Monthly Archives: July 2008

#70: No Hovering

Dear Marge,

I realize that, in the 396 public bathrooms I’ve visited in the past week on the road, someone else might have been the culprit. But the fact is, the only one I really suspect is you.

I know your mom told you that sitting on the seat of a public toilet could give you a disease. Mommy watched to make sure you hovered over the toilet without letting anything touch anything. Ever since, you’ve found it impossible to allow yourself to actually sit down on a public toilet, so instead you pee half-standing up.

But your aging thighs aren’t up to holding you steady, so guess what, Marge: You sprinkle the seat. You flush and leave and when I enter the stall, there is your pee left all over for ME to sit in. Or clean up. Maybe you feel all clean and smug and satisfied because YOU avoided sitting on the public toilet seat. But did you ever stop to think about what you’re doing to me?

I’m going to stop now and do some deep breathing, but if you want to read more on the evils of hovering, see the even-funnier material in Jill Soloway’s brilliant and underappreciated Tiny Ladies in Shiny Pants.

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#69: Enough With The Jane Austen Worship

I like Jane Austen as much as the next novel-writing-and-reading middle-aged woman, which is to say, a lot. Which is really to say, way, way too much.

Do we actually need a whole genre of books about modern Jane Austen lovers, entire clothing lines devoted to Jane Austen wear, multiple tour companies eager to guide you through Jane Austen locales? How about lessons in how to take tea, dance, cook, garden, and of course write a la Jane Austen? There are Jane Austen Festivals and Jane Austen book groups, Jane Austen dolls and Jane Austen tee shirts, Jane Austen movies and Jane Austen bloggers.

Even our babies are not exempt from Jane’s omni-influence: The names Emma, Darcy, and yes, Austen are rising in popularity.

A couple of the most entertainingly over-the-top examples of Jane Austen worship: The Jane Austen action figure. (That’s her in all her plastic glory on the right.) And this tour of Jane Austen’s Google Earth.

It’s not that Jane hasn’t written some great books, but there’s something a little too order-seeking, rich man-loving, and sanitized (i.e. fussily middle-aged) about the J.A. Mania. Why not devote equal attention to the Brontes, who pulled back the curtain on a wilder brand of early womanhood? Or to modern masters like Alice Munro or Louise Erdrich, who are far less widely known and sell many fewer books than Jane Austen. Listen, I love Pride & Prejudice, but my favorite book last year was Lionel (female) Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World.

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#68: Mooch Off Your Parents

With more “kids” living longer than ever with their parents, why shouldn’t you, in the interest of acting younger, join the trend? And it’s not only a home you can mooch (or sponge, bum, leech, or scab) off mom and dad, but food, furniture, vacations, clothing, and actual cash money.

Catherine Finn, who is a bona fide futurist with a Washington firm called Social Technologies, advises those who don’t want to act old: “Be over-dependent on your parents. Have them lend you money or buy you something you really don’t need. Go a step further and move in with your parents. Then complain about how terrible it is to live with your parents.”

Some useful things you can do with your time and money once mom and dad are footing the bill: Get an MFA in poetry, explaining to your parents that this will eventually lead to a lucrative career in teaching other people to write poetry. Start a rock band, which will definitely hit it big any day now. Invest in Marc Jacobs clothing, which will make you look amazingly cool for two months, at which point you’ll have to throw it all out and start over. Become a rich and famous blogger, citing me as a role model.

If your parents are so elderly that they’re dependent on you, or if they’re uncool enough to have actually died, then your only hope is to try and get adopted by some nice elderly couple who would allow you to mooch in exchange for watching Jeopardy with them while you eat dinner and getting up on the ladder to clean out the gutters because you know Dad can’t do that anymore. However, as an older orphan I tried to get adopted once, and I’m sorry to tell you it didn’t work out.

