THE YEAR-END HOLIDAYS always hit me like a rum punch of mixed emotions: gratitude and festive fellowship; spiritual wonder and hope; and yes, a dash of melancholy and living metaphor—I’m in the last quarter of life, unless I make it to 100. But like most of my Yolder (young-older) friends, I don’t feel old, just…seasoned.
Recently, I saw an online letter from a Chicago-based writer to the CEO of Amazon, Jeff (Drones R Us) Bezos, chastising him for a memo he sent his executives, in which he created a list differentiating between “cool” and “not cool” practices and attitudes. Besides things like “Leadership is cool,” “Polite is cool” and “Inventing is cool,” Bezos defined coolness as “Young is cool.” That clearly stuck in the craw of Carol LaChapelle, who writes for the blog, “On the Geezer Beat.” LaChappelle volleyed back with a spirited exegesis of why “Old is cool”: Old people put things in perspective; they have more time to give back to their community; they understand the difference between real and virtual experiences, and so on. To which, the coolly polite CEO responded, “It’s clear you’re young, despite what your birth year might tell you. In any event, you’re certainly cool.”
Nice save, Mr. Bezos.
Of course, I agree with the adage, “Age is a state of mind, not a number”—except when I get up in the morning. And yet, America does have an undeniable infatuation with youth, but it’s not so much about ideas. It’s about fashion. A desire to be in style, the latest styles and cutting-age trends that define whether we’re young and cool.
Now, on the one hand, I feel no need to put up in an impassioned defense of Geezerhood. On the other hand, I do have some pride in Yolderhood and feel compelled to act my age—whatever that is. Here, then, is my 2014 list of half-dozen things I won’t do to feel younger (and a few I might):
1. I won’t get a tattoo. Not even a little one. I know some young people might think that’s so last-generation, and maybe it is. So I’m going to say, without apologies, that a lot of tattoos don’t do much for me artistically. Yeah, they’re obviously important to the wearer and they get my attention. But I can’t think of any image so inspiring that I’d want to see it on my skin every day. Nor do I believe that having tattoos all over my body would make me as cool as LeBron James.
2. I won’t wear earrings. Or other body piercings –that’s a given. I know a number of older African American celebrities, like Ed Bradley and Morgan Freeman, started wearing earrings later in life. They could pull it off. I think younger white dudes have a shot at this, but most boomers like me would be making a different statement: I’m trying way too hard here.
3. I won’t sport the “barely bearded” look. I know this is a hot trend, a look of manicured scruffiness. It reminds me of a grizzled Humphrey Bogart from the 1951 movie, “The African Queen,” only this contemporary fashion appears more like contrived urban ruggedness, like a Land Rover. I really don’t have any objection to these beards; they just seem like too much work. I’ve had beards at various points of my life, although in truth, they were usually started because I was tired of shaving, not because I was looking for a new way to accessorize my face.
4. I won’t shave my head. Like many male fashion trends, this one seems to have been popularized by superstar black athletes, like Michael Jordan—while thankfully offering a way out of revealing your impending baldness. In my zanier moments, I’ve thought about doing a “reverse mohawk”—just shaving down the middle of my head to celebrate my male pattern baldness. But I would probably look like a clown. Or Wally Shawn.
5. I won’t dye my hair. Well, probably not. When my dad’s hair began turning mostly gray, my mother convinced him to use Grecian Formula, something I thought he would never do. But since he was still working into his 70s, I think he got self-conscious about potential clients thinking he was “too old.” As a writer, I’m not worried about that—I don’t work for an ad agency. But if I do dabble with dye, I’ll never have auburn hair, which looks ridiculous on men in their 50s, 60s, or older.
6. I won’t do selfies. Well, I might. Frankly, I don’t understand why so many media pundits are obsessing over this phenomenon. They shake their heads at the news that the word has made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, then wag their finger at this new-found “narcissism.” Really? As far as I can tell, human beings have always loved telling stories about themselves, whether in words or pictures, and sharing them with the world. What does it matter who takes the picture? Scratch your own back, take your own picture. I mean, why not?
So…what’s on your not-to-do list?