State Street Scribe
by Jeff Wing
The interview was going better than I could have hoped. The 30-something kid had taken a shine to me—a real shine. “Well…” he said, ruffling my papers and looking thoughtfully at them, pretending to deliberate. Suddenly he looked up at me with a brilliant smile. “Your depth of experience, knowledge of the world, unassailable wisdom, and buoyant good humor make you quite the catch, Mr. Wayne!”
“Wing! They do?”
“Indeed, sir. Oh, do you mind if I call you sir? I feel I should, after all.”
“Oh! Uh…please! Yes!” Holy cow! The kid was calling me sir!
“Now, everything is in order,” he said, looking down again at his papers. “Your health checks out. At your age you are likely riddled with tumors, but it’s your good fortune that they are all internal and not the off-putting variety.”
“Yes,” I averred. The 30-something looked down and checked a box on his form. Then he busily began scribbling with furrowed brow. He scribbled on at some length. He scribbled and scribbled. Finally he whipped the page up to show me what he had been writing. Again, the brilliant smile. The sign was all block letters in broad-tipped black sharpie. “MR. WAYNE GET’S THE JOB!”
Uh oh; the free-floating possessive apostrophe – familiar scourge of the Post-Literacy Epoch. But what did I care? I was hired! “The name is Wing! Thank you so much!” I exulted. I stood to shake his hand, and as I reached across the table, the frosted glass door burst open and a throng of vibrant young workers poured into the interview room, laughing and dancing. They lifted me into the air on tattooed arms. “We love Jack Wayne and have confidence in his abilities!” they shouted in unison. “We love Jack Wayne and have confidence in his abilities! We love Jack Wayne and have confidence in his abilities!”
“Aw, thanks, people! I love you all! The name’s Jeff Wing!” I cried, reaching down to touch with affection their adorable backward baseball caps and ropey, scary-looking dreadlocks. As this peppy demographic often will, they soon began to vigorously high-five each other in the celebratory melee, and soon enough I felt myself jostled, held less certainly aloft, and finally plummeting, the happy hipsters clearing away to let me drop. My fall to the floor seemed to take an eternity. Just at the instant I struck the plum-colored level-pile tufted commercial grade Saxony carpet, I jolted awake and sat bolt upright. “Unh! I had the dream again!”
Her back turned to me, my Life Partner murmured sleepily, “Oh? Did they have confidence in your abilities?”
It’s said that one is more likely to be struck by lightning than to find a satisfying relationship after the age of [your own discouraging age here]. To that faux-statistic I would add this: one is more likely to ride a bolt of lightning sidesaddle than to find a new job after the age of [your own discouraging age here]. How do I know this? I just do, that’s all.
You will several times in the interview process be laudably described as a “seasoned” professional, which calls to my mind a tenderized slab of pork that has been brutally hammered to near-translucence and sprinkled with thyme.
Nothing reminds you of your place at the actuarial table like vying against the Youngish for work. You will several times in the interview process be laudably described as a “seasoned” professional, which calls to my mind a tenderized slab of pork that has been brutally hammered to near-translucence and sprinkled with thyme. “Thank you, young person, for that compliment.”
It’s truly a curious thing, being a Man of a Certain Age, which I guess I am. I have to keep reminding myself. Why? Because the way I “feel” now isn’t substantially different from what I “felt” like at 14, 15, 16, 20, 30, and so on. I wish I’d known this when I was a kid (though that might’ve stripped “growing up” of some of its magnetic mystery). I don’t have the pain-maddened joints or the “Honey! Help! My guts feel like wet cement!” sensations that I, as a kid, assumed older people carried around with them like a curse. I don’t have the weeping forearms held together with big, square Band-Aids favored by the truly timeworn, nor those nondescript baggy trousers that might’ve been bought off the rack on VE Day. To be a Man of a Certain Age feels like ordinary, walking around life. Stop the Presses. On those brief occasions I do forget myself, there is always something there to remind me (to quote Bacharach and David).
Stand by Your Hands
Recently I was idling in my car at a stop light and caught a glimpse of my own surprising hands, clinging to the steering wheel like a couple of drowsy beige bats. My own hands startled the hell out of me. I mean, I actually flinched and made a sound. I saw very suddenly, and for the first time, that my hands had that papery, insubstantial skin that, when I was a kid wondering at the strangeness of adulthood, so used to fascinate me on the middle-aged. To see suddenly, without proper warning, that same freaky flesh upholstering my own paws – well, let’s just say the experience isn’t remotely comparable to a cupcake with sprinkles. So, my hands are definitely at odds with my Inner Being. This is actually a helpful revelation.
And the other day I was trying something on in a department store dressing room, and the damnably angled mirrors gave me a rare, sudden, and stunning glimpse of the crown of my own head. I had thought for some time that my thinning hair was maybe apparent to passerby as a gauzy patch of scalp only very lightly visible. at the top of my head.
The punitive fitting room mirrors conspired to show me that I have now what clinicians call a “bald spot”, an area at the top of my head so completely denuded of forestry I could read the wattage of the light bulb reflected there.
It’s also true that some mornings I wake up and have the demeanor of Brad Pitt playing a vampire, say; all stiff-necked and stilted and speaking with a badly managed British accent. Yeah, the mornings can be tough. By and large, though, I am unaware of my age until, as happened just this afternoon, a well-meaning young person takes my arm as I enter the crosswalk, murmuring pleasantly “I’m here for you, Ma’am.”
Ageism of Enlightenment
Graying temples mean something different now than they did Once Upon a Time. When I was a kid, a guy with graying temples could well have been piloting a B-52 bomber in WWII. Now I see a guy with graying temples and recognize him as someone I saw once at a B-52s concert. My point? The generation gap between the Eisenhower parents and their kids, when Led Zeppelin screamed Benny Goodman off the stage, was an unimaginably vast chasm that truly, and sometimes brutally, rent parents and offspring asunder.
The Acne Medicine Set today should know that we modern Grups have a Venn Diagram overlay with their zeitgeist. When my Beloved and I first got together [yes, in the last century], our song was not a chestnut like “I’ll Be Seeing You”, or “A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” (two songs I absolutely adore, it must be said). Our Snuggly Couple Songs were “Put Your Hand Inside the Puppet Head” and “Youth Culture Killed My Dog” by They Might Be Giants. Which is all to say: teens, backward hat passerby, and job recruiters—please make no assumptions. When you are a grandparent your little ones will roll their eyes at your old-timey devotion to the Greatest Hits of Tame Impala. Brace Yourselves. And dwell with a deeper comprehension on my lime green argyle cardigan. It is hipster, not geriatric. I swear.