It’s self-defeating to eat a handful of trail mix just before I go to bed. It makes for a lot of work to brush my teeth because at my age there are more places I have to inspect. I’m a diligent flosser, 353 to 357 days a year. If I miss a night, which is rare, I’ll do it the next morning. Results at the dentist have proven this industry pays off. (Parenthetically [or is that obvious?], do you sometimes look at an object, like a pack of dental floss, or a lamp finial, and wonder how someone comes to manufacture those particular items? “What’s your line?” “Oh, I make the nose pads on eyeglasses!” “You don’t say?!” Many a fortune has been built on the profits of toilet flanges.)
We had a recent house guest, a true gentleman of the world who, at eighty-four years old, continues to travel extensively, hold a job, volunteer everywhere, is curious, interested, and generous of spirit. He confessed he is shrinking. A diminutive man to begin with, he says it is hard to find pants that aren’t too long, and often has to have them shortened by a neighbor with a sewing machine. Escorting him during his stay I noticed he had, indeed, rolled up the cuffs of his chinos. I wanted to quote T. S. Eliot’s line from The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:
“I grow old … I grow old …
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.”
Like he needs to hear that?
I’ll be damned, when I last visited the doctor and had my weight and height recorded, I had shrunk, too. I have always been 6’2’’. (Well, accurately, 6’1¾”. But, that was so awkward to say.) This last time, I was measured at 6’1”! I have lost ¾ of an inch! (I prefer to say that than one inch.) I have compressed over the years of bartending , pounding the pavement, lifting weights, even sitting in a desk chair, deterioration…whatever it is that does it…it has happened, is happening.
Another tricky thing about aging: getting a grip.
I’ve always liked the image of Maurice Chevalier as the perfect graceful gentleman. As a kid I would see him in movies like the Can Can. He was the boulevardier in Fanny with Leslie Caron and Charles Boyer. He had this warm, great grin, boundless wisdom, and unapologetic adoration of beautiful women. He totally got away with openly flirting because he his utter charming and women knew he knew which end is up, even if he didn’t stand a chance. This is a fellow who, at 18, was working in the musical theater in Paris and had a lover twice his age from the Folies Bergère.
I discovered, at a certain age, you begin to disappear to the sexual world, and I don’t mean shrink. You become neutered. You are no longer seen in a carnal way…at…all. It is unseemly to make a sexual bon mot to a woman or even chat about the good old days with some of the boys. They don’t want to hear exploits or transports. Or visualize it. You can tell they don’t believe it, anyway.
Referring to my beloved Darling, our recent gentleman guest remarked, “You are truly blessed.” He is right. I live with one of the remarkable people. There is no thought of seeking out any hanky-panky. (May we all accept that fantasy is another subject?) I miss New York from time to time, but I wouldn’t move back there. Being on the hunt - summarized by G. B. Shaw as the “life force” - or simply flirting has been standard operating procedure since puberty. Not to is a bit like learning to live without one of your senses. Though, it isn’t all bad; rather a time saver.
I accept I am no longer a blade. Or, even attractive. To tell the truth, I don’t like to look at myself in the mirror. I won’t draw a look from…anyone. Not even women my age. Through the inequity of life, they’ve had longer experience of the world averting its eyes. They won’t risk it anymore. Not that older folk can’t have a sensual and physical life. Ever see Helen Mirren on the red carpet? Tell me she isn’t ready to get down. Picasso fathered Paloma in 1949 with his mistress Gilot, some forty years his junior. He was 70. She walked out on him in ‘53 because he was repeatedly unfaithful. Fame and the seductive appeal of talent play a part in this saga; nevertheless, he was a long-time dawg. Really, outside of the scandal pages, it isn’t very titillating to imagine.
I no longer wish to be Maurice or Pablo. I am James.