We had friends over for dinner the other night. It broke up at 11:30. As I walked them to their car, I heard a loud buzzing sound. Looking up the block in the direction of the noise, I was astonished to see about 300 smooth-cheeked teenagers milling around, brushing up against one another like sex bees doing a mating dance.
Apparently, one of the neighborhood kids had gone to high school that day and announced she was having a party, y'all come. And they all did. Cars were wedged in the entire length of the block, and the kids were swarming in the street. My first thought, which I resisted on the grounds that no one was dead yet, was to call the police. Instead, I retreated inside to listen for automatic-weapon fire. "Look at them," I heard myself saying in my father's voice. "Just look at them."
Next morning I went out to assess the damage, and was relieved there weren't any chalked body-drawings on the sidewalk. There was some broken glass from beer bottles, though. I gingerly scooped up pieces from around my car and put them in a paper bag, and saw my next-door neighbor doing the same.
"I hate to think of myself as a crotchety old man, but it's pretty nervy to throw a large party and not give us some warning," I said.
"You are a crotchety old man," he informed me.
And I blushed because he was right. This was one of the early warning signs of fogeyism: thinking about CALLING THE POLICE because KIDS ARE STANDING IN THE STREET. Just look at them.
Consider the age-appropriateness of certain words. "Group house," for example. For a young adult, living in a group house is the best of both worlds. You get a high degree of independence from your parents, and needed support and familial camaraderie from your housemates. However, a decade or two later if you hear the real estate agent say there's a group house on the block, the first words you think of are "property values." As we get older certain phrases begin to sound more sinister.
Like "small lump."
Like "You really ought to get that looked at."
Like "large parties."
I have reached the point where I have begun to look silly in the clothes I like best: old dungarees and T-shirts. You've seen those Bugle Boy ads? I look like an ad for Tuba Man. I am being forced into Fogey-Wear. Lately, I've even started thinking about buying a bathrobe and those slippers that slide along the linoleum making a sqush-sqush sound that only dogs and Art Linkletter can hear. (By the way, one of the early warning signs of fogeyism is that you no longer care what your underwear looks like. Say it has holes, and the waistband looks like it's been chewed on by a basset hound, so what? You've pretty much given up on the notion that Ali MacGraw is going to drop by the office to play seven minutes in heaven, not that she's still in her prime anyway. See, only a fogey thinks of Ali now. People who care what their underwear looks like are thinking about Sherilyn Fenn dropping by.)
My friend Gene, who's approaching fogeyism -- he says he has begun to hear his "body pop ... I stand up from a chair and I sound like a breakfast cereal" -- tells of a conversation he had with his babysitter: He asked if she'd heard of Paul McCartney, and she said she'd heard he'd been with a band called "Wings." Gene told her he'd been with another band before that. She said she knew that, and if he told her the name she'd recognize it. "The Beatles," Gene said. The babysitter said, "That's right. I heard about them on my radio station, because New Kids on the Block just surpassed them in record sales."
(Here's a scary thought: When I'm 70, my idea of a young chick will be what Bea Arthur looks like now.)
The older you get the more your body lets you down. I'm at the stage where I can't lose 10 pounds anymore just by skipping lunches. I can't lose 10 pounds now without major surgery. You should see what Gene eats for lunch: a grazing salad with enough roughage to unblock the Panama Canal; "roughage," now there's a word that hits home after 40. This is eating? Pale shredded carrots that belong in a crate keeping a VCR from bouncing around, dried olives that look like bat guano, huge leaves of ridged lettuce you suspect is actually manufactured in a chem lab in Romania, and a slab of fish. "I don't want to eat any of this," Gene says, "but this fish gives me 1 1/2 hours more of life," if you call this living.
Other early warning signs of fogeyism include:
The paralyzing realization that Nolan Ryan is the only professional athlete older than you are, and a postscript at the end of your nightly prayers asking for Ryan's continued good health.
Telling your wife, "Don't touch my head."
Avoiding mirrors, particularly the one in the dressing room at the pool.
Becoming your father, as in: Your children turn on rap music and you say, "You call that garbage music? You can't understand a word they're saying."
References to Billy J. Kramer and the Dakotas.
Taking the aisle seat instead of the window because it's closer to the bathroom.
Conversations about gum disease.
Complaining about late-night large-party noise during the 10 o'clock news.
Saying, "Eat that. There are children starving in The Malvinas."
No longer lying to your parents.
Lying to your children.
Asking for the soft-crusted bread.
Keeping your shirt on.
I realize a lot of the early warning signs of fogeyism seem old and trite. That's one of the early warning signs too.