Eventually, we are permitted by Providence to progress through all seven of Shakespeare’s ages of man – infant, whining schoolboy, sighing lover, soldier, wise person, fading elder and then, finally, “second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
And now, it turns out, sans shoes.
I received some good news the other day when entering the airport security line for my examination as a potentially dangerous passenger. A new sign advised me that passengers of 75 or older have graduated to a greater level of trust. We are no longer required to shed our shoes and jackets while going through security.
I have mixed feelings about that. Mind you, I enjoy a status that spares me some of the hassle of boarding an airplane. But for a manly man of any age there is something flabby and all worn out about becoming officially harmless.
I remember when I first encountered a similar demotion. I was 60, eating lunch in a crowded San Francisco cafeteria. I was devouring my chicken burrito when a young woman of 20 or so appeared carrying a lunch tray, looking for a place to sit. She scanned nearby tables full of unruly young men and thought better of it. Then she turned toward me where I sat hogging an entire table.
She asked if I minded sharing a table. I didn’t. And we had a nice chat. A small-town girl, she had just arrived in the wicked city a few days before. She was still boggled.
I told her not to worry. She would adjust and thrive.
But a part of me did mind that she had chosen me as her sanctuary from all the crazy people. I realized that aging had made me look safe. Far from being a debonair and exciting older man, I reminded her of her grandfather.
Egad! That would never have happened to Cary Grant.
As the years passed, I have experienced similar episodes. Thoughtless store clerks call elders “honey” and “sweetie” and “dear.” They pat you gently on what they assume is your fragile old back and shower you with borderline pity for having the courage to live past 60.
A young woman doesn’t call you “darling” because she is hitting on you. At this age, they call you sweet names because they mistake you for someone pathetic. They use the same words they speak to small children. They think we’re cute in kind of a bald, wrinkly, rapidly deteriorating way.
A male flight attendant on that plane the other day took geezer-soothing words to a new level of condescension. He kept calling me “young man,” as in, “What will you have to drink, young man?”
“Anything but what you drink,” I felt like saying, “because it has turned you into a tactless dolt.”
However, I accept the assumption that 75-year-olds are less dangerous now that they grant me the privilege of going through security without taking off my shoes.
I felt like I had graduated to a new level in life. I alone in that line of passengers could keep my shoes on. So I proudly wore them as I prepared to pass through the metal detector. I even called out to nearby passengers about what had happened and they seemed blatantly happy for me. Best of all, none of them called me “honey.”
But suddenly the metal detector beeped, again and again, until the attendant and I realized that my Hush Puppies had some kind of metal trademark on them. So I was compelled, somewhat forlornly, to pass through that merciless machine in my stocking feet.
Thanks for nothing, honey.Bill Hall can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 1012 Prospect Ave., Lewiston, ID 83501