Old people are a curious phenomenon. They’ve done more than the rest of us and seen more history than the rest of us.
But we are uncomfortable seeing them and don’t want them around.
This thought hit me today at the bank, when a wizened old lady was regaling a young customer service manager with a story from her youth and assailing him with her book of memories.
“Yes, yes, very interesting,” the young man replied with the air of someone who was on the sliding deck of the Titanic and has just been informed a lifeboat berth has become vacant.
“My mother was born in 1891. She died from TB,” the old woman rattled on regardless.
“That’s fantastic. I wish I had more time,” the young manager said and then spied his clients approaching through the door. I assumed he had texted them asking if they could come in two hours earlier.
“Ah sorry. I have a meeting,” he said, beads of relief breaking out all over his forehead, and moved across the floor with the speed of Ben Johnson on performance enhancing drugs.
The manager did what they tell you to do on the management course. He promptly delegated.
So it was down to a young woman to talk to the old lady, complete with a smile so phony it must have been causing lines of hurt to open up behind her ears.
“She was an executive on Chicago Corporation back in 1901 the old woman continued.”
“Nice,” the young woman spat between her chewing gum.
Meanwhile I tapped my fingers impatiently on the counter because the young woman had been diverted to the old woman, leaving no woman or man to process my request.
I looked over waiting for the old woman to say: “I’m 91 you, know.”
Old people say that sort of thing. It’s funny but you’ll never hear a young person saying: “I’m 21, you know.”
Or: “I’ve still got all of my teeth,” for that matter.
My own theory is that we don’t want old people around because they are wrinkly and not very photogenic. We are secretly look-ist and in the fast-moving 21st century we can only really be bothered to spend time around people we’re hitting on.
It’s sad but true. It’s like an experiment Tyra Banks recently carried out when she stuffed cushions down her dress and pretended to be a fat person. At this point the owners of boutiques seemed rather less willing to hang around and talk to her as they were when she looked like Tyra Banks, for instance.
It’s a shame because old people can be interesting. I wonder if this would take off as a slogan.
“Excuse me sir, would you be interested in donating to our Old People Can Be Interesting initiative, sponsored by Kelloggs Froot Loops and the Rahm Emanuel for President campaign?”
The more gray hairs I get the more I become interested in this theme. Of course, I don’t have as many as Anderson Cooper. And even when I do I doubt if I’ll have so many women wanting to clutch me to their bosoms.
The fact is old people can have many interesting stories to tell. The only drawback is they can take rather a long time telling them.
I once covered a story about an old guy called Stan and his land dispute. It was a sympathetic story and he was very grateful. The trouble was he latched onto me after that and would call me frequently to regale me with undiscovered aspects of his life.
“I used to collect furry caterpillars in my toilet bowl …. I’m 82, you know.”
I tried not to be rude but when you have a fast-moving demanding job, you just don’t have the time.
I’d gesticulate to my colleagues to call the other line so as I could pretend I had another urgent call. I even feigned dropping a heavy book on my foot once to escape.
I’m not proud of my actions because when you are in the bank and you see other people going through the motions it’s scary how transparent the Enduring Old People charade can be.
In some cultures elders are treated with respect and dignity.
But in the west it seems a token old person is a dribbling, nonsense spouting individual who we tolerate on Christmas day and maybe the day after if our patience lasts.