Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Sublime and Ridiculous Consequences of an Unfragmented Life

The waiter in a restaurant where I often lunch solo was excited to see me. He had another regular customer he’d always thought I'd just love to meet. He brought over "Brad", a chipper openly gay fellow who settled in with his plate across my table from me. Brad and I had a pleasant conversation, though we don't have much in common (he mostly wanted to talk about music - he's learning ukulele via an online course - and he remembers that the trombonists were the kings of his high school marching band). It was thoughtful of the waiter to try to fix me up, but Brad is not my sherbet flavor.

This wasn't the first time in recent years that people have made the wrong call about my orientation (I previously discussed it atop this posting), and though I don't worry about what people think of me, just generally (I'm not someone who's trying to project an image or hone a reputation), mysteries spur my curiosity. So I mulled it over, and soon coughed up the answer.

It's that I never stopped being 11. I've gotten so used to it that I forgot that it throws people - especially now at age 56. And it creates a heap of strange misapprehensions. This is just one of many.

Lots of guys deserve the dreaded epithet "man-child". They're immature and unreliable; stuck in annoying childishness. That's not me. I'm pretty mature and stable. You can count on me, and I know how to commit. I solidly understand that I'm not the protagonist in this movie, and I don't discard my values as stakes raise. So I'm not a man-child. What I am is kookier.

People discard their childhood persona as they mature because they recognize the limitations. Having grown beyond that persona, they cast it aside, graduating to bigger and better things. But what if you were an amazing, wise 11 year old?

That's when I peaked! That kid seemed awesome, so I've never seen any reason to switch him out. In fact, I've spent my life scrambling to reclaim even a fraction of my 11-year-old self's clarity, open-heartedness, and intelligence (here's the first of thirteen postcards I sent myself forward in time as a breadcrumb trail).

I couldn't have written fluent articles back then (and didn't know a bourek from a banitza), but I was far more clear-eyed and centered. At this point, I'm Punchy McSpacegiggle. I'm the wryly disoriented comic relief zombie on next season's "Walking Dead". I feel like "The Incredible Husk". If this incarnation were who I really am, I'd surely have shut down 80% of my internal furnace by now. But this is just a character being played by a precocious and lively 11 year old. He's really outdone himself with the late-middle-age portion. It's hilarious!

I've learned and experienced much since age 11, but it was him doing it all. I'm still that guy. I never lost the continuity. Speaking of which, I once wrote that...
Virtually no one has ever driven from NYC to Boston. We drive from NYC to the Bronx, and from the Bronx into Westchester, from there into Connecticut, then through a boring patch, possibly involving bathrooms and food. Then we drive to Sturbridge Mass to get on the Mass Pike. From there we might glide into Boston in more or less one swoop. But the drive, overall, is six drives, minimum, and more often 60 or 600. I defy you to get in a car in NYC and simply drive to Boston. You can't do it. You will lose the flow. It will fragment.
As one of the few 11 year olds who ever celebrated his own 56th birthday, I never fragmented at my turning points. I've surfed the long contour in one continuous swoop. A lot has gotten done and been figured out, and I'm proud of how it unfolded. It worked! If I hadn't taken this route, I wouldn't be capable of creative nano magic tricks, or of stretching so broadly and so curiously. But the downside, I suddenly realize, is coming off like an inexplicable weirdo. By never fragmenting, I appear oddly fragmented!

When I was in my twenties, people often said that I reminded them of Tom Hanks in "Big". They thought it endearing; women especially so (they found the discrepancy attractive, explaining my surprising popularity despite my goofy looks). But as I aged, it became harder and harder, at least for guys, to figure out my deal. I seemed "off". Probably crazy, likely sexually "deviant", and perhaps even dangerous.

At age 56, one beholds a gruff, balding, bleary old buzzard, yet I am also noticeably not that guy (I can relate, more than I'd care to admit, to Vincent Adultman). And for those who live primarily in a sexual world - i.e. most guys - that's got to mean "gay", because it's the only explanation they can imagine for this unsettling disjoint; for the gleaming, giggling presence palpable behind my grim outer surface.

So it totally makes sense! I get it! In fact, even these exuberant exclamation points send certain "signals"! They're the perfect encapsulation of the problem!! In your face with even more of them!!!!!
56-year old guys aren't supposed to be precocious and lively...for the same reason that they're never supposed to jump.

Joke's on you, readers. Turns out you've wasted your time following the blatherings of a declining 11-year-old.


Display Name said...

From a girl woman this is So so so not a waste of time. Thank you. I flummox people when I hang out with my much younger friends. This happens with gamers as gaming transcends demographics. Strangers want to know if I am the mom awkward but even more awkward is he my bf or even husband? I smile when they conclude younger brother. Never never do they consider friend. Sure you don't wanna play mtg Jim?

Jim Leff said...

I don't hang on to any particular image, nor do I need people to see any particular image of me. On the contrary, I enjoy the role-playing...and shifting appearances/reactions is a big part of that. I'm downright gleeful when I fool people into seeing a grim middle-aged dude. I look forward to old age, with a great big fat hearing aid!

The only problem here is that I do an imperfect job at it. People spot the gap and suspect I'm hiding a secret identity. Which, of course, I am. But that's my mess-up, not their's.

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