The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

I’m in my 70s. My closest friends are decades younger than I am.

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“She’s just a young woman wrapped up in an old body,” this newspaper once wrote of Disco Sally, a 77-year-old woman who dirty-danced all night with the young, wild kids at Studio 54 in New York. When I read about the recently widowed former lawyer in the 1970s, she had a boyfriend in his 20s, and the likes of Bill Murray and Dustin Hoffman were lining up to dance with her.

As a single 35-year-old at the time, I found her behavior reeking of desperation. Why couldn’t she act her age, I wondered. Why did she embarrass herself by dressing in high-top sneakers and tight jeans? What was wrong with growing old gracefully and hanging out with your peers?

At that age, I was on the hunt for a man to love me, and I felt that time was ticking. I couldn’t imagine anyone loving an old woman.

Well, I’m now 76, and I understand Disco Sally perfectly. In fact, I have become her — my version of her. I am long divorced and no longer interested in a mate. But I still want to have a good time. I’ve taken on the mantle of token cool old lady in a group of young people who admire me for my refusal to become as stodgy as the other old people they know, like their parents. I am a role model for them because I refuse to act my age, though compared with Sally, my behavior is pretty sedate. I don’t dance the night away, but I do get drunk at parties, enjoy horror movies, find “South Park” hilarious and revel in my reputation as a sharp-tongued curmudgeon.

I did not seek out this lifestyle. My version of Sally just happened.

I moved to Florida from Woodstock, N.Y., a few years ago to escape my ex and his family who lived down the road, plus the foul weather and boredom of living in a small town. I wound up in a retirement community because the rents are low. But I didn’t make any friends there, because — well — I’m not retired. And I don’t play canasta or mah-jongg or have money for the cultural pastimes other artsy senior ladies enjoy, like expensive shows and travel. I don’t enjoy senior sports like pickleball, Zumba or even yoga. I like to swim laps … alone. rescued me. I was thrilled to find a horror and sci-fi movie meetup, since I couldn’t find anyone my age to go to a horror movie with me. The horror and science-fiction movie crowd — a nerdy bunch of misfits who tend toward high intelligence and low social skills — were all at least 20 to 30 years younger than me, but I fit right in. I’d found my posse.

I became the special friend of Andrew — the brilliant, charismatic, Godzilla fanatic and leader of the pack — a Web designer in his early 50s who holds parties at his place where he shows kitschy horror films. We bonded over our interest in highbrow sci fi and while trading bon mots. He insists I’m the only person who “gets” his sarcastic remarks. What I love best about Andrew is his commitment to inclusivity — everyone is invited to his parties, no matter their age, race, looks or income. I get to hang out with men — who are scarce in my demographic — and people I never would have met otherwise: morticians, scrap-metal-business owners, utility company managers, Whole Foods clerks, graphic designers, female chemists and engineers, and, of course, lots of techies. Most of the people I meet my age are female and retired from teaching or other helping professions.

At Andrew’s parties, I get to do stuff generally eschewed by folks my age, like drink Jell-O shots; eat junk food instead of quinoa salads; stay up past midnight when most of my peers are in bed by 10 p.m.; play Cards Against Humanity (no skill required, only irreverence and a tolerance for profanity). The best seat in the house is always saved for me, and these youngsters actually seem to listen to what I have to say and value my opinion.

At Andrew’s parties, I drop my usual shyness with strangers and talk to everyone without any fear of rejection. I am a novelty, a role model, a Disco Sally for the nerds. Like Sally, I don’t try to look young. My hair is gray and my face is unlifted. I think it helps that I’m no longer on the prowl for love. Those raging hormones are gone. Instead I’m happy to indulge in another of my favorite pastimes: playing matchmaker. I recently hosted an engagement party for one couple whose union I arranged.

The best thing about hanging out with this group is not who they are, but who I am when I am with them.

I get to escape from the straitjacket of old age. No interminable complaints about ailments — no oohing and aahing over photos of grandchildren; listening to accounts of expensive trips and shows I can’t afford; and no polite, boring small talk. Being with young people allows me to forget my own medical issues for at least an evening. I get to be myself — the nerdy, irreverent, Mr. Robot and X-Men-obsessed self I didn’t think I’d ever get to see, much less be, again.

I now know Disco Sally wasn’t desperate. She just wanted to cut loose and be who she really was — a disco queen. Most of us have long lost touch with who we once were, if we ever knew that person. I’m going to be my nerd version of Disco Sally until they cart me off … hopefully after a long night partying..


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