Even though some of my best friends are old fogeys, my inclination is to avoid claiming to be one. But the truth will probably out.
Part of this is sour grapes. It appears I missed the “revered elder” stage both coming and going. When my generation was young (and there is a phrase that is a sure sign of old fogeyism) we treated seniors with regard, deferred to them, and occasionally obeyed them. We young folks mowed the lawns and kept our radios turned down and our pants pulled up. We weeded the garden (an hour a day, by the clock) and — oh the humanity — spent one summer hoeing mustard weeds out of the corn. We didn’t run around too late, didn’t run with scissors, and didn’t run our mouths (too much). We stepped aside for older people on the sidewalks and didn’t dare ride our bikes too close, too recklessly, or too anything. The family was not a democracy. We were not consulted about what we wanted for dinner and regularly were lectured about starving children in China. Once I offered to send my serving of calf’s liver to those very same malnourished kids, convinced they wouldn’t eat it, either.
And on the home front, what the parents said went although I never did eat that liver. The concept that we could accompany our mother or father to the grocery and throw some sort of tantrum until a box of “Sugars R Us” cereal went into the cart never occurred to us. Adults ruled and adults were having all the fun. They got to go places while we stayed home. They went places, all right — in cars! None of us had cars and the closest we came to defying authority was when three boys in my senior class wore shorts to the last day of school. They were sent home to change under threat of not graduating. We had to be content sitting around watching the older people living it up, biding our time, waiting our turn. We were, as you can tell, nearly saint-like, nearly perfect little citizens. Now we are approaching — at warp speed — the age formerly considered to be elderly. And guess what? It’s still not our turn.
It’s supposed to be pay-back time. It’s supposed to be our day in the sun (with a high level SPF lotion on, of course). It’s supposed to be time for us, in a Rodney Dangerfield-esque way, to get a little respect. Something very peculiar happened to the way to AARP.
I have read books that try to explain the phenomenon. According to the experts, children who were reared with a fair amount of discipline decided discipline was not a good thing for children. So when those people had kids, they were, shall we say, a little lax in the enforcement department. This could be a valid child rearing technique. Or it could be, like not making Johnny pick up his own toys for fear of damaging his self-esteem, pure horse puckey. As my hero, Fran Lebowitz says, ask your kid what he wants for dinner only if he’s buying.
Having to witness teenagers strolling about with their pants hanging down around their nether regions is bad enough. BVD boxers aren’t too attractive on their best days and being publically displayed bunched up above low-riding jeans doesn’t remotely approach a best day. We are creased with wrinkles and we are sprouting gray hair, both of which are “distinguished” on older men and the target market of plastic surgeons and hair colorists on older women. But what is worse is we have apparently entered the age of “hon.” Oh, I do loathe the “hon.”
Somewhere along the line “ma’am” became an undesirable word. I have been called a few bad names and “ma’am” isn’t one of them. But “hon” is. “Hon” is mindless and overly familiar all at the same time. But what’s especially hurtful is that the odious ‘hon” is unevenly applied. Older men (remember those distinguished ones?) aren’t called “hon.” Only older women (the gray, wrinkled ones).
A friend of mine who I greatly admired once remarked that one of my columns sounded a little curmudgeonly. Wait till she reads this one.
P.S. Being a curmudgeon is just like being an old fogey.