Monday, July 31, 2006

Ain't Nothin' But a Number

I suppose it's inevitable that younger generations look at older ones and compare their (real or imagined) differences. You look at older people and you think "when I'M that old, I will not act like that old biddy!" or perhaps "when I'm her age, I hope I'm as cool as she is." It starts young. When I was a kid, I was sure that I would never, ever deprive any child of mine of a Hostess Ding Dong, I don't care what time dinner is. I also remember making a solemn pact with my 9th grade best friend that if we ever got to the point where we were wearing purple stretch stirrup pants, like, EVER, we were to remind each other of the pact and cease and desist immediately. On the other hand, I also remember studying my older sister like a pint-sized anthropologist, wanting to mimic her in every way possible, from her gliding, graceful walk to the way she poured ketchup all over her fries instead of just making a ketchup puddle for dipping.

I admit, this type of comparison is not a thing of the past for me. Maybe it's a universal thing that we all want mentors, people who are already standing in the place where we will be going, and can model for us the ways we want to do it when we get there, or at least model for us the ways that we DON'T want to do things. Case in point: this week.

I was sitting on the bus, and someone that I didn't know, but who knew someone that I know, came over and sat next to me. "Hey, I think we met at that one place at the time with the thing," she said. "Oh, yeah!" I replied. She seemed, and is, a perfectly lovely person and I was more than happy to pop the Ipod out of my ears and chat with her all the way home. Before I go on, I have to confess that I am someone who never, and I mean never, knows how old people are. I just can't tell, and my mind doesn't even go there. There are people that look like they are approximately my age who are 20, 30, 40, 50. The definitions of what a thirty-year-old is supposed to look like varies so much, as does a forty-year-old, etc. etc., that I don't try to assess. This results in people sometimes asking me about other people: "how old was she?" they ask. "Um, I don't know. Our age?" My definition of "our age" being 18-50.

So, Bus Lady and I, not knowing anything about each other, started to chat pleasantly about nothing in particular. I had no idea how old she was, and could have gone my whole life not knowing that fact about her, just fine. Except, the problem was, she kept REFERRING to it. IMPLYING it. Even ANNOUNCING it. In this sort of fashion:

Me: We just got done moving last month, and I'm glad I did before this hot weather kicked in.
Her: Did you buy a house?
Me: Yes. My first!
Her: (Kindly) Oh, your first house. I'm so old, I can barely remember my first house!

Or, like this.

Her: Cute shoes! Where did you get them?
Me: Shoefly. They are really comfortable. They feel like flats.
Her: I can only wear shoes like this (indicating some very cute hiking shoes). I'm too old for dainty and pretty.

Or, even this.

Me: Ow. I have something caught in my contact lens. Do you have a mirror in your bag?
Her: Sure. (Handing it over and saying jovially), wait until you're my age and you look in the mirror and hardly recognize yourself! Ha ha!

What the--? This was such a conversation stopper. And believe me, if I am in a chatty mood, not much can stop me. This kind of thing doesn't happen to me often, but I have seen it on more than just this occassion. What's with the fixation with age? Does our youth-obsessed culture dig its ugly heels this far into people's minds and hearts? I guess it does. It is so, so sad. And so puzzling. She has no idea how old I am. Believe me, it's hard to tell with anyone. Wasn't Gary Coleman, like, ten when he was playing an almost-toddler? Wasn't Luke Perry way past high school age when he was Dylan McKay? Granny Moses from the Beverly Hillbillies was the same age then as Susan Sarandon is now. So for all Bus Lady knows, I could be her contemporary. For all I know, she is.

As a librarian who works with teens, I certainly don't delude myself into ever thinking that I am their peer or that I could pretend to be. I'm not going to be one of those adults who's trying to do the Roger Rabbit at a teen program to show the kids I'm hip to the scene. (Which is sort of sad, because I do a mean Roger Rabbit). On the other hand, what good would it do me to constantly remind them how far away we are from one another generationally, to bring up, over and over again, how we will not, can not possibly understand each other because the chasm between our ages is so vast that it's futile to even try to talk to each other without pointing it out. I'm so different from you, we have no commonalities, and let's keep talking about how you are young and feisty and I am old and decrepit. Sound like fun?

So, once again, I (maybe full of futility, maybe not) am vowing to never be like this person who has gone before me. I will not become obsessed with age, whether it be obsession with my youth or obsession with my advancing years. I promise. And I will be permissive about Ding Dongs and shun stirrup pants. I am a woman of my word. An old, musty, moldy woman of my word.

Kiss the rings, I'm out.
Librarian Girl


Desperate Housewife said...

I remember when I was an elementary school kid, the junior high kids seemed old. I didn't feel as old as they had seemed when I reached junior high. And that's how it's been ever since. And younger people seem younger than my generation did. I can't imagine what it'll be like when I'm in a nursing home.

Darlene said...

wow - point well taken! surprisingly, I don't fear aging - what I fear is the occasional time I open my mouth to state my opinion and I hear my mother. I, as well, swore that I would be different. As much as I believe I am, my mom crept in and contaminated my subconcious. hahah

Darlene said...

And another thing - remember when we were teenagers and said, "When I get 25 or 30". Ouch

Melinda said...

The Roger Rabbit? Do the similarities ever stop? If and when we ever meet in "real life," I challenge you to a dance-off.

Librarian Girl said...

Melinda! I can brush off my moonwalk, Cabbage Patch, and Running Man. Maybe we can get a routine together for "So You Think You Can Dance."

Anonymous said...

I hope she was just have a "bad age day" or something where it's all she could think about. Because ... that's sad.