheard the third gaggle mention reservations to an Italian restaurant across the street, it hit me like a ton of bricks: I’m the oldest old who ever olded.

On a relative scale, we’re young, my lady and I. Aren’t young people supposed to wander the ends of the earth, looking for the best and/or most interesting things to do, places to eat, culture to absorb? “I’ll find a restaurant within shuffling distance” is an old-man move, only exacerbated by the wise decision to make reservations in case it gets crowded. Young’ns do things on whims, don’t they? They open their sails and let the wind take them where it may. They don’t plot out an evening like an intricate episode of The Wire, knowing every move before it’s made.

I used to be like that. I sort of hated it, but a part of me liked the sense of adventure. Shouldn’t I hold on to that spirit of adventure until such time as the weight of the world and my own debilitating ailments force me to abandon it?

Or should I stop preoccupying myself with how I perceive others hypothetically live their lives? I’m a planner, and given the choice between a spirit of whimsy and adventure or a rigid itinerary, I’d vote for the itinerary. I’m dating a planner, who does a better job of constructing such itineraries than I do (though I get credit for planning this date), so where’s the problem? I have a hard time imagining her growing wary of meticulous preparation.

But is it that I want a plan, or that I need one? My tendency to overthink everything and take it to comically catastrophic extremes means every fantasy of adventure ends with me dying in a North Korean prison. So is planning a good way to manage my fear, or is it making me an even bigger pussy than I actually am? Does it matter? Can’t I just say, “I’ve had adventures; now it’s time to settle down and beat off to my mental image of Esther Summerson”?

Where is the line between actual desire and fear-induced inhibition? I’m not sure, but maybe the fact that I find the so-called “adventures” I’ve been on tedious and fairly irritating means something. Maybe the fact that spewing imaginary seed on the smallpox-scarred face of Miss Summerson is one of my life’s enduring pleasures also means something. Not something healthy, necessarily, but something.

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 24, 2011 10:30 AM