I don’t know about you, but I find watching old people to be a fascinating hobby. It’s easier than bird-watching because you don’t have to buy expensive binoculars or wear those dorky shorts (oh wait, I’m already wearing them), and your subject isn’t likely to fly off quickly.
By observing old people in their natural habitat, (i.e. any restaurant offering "early bird” senior discounts at 4 p.m.) I’ve been able to glean quite a bit of interesting data about the species, which has led me to one profound conclusion. The worst idiosyncrasies and character traits that people have in their younger years tend to be the very ones that define them as they age.
Let me give you some examples. We'll start with the hoarder, who never, ever throws anything away. She was always a saver, usually with a strong penchant for plastic butter tubs and gift bows, but it seems that the older she gets the more stuff she accumulates, and she insists on carrying most of it around in one ugly ginormous purse. If you ever find yourself stuck in an elevator, or worse yet, accidentally sealed off in the biosphere, you’d better hope it’s with a hoarder. Her stash of restaurant crackers and ketchup packets will sustain you indefinitely, and just in case you want to freshen up, you have your choice from an impressive array of hotel shampoos and perfume sample cards ripped from magazine inserts. From twisty-ties and bus schedules to batteries and hair nets, you need it – she’s got it!
Along similar lines are those folks who have always been frugal, but as they get older their penny-pinching escalates until they eventually become downright obsessed with saving money. Ever see an old woman order hot water at a restaurant and then pull out a used tea bag she’s brought from home to make her own hot beverage? That’s what I’m talking about.
Then there are the frank-talkers. You know the ones I mean. They were always known for speaking their minds, but somewhere along the way that little filter telling them what’s appropriate and what isn’t sort of rots away like the screen on the door of an old abandoned beach house. And if there’s one thing worse than a person who doesn’t know when to shut up, it’s an old person who doesn’t know when to shut up!
Worry seems to be another one of those traits that gets worse with age. My friend Jan told me recently that her mom, who was admittedly a bit overly-cautious as a young woman, has gradually morphed into a paranoid bag of jitters who sees peril lurking around every corner. "Last week she sent me a magazine article about the harmful effects of letting children lick the mini-blinds!” Jan said. "This despite the fact that A: my children are grown, and B: I don’t have mini-blinds. I almost hate to answer the phone when I see Mom's number on my caller ID” she lamented, "because I know she’s going to be shouting, ‘Danger, Will Robinson! Danger, Will Robinson!’”
So if it’s true that a person’s worst traits are those that tend to get even worse as they age, what will I be like when I’m old? Lately, the more I’ve thought about this sobering question the more edgy it has made me, and it has to do with something that happened, or rather didn’t happen, just this past week.
It’s a little embarrassing to talk about it, but I feel I can trust you, so here goes. My husband was going to be out of town for five days which coincided nicely with a writing deadline I was facing, so I decided to hole up in my house for the entire time, concentrating on nothing but that stupid writing project until it was finished. And that’s exactly what I did. Now of course I couldn’t write the whole time. Naturally I had to eat and sleep, and there were all those Netflix movies to catch up on and two novels on my nightstand that took up a little more time than I intended (okay, so I read until three in the morning every single night. Don’t get me off track. I’m trying to make a point here.) The point is that aside from a quick run to the grocery store, I didn’t leave my house for five days. I didn’t see a soul I knew. In fact, not counting the checkout girl, I didn’t see a soul I didn’t know either. Despite that fact, or maybe because of it – and this is the embarrassing part – I didn’t wash my hair or shave my legs the entire time! (I’m sorry. I probably should have given you a heads-up on that last sentence. If you need to take a moment to recover before going on, please feel free to do so.)
Anyway, suffice it to say I was a pretty disgusting spectacle by the end of the week. Yes I managed to pull myself together before Marc’s plane landed but the incident has filled me with dread over my ultimate fate. Is this the trait I’m stuck with? The one that will define me in my old age? Left alone at age ninety-four with nobody around to clean up for, am I destined to let myself completely go to pot? Will my hair grow wild like greasy weeds in an abandoned vacant lot? Will I schlep around for days at a time in the same stained, dingy old t-shirt and sweat pants? Will I sag to my navel from decades of going braless? Will my feet look like they belong on a Bedouin shepherd? Will I sprout Chia pits?
Thanks to my own morbid curiosity, along with the help of Photoshop, I now know the answer to these questions. This time I’m giving you a heads up. If you have a weak stomach, look away. If not… Behold. Lee Ann. Old.