Lunch with a fellow traveler on this aging road
Last updated 5/22/2019 at Noon
I was visiting my daughter in San Antonio last week, a spontaneous trip that needed no special reason, as the reason is 5 years old and has a nightlight in his room. If you catch my drift.
This kept me blissfully busy, although I took time to have lunch with my friend Gordon, who lives in the area. We’ve been friends for over 15 years, beginning as an internet relationship, a Texas writer and a Pacific Northwest columnist who corresponded a little.
Frequent trips to Texas have allowed us to meet more often, and often for long conversations. Gordon and I discovered at some point that our lives have become anecdotally entangled, that we share experiences and ways of looking at life that brush past coincidence and start sounding like synchronicity.
Honestly, these are the kinds of conversations we have. A couple of guys well past their prime, wearing clothes that aren’t serious at all, sitting around a burger joint talking about strange coincidences and Carl Jung. We could not be more invisible. It’s a wonder other customers didn’t try to sit at our table.
In addition to writing, Gordon and I share several interests as well as demographic data, including our vintage. Our histories intersect and diverge and intersect again, and it makes sense for the most part.
I suspect a big reason we ended up friends, though, is because we’ve been married for more than 30 years to women we adore, women who confuse, delight, and amuse us, and essentially keep us alive. We both married fairly young by contemporary standards, and so we’ve been putting miles on our marriages and our knees at about the same rate.
And we’re both the fathers of daughters. Some of you are nodding. Some of you have absolutely no idea.
So there was some fun discussion about this, about our relationships with two generations of women, both of whom seem committed to fixing us, which we know is never going to work but we try to accommodate. It’s not like we have a choice.
And in an oblique way, this led to our exchanging, once again, similar stories about very specific moments, although Gordon’s was funnier so I’ll just steal it. That’s what friends are for.
He was getting gas at a convenience store a few years ago when he realized there was a big lottery jackpot. On a whim, he walked into the store to buy a ticket. There was a long line.
So while he waited, he amused himself by looking at the security monitor and trying to match the people he saw from the overhead camera to the ones in line.
There’s the lady wearing all the purple. There’s the man in the big cowboy hat. There’s the bald guy, the tall guy, the young woman. The guy who looks kind of dangerous.
But no Gordon. This confused him. Was it an optical illusion?
The camera was aimed at their backs and so he couldn’t really see faces, and it was a little distant, but he squinted and counted and still couldn’t find himself. It was a convenience-store mystery.
So he started moving his hand at his side, looking up at the monitor, and that’s when he figured it out.
“The bald guy was waving,” he said.
I’d suggest that this is the perfect story to demonstrate the existential experience of men of a certain age. We notice the creaks and the aches, the gray and the growing disinterest in moving furniture, and still we can be surprised by the simplest things. Aging always has another trick up its sleeve, and sometimes there’s video.
I had a very similar experience in a store, although I recognized myself immediately, no waving necessary. My hair puts up a good front, then loses interest toward the rear.
And our wives reacted in about the same way, which was to be surprised we didn’t know. Didn’t we see it in the mirror when we looked at the back of our heads? You know, when we fixed our hair in the morning?
As I said, these women amuse us.
“Generally,“ wrote Margery Williams in her children’s classic, “The Velveteen Rabbit,” “by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don't matter at all, because once you are Real you can't be ugly, except to people who don't understand.”
This is what Gordon and I know, and have for a long time now. Our wives and daughters are aware of how shabby we are, with our loose joints and hair challenges. If they occasionally try to fix us, it’s because they want us around, not because they think we’re ugly.
Sometimes our shirts are ugly, OK. But they seem to like the rest of us, and we know it.
My daughter ended up cutting my thinning hair on this trip, just a quick trim. I was fine with this, although it seemed to get my grandson’s attention. As I was sitting on the sofa, he stood up next to me and looked down.
“From here, Grandpa,” he said, trying to find the right words, “I can see ... your real head.”
And he can. I would tell him that most of the hair has been loved off, but then it seems enough that I know.