Suffering Indignity Badly
Crossing the busy avenue in pursuit of five churros at an Argentine bakery I nearly bumped in mid-crossing into an unkempt, pony-tailed forty year old. I looked up from my Irish rain hat and said, "I'm sorry, I was trying to dodge traffic, not you." "No problem, Pop," he smiled back.
Earlier that same day in the exercise room at the aquatics center I was performing my usual voluntary housekeeping chores, putting paper towels back into the wastebasket and tamping them down with my shoe. I reached down at one point to grasp an errant towel and came up empty... a couple of times. A young lass looking on, having just spent thirty minutes on the elliptical, offered, "Would you like me to pick that up for you?" I grumped inaudibly and tried to make it look like I hadn't heard her.
I wasn't so circumspect last fall when at the supermarket buying hot dog rolls. They are on the top shelf at Big Y. I can reach them on tiptoe. As I was retrieving a package of eight buns a couple with a child in tow watched my straining upward and asked, "Would you like us to get them for you?" I looked her in the eyes and allowed that though I was old I wasn't helpless. She caught her breath and said, "Oh, I'm so sorry."
I can be more circumspect. Twenty years ago in the Methodist Church in Cooperstown in the vestibule after worship, I found myself in the company of a woman who had been in my youth fellowship in Brooklyn in 1956. When she realized I was her former pastor, she looked at me with wonder and said, "Why Pastor Howard, you're so.... old!" Put a star in my crown. For I managed to stifle the response which sprang immediately to mind: "Why, Ingrid, you're so... fat!"
Somewhere in the vast archive of essays written for this website, I once complained about references to me as a young man. As in the putdown, "Oh, you wouldn't understand, you're just thirty." In those ancient days I wondered if the time would ever come when I'd be old enough that I wouldn't be subjected to ageism in reverse. That day has arrived and passed and I am sorry to say this Pop didn't realize it. Woe is me, I failed to enjoy consciously that fleeting moment.
My grandchildren in Baltimore and Shrewsbury refer to me as Poppy, the name we agreed upon to distinguish me from the other grandfather. The twin grandsons in West Hartford found Poppy a trifle long and have in the course of the past ten years whittled it down to "Pa." Either designation warms my heart on the lips of progeny, whereas certain jaywalkers, exercisers, supermarket shoppers, and fat ladies at the Hall of Fame, using the same terms of endearment, get my dander up.
Of course, I could be more gracious. You were thinking that, weren't you. I knew you would be. I'm working on it. I have managed to inhibit the impulse to offer my seat in the subway to any woman standing... unless, of course, she's pregnant or near my age... certainly if she's both, in the way and of my vintage.
I think I can eventually play the patriarch, accept deference, allow others to help me even when I don't need it, and thank them all for their kind thoughts. After all, I am the oldest of my generation among the Howards. My knees may no longer ache, but I can fake a pain as well as any other octogenarian if there is competition for an empty seat. I have actually considered going to Disney World and using a motorized cart, not only to facilitate travel in the Magic Kingdom but to guarantee a place at the head of the line for every ride.
That is, age has its privileges and I, though often very stupid, won't dispense with them out of pride in my ability to manage on my own very well, thank you.
So there I am. Be forewarned that, except for eight younger souls, anyone inclined to make me suffer indignity, either out of their sarcasm or stupidity, will find me thinking, if not saying, less than kind thoughts about he who dares to say Pop to this weasel.