Somebody in a store called me "Pop" the other day and I thought to myself, well, there it is, time to ring the funeral home and "prearrange" final details.
"Pop?" I thought. "Me?"
Briefly, I considered answering by means of aggravated assault but figured, what's the use, I'd likely end up requiring knee surgery.
This kind of thing -- the "Pop" thing -- is going to happen more and more. Better toughen up.
And, anyway, let's admit it, nothing is more dreary than older people pondering years gone by or wondering aloud, "Gee, wasn't it just yesterday that I was 16?" (Answer: No, you were 16 in 1956. Get over it.)
People, we must take control.
Our job as tribal elders is to shrug off the whole idea of oblivion, I think.
Do not allow the upstarts -- anyone younger than 55 -- to pretend we're special. We must ignore the rehearsed niceties at birthday parties and Thanksgiving meals telling us how good we look because the rest of the sentiment always is unspoken: for your age. We must stop waiting for people to hold the door, or give up seats on public transportation (fat chance!), or hope that the podiatrist offers a senior discount. Stop, already!
At all costs, we must safeguard dignity. Recapturing youth by wearing a Speedo swimsuit is a seriously bad idea. Ask yourself: How much of what you once did would you want to do again?
Recently a nephew called from Cleveland and said he was coming to New York. Could he use our little apartment in Brooklyn -- the one that was my mother's and that we have been able to keep?
Sure, we said, what's the occasion?
It somehow had escaped our attention, but the Groovies, a '60s and '70s San Francisco rock band, as it turns out, were reunited and playing at a downtown club and the next night in Hoboken.
This was an event of such obvious significance that a person must leave Cleveland on Saturday morning, drive nearly 500 miles, arrive within a few hours of showtime and spend the rest of the evening in rapture as the Groovies got down. (Does anyone say "got down" these days? Probably not.) Then, of course, it is essential that the intrepid Clevelander spend the next day in recovery so as to have adequate pep for the Hoboken event.
Can you imagine? By 10 p.m., I am apt to be falling asleep while watching the British TV mysteries I love or trying, at last, to finish the spy novel I bought in January. Traipsing to the Bowery or across the Hudson for a Flamin' Groovies concert? Not a chance.
Or how about the people who do not consider it a vacation unless they have scaled a mountain, shot the rapids or, in the case of one dauntless person we know, bungee-jumped off a bridge in Kenya?
My idea of a perfect getaway, on the other hand, involves a night in a motel while heading to the home of one or another of our far-flung children, checking the news channels in the morning, walking briskly around the parking lot to assure the doctor I "exercise" even on holiday, and hustling to the lobby before they run out of waffle batter or banana nut muffins at the complimentary breakfast.
Elderfolk, let us seek no advantage, nor give no ground. If strangers want to call us "Pop" or "Mom," so be it. Homicide is a disproportionate response and most likely our jailers will not serve egg white omelets, permit midafternoon lunch at Panera or tune the hoosegow TV to "Downton Abbey."
Let younger people look at us with maddening solicitousness and suspect we are only a fraction of what we once were -- that we are wooden of body and woozy of mind and running low on memory. Let them presume what they want.
Recently, I brought an item to the local laundry and presented a ticket to pick up completed work.
"How are you, young man?" said the nice woman behind the counter. Practicing my new discipline, I did not reply by saying, "Madam, if you call me 'young man' again, I will be forced to load you into one of your industrial-gauge dryers and come back in an hour to see if you are done."
No, nothing of the sort. I smiled graciously, paid for my spotless area rug, wished the clerk good day and, with a casual wave, walked to the parking lot. Before I drove away, someone called out.
"Young man!" said the laundromat worker, standing in the doorway of the shop. "Don't you want this?"
She held up the parcel I'd left behind.
"Oh, why, yes, of course," I remarked. "Thank you. Thank you very much."
In an uncertain moment, I almost added, "must be my age," but caught myself in time.
What the good woman was thinking as she smiled indulgently and returned to work I cannot know for sure. But I can guess.