I was the last passenger to get off an airplane recently. As I made my way to the door, a stewardess stopped me to ask if I needed a wheelchair. I was taken aback. Recovering, I countered with a joke: "Not today, but maybe tomorrow."
Since then, I have mulled over the brief encounter. It illustrates an outcome when points of view are opposed. In my mind, a white-haired guy, lugging a heavy briefcase, was walking leisurely through an empty cabin, wondering how long he would have to wait for his suitcase. What she saw was a stoop-shouldered oldster hefting a leather briefcase as he shuffled tentatively up the aisle. I was thinking Jeff Bridges; she, Sean Connery. At least she didn't say, "May I get you a wheelchair, honey?"
"Honey" is a lame honorific relating to age. I am addressed with "sir" more often than "honey." Neither gives offense. "Honey" is the choice of some of the women who take my blood pressure, answer my questions across a counter or refill my coffee cup. Now, after the wheelchair episode, I imagine a waitress-to-waitress whisper: "The geezer at table 3 wants more coffee." Or the codger needs coffee. Or the gaffer.
This may be the first time geezer, codger and gaffer have appeared in City Weekly. They do not represent a sought-after slice of the demographic pie in Utah, the most youthful of states. That is ironical, as they are a newsprint-loving bunch with money to spend.
It's interesting that the words are gendered male and that only a degree of eccentricity differentiates one from the other. "Gaffer" denotes the average old man, while a somewhat eccentric old man is a "codger." A "geezer" is downright odd. Curmudgeons are extreme geezers who are known for hair-trigger rants. Ultra gaffers match shirts with their wives' blouses. The list of synonymic options includes "senior citizen," "old-timer," "pensioner," "graybeard" and "golden-ager." "Old-timer" connotes experience by virtue of tenure. Sen. Orrin Hatch is an old-timer whom I wish was a pensioner. An "active senior" may bike, ski, golf and hike. Many are active in the bedroom. The Centers for Disease Control reports syphilis and chlamydia are "spreading like wildfire" in retirement communities. "Active senior" is a gender-neutral term, as is "golden-ager."
Women are called "crone," "hag" and "dowager"—but seldom outside novels. I hang out with active seniors. I've met a few geezers playing pickleball, but most players are companionable folks with expertise in knee replacements. I avoid curmudgeons—especially those who yell at the television.
We are the generation that came of age in the 1960s, when no one over 30 was to be trusted. Our favorite drugs—marijuana and birth-control pills—have been supplanted by Chardonnay and little blue pills. In our dotage, radical chic has receded like hairlines, and a surprising number of us have morphed into Fox News-watching conservatives.
Our kids now have kids, so we appreciate Sam Levenson's insight that grandchildren and grandparents get along well because they share a common enemy. We are asked to babysit often (which causes geezers to grumble). Active seniors worry about their inactive, screen-addicted grandchildren. We coax the kids away from their iPads with offers of fresh air, ice cream and real books at the library. I favor Snow White because Grumpy and I are sympatico. Neither of us has a Facebook page, but many a Baby Boomer has reluctantly signed on to social media just to keep tabs on their grandchildren.
I think it is safe to say we don't grok Twitter. We don't like rap music, Naked and Afraid, driving on rainy nights, noisy restaurants, television commercials about painful intercourse and rising twice a night to urinate. More challenging than black-diamond runs is getting ski boots on and off. We need glasses to read the obituaries, and our memory is quirky. Without a pill organizer, we can't remember if we took the morning's statin, but we can sing all the words to Dylan's "Blowin' in the Wind."
We yearn for the good old days when civility reigned in the public square and the Beatles topped the record charts. We have grown fond of early-bird specials, Pioneer Memorial Theater, elastic in the waistband, repartee with waitresses and movie matinees. Some of us color our hair. Others are Botoxed. A few wear knee-high compression socks, and most have submitted to dermatologists' sharp tools. All contend with sag. Men lose interest in fashion trends. Ultra-codgers wear Levis with suspenders and white tennis shoes with Velcro fasteners. Mormon gaffers don funereal suits, ties and white shirts when they can.
Not long after the airplane episode, I was at a concert at the Gallivan Center. I watched a codger dancing the Electric Slide using a walker with handbrakes. "Welcome to Codg-a-Rama!" I said to myself. You might say Codg-a-Rama is a temporal glitch whereby the mind and body decay at different rates. Reports of 30-something minds trapped in 60-something bodies are common. On the other hand, Codg-a-Rama could be a Hotel California franchise, or a community of eccentrics like Alice found after passing through the looking glass.
However you characterize it, Codg-a-Rama puts a premium on appearances. I must ask for the senior discount when I buy a bagel at Einstein Bros. It isn't proffered out of concern that some oldster-in-waiting will take offense. I am not so vain, but I have learned that reconciling perception and reality takes a conscious effort. As Alice found, a mirror is the best place to start. CW
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What's the best (or worst) thing about growing older?
Paula Saltas: I like John's AARP discounts for hotels and restaurants.
Christian Priskos: When you realize that you are getting gray hairs—on your beard—and you are 23. However, it does make me feel more wise.
Jeff Chipian: Everything is the worst. My body can't handle drinking as it once did. I need to sleep, or I become a zombie for a day. People stare at you in shame when you still listen to boy-band music. And, if you don't have a girlfriend or aren't married by 30, the entire community will shun you. But after thinking about it, the only upside on getting old is that I can rent bad-ass cars from Hertz.
Pete Saltas: When you finally make it back to Neverland, the Lost Boys may not recognize you.
Mason Rodrickc: The older I get, the more OK it is for me to stay in and watch Netflix with my cat when there are actual things happening outside of my hidey-hole.
Elizabeth Suggs: The best thing about getting old is—assuming everything works out— less responsibility. You're able to do what you want and make the younger generation do everything for you. But I don't want them wiping my butt. That's the worst thing: someone else wiping my butt, bathing me or otherwise making me feel like a child. It's a thin line I walk as an old person.
Scott Renshaw: I'm content with being slightly less stupid every day of my life. My actual wisdom is slowly catching up with my lifelong conviction that I'm always right.
Jeremiah Smith: When I think about getting older, I look forward to lots of things. Retirement, paying off all the long-term debt, watching my son grow up, etc. But what I am really looking forward to is being able to say inappropriate things out loud and have people brush them off as "cute."
Tiffany Frandsen: Being able to say things like "whippersnapper" and "gadget."
Mikey Staltas: You mean to say life gets even worse after college?