“Don’t you understand anything?”
“No, I don’t understand Eunice.”
“She will be here any minute.”
“You have got to stop repeating yourself.”
“I am not repeating myself. I am not repeating myself. Oh, God, I’m repeating myself.”
“Steve, you don’t want to marry Eunice.”
“I am not Steve. I am Howard.”
“Neither of you wants to marry Eunice.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Because you don’t want to marry someone who is going to get all wrinkled, lined and flabby.”
“Everybody gets wrinkled, lined and flabby.”
“By next week?”
The weekend before last, I had something like an epiphany. I don’t have a lot of epiphanies and that’s too bad because there are a lot of things I’d like to figure out. But the weekend before last I had something like one.
I was watching a tennis tournament. This time of year tennis buffs like me think of as the US Open season. Almost every weekend there is a little tournament leading up to the final Grand Slam event of the year.
This time of year is always important to me because, over the years, I’ve used the US Open to start planning my next year, to put stuff from the current year into my past, to evaluate my life and to try to get on with things. Back when I dropped out of college I made the decision to do so during a US Open. When I was in the corporate world I made some key job decisions during US Opens. Now, whether I want to or not, I’ll be making some pretty big decisions during this US Open season, too.
What I’m saying is I generally get a little thoughtful and introspective during this time of year.
The weekend before last I was watching a couple of the warm-up tournaments leading to the US Open and one of the commercials—of all things!—hit me like a sledgehammer to the back of the head.
It was a USTA commercial featuring young hotshot Rafael Nadal and old has-been John McEnroe. The idea is that Nadal is driving a bus from tournament to tournament and McEnroe is in the back of the bus playing guitar and making noise, bugging Nadal.
Now, beyond the fact that Nadal is an active player and McEnroe retired something like two decades ago, what really bugged me about the commercial was the age thing: Nadal just turned twenty years old. McEnroe soon is going to turn fifty.
McEnroe looked stupid banging away on the guitar, acting obnoxious.
I sat there watching the commercial thinking, “This is ridiculous. The USTA really needs to get rid of McEnroe. He’s not a player any more. He does awful commentary. Why do they keep him hanging around? And why do they do a stupid commercial like this where they show this old guy hanging around with the youngsters? Don’t they—doesn’t he—realize how stupid he looks?”
Then—and this was the sledgehammer part—it hit me: McEnroe is just one year older than I am.
I know some people who are twenty years old . . .
I’m obnoxious and bang away on a guitar . . .
I’d thought about McEnroe: Doesn’t he realize how stupid he looks?
Yeah, so, this age thing is tough for me. I’ve never been afraid or worried about the whole wrinkled, lined and flabby part of getting old. Everybody gets wrinkled, lined and flabby.
I’ve always been afraid of becoming irrelevant.
Most old people I know have completely given up on playing an active part in society-at-large. They are not creating anything, they are not contributing anything. They are not even trying to be a dynamic element within society-at-large.
Beyond simply not creating or contributing anything in any way to society-at-large, many old people I know are actively dragging down, holding back, society-at-large. They reinforce pointless old crap. They require young people to spend time and resources to maintain them. They consume resources that dynamic people could be putting to better use.
I’ve never wanted to become that kind of old person.
And I’ve often tried to hang out with younger people because—I think, even though I know it’s a mistaken belief—I tend to think of young people as relevant by their very nature as young people. I tend to think of young people as dynamic and contributing even though I know many young people are just going through the motions of life in the same way as are many old people.
So it occurred to me that, just like McEnroe in that dumb commercial, I must have looked pretty stupid at times.
I can’t say that I feel any new imperative to act my age.
But I do feel a new imperative to police my behavior better so that I don’t look stupid in that particular way.
I’m sure I’ll find new ways to look stupid.
But I will be more careful about hanging out with young people, banging away on my guitar and acting obnoxious.