I remember as a toddler I didn’t like old people. Is that unusual? I don’t think so. Even still, I REALLY didn’t like old people. I couldn’t have been more than 4, but I distinctly recall my discomfort around them. It was their smiles that bothered me most.
What was that about?
I remember thinking I was supposed to smile back, and I also remember wondering what it was about a simple smile from a perfect stranger that was supposed to make me happy enough to smile back? The whole exercise seemed awfully damned creepy to me. I couldn’t have explained it then. All I could do was not smile back.
Grumpiness came easily to me, even at an early age.
I think about this whole smiling-elderly thing now and then. In particular, I think about it when I catch myself smiling at a random toddler for no reason other than that random toddlers make me want to smile. I suppose I do want them to smile back, and I suppose my reasons are every bit as lame as I might have imagined back when I was too small to reach the middle shelf. Even still, I now smile and young kids in much the same way that they used to smile at me, and every now and then I wonder if they are as creeped out by that as I was.
I turn fifty today.
That’s not too old, I suppose, but it’s old enough. Old enough to feel it in my knees when I descend a staircase. Old enough find most contemporary music and just about all contemporary television programming lame as hell. Old enough to have a few genuine regrets. Old enough to have more stories than most really want to hear, and and old enough to think I might have learned a thing or two over the years. I expect that’s a foolish thought, but I can’t help thinking it. It’s a old-guy thing.
So, let me take this opportunity to pass on a few of the lessons I’ve learned (or at least that I think I’ve learned) over the years. I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that you take these lessons to heart, much less that you should actually try to put them into practice. (You really shouldn’t in at least a few cases.) Just smile back at the old fart who types them and pretend the whole advice-charade isn’t really all that creepy, even though we both know it really is.
So, here they are, just a maxims I try to keep in mind.
- Anything not worth doing well is not worth doing at all.
- It’s a sure bet, people will fit you into one stereotype or another. You might as well pick the one you’re most comfortable with.
- Never go to bed with anyone you don’t want to wake up to.
- Every good story needs a villain. It’s not a bad calling.
- Let others argue about whether the glass is half empty or half full. The damned thing is probably leaking!
- When people talk about tradition, they usually mean the way they themselves grew up. Most would never know if that had anything to do with the way things worked in generations past.
- There is no cause to take revenge on an individual that would not make a better reason to say ‘goodbye’ and be done with them once and for all.
- People don’t really have sex. Sex has them.
- If you take a job you don’t like just for the money, you’ll probably blow the money letting off steam after work. If you take a job doing something important and meaningful, circumstances will likely suck the value right out of it. If your career is the exception to this dilemma, then seriously, go fuck yourself!
- The word ‘ubiquitous’ isn’t.
- Whatever terrible things you may find younger people are into these days, you can take comfort in the knowledge that their own kids will find it every bit as lame as you do.
- Youth may be wasted on the young. Wisdom is no less wasted on the elderly.
- Don’t kid yourself. It can always get worse.
- Most new ideas are really just old ideas expressed in new vocabulary. …which isn’t really that new either.
- You never will outgrow some of your more childish habits, interests, and hobbies. When you stop trying, you may count that as a kind of maturity in itself.
- You probably will regret the things you didn’t do more than the things you did, but a good many who might say otherwise didn’t live to tell the tale.
- You will never ever ever ever be as comfortable as your own cat.
- Confirmation bias means others consistently over-estimate the evidence that I am wrong.
- Listen to people sharing their thoughts about God. You will never hear a more honest account of their own character.
- Most of the things you are saving for antiquity will be thrown away when you pass on.
- Publish a list like this and you will find yourself thinking up more long after you do. Also, you will keep wondering if this or that one wasn’t something you read before.
Oh that’s enough!
I should probably take a few of those out anyway, because they just aren’t that good, but I’m just not that concerned about it. Also, I’m applying the first maxim. Anyway, I guess I will conclude with another thought about old people. (People older than me, dammit!) I don’t recall when I first noticed it, but I have come to regard it as a constant of sorts. When I see elderly folks, no matter how old they are, I can’t help noticing something new about them. They play just like children. I don’t mean they jump and hop or that they kick a ball with the same energy as a yard ape. I mean that when they crack a joke or even simply smile at one, they might as well be children. It’s one of the few things a rickety body and a cluttered old mind seems to have in common with the growing spirit of a toddler, a certain delight in foolish things.
I wouldn’t say this is an objective claim by any means. Hell, it’s probably me trying to tell myself the path I’m on isn’t so bad, but anymore I just can’t help to see things this way. I don’t care how old someone is when they laugh and joke, they seem (if only for a moment to me) just as young as my old playmates from childhood. Even if their knees have long since said ‘no’ to stairs going up or down. If they know even less about pop-music than I do, and if they could tell you (albeit in a halting way) first hand stories about historical events long since past. You watch two old friends share a joke and they are in that moment much as they might have been at recess long ago.
I keep thinking this must have some relevance to my first point about old people and their smiles. Maybe it should tell me what that smiling stuff was about all those years ago when I kept wondering what the Hell old people were doing smiling at me like that. I suppose I could sort it out if I really wanted to, but then again I’m too old to give it much more thought, or maybe I’m still to young to work it out. Anyway, the first maxim above still applies.
Anyway, get off my lawn!
…and stop smiling at me, dammit!