In the West, it is said, we tend to admire youth. That’s true, at least today. Old people try to act like young people. I even have a few old relatives who are on Facebook, and they are the same Baby Boomers who’ve been afflicted with trying to keep up with the Joneses their whole lives.
In the East, however, the old are admired. The wisdom of years is given a respect that it no longer seems to enjoy in the West—if in fact it was ever enjoyed, at least to the same extent, in the West. This is not to say that raw experience is valuable. The dude with thirty years of experience who’s a clown is just a clown who’s had a red nose for thirty years. One must seek mentors carefully, to be sure.
Perhaps old men need someone to come to their defense here in the Occident. What the hell. I’ll give it a shot.
I’ve always liked old men, at least the kind that aren’t telling war stories all the time. There is a certain stillness about them. When I was a child, I spent hours leaning over a fence talking to an old fellow three doors up the street. Our kibitzing would outlast the June sunset. He’d tell me stories about times past, which to a kid seemed to me to be in the great distance, but which, as I have come to learn, weren’t really all that long ago. I remember his relating to me the habits of one particularly unsuccessful high school football coach. Every time, it was said, his play calling went like this: On first down, run; on second down, run; on third down, pass. Maybe that story is how I developed a crippling obsession with originality.
There are two old men more recently whom I’ve enjoyed batting the breeze with. Let’s give them the fictitious names of Murray and Ludwig. They’d sit at the bar, and talk about everything under the sun, or about nothing in particular. They had a great sense of humour, and weren’t afraid to bust each other’s balls, and laugh about it the whole time. Then they would bust my balls, and I had no choice but to revel in it. One of the things that Murray and Ludwig taught me was that older men seem to have more of a tolerance for real personality than some of the more recent generations, who are seemingly tied down by the tyrannical peer pressure of egalitarianism. Sadly, Ludwig died suddenly recently. He collapsed on the way home from the bar. But at least he died while living out the creed of making time for fun with friends, an underestimated value of the post-modern super-serious types.
Then there is the neighborhood barber. He has a beautiful head of white hair such as I have always wanted, but will probably never have on account of my early baldness. His shop is located along the route on which I run every day. I pass it four times if I do my full six miles. “You’re getting too skinny!” he frequently yells, as he comes barreling out the door at me. Other times, he just points at me, or throws up his arms in somewhat mock disbelief if he sees me running in inclement weather. Sometimes this would get on my nerves, but I finally realized that he actually admires what I’m doing—in fact, the first few times he saw me he was outright complimentary. His goal, it seems, is to make sure that I’m taking neither running nor myself too seriously, and in a way it is working.
The thing about old men is that they’ve all “been there” before. They have a sense of equilibrium about things, little tolerance for demagoguery or sanctimony, and a healthy disrespect for what the quacks around them think. This frees them up to have more of a personality. Old men can find the humour in anything, and, most importantly, the source of that humour is often themselves. They also like to be left alone, and in return for your leaving them alone, they’ll leave you alone. Finally, they hate to vote. They are perhaps the only age-based subset of society that realizes that politics is a gigantic racket; maybe they are ripe for conversion to various kinds of libertarianism.
In short, to hell with youthful idealism. It’s not only foolish; it isn’t any fun. So paint my hair white and call me grandpa.
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