What if your grownup kids are already mooching off you? Here’s the plan: You all move in with your parents. Then, late at night, when Josh and Jess are out clubbing, and Mom and Dad are upstairs in a martini-and-Percocet-induced haze, you sneak out, run as fast and far as you can, and leave no forwarding address. There comes a point when even the hardest-core moochacha needs her independence.

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#67: Don’t Put It In Cruise Control

Remember cruise control? When I was a kid, I couldn’t wait to grow up and get myself a fancy car with cruise control. I’d set that baby at 75, sit back, and feel like one of the Jetsons.

Well, I now have a car with cruise control. I guess. The fact is that I’ve never used it. My husband has never used it. I even forgot what it was called until I just went out and looked in the manual. The last person I heard of using cruise control was my father-in-law, back in the 90s, and it seemed like a relic even then.

Cruise control is one of those technological innovations that was futuristic until it was suddenly passe. The subject of acting old as it connects to cars and driving can be confusing. Is it older to drive a hot red sportscar or a big old Cadillac? To creep along hunched over the wheel or drive like a maniac?

But when it comes to putting it in cruise control, literally as well as figuratively, the connection is clear. Which reminds me of a joke told today in the writing class I’m taking with the divine Lynda Barry, author of the excellent new book What It Is, who is either the youngest old person I’ve ever met or the world’s oldest living child. Here’s Lynda’s joke:

One day Helen and Mary, two old and aged friends, went out for a drive. They come to a stop sign and Helen sailed right through. Mary was nervous but didn’t say anything. They come to another stop sign, and again, Helen didn’t even slow down. Then they came to a red light, and Helen just kept going, barely avoiding oncoming cars.

Finally Mary had to say something. “Helen,” she said, “why didn’t you stop at those stop signs and that red light?”

“Oh,” Helen said. “Am I driving?”

SPECIAL BONUS PHOTO:

I’m leaving the fashion and beauty advice to How Not To Look Old. But I couldn’t resist taking a photo of this hair salon I passed today, in case you want a hairstyle that is not merely young or old but otherworldly.

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#66: Don’t Die. Or Even Consider The Possibility of Dying.

During the three or four hours I spent last night at the emergency room (Don’t ask: You know I am forbidden by the Rules of Not Acting Old to talk about my health), I read a really great passage in a novel called In The Woods by Tana French that goes like this:

“We think about death so little, these days, except to flail hysterically at it with trendy forms of exercise and high-fiber cereals and nicotine patches……Now death is uncool, old-fashioned.”

Death is uncool: I love it! It’s absolutely true. Death is so not done these days that, unless your brain stem has been removed and you’re older than, say, 105, you can never ever admit that dying might lie somewhere in your future.

Death is more uncool than flabby jowls, more uncool than cellulite, more uncool even than wearing your pants belted just under your manboobs. Death is more uncool than driving a Lincoln, more uncool than talking about your gallbladder operation, more uncool than smoking cigars around the baby.

What’s more, dying is a deliberately uncool act, like walking into J.C. Penney and buying yourself a pair of gray plastic oxfords and wearing them with knee-high hose and a pair of culottes. I mean, how dare you be so clueless? Haven’t you heard of pilates? Super low calorie diets and red wine? Energy field healing? Seat belts? Dying: There’s no damn excuse!

If you want not to act old, you’ve got to behave as the young do — as if you’re going to live forever. But unlike the young, who can skip dinner and slam back six martinis and dance till five and then go to work at eight, you’ve got to drink nothing stronger than vitamin water and get at least seven hours sleep to feel as if you’re not going to drop dead right on the spot. But even a life that’s no longer worth living is better than death, the ultimate uncool.

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#65: Screw the Housework

You get married, you buy a house, you have kids, and even if you keep working (obviously I’m talking to the women here), somehow it becomes all about the housework.

Here’s what I mean: Ask a 52-year-old woman to describe her perfect man, and somehow housework will creep into the description. He’s great in bed, and he changes the sheets! He can cook you a great dinner, listen to you talk throughout the meal, and happily cleans up afterward. Come to think of it, we can do without the sex and the conversation as long as he does the housework.

