I've Fallen...And You Never Call!
Some people think it's possible to live in a perfect world with absolutely no conflict.
It seems to me that conflict is a vital part of human identity. This isn't to say that I like conflict, or that I pursue it, but rather that I think it is central to our development. As we define ourselves, we must define our opposition. In so doing, we choose who, and what, we are not, and thus who, and what, we are.
Now, a lot of people go after obvious targets, like John Wayne Gacy, Adolf Hitler, or George Bush. Personally, I think Bush is much too easy. The only people I know who really support Bush are my ultraconservative aunt and uncle who live on Long Island. To give you an idea of my Aunt's politics, she thinks Attilla the Hun was a liberal pussy.
Anyway, apart from crazy Aunt Libby, I don't know anybody who really believes in Bush. Either they buy into the culture of fear that he's exploited, or they cynically support him because his policies help them financially. However, nobody seems to really believe that he is a good President or a decent leader.
Apart from Crazy Aunt Libby.
So, anyway, back to my original point. Bush is an easy target, and I think that it's time to give him a break, at least for a day or two. I would like to suggest a bigger and better villain: little old ladies.
To be honest, as much as Bush's policies have made my life difficult, they don't irritate me every day. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of little old ladies. Rarely a day goes by that one of these self-obsessed Geritol munchers doesn't nearly run me off the road, slam a door in my face, hijack my afternoon, or otherwise irritate me. And don't even get me started on my mother in law.
Old Lady Discourtesy
Although I have observed and catalogued a wide variety of Evil Old Lady behavior, I find that the vast majority of it fits into a few simple categories. The first is Total Fucking Discourtesy. As a sometime mallwalker, I occasionally find myself crossing paths (literally) with septuagenarians and octogenarians who, like me, are using the mall for exercise. I find that older men are a lot of fun. First off, they tend to be pretty generous about yielding the right of way to a guy wrangling a kid. They smile at me, say "have a nice day," and try to race me. They, of course, fail, as I am Mario Andretti with a Graco stroller.
(Actually, truth be told, they usually win. Give me a break; these are they guys who won World War II.)
Old ladies, on the other hand, cut in front of me, scowl, and generally make my life difficult. My favorite such situation is when I'm trying to get out of the mall, pushing a stroller, clutching a wailing child, juggling a couple of parcels, and trying to deal with one of Hitler's ex-girlfriends who is tapping her toes at me and waiting for me to get the door. For some reason, the idea of helping out a guy in his thirties never seems to work its way across their crania.
The key exception to this was the wonderful old lady who gave me her seat on the New York Subway. Admittedly, I was embarrassed about taking a seat from an older woman, but she got really pushy about it and I caved. As I tend to do when faced with the full force of old-lady power.
Old Lady "Advice"
My wife's mother lives in coastal Oregon. When we visited her home a year ago, I found it to be a beautiful, otherworldly place that had weak gray light that was about as wholesome as watered-down skim milk. After two days there, I was feeling delighfully melancholy, like a character in a gothic novel. Two more days, and i was in the mood to read a Swedish play. After a week, I felt like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Suffice to say, I don't have the necessary personality to become a coastie.
Not that this dissuades my mother in law or her gang. I'm not going to criticize my mother-in-law here. She wants her family near her and doesn't want to move. I, of course, can relate. However, the Greek chorus of AARP-harpies that she surrounds herself with really tweak my nuts. Okay, I understand that, to them, we represent the children who have abandoned them (insert generic pop-psychology excuse here), but when I want advice from a total stranger in her dotage, I'll call Blaze Starr, Liz Renay, or Bettie Page.
Frankly, I've had it with getting guilt trips from old ladies who I don't even know. Yes, yes, I know that it'd be great if my wife and I abandoned our dreams so we could move out to the Oregon coast and work in convenience stores while trying to be cheerful in a place that makes Ingemar Bergman's films look like pop art. It would be wonderful if I could become financially dependent on a mildly insane woman whose feelings toward me and my wife seesaw like Oprah Winfrey's weight. I'm just choosing to stay on the East Coast because I'm an intransigent bastard. So sue me.
Old Lady Drivers
As much as I don't really like driving, I also understand that it must be really hard to surrender one's driver's license. In one fell swoop, you transform yourself from an active, autonomous member of our culture to a passenger, dependent upon bus schedules, cabs, and the whims of others.
It must totally suck.
However, when the time comes, I hope that I will face the loss of my license with equanimity, bravery, and honesty. I hope that I will accept the restriction of my freedom and recognize that nothing lasts forever. I hope that I can be big about the whole thing.
When you are too old to read speed limit signs, see kids in front of your car, and hit the brakes in an expeditious manner, the time has come to say bye bye to the license. Admit it. Frankly, I think that everyone over the age of seventy should be forced to watch Blood on the Highway and all those other New Jersey State Department of Transportation splatter flicks on a yearly basis. After all, if terror works on the teenagers, why wouldn't it work on the oldsters?
A while back, Matt posted the "I've fallen and I can't get up!" commercial that ran in the 1980's. For those of you who've forgotten this obnoxious little cultural artifact, take a peek:
Did you notice the self-satisfied grin on the face of the spokesperson/Yoda lookalike? You can practically hear her thoughts: "You think that you can escape me? You think that moving out of the house, driving two hours away, and marrying a big-haired Dolly Parson impersonator will sever the bonds between mother and son? Think again, buster! I've got you on a short leash, and Lifecall is the choke-chain. I'm one broken hip away from having you back in this house. With me. Forever."
Seriously, I see a Norman Bates thing developing here.
Maybe my thoughts on old ladies are tainted by my own experiences, but I've never really bought into the "old ladies are sweet and frail" ideal. My grandmothers--both of them--were manipulative and power-hungry people players who could have given J. Edgar Hoover a run for his money. Having watched them use every tool at their disposal to control the people around them, the idea of a selfless dearheart who bakes cookies just doesn't work for me.
I can understand loneliness and need, but what is it about little old ladies that makes them more clingy than a pregnant hooker at the fall of Saigon? Perhaps the best manifestation of this is what my wife and I call the "Old Lady Death Grip." This is where an old woman seizes your arm and clutches it like it's the last piece of flotsam coming off the Titanic. While dealing with whatever problem said old lady has put before you, you're twisting your arm all over the place, trying to get her to let go in the futile hope that you'll be able to restore feeling to your fingertips.
Honestly, do they teach this Vulcan pinching technique at bridge club meetings or something? Almost every old lady I know has it down pat, and it drives me crazy. In what parallel universe is it acceptable to latch on to a total stranger like that?
This isn't to say that I've never met a cool old lady. The yenta who gave me her subway seat, for example, is in my personal pantheon of great old ladies. Ditto all the babcias in Poland who, I swear to God, rule the world. I'm sure Mother Theresa had her moments. However, I would have to say that, overall, old ladies have been skating by on looks and reputation for far too long. But I'm on to them. As much as they might try to play off the whole frailty thing, I know the score. Sometimes, pure evil has blue hair.