Monday, February 20, 2012
Being Gray and Grumpy
Chapter 2 was last night--and, lying in bed, reading, I felt my BP surge as I read a couple of comments by the 1st-person narrator, the novice bounty hunter, Stephanie Plum herself.
1. Describing her own grandmother (who lives with her parents): "Grandma Mazur was seventy-two and didn't look a day over ninety. I loved her dearly, but when you got her down to her skivvies, she resembled a soup chicken" (27).
2. Later--at a funeral home where they've gone for a viewing--she sees an old man: "Seregie Morelli was eighty-one years old and had a lot of bristly gray hair coming out of ears that were half the size of his withered head" (27).
Well ... age sixty-seven myself, I find these passages far more annoying than amusing. (By the way: the biggest little word in our language is but. When anyone says something like "I love her dearly, but ...," you can ignore anything in front of the but. The real message comes afterwards. This I am now calling Dyer's But Rule. Think of how many times we've said it, heard it: I like you as a friend, but ... I really enjoy your cooking, but ... I love your hair, but ...)
Back on the subject ...
As I've grown older, I've become naturally more alert to how we portray older folks. And I think of the foul-mouthed grandmother in Wedding Crashers, Betty White in just about anything, the grandmother in the film One for the Money (at the table, she shoots the roast turkey with a handgun and otherwise acts demented). Do we really see our older folks as disgusting? Filthy? Out of it? Sex-obsessed?
Sure, the older are sometimes portrayed as wiser--the Harry Potter books and movies, The Karate Kid, etc.
But for the most part, it's now standard practice to ridicule them. They're a safe target. We can say things about them we can say about few other groups of people; we can portray them in ways that would bring lawsuits from other groups. Some ESPN guy gets fired for an inappropriate headline about Jeremy Lin, but we can show old folks being dotards and perverts to our heart's content.
My mother is 92 years old. She lives in one of those stages-of-care places and is fiercely hanging on to her independence, yielding ground only when she must. She lived through the Depression, World War II, saw her husband called back to active duty during the Korean War, fought against the stereotype of the "faculty wife" and earned her Ph.D. by commuting from Hiram to the Univ. of Pittsburgh, 100 miles away--while she was teaching high school English, full-time. Now, she can no longer use her computer (her hands are betraying her; her memory is weakening). She doesn't know anything about popular music, movies, TV. Most celebrities' names are meaningless to her.
But I still learn from her, all the time. Mostly because I want to. She knows things I don't know--lots of things. Most older people do. Not one person in her facility wants to be there. Not one person there likes what he or she sees in the mirror. But those people get up, every day, and sharpen their claws to hang onto every moment they can.
While we ridicule them.
Janet Evanovich, I know you were just trying to be funny, but ...