Think of your ideal life, and again housework inserts itself. You’d love a big gorgeous house that cleans itself! Cozy family dinners without the dirty dishes. A beautiful wardrobe without laundry. Great parties with none of the shopping, cooking, and post-party swabbing.

Well, of course, I hear you saying. We know all too well what it takes to run a home and a life. These things don’t just happen: They take work, effort, and you know who ends up doing it all! Of course we want a guy who knows his way around a vacuum!

Yes, but…..you didn’t feel this way when you were 22. (I wish I had, I hear you thinking.) No, you don’t really wish you had. You wanted to have sex and fun and wear cute clothes and go to yoga and listen to music and have a cool job and not only is that okay for 22, but it might improve the view from 52 also. The problem with housework is that it takes so much time and energy you don’t have anything left over for creativity and the life of the mind. You spend all those years keeping a perfect house because you think people are going to judge you by it and then suddenly the kids are grown up and you downsize to a condo and you have no career and no hobbies and nothing interesting to talk about.

What? Oh, right. This is supposed to be funny. I nearly forgot. Here, watch this:

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#64: Don’t Fear The Tat

Tat is of course short for tattoo, and the truth is, I do fear them. The neck tattoo is, to me, what shaggy hair and elephant bells and leather jackets were to our parents: A sign of both danger and decay. Show me a neck tattoo, and I’ll show you a pregnant 15-year-old who drinks Pepsi for breakfast and lives in a trailer with plumbing that drains into a wading pool.

Of course, I could show you a neck tattoo, and you might show me Victoria Beckham, aka Posh Spice aka Mrs. David Beckham. Or Eva Longoria, aka the Desperate Housewife who would never really live in the suburbs. Or Angelina Jolie or Ben Affleck or Amy Winehouse (there’s a role model) or just about any contestant on any reality show, tattoos, neck or otherwise, seeming to be a prerequisite for crossing the Hollywood town line.

Why would anyone get a tattoo? That’s a very good question. In fact, let’s do a Q and A on the subject with a noted authority, me:

Why would anyone get a tattoo?

The young get tattoos for the sole purpose of setting themselves apart from the old. “I’m nothing like you,” the tattoo signals, “and I want to make sure the entire world knows it, so I’m going to etch this large dark blue and red symbol on my neck. Just so there’s never any confusion. And I mean never, ever, ever.”

Exactly! That’s the problem with tattoos: They’re so permanent! Why would anyone want to mark their body with a symbol of something or someone (“Billy Bob”) they might not care about in two decades or even two months?

The young believe that who and what they are now, they will stay forever, and the tattoo is evidence of a superstitious belief that making a permanent mark will create a permanent condition. Or at least that’s what studies show.

What’s with the Asian symbol thing? Why would a kid who’s not Asian, has no desire to travel through Thailand or Mongolia, and can barely write and read English choose to put a Chinese character on his shoulder or forearm?

As with so much else, it’s Angelina’s fault. Right, Jen?

Won’t having a tattoo make it hard to get a good job? Look terrible if you want to wear a strapless wedding gown? Be difficult and painful to remove if you change your mind when you’re 35?

Yes! That’s what I keep telling them! But nobody listens!

But you’re so intelligent! So right! Why won’t they listen?

Because they think I’m old and out of it and that I don’t know what I’m talking about and that they’re never going to feel the way I feel or be the way I am. And my only consolation is knowing for sure what a 50-year-old butt looks like, and why a fat red rose would not add anything to the picture.

What to do if confronted with a young tattooed person? “Don’t try to look “kewl” and “hip” by asking said kid where they “got their ink done” or comment on their “nice tats”. Eew,” says Denise Garratt, aka The Internet Research Geek. “Just stop staring, take your book or coffee and walk quickly and quietly to your Volvo and don’t look back.”

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