Sunday, October 21, 2007

The Big Secret Of Life

There's a day in seventh grade when male teachers take the boys aside and teach them how to spit, and female teachers give the girls their secret lesson -- how to change the toilet paper roll. These aren't the first Secrets of Life we learn, but they're right up there in importance.

Never once in my long life have I ever had the urge (nor do I have the skill) to spit on the sidewalk, the grass, the tarmac, the ball field, the church steps, the picnic grounds, out the car window, or the other ten thousand places ALL males choose to rid their mouths of (what IS that?) bodily fluid.

And, seriously, never have I lived with any male who knew how to exchange the little naked cardboard cylinder for a snow-white, squishy roll of fresh paper.

It's only partly genetic, however -- the other part is that males and females are consciously taught different life secrets. Pardon me while I indulge in a few gender generalities and stereotypes.
  • Map reading........ definitely a male secret, possibly genetically linked to the Y-dominant spatial logic gene, but also taught by fathers everywhere, along with the skill of folding the damn thing.
  • Identifying and fixing "that noise" in a car's motor..... also a male secret, one I suspect linked to the mechanical complexity of peeing while holding "it," and, again, fathers teach this.... my kids learned when their dad put Cheerios in the toilet as targets. It worked.
  • Putting down the toilet seat. Never taught, thus never learned by males.
  • Knowing how to talk to insurance, auto, appliance and small-electronics salespeople.... yet again, male...most likely linked to the Y-dominant bullshit gene but modeled by good dads everywhere.
  • Decoding the organizations of NASCAR, NHRA, IHRA, SCCA, SCTA, ICSCC, UMRA, QMA...and all the rest of the alphabet soup of auto racing... oh so absolutely male. Women may be interested in the cute butts accented by driving suits, but it takes a male to want to power up the lawn sprinkler and race his neighbors. Trust me on this one.
  • Likewise, learning how to find 75% off sales on makeup, shoes, handbags, jewelry and clothes of any sort .... well, duh...most little girls learn this stuff by the time they're four... from Mom.
You get the picture...we're taught life secrets in our early years -- and those secrets are reinforced by skills and patterns of behavior we learn the rest of our lives.

But wait. There's one secret we're NEVER taught...we have to learn it on our own, and some never seem to figure it out.

While our skin may shrink, shrivel and wrinkle like an old apple, while our joints may creak and freeze up like the Tin Man...while our memory sputters and sparks feebly so we can't find the know, dammit, what is that WORD we're searching for...while the hip hop music in the car next to us makes us wish road rage were an Oscar-winning event -- we never really age on the inside. Like our joints, our own perception of ourselves and our relationship to the world freezes at a particular decade...or even year.

You know I'm right. Do YOU feel your chronological age? Or do you feel frozen about 20 or even 30 years ago? My money's on the latter.

This is how a gaggle of senior women giggle like teens, go "shopping with the girls," still take dancing, art and water aerobics lessons, flirt with waiters their great-grandson's age... and enjoy the hell out of life. Their inside orientation hasn't advanced with their outward appearance...not one bit. I'm reasonably sure that the image shown by every mirror used by a mature woman is closer to that of 35 than her true age. Even though their eyes may be filmed with cataracts and clouded by those annoying little floaters, their vision wouldn't dare show anything but perky, ripe breasts, tight bubble butts and slim legs free of purple squiggles -- after all, that's their internal's how they FEEL.

It's also how portly, balding, farty gentlemen, with nose and ear hair, bad breath and loose dentures, still openly lust after hot women and place ads on respectable dating services (and Craig'sList) exclusively for "trim, fit, active, sexy, sensual" companions -- as if they themselves are the very essence of virility, the choicest catch of the century....which maybe they were 40 years ago. Their self-image, fueled by fading memory and stale testosterone, tells them it's still their prerogative to choose the most luscious babe (who would, of course, consider it only if a large portfolio were involved.)

I'm not sure why no one tells us this particular secret when we're young. It would be comforting to know that even as the outer shell disintegrates, the inner meat stays juicy... that there really is life after 40 or 50 -- or, for all I know -- after 60 or 70 or 80.

Maybe the signs are there early on, though -- signs that we just don't recognize. Maybe this condition is the source of the intense embarrassment parents cause their teens when they (parents) act younger than their kids. I certainly remember being frequently humiliated by my mother, who was far too friendly and flirty with my high school boyfriends, and wondering when, if ever, she would "grow up." Come to think of it, she never did.

Maybe this "age dysphoria" is also the source of the rich and fulfilling relationships that exist between adult children and their parents -- at last they meet in middle ground when everyone is about 35 mentally. It could also account for the unique relationship between grandparent and grandchild. Once the responsibility and authority factors have been one generation removed, it can be great fun to be free enough to play with children, who always seem to respond to the one adult in their lives who isn't full of behavior rules and schedules.

I will offer a disclaimer on this theory, though -- I'm not at all sure any of it applies to anything to do with pop culture or interactions with young people between 17-25.

Even as we morph into fossils of a particular age, we also seem to settle in to the culture of that time and become hopelessly nostalgic for that period. I may squirm when I see the old rockers groaning and sweating on stage at their "reunion" concerts, but I understand the appeal....there hasn't been any decent pop music since the mid-80's. Who ARE these weirdly-named, electronically enhanced, blue-haired, naked, perverted, pierced entertainer babies? I won't even go into the gangsta and hip hop stuff -- it's more foreign to me than a Parisian taxi driver.

So much of our current American culture seems literally foreign to me. For instance, I am admitting here that I am a text virgin.... not once, not even close. Hell, I don't even know how to access the phone numbers I laboriously stored in my cell phone one day at the dentist's office (no magazines). Computers I can manage since IT was my former profession, but anything smaller than a regular keyboard freaks me out. (Well, I do have an MP3 player, but I also carry the operating instructions on a tiny piece of paper.)

What's worse... I don't want to be part of the pop culture. It's loud, it's rude, it's irritating, it's very in-your-face, it's...much too young. And as for dealing with anyone between the ages of 17-25, well, they're loud, they're rude, they're irritating, they're in-my-face and way too young.

I stand by my theory in all other cases, though. Having worked my way through three careers, I still find myself wondering what I'll be when I grow up...what other pursuit will draw my interest and tap my energy. My head still twitches when some young twit calls me "ma'am" in the grocery store, and it's certainly not the men my age who look yummy to me. As for my mirror... it must be a Halloween trick showing me THAT person instead of the real INSIDE me.

Think about it... and the next time you see a little old lady at church with her rheumy gaze fixed on eternity, her polka-dotted hands folded quietly in her lap, wispy white hair tucked under a hat that belongs at a garage sale and shoes that would make a 1950's nun envious... know that it's not God she's dreaming about -- it's those racers' butts at Daytona. It's Life's biggest secret and inside joke.


annie kelleher said...

as above, so below... as within, so without.

it's how we know some part of us is eternal.... even as our mortal bodies age and fall away from us like useless, wornout husks, the part of us that is uniquely us goes on and on forever.... blessed be!

Anonymous said...

I selected this as my first reading from the archives section. I loved it and can't wait to read more!!! thanks for the link to your precious thoughts and writings.

Just For Fun (with a guaranteed smile)