WHEN MY son-in-law kidded me about getting all dressed up for a Saturday night date, I gave him a vacant stare.
"Getting ready to do the town, eh?" he asked. "I know you old guys and your tomcatting."
I was secretly flattered. I liked that kind of attention. He meant no disrespect. Respect for old age is age-old, but young people have a lot to learn about the physical needs of older folks. So do I.
The remark reminded me of when I was a kid in Chicago, and I recalled my Uncle Ruby. He had never married, and while I can't guess his age back then, I guessed he was having the time of his life. My mother described him as a ladies' man. "He's the biggest lover on the South Side," she mocked. I was too young to understand, but I got the picture -- he had, as they used to say, a roving eye for a well-turned ankle.
On a Saturday night back then, I'd see Uncle Ruby escorting some charmer up the stairs over Lohrmeir's Pool Room and Cigar Store, his arm around her waist, up to the Golden Lily Dine and Dance. My uncle would be all spruced up like a Dreiser sport, in gray spats with pearl buttons, diamond cufflinks, a diamond stickpin highlighting his upturned mustache.No midnight caper was complete without a derby and, because he never trusted banks, a roll of bills secured by a rubber band. In my case, there is no reversion to ancestral character -- I carry Master Charge, I told my son-in-law.
There is heavy courting of the ederly these days, around election time. Politicians won't let you forget the many programs started by some "Commission for Ederly Affairs." For our social lives, they tell us to join the Golden Age Club, sign up for shuffleboard, for nature walks, for boat rides. As for me, I'm living to fulfill my own lifestyle: Saturday Night Live, adventure, courting women.
I was married for 40 years and my wife died six years ago. I've been dating for about three years now, with women who have lost their husbands through death, divorce or separation. I'm like a rose that bloomed shut and then budded again, and I'm still capable of making a fool of myself.
These women all despise dating services, group encounters and singles bars. They call them all meat markets. They all say they would never, but never, date a married man. Also unanimously, they tell me that age is just a number.
In my companionship season, I met one friend by answering her ad in The New York Review of Books. Her husband divorced her, moved out, left her a fine, big home and a five-figure income and too many lonesome nights he hadn't figured on. So now she found herself rich, past 60, with one son away at college -- and oh, how she loved to dance. She had doubts about ever meeting Mister Right, and was wary of remarrying. She spoke of the most interesting thing in her life -- the office, her government job. She thrived on working with men, and there were daily opportunities for "relationships" but she knew I would understand when she said that she never mixed her business with her social life. Her next greatest pleasure? Ship cruises. Waltzed away from her.
Another friend worked in a hospital. She was going back to nursing school for advanced training, had three married children and a teen-aged daughter. Her husband had been shot in a holdup and left her with two homes -- one which she sold and another one up in Maine that she was striving to hold on to. Her life was busy, busy, busy, from early morning to late at night. Her time was precious, her friends many, and in between dating, writing and all the meetings she had to attend, her schedule was always in high gear. Marriage, getting hitched the second time around, had to wait on her career. I told her the second marriage is like tennis: Take 25 percent off the second serve in a tight situation, win the point and never look back. I never went back.
I'd be dishonest if I didn't admit I was having fun. I enjoy the company of women. I never conceal my admiration or pleasure in meeting interesting, exciting career women. A few months ago, my daughter introduced me to my present special friend, for whom I care very much. I am serious. This friend has a liberated viewpoint and lives by it.
A woman of quality, she was married for 24 years and hated being a hausfrau. Her husband drowned while boating off Cape Cod six years ago. Her three college-educated children are bright and devoted, and they approve of her new and active life. She holds a professional job, lives her independent life in her own condominium with an esoteric 14-year-old cat. I don't think the cat has made up his mind about me.
I was one cat who had made up his mind, though, and I told her how deeply I cared. In my fashion, I pleaded passion with wisdom, and good luck to old guys who chase after "young girls." When I told her my "uncle story" she had a good laugh. "But," she observed, "maybe what he was doing was wooing." Whate I was doing, she added, was "womanizing." Maybe she thought mine was a constant, endless search for romance. She was wrong: it was for love. Or a wild, good chase. But, as they say on Wall Street, "Love, like the flow of capital, never should be one way."
When my friend announced that she was leaving the country to take a writing assignment, I drank my tepid tears of rejection. But when she learned that my daughter had given birth to my first granddaughter after four grandsons, she called to tease me gently: "Ah, you'll adore her, and what a grand feeling, falling in love again!"
When our affair was over, a young law student living in my son's home in Washington consoled me and invited me to go along on a Saturday to Bloomingdale's. "Saturdays," he suggested, "are the best day to pick up girls," Ah, now that is womanizing.
Through the years, wooing, romancing, courting even picking up girls hasn't changed all that much. What has been in transition is society's attitude about what is wicked. With today's freedom, women can live life with free-agent status. In professional ball player's language, they hold out for better prospects, a better contract for next year.
My dashing Uncle Ruby, in his breezy fashion, might have said you lose one girl and another comes along, just like streetcars. Somewhere up there in lover's heaven, I get the feeling that my old uncle is giving me a sly wink. And Dan Cupid doesn't look a day older -- somewhere between 40 and 100. Maybe 75.