So, now that my direction is correctly re-directed … starting today I begin making plans for being old. Easy enough. I’m probably already about three-quarters of the way there. Some would say closer. And I even have a goal – something to aim for, to achieve, when I reach old age.
When I’m old, I want to be a grumpy old man – just like my father-in-law. The man who, at times, I believe is the Grumpiest Old Man on Earth.
Yes, someday I want to succeed him. Put on his Crown of Crabbiness and see how it looks on me. Lift up his Scepter of Sarcasm and beat some of my loyal subjects with it. But until I do, my wife and I are deeply immersed in the research necessary to attain this lofty goal. In other words, we spend a lot of time with him. And it’s quite a learning experience.
Lesson 1: Going to the Chinese Buffet.
“Yeah, you got a booth? Near the food. I’m 82 years old and I can’t walk very far.”
As he motors by her, heading straight for the southern-Asian fried chicken wings, the demure hostess has only just opened her mouth. She may have intended to say something like, “Hi, how many?” But it isn’t really necessary. My father-in-law has decided to save this poor woman the breath needed to utter these words. She’s probably been saying them all day and needs a break. And, despite his not-far-walking affliction, he’s even leading the way for her.
My wife and I, bringing up the rear, look at each other. In silence we communicate that this person may not understand this mannerism, may need a translation. We approach.
“Hi, what my father-in-law said was your food looks so appetizing he wants to be seated as close to the buffet as possible, so he might gaze longingly at it while enjoying his dining experience.”
Surprisingly, she smiles and laughs. “Oh, he’s all right, he’s kind of cute. He just can’t wait to eat. We like that!”
My God – it works.
And it works every time. He walks into a store, barks out an order and the clerks fly – first because he scares the crap out of them and second, so they can get what he wants as quickly as they can. And then they thank him for shopping there.
Or he’s standing at a customer service desk, where he buys his lottery tickets every day, and growls and howls when the girl behind the counter doesn’t recognize him. That’s probably because she’s never seen him in her entire less-than-two-decade-long life. Or today is her first day on the job.
“Well, the other girl knows who I am.”
Wait a minute – shake head for clarity – does that even make sense? Of course not. But remember, he’s the grumpy old man. It’s OK. Evidence: The next time he comes in and she’s there.
“Oh, I know you, you’re the man I didn’t recognize the last time!” and then happily runs his numbers.
Now, does that make sense?? Of course. Because when you’re old, you can be grumpy and actually thought to be … lovable. What might appear as belligerence is taken as benevolence – as long as you’re old.
Old and grumpy is golden.
Lesson 2: You’re old, but never too old.
The three of us are sitting in a restaurant (he likes to eat out), in a booth (where else?), at another buffet. By the way, I believe my father-in-law feels the all-you-can-eat buffet is the greatest American invention since manned flight. And the only reason the Wright Brothers wanted to fly? The nearest all-you-can-eat buffet was three towns away.
My father-in-law is talking about an acquaintance, who happens to be in her 90s. Talking about one of her health issues. A poor health issue.
“I just hope when I get old I don’t have to deal with something like that.”
The statement struck me as about as odd as the buffet item I’d just seen that looked like pot roast but had a sign above it that said: Prime Rib. I stopped chewing. Probably not the best idea. Since it allowed me to point out that he was 82.
“What? I’m as healthy as I’ve ever been. Never been better. I’m talking about when I get old.”
Finally, something that made sense. And precisely why I want to be just like my father-in-law when I grow up and old. Just as Mark Twain, one of my favorite old and grumpy men, once said:
“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”