I mentioned in a post last winter a time when a woman nearly fell into my arms in lust once, while I walked with her, due to my having confessed to her my impassioned admiration for elderly women. "As something more than wizened crones, but mysteriously hidden beauty, and pleasure obscured to those who are in equal measure young and stupid." Typically for me, I didn't take advantage of my friend, and she sort of faded away in time. She was sitting and watching me work a few weeks later and seemed completely taken with my genius at arranging sugar packets. Infatuation is easy to despise, and yet, it sure doesn't cause too much pain, in this world.
As should be the case, I know a large number of older women, everyone from members of my family, to a homeless woman Barbara, who seems to be on a decades long quest to be the slowest person ever to touch their toes. I remember ten years ago when she passed for completely normal, as long as she didn't open her mouth. Her hair is, even today, a perfect study in what Wallace Stegner was getting at in Angle of Repose about his preference for smoothly folded, and simple curved shapes in women's hair. A bun, and the casual parabola of dark strands across a woman's temple. Barbara, despite the ravaging elements of mental illness and homelessness, still has such beauty in her hair. It gives me great pleasure to hear that some of my friends are occasionally rebuffed by her. At times she doesn't recognize me, but if I open my mouth, as sometimes happens with a friends pet, or for that matter, a human being in the dark, something about my voice say's, "safe," to her. And mercy, she's right about that.
To worry about Barabara is natural. It's almost impossible to not settle into the easy chair of pity, about the pitiful condition that so many people find themselves in. It's a useful exercise, none the less, to consider the alternative: controlling for her illness. What is it exactly that people want, where Barbara is involved. Her safety? Her happiness? She might actually be living an independent and somewhat fear free life on the streets of Bloomington, I don't really know. But when I talk to her, I rarely hear as much fear as just about all my friends seem to feel nestled sweetly into the their roles on the bell curve of normalcy. Barbara might be more of an eyesore and reminder to most of us of the shadows that lay everywhere beneath things. Like a candy wrapper on a sprawling expanse of lawn, she says, "the symbol of this undifferentiated reality, it's seeming wholeness and unchangeability is an illusion." And trust me, most folks (sweet liberal ones, of course) basically can't stand her. And she is annoying. Sure.
Barbara is a beautiful woman. It may not seem that way, due to her life, but, my god, the first time I saw her I couldn't believe what a piercing iconic look she had. Perhaps its flirtation she hears in my voice. I couldn't say, due to my seeming idiocy at reading the female (and male) mind.
My friend Rick has a picture in his house of two Germanic ladies (his aunts) sitting in chairs in what looks to be a park, their shoes casually cast aside, and cocktails in their hands. Laughing. I'd sacrifice a hell of a lot to sit with those women. They look like my Grandmother Coffey, she being I suppose a full blooded German, and having the artifacts of her youth when she spoke German at home, in old age within her voice. A subtlety overlain her english, different, but not dissimilar to the effect of all those Norwegians on the language of the northern middle-western United States. Little hints, that come most alive in the moments you most cherished with her: in her excitement, and scorn. When she was righteous, and when she was happy. What a beautiful woman. And I never knew her young at all.
Next to such collections of human mystery, beauty and nuanced influence, it is patently laughable to encounter what is ostensibly provided to the gobsmacked male as the epitome of feminine fashionability. While there is no way in denying the unlined mystery of a twenty year olds fullest expression of her inheritance: the constellation of choices on offer to her, to clothe her, and to assist her entrance into the dark (as something of a costumed neon signifier) have from what I gather, not a thing to do with men. Which explains to me the difference between Playboy and Vogue.
Young women and men are likely to be complimented on their appearance, their intelligence, and any number of other qualities that they were more or less programmed from birth to display. It's easy to imagine most of that as something of an accomplishment. And I don't knock such tendencies completely. What a crusty old jerk you would have to be to wish for all appearances to be the work of their owner. I like to look at people, and wonder. And I am intimately connected, as a man, to all the desires, and hungers that afflict me as well as spice my days when I am so lucky as to be delighted by one of those neon costumed ladies. The way I talk about this would seem to travel down a logical path that would have one assume I value my time with the retarded more than those who are born intelligent. Or value my time with the ugly more than the beautiful. My eyes and heart do not follow such a path. I am more or less normal.
It is none the less not an academic or Sunday school exercise to dwell for a few moments to realize that beauty and intelligence are in no way accomplishments. And since intelligence can swing in its meaning from something like cultivation to raw cognitive ability, I must remind myself that this subject is well traveled and rather confusing to me.
I mention all of this because of my frustration at being a participant in such lies, and prejudice. The young are no more beautiful than the old. The opposite common assumption is built on an impressive monument of rather democratic decision making: all of us are more attracted to the behavior and look of youth, than we are to the same in the old. But come on: what is exciting to humankind is breaking the natural rules of the universe. When you tell a small child, "Stop running," it would be a strange child indeed who replied, "of course. It's far far easier to walk, I suppose." Well it certainly is for me! Youth exists at the perilous, and wild apex of our escape from the cold oblivion of not being. Not so much death, as total inactivity. When you experience someone dying quickly of a disease, all of us recognize that moment when the critical mass of life's quiet riot, tumbles over the equal sign toward the less distressing acceptance that you will finally rest. So life is not on some sort of mere analog between life and death, but in a more complex tangle of claims that existing makes toward love, connection, dreams, fears, and questions. We are not a grey between black and white, but the patinated dancer who catches light and shadow, and watches her body on the wall (or two lovers who look upon their shadow. Same difference really.) Half the fear of death, is the lifelong desire for play. Had Scrooge been a dancer, A Christmas Carol would simply be a book. Nobody believes in the dancing Scrooge, until the end of the story. And Scrooge's end became his claim, and all of ours the whole earth round. Such is the power of the proper claim: on life and death.
Which is why I am all over the map here. Seemingly making fun (playing on the claims) of lovely young women of a summers evening. Seemingly tolling the impossibly tedious notion that there's nothing so great about beautiful intelligent people. Seemingly playing ye old country cabin where saccharine delights rub your troubled chest with Vicks Vapor Creme, and coo into your jaded ears: my sweet, sweet little [identify!]
A life is a limited thing, but we humans are endowed with a limitless potential to hold hands with The Dancing Scrooge, and perhaps live a little, where one day our living will be denied. When I confessed this to my highly intelligent fetchingly clothed date, at the swanky place where we met, she understood me completely. From what I gather, her claims, and passions, don't inspire her to regard my Dancing Scrooge claim as proper in any sense. She didn't wrinkle her brow. She laughed, saying, "Get real. In a world of global warming, and mortal battle on abortion, you're Dancing Scrooge might as well await discovery on the former planet of Pluto." I liked that analysis so much, I kindly forgot what I wanted to say about Scrooge, and listened rapt with all my chromosomes getting wound up more and more...
She, for her part, could hear in her voice, and see in my eyes, the twirling flocks of claims that her arguments let fly. Is it not a pleasure to be listened to, especially when, like Mr. Ed, you've got something to say? You'll be surprised, I was not thinking about horses as my longing gaze swept her face, and my brain sauteed within her perspectives.
And be appraised, we could just as easily have been talking, or rather, she could have been talking about
Wheel Of Fortune. The content of such interactions is not of great importance. I've heard ripe old women smile at their pleasure in watching Don Johnson in Nash Bridges. It's tempting to laugh, and almost impossible not to smile. But their confession contains a question: can you take me seriously? And in order to do that, you need not come to conclusions about Mr. Don Johnson. You only need to profoundly briefly feel. That's life.