The View From Away: I’m looking at the (old) man in the mirror

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You know that old man you’ve always hated at the bank? The one recounting every moment of his life to the teller while you stand behind him in line thinking, “Nobody cares if the mall used to be an orchard, Pops. Give the kid your rolls of pennies and beat it. I have to hit Hannaford’s and the bakery by noon.”

You remember that guy? I’m turning into him.

This isn’t a rant about getting older, although I would like to know when all that “wisdom of age” is supposed to kick in. All I’m getting is crankier and weirder. I’m not surprised, since I started out with a double helping of both, but still, it would be nice to fashion the occasional Zen-like insight. I’d settle for a greeting card aphorism. But not one, in the entire time since I realized aging wasn’t simply something that happened to other people.

I still remember the day it happened, about 20 years ago. I was driving to work, and by driving I mean sitting in a car while pedestrians hooked up to oxygen bottles passed me like I was standing still. This wasn’t in Portland, where all the drivers are cherubs out of “Fantasia” and traffic moves like rainbows. This was Los Angeles, where free-flowing traffic is a chimera. The rare occasions when it goes smoothly are more than offset by the time spent at a dead stop. If you live there long enough, statistically your average speed goes into negative numbers.

Anyway, I casually glance down at my arm – to see my father’s hand staring at me from the bottom of my sleeve. Somewhere along the way my hands got weather beaten and wrinkled just like his. It was quite a wake-up call: aging was going to happen whether I liked it or not, so I’d better get used to it.

I thought I did. Losing a step wasn’t so bad, especially once the new hip gave at least half of it back. Lasik helped with the eyes. Previously water- and air-tight compartments are slowly becoming more, shall we say, semi permeable, but caution and planning minimize the inconvenience and embarrassment there. So far, brain functions are only marginally diminished.

Or so I thought until a few weeks ago at the drug store.

The clerk ringing me up asked the phone number my CVS card was registered under, and I hear somebody say, “Oh, geez. We probably got our CVS card when we moved to California back in the ’80s. Have you ever been out there? Do they let you transfer from store to store like that?”

Where did Methuseleh come from? And how does he know so much about me?

“Because it would be neat to be able to move to another part of the country and know you had a job.”

“Neat?” Who is this guy, Richie Cunningham?

“We moved to Maine in like, ’08, and my wife usually handles all the shopping stuff –”

Oh, my God, it’s coming from inside your mouth!

“– So I don’t know if she got a new card, or changed the number or what.”

Shut. Up. Can’t you see that look in his eyes? He’s gone to his happy place.

“And we had so many different phone numbers out there. You can imagine, living in a place for 20 years –”

Thankfully, before the shoppers behind me could finish the tar and feathers, the clerk snapped out of his daze enough to say, “Why don’t we try your current number?”

“Which one, home or cell? Because we’re thinking of getting rid of our land line. Our son’s in college in Chicago and he says nobody uses a land line –”

“Doesn’t matter! Give me your cell.”

“– Any more.”

It would be so nice if this was an isolated incident, but it keeps happening, at the bank, at the cleaners, restaurants. When I’m paying for gas. If I were half a man, I’d do Portland a favor and sew my lips shut.

I’m not saying it’s wrong to be friendly. I’m sure the teller at my bank was flattered when I said her blouse was pretty. But did she need to know my wife can’t wear that shade of green because it makes her skin look khaki? Or that I was the best man at a wedding when I was 20, dressed in a blue window-pane plaid tweed Edwardian walking suit? And still have an incriminating picture of it? I think not.

The only explanation that makes any sense to me is that I’m so afraid I’m not saying what people need to know that I try to tell them everything I know. It never used to occur to me that I might not be making myself understood. In fact, if somebody didn’t get what I was saying, he was the idiot. I used to tell people that, from the stage, in the middle of my act. And yet somehow I was labeled “too angry” by a lot of the club owners I worked for. Where do they get this stuff?

But I digress. It’s scary to think that the first thing to go isn’t the ability to communicate, but the ability to know when to stop communicating. Maybe I’m the only one. Maybe it’s temporary. I hope so. Meanwhile, at least I haven’t turned into Driving With His Turn Signal On Constantly Guy.

Yet.

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Portland resident Mike Langworthy, an attorney, former stand-up comic and longtime television writer, is fascinated by all things Maine. You can reach him at mikelangworthy@me.com.

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