We May Be Ancient, But Don’t Have To Act Our Age
by Jake Block
“Ageism” is defined as “prejudice or discrimination on the basis of a person’s age.”
Like any other “ism,” we have those that feel they should have the right to regulate our actions or our personal choices, based upon some arbitrary number that they, the government, or just tradition has imposed upon the “aged” as a group of people. It doesn’t just happen to the seniors of any society, and to be fair, in some cases, restrictions of individual activities can be appropriate.
For example, as a general rule, it’s not a good idea to give a six year old a loaded .45 caliber weapon, no matter how much they might like one. Nor is it a good idea to allow children under an age where they can obtain appropriate training to drive a 3,000 pound vehicle down the highway. Allow kids unsupervised access to alcohol? Would you want a 18 year old “doctor” to perform your vasectomy? Children need the time to grow and to become familiar with the benefits and the dangers to be found in the world around them, and how to be safe and productive citizens. When the young attain the appropriate level of maturity to do these things, they’re sanctioned by society and permitted…until they prove as adults that they won’t act responsibly, and then those privileges can be suspended or taken away entirely.
As an adult, you’re left alone to a greater or lesser degree, dependent upon your activities and the way you handle yourself. If you’re not driving drunk, stealing the property of others, assaulting your neighbors or putting clothes on cats and dogs and calling them your “children,” you can pretty much live your life in just about any way you see fit, aside from women who, for some reason, aren’t supposed to wear white after Labor Day, but if they DO, the white skirt and shoes police won’t descend upon them for their faux pas. You eat what you want, you go where you want, and you thumb your nose at anyone who might somehow disapprove.
SCREECHING HALT. Now you become a “Senior Citizen.” You’ve hit that magical age 50, when that first envelope appears in your mail box from AARP (American Association of Retired People.) You now receive your mark. Hester Prynne, in the novel, The Scarlet Letter, was forced to wear the letter “A” on her clothing at all times for committing the sin of adultery. You will now wear the invisible, but identifying letter “R,” denoting your approaching retirement age. Sure… you’ll still work for another 15 years at least, but with every passing year, you’ll be seen as “on your way out.”
And in being “on your way out,” you’re expected to change. You have to wear the “scarlet R,” and they expect you to act like it. You have to fit into the stereotypical “senior citizen,” bespectacled, slow walking, sedate, quiet and carrying a cane to keep you from toppling over. If you don’t meet the stereotype, you will be seen as an object of curiosity at best, and at worst, a threat to the viewer’s concept of established status quo. Being that they just want to be left alone, most elders will simply look and act as expected. It’s far more easy to accept the limitations than to invite public intrusion into their lives.
Age is simply a number that societies use to delineate the passage of time that one has been around. It is not a marker of intelligence or wealth, nor does it give any indication of the strength or stamina of an individual, creativity, or eroticism. Now, it is agreed that in the female of the species, the upper third of our life expectancy is an indicator that sexual activity is far less likely to result in pregnancy, but it in no way indicates that the sexual vibrancy of any given woman is less than another based solely on her age. There are women whose sexual proclivities peak in their 20s and there are women who enjoy a healthy sex life well into their later 70s and 80s. There are men who are “studs” in their 20s and as we have seen, are still able to father children into their 80s.
One of the ways that our culture promotes a less than vibrant life for the senior set is in fashion. “Thou shalt not show the female form in older women.” If you look on the rack of clothing for women “of a certain age,” you’ll see that there will be a greater and greater selection of “burka” type dresses, covering the woman neck to ankle. Finding a cocktail length skirt is often an exercise in futility, and breaking at the knee is a stretch in most fashions. However, there are many retirement and above aged women who enjoy a shorter skirt and still have attractive legs that they don’t mind having on display… and they even accent them with fashionable heels, rather than the clunky shoes often offered that have less style than the box they came in!
Men’s fashions seem to go to the looser look, baggy, and hardly stylish. Men, however have the advantage in the area of suits, as men’s suit styles change relatively little over the decades, other than cut and color. Most men can find suitable dress fashions in most quality menswear stores, but lack of expectation plays a roll for both men and women. Once into one’s septuagenarian and octogenarian years, man are expected to “skate by” in loose jeans or ill-fitting pants with suspenders and women are commonly seen in a simple, formless, button down house dress. And there is nothing wrong with that IF… IF… that is what the individual prefers. Many of us do not.
The same thing happens in pretty much every aspect of life for those in their 50s to 90s. It’s almost like the words to the 59th St. Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy). “Slow down, you move to fast. You got to make that morning last.” The clock doesn’t slow down because of an arbitrary notation of what we call “age,” and many of the “elderly” find age to be a suggestion, rather than a fact. Ozzy Osbourne is now 69 years old this year (one year older than me), and he can still rock with the best of them. Try telling King Diamond (61), or Mick Fleetwood (70), or Billy Gibbons (68), or Rob Halford (66), or Sammy Hagar (70), or Ted Nugent (69), or Alice Cooper (69) to slow down because they’re too old to rock, and you’ll be met with a firm middle finger and a cheery, “FUCK YOU.” Neil Diamond is still doing shows at 76, and while he might not be as spry as he once was, he still shows up to entertain and leaves it all on the stage.
I live in the south, and it’s laid back here, as a rule. You should see the looks I get when I’m going down the street in my Lincoln Town Car, in a 3 piece suit, and my killer sound system is blasting anything from Steppenwolf to Nine Inch Nails to
Cradle of Filth and beyond. More than once I’ve pulled in at the local grocery store and when I emerge from the car, receive WTF looks from young and old alike. The arthritis takes its toll, and I have my handy-dandy handicapped placard (I’m considered 30% disabled), but it doesn’t slow me down for long. Some see me and mutter, “crazy yankee,” but most people know by now that I could care less what they think. I don’t deal with their ageism. I blow past it.
One thing I have learned in my 68 years is that it’s just a number and it means nothing. There are people older than me who are vibrant and exciting people, and kids in their 20s who are disgustingly geriatric in their attitudes and their sedentary lifestyles. I plan on having my fatal heart attack in the much distant future, listening to hard rock and being in the company of a lady who might be my age in years, but young at heart, with a lust for life and for ME. When it happens, don’t shed a tear that I’m gone. Just hope you die having as much fun as I have!
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
— Mark Twain
The Orders of The Sect of the Horned God