Growing Older in the Grace of Life’s Received Wisdom. Option Two: Skinny Jeans.

State Street Scribe

by Jeff Wing

db5049_1741cc93027c4c6cbf6421c4ad11a820I occupy a very particular demographic; balding 50-somethings who don’t know how awful they look in skinny jeans. We are many. It’s nearly an epidemic. A teary woman in the Macy’s parking lot shakily pointed her finger at me and used the word “plague”, which I thought was going a bit far. And for the record, I’m not truly oblivious. I have occasional fleeting doubts about the way my ass looks in these skinny jeans. I swat these misgivings away like the meaningless little gnats they are. I have a righteous ass and I’m working these jeans, baby! Zig-zag-zig! (snaps his fingers in that triumphant Z shape that the youngsters use). As you can see, I am firmly ensconced in this self-deluding demographic.

We aren’t hard to spot. We look like 17 year-olds who, in act two of a heart-squeezing two-billion-dollar Steven Spielberg parable, miraculously age 40 years in a seamless CGI moment, enlarging and sagging and swelling distastefully into youthful attire that is suddenly age-inappropriate and disturbing. Woo hoo! You’ve seen us walking casually about the downtown area, animatedly gabbing and gesturing, parting the pedestrian traffic as surely as would a mob of lipless zombies staggering up the main drag with their arms extended. Can we throw cold water onto a sunny Saturday? You betcha. Strutting around in our ill-fitting get-ups, we stir in the previously happy-go-lucky crowds an indefinable dread. Some lovely weekend morning you may be quietly reveling at a sidewalk café, sipping your expertly prepared cappuccino in full sun, that first dose of caffeine infusing your bloodstream with warmth and gladness – life is marvelous! Not so fast. Here I come in my skinny jeans. Tremblingly put that cup of coffee down, relax your smile and take a brow-furrowing hour to review your own life in the sudden shadow cast by my skinny jeans. “Things that remind you jarringly of your mortality” might be a good category with which to launch your internal conversation. You’re welcome, and happy Saturday!

We skinny jeans oldsters are not only about finger-snapping to Petula Clark and slowly lurching into the middle of the room to do that awful ballroom dance swirl whenever any music of any kind plays anywhere. Growing older does make one ruminative, which is an olden-times word for “looking at my iPhone.” Many are the occasions I’ve been sitting on public transportation, the other passengers’ eyes riveted by the rivets on my straining skinny jeans, wondering if and when they will structurally fail and come flying off my tormented pants in a stinging cloud of ballistic copper. As they glare in fear at my skinny jeans, I am daydreaming in my bus seat, staring into space, ruminating on my own reckless youth, my evolving narrative arc, and the manifold rewards of growing older. The bus will slowly negotiate a turn, and a bolt of beautiful unfiltered sunshine will slant in and bathe the heavily cross-hatched backs of my spotted hands, hands like chemically burned leather, and I’ll be moved to speak aloud in the sonorous voice of a poet. “Starring Vincent Price as The Abominable Doctor Phibes.” As I stare at the backs of my withered hands, I know the other passengers are smiling warmly and exchanging glances of endearment, because they don’t know that Doctor Phibes was a hideous 1970s movie ghoul with a mouth in the side of his neck.

The phenomenon of otherwise dignified, life-informed older persons dressing like college freshman – it’s taking the world by storm! California may just be the epicenter of this shift in the tectonic plates of Graceful Aging. Sociologists have been brought into the picture, but their papers and journals and peer-reviewed jibber-jabber have failed to answer this fundamental question; what the hell am I thinking? Is it some sort of diabolical glass-curvature technology which, in the Tilly’s fitting room, causes a 50-something to stare approvingly at a reflected image made lithe by ocular science and profound self-deception? I can tell you from personal experience that simply walking into a Tilly’s fitting room at my age raises red flags, flags which are soon accompanied by signal flares as I loudly grunt and holler my way into apparel that no loving God should allow his creation to witness on a bag of ham such as myself. On exiting the fitting room it’s not uncommon to find a commotion that I’ve only recently realized has me at its center. On one occasion I flung the fitting room door open with a flourish, feeling powerfully attractive in my skinny jeans, and saw a family of four turn and run with such blind alarm they plowed down two racks of halter tops and a clipboard-clutching little sales associate in their panicked rush to escape. When the terrorized family hit the street I was, unfortunately, hot on their heels, believing us to be fleeing a common enemy. When one of them turned and glimpsed me pounding along behind them – my middle-aged t-rex arms held daintily aloft as I ran, my Older Gentleman ostrich Legs prancing in their skinny jeans – well, the screams alerted me to the awful truth. So, yeah.

I could try aging gracefully, like Linda Evans, say. Or Liza Minelli. But what’d be the point? I don’t want people to look at me and say “My, he’s aging gracefully.” I’d rather they thought, “That previously dissolving older man has halted the very sands of the hourglass by squeezing into those blood-crushing skinny jeans.” I know what I’m doing, even if you don’t. Then there are times I begin to wonder if my Western obsession with youth is completely facile. In those moments I dwell upon the National Geographic bronze-age Amazonian jungle tribes who venerate their shriveled, speechless elders as wise sages, as repositories of life experience, treat them almost as gods. Then the end of the program features the glorified village elder being helped along to the Next World on some sort of entrapping bamboo edifice, made to wear a bristly boar-hide diaper, fed a terrible broth with fingers floating in it, and finally slathered with ceremonial mud and pushed, uncomplaining, over a waterfall. I snap out of my reverie and renew my loud struggle with the skinny jeans until security begins banging on the fitting room door.

Not that it matters but…for the record, I am not past my procreative prime, pilgrim. My hydraulics are in perfect working order. I am a fit specimen and use the v-pill only cosmetically; when I need a tighter fit for my skinny jeans, or when I plan to be passing through a dangerous neighborhood and want would-be assailants to think I’m carrying. I must confess that one summer evening after too much Chablis I recklessly tested my theory in a particularly rough part of town, popping a pill and strutting like a graying panther through the mean streets, my “weapon” in full relief, like a blackjack tucked into my waistband. “You want some of this, punks? Come and get it!” There were no takers, naturally. Thank you Pfizer.

As for me, why do I wear the skinny jeans? What is the point? The point is this; I have no intention of retiring to Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Not for me the daily cardigan, the fey-voiced conversations with choo-choo trains and hand puppets. That time will surely come, as it must for all of us. While I can, I will fight that encroaching shadow world with all my strength, and in trousers that cleave like a blood pressure cuff. While I have my marbles I will wear the armor of youth, prowl the streets with the insouciance of the ageless and brave. You see, I want my outside to reflect exactly how I feel on the inside – like a quantity of finely ground hamburger poured into a mold.

So you wear your nutty kid clothes and backward hats and numbskull tattoos (is that what those skulls are called?) and I’ll adopt your skinny jeans. Deal? We get one crack at this soap opera. I’m not about to waste a minute wondering if my pants flatter me (they do, right?). As Sammy said, I Gotta Be Me! If I betray myself by not wearing these skinny jeans I’ll regret it. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but soon, and for the rest of my life. No regrets. Okay? Okay. Now take a page from my book as I’ve taken one from yours. Keep flying the flag, you dandified morons. Keep wearing whatever the hell you want, and so will we. You guys have the right idea. Time is fleeting. Thanks for the jeans, and for setting the example, punks. I mean, thanks a million. Here’s looking at you, kids.

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