Ron and Jack sat in two armchairs, facing each other, surrounded by their clinical students. Both were feeling expansive, the wine spoke to them and they were relaxed. Ron, the younger of the two, was 68. Jack, with his full head of silver hair and copious laugh lines, was 73. The students ranged in age from 23 to 34. The two old men shook their heads at the beauty and folly of being surrounded by so much youth.
Ron began. “You think you feel old at 30? Let me tell you how you know that you are truly old. I was standing in line at the movie the other day with my daughter– my wife and her husband were parking the car. When I got up to the cash register, I told the woman, ‘Four tickets please,’ before I realized that I counted as a senior citizen, and could get the senior citizen discount. You get that now, at what, sixty-two?”
“Sixty-five I think,” Jack corrected.
Ron ignored him. “So, I amended, I said, ‘I think I count as for the senior citizen discount now,’ and I started to pull out my license. She shook her head and said, ‘I know, I put in the discount as soon as you walked up!’”
The students nervously started to laugh.
“Not only have I stopped getting carded for booze, but they won’t even check to see if I am under sixty-two! And that is how you know you are old.”
Jack raised his eyebrow in disbelief at his friend. “You think that makes you feel old? You ain’t heard nothing yet: I was standing on a bus, minding my own business, holding on to one of those straps hanging from the ceiling. Suddenly I noticed a young woman. And was she attractive! Long blond hair, curling to her waist, high heels, a real sharp little outfit, one of those go and get ‘em types.”
His hands traced the hourglass shape of an imaginary woman in midair. The male students grinned and the female students eyed him in bemusement, sighed, and drank more wine.
Jack grinned and winked. “Next thing I know, she made eye contact with me. Her deep brown eyes stared into mine, and for a moment, I thought, ‘Oh my god, she wants me.’ She opened her perfect mouth to speak. My hand got sweaty around the strap, I wondered about what my wife would think. And then she said to me, her voice like an angel’s:
‘Hello, sir, are you tired? Do you want my seat?’
And she got up and before I knew it, I was sitting down on the goddamn bus like some kind of invalid, staring at her skirt as she stood in front of me!”
Peals of laughter now, from all. Ron wiped his eyes under his glasses. “I can just picture it! ‘Hello sir…’”
Jack started to laugh too. “And that, my friend, is how you know you are old.”
“Isn’t that the truth,” agreed Ron, draining his glass.
Disclaimer: My brother gave me permission to post this- I talked about it with him.
The pint-sized princess in pink was clearly the big sister. She wore her sparkly dress and tiara with the careless, unstudied abandon that only children have. She unselfconsciously wiped her nose and pushed her crown higher up into her light brown hair as she danced to the free big band concert that was taking place on the green of Golden Gate Park, part of a San Francisco summer. She stomped her feet and waddled around to the beat of a piece that was supposed to evoke the sounds of the 1920s. She made paddling motions with her hands as she turned in circles.
A little boy who could only be her brother mimicked her every move. It was evident even from where I was sitting, yards away on a hill, that he worshiped her. He watched to see how she moved and moved his chubby limbs in a jerky simulacrum. When she stopped dancing to laugh or poke him or climb up the slick modern looking rock statue near her self-proclaimed stage, it was like watching an Abbott and Costello routine. He would do a double take as he suddenly noticed she had moved on to doing something else. You could see him stop, think, and re-engage with the new notion of play.
Sometimes she would slyly look back, to make sure her baby brother was following in her footsteps before plunging off again. But most of the time, there was no need: she knew he’d be there.
I have been thinking a lot recently about the role siblings play as one ages into adulthood. When I was a child, my most constant companion wasn’t my best friend, but my two and a half year younger brother. He was my partner in crime, my doll to dress up, my confidante, my ally against the adult world, my annoyance, my embarrassment, my responