not with a bang, but with a bib. yes.

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Some nights I’m possessed of a demon energy and I’ll iron a shirt, or two shirts. Other nights we sprawl and dawdle by lamplight and parse the dumbbell universe, a clear and present accident whose wit is often hidden from us, and whose largely inexplicable machinery has the charm of a tipsy blabbermouth mechanical engineer at the office bowling party. When I’m interested in hearing about Poisson’s Ratio you’ll know it, because I’ll be walking away at speed. But you can’t walk away from the universe. It hovers, a leering omnipresence. It doesn’t seem to know it is but a homely, if enormously complicated, machine. You don’t get magic just by adding more gears. The magic is in the wakey-wakey, and that’s us. But the Divine Milieu (as the howling emptiness of space has been called) is an immeasurably vast gulf of envy, and manages to choreograph our desperately fleeting lives into episodes of spirit-killing flapdoodle. You have the Hubble Deep Field over there, and over here you have a grown man masturbating into a cantaloupe. Same system, same entropic hoo-ha, and so on. How? Reality is a batshit sandwich, that’s how. What majesty we can muster is derived from our being able to eat it without blanching. I’m nowhere close.

Dave and I meet one evening at the Famous Fish Warehouse or whatever it’s called, a few blocks up from the beach. It’s one of those enormous restaurant/bars the size of a NASA hangar and tonight it is thronged and seething, the dank air tumescent with excited human congress. The World Series is hollering out of a dozen enormous screens hung about the place, the panicky-sounding, midrange hubbub of the gathered mob in here not unlike that viral Russian recording of the inadvertently-penetrated caverns of hell. Whole families are laughing with mouths full, throwing their heads back so that oral cavities become upturned, toothy vessels of sludge. And we’re supposed to eat around all this eating. Dave strolls ahead to our table, unperturbed.

The scene is alive with the twenty-something species to whom this loudmouth Breugel is a first home. The carefully unshaven young professionals and players lean in their dozens with hunched and easy panache over long glass-littered bars, they jostle and confer and grasp each other, neckties half-undone in front of the bathroom mirror, their short, upswept power hair shifted back on their scalps to show grooveless, Shatnernesque foreheads. They have vivacious but normal-seeming girlfriends and wives for the most part, though once in a while a guy will turn up with a date whose chest looks as startlingly swollen as a new contusion. A lot of the celebrants are wearing backward baseball caps, which on a good day are a thorn. Those that don’t wear backward baseball caps wear those stylish form-fitting club suits that seem carefully arranged to look like unbuttoned after-hours business dress. A few of the guys are sporting the Squashed Insouciant Beanie, the ubiquitous outlier symbol that crushes and droops a little at the apex, suggesting bohemian disarray. The look doesn’t really speak in this environment because everyone knows real Bohemia doesn’t watch televised sports, and so the beanie crowd look like fakes, and they are. The backward-cap guys and after-hours faux-business-dress guys are in their element, though. They make easy eye contact and chit-chat with bartenders and waitresses, and they all look like some version or hue of Ryan Gosling or Ryan Reynolds.

The baseball game has everyone excited. I mean scarily, phenomenally excited. The buzzed young guys and their significant others are wearing the collective ‘fuckyeahtheWorldSeries!’ mask and high-fiving each other, the men jerking their heads around and yelling incoherently every time one of the doughy millionaires onscreen swings a bat or jogs a little across the televised grass. All these wired guys are sporting Establishment tattoos and heroic eyebrows and are laughing loudly. The “I’m here straight from my important job in my unbuttoned suit” guys laugh angrily, like Billy Baldwin or Tom Cruise overplaying drunk because some acting coach somewhere told them that a drunk Young Turk looks at his gathered posse and angrily whips his hilarity-contorted face from friend to friend while laughing. “Haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw! haw!haw!haw! oooh shit, man! Haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!” Their girlfriends or wives could be the nameless and merely competent actresses on endless and interchangeable Law and Shooting shows and limply ironic internet ads; lookalike, neutrally beautiful young ladies with radiant curtain-hair like polished rayon and cackling, nose-wrinkling support laughter accessorized with a possessing paw fastened determinedly on the tattooed forearm of the backward cap.

During this last game of the World Series (all the games of the World Series, really. All baseball games, that is), doughy muscular men, some tallish and paunchy with a mullet-mustache set, throw the little white baseball around and occasionally sprint in expensive panic with their big fannies jumping. When they aren’t called upon to move they can be seen dramatically standing stock still in the outfield, waiting for the little white ball to drop like a speck of cotton from out of the arc lighting. Often the live feed will show a moth or gnat or other innocent fluttering around out there under the lights, unaware of the Moment, and sometimes the wealthy outfielder will drop an incoming ball after having waved away his colleagues, “I got this!”, and when he drops the thing which it is his massively overpaid job simply to catch and hold onto, he’ll chase after it with electric anger, like it’s the ball’s fault, and he’ll pluck it up and throw it towards home plate with all his strength and it’ll usually get about as far as the pitcher who will snag it out of the air and then strut around with angry eyes, clutching the little ball and looking all around. The whole affair is wrought with oddness and ceremony. All the while the “after hours business dress” phonies (there, I said it), and now even the backward-cap gangs in the restaurant are yelling and slapping hands and drinking and laughing and cavorting “haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!haw!”, jerking their angrily laughing faces around to aim and fire their humorless barking at each other. Their potent little drinks have tiny colored straws in them.

Despite my misgivings I find myself wishing I were one of them. As I get older the desire becomes incrementally stronger and, I would suggest, more perverse.  Why didn’t God make me a guy who understands the appeal of sport-spectating and occasional boozing and loudness, a regular guy who can lose himself in this tumult and tribe-think and freeing conviviality, back-slapping with a group of like-minded men and dissolving like a drop in the placid Testosterone Sea? Down another quantum pathway I would’ve played sports in high school and pumped iron, had The Stones on my bedroom wall and not a stylized cartoon poster of big-hipped Elton John peering like an elf from underneath a top hat, I would’ve had one of those thick paperbacks of sports statistics on my bedside table next to my State Championship trophy, and would have followed my dad in his daily brow-furrowed examination of column after column of tiny numbers in the Sports Section, two guys following the stock index. Instead I sat by my Tensor lamp and pored over the beautifully bound and illustrated shiny hardcover of the complete lyrics of Bernie Taupin (thanks, Diana), surrounded by my Revell spaceship models and sketch pads and other such you’ll-never-get-to-first-base folderol. So on nights like this, and they are few, I fall into brief fits of a very potent reverie. Looking around in wonder at the backward baseball caps, I almost say aloud “how did I miss this boat so completely?”

Three guys at the table next to Dave and I are ordering drinks and being handsome and successful with their shaded jawbones and parted hair and general enviability. Enviability is a state, if not a word.  I spy on them in my peripheral vision and occasionally with one of those bold direct glances which, if intercepted, can be quickly reframed as admiration of the exposed duct work and celestially arrayed, dessicated starfish overhead. They’re watching the TVs with interest but no particular fever while they wait for dinner, chatting and laughing normally, holding their hands in Rodin shapes before their mouths as they cant their heads and exchange confidences, as men do in parlors and mahogany-paneled private libraries.

I turn back to Dave and we continue our conversation and about half an hour later I glance over at the guys at the next table and I gasp and I feel my face getting hot. Their dinner has long since arrived, it is lobster, and these three recent exemplars of mellow male reason and coolness are wearing enormous bibs which fasten snugly around the neck and cascade down and over the knees like the drop cloth on a picnic table. In the center of each bib, right over the solar plexus, is a grinning stylized cartoon lobster. I can’t tear my eyes away from these nitwits, and if they’re stupid enough to don gigantic fucking bibs in a mixed gender restaurant, they’re too far gone to notice my staring anyway. Did I not get the memo about the bib thing? I glance around and no one is staring at these vibrant clods.

To my utter amazement the Three Baby Hueys, now tipsy and blinking slowly, their little freak arms reaching with difficulty out from behind their expansive plasticized bibs, begin making time with the black-haired, classily-pierced babe waitress when she comes to check on their inebriated lobster-destroying process. From what should be the genital-shriveling humility of their bib status, they blearily regard her with naked lust and start coming on to her! The guy nearest me actually leans out toward her and struggles to free his bib-ensnared ass-pinching arms. It’s just awful. This is not Robert Pattinson standing around at The Cape in an Alpaca sweater with a hip little bib like a necktie, hoisting a Heineken and laughing at the lobster held aloft in his left hand. This is three grown men made idiotic by their decision to put on enormous castrating bibs. And before my stupefied eyes the hot waitress receives the bib-guy’s advances and warms to him. She is flirting back. SHE IS FLIRTING WITH THE BIB GUY. This is the world I can never join, the world I can’t even comprehend. It moved on without me when they were handing out membership cards. While I was timidly romancing the trombone player in marching band, the high school hotties who couldn’t even see me were just biding their time, waiting for these louche drunks to put on their huge fucking bibs and excite them.

“Dave, check this out,” I whisper urgently out of the corner of my mouth. “These guys are wearing bibs!” It’s less funny to me than fucked up, especially now that I see the waitress warming up. Dave is everything I am not and knows his way around, writes articles for Oracle, is built like a championship swimmer and takes business trips. He haunts the cocktail lounges of Manhattan when he is called there by his urbane, yacht catalog-perusing corporate masters. He glances over at the drunken flirts in their man-bibs and turns back to me.

“Yeah,” he says. “They ordered lobster.”

Growing Older in the Grace of Life’s Received Wisdom. Option Two: Skinny Jeans.

weep not for the crone in gigolo pants

I occupy a very particular demographic; balding 50-somethings who don’t know how awful they look in skinny jeans. We are many. It’s nearly an epidemic. A teary woman in the Macy’s parking lot shakily pointed her finger at me and used the word “plague”, which I thought was going a bit far. And for the record, I’m not truly oblivious. I have occasional fleeting doubts about the way my ass looks in these skinny jeans. I swat these misgivings away like the meaningless little gnats they are. I have a righteous ass and I’m working these jeans, baby! Zig-zag-zig! (snaps his fingers in that triumphant Z shape that the youngsters use). As you can see, I am firmly ensconced is this self-deluding demographic.

We aren’t hard to spot. We look like 17 year-olds who, in act two of a heart-squeezing two-billion-dollar Steven Spielberg parable, miraculously age 40 years in a seamless CGI moment, enlarging and sagging and swelling distastefully into youthful attire that is suddenly age-inappropriate and disturbing. Woo hoo! You’ve seen us walking casually about the downtown area, animatedly gabbing and gesturing, parting the pedestrian traffic as surely as would a mob of lipless zombies staggering up the main drag with their arms extended. People stare. Can we throw cold water onto a sunny Saturday? You betcha. Strutting around in our ill-fitting get-ups, we stir in the previously happy-go-lucky crowds an indefinable dread. Some lovely weekend morning you may be quietly reveling at a sidewalk café, sipping your expertly prepared cappuccino in full sun, that first dose of caffeine infusing your bloodstream with warmth and gladness – life is marvelous! Not so fast. Here I come in my skinny jeans. Tremblingly put that cup of coffee down, relax your smile and take a brow-furrowing hour to review your own life in the sudden shadow cast by my skinny jeans. “Things that remind you jarringly of your mortality” might be a good category with which to launch your internal conversation. You’re welcome, and happy Saturday!

We skinny jeans oldsters are not only about finger-snapping to Petula Clark and slowly lurching into the middle of the room to do that awful ballroom dance swirl whenever any music of any kind plays anywhere. Growing older does make one ruminative, which is an olden-times word for “looking at my iPhone.” Many are the occasions I’ve been sitting on public transportation, the other passengers’ eyes riveted by the rivets on my straining skinny jeans, wondering if and when they will structurally fail and come flying off my tormented pants in a stinging cloud of ballistic copper. As they glare in fear at my skinny jeans, I am daydreaming in my bus seat, staring into space, ruminating on my own reckless youth, my evolving narrative arc, and the manifold rewards of growing older. The bus will slowly negotiate a turn, and a bolt of beautiful unfiltered sunshine will slant in and bathe the heavily cross-hatched backs of my spotted hands, hands like chemically burned leather, and I’ll be moved to speak aloud in the sonorous voice of a poet.  “Starring Vincent Price as The Abominable Doctor Phibes.” As I stare at the backs of my withered hands, I know the other passengers are smiling warmly and exchanging glances of endearment, because they don’t know that Doctor Phibes was a hideous 1970s movie ghoul with a mouth in the side of his neck.

The phenomenon of otherwise dignified, life-informed older persons dressing like college freshman – it’s taking the world by storm! California may just be the epicenter of this shift in the tectonic plates of Graceful Aging. Sociologists have been brought into the picture, but their papers and journals and peer-reviewed jibber-jabber have failed to answer this fundamental question; what the hell am I thinking? Is it some sort of diabolical glass-curvature technology which, in the Tilly’s fitting room, causes a 50-something to stare approvingly at a reflected image made lithe by ocular science and profound self-deception? I can tell you from personal experience that simply walking into a Tilly’s fitting room at my age raises red flags, flags which are soon accompanied by signal flares as I loudly grunt and holler my way into apparel that no loving God should allow his creation to witness on a bag of ham such as myself. On exiting the fitting room it’s not uncommon to find a commotion that I’ve only recently realized has me at its center.  On one occasion I flung the fitting room door open with a flourish, feeling powerfully attractive in my skinny jeans, and saw a family of four turn and run with such blind alarm they plowed down two racks of halter tops and a clipboard-clutching little sales associate in their panicked rush to escape. When the terrorized family hit the street I was, unfortunately, hot on their heels, believing us to be fleeing a common enemy. When one of them turned and glimpsed me pounding along behind them – my middle-aged t-rex arms held daintily aloft as I ran, my Older Gentleman ostrich Legs prancing in their skinny jeans – well, the screams alerted me to the awful truth. So, yeah.

I could try aging gracefully, like Linda Evans, say. Or Liza Minelli. But what’d be the point? I don’t want people to look at me and say “My, he’s aging gracefully.” I’d rather they thought, “That previously dissolving older man has halted the very sands of the hourglass by squeezing into those blood-crushing skinny jeans.” I know what I’m doing, even if you don’t. Then there are times I begin to wonder if my Western obsession with youth is completely facile.  In those moments I dwell upon the National Geographic bronze-age Amazonian jungle tribes who venerate their shriveled, speechless elders as wise sages, as repositories of life experience, treat them almost as gods. Then the end of the program features the glorified village elder being helped along to the Next World on some sort of entrapping bamboo edifice, made to wear a bristly boar-hide diaper, fed a terrible broth with fingers floating in it, and finally slathered with ceremonial mud and pushed, uncomplaining, over a waterfall. I snap out of my reverie and renew my loud struggle with the skinny jeans until security begins banging on the fitting room door.

Not that it matters but…for the record, I am not past my procreative prime, pilgrim. My hydraulics are in perfect working order. I am a fit specimen and use the v-pill only cosmetically; when I need a tighter fit for my skinny jeans, or when I plan to be passing through a dangerous neighborhood and want would-be assailants to think I’m carrying. I must confess that one summer evening after too much Chablis I recklessly tested my theory in a particularly rough part of town, popping a pill and strutting like a graying panther through the mean streets, my “weapon” in full relief, like a blackjack tucked into my waistband. “You want some of this, punks? Come and get it!” There were no takers, naturally. Thank you Pfizer.

As for me, why do I wear the skinny jeans? What is the point? The point is this; I have no intention of retiring to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Not for me the daily cardigan, the fey-voiced conversations with choo-choo trains and hand puppets. That time will surely come, as it must for all of us. While I can, though, I will fight that encroaching shadow world with all my strength, and in trousers that cleave like a fully inflated blood pressure cuff. While I have my marbles I will wear the armor of youth, prowl the streets with the insouciance of the ageless and brave. You see, I want my outside to reflect exactly how I feel on the inside – like a quantity of finely ground hamburger poured into a mold.

So you wear your nutty kid clothes and backward hats and numbskull tattoos (is that what those skulls are called?) and I’ll adopt your skinny jeans. Deal? We get one crack at this soap opera. I’m not about to waste a minute wondering if my pants flatter me (they do, right?). As Sammy said, I Gotta Be Me! If I betray myself by not wearing these skinny jeans I’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life.  No regrets. Okay? Okay. Now take a page from my book as I’ve taken one from yours. Keep flying the flag, you dandified, acne-haunted lilliputs. Keep wearing whatever the hell you want, and so will we. You guys have the right idea. Time is fleeting. Do what you want. So….yeah! Here’s looking at you, kids.

 

SB Sentinel  Vol 4 issue 18 September 12 – 26  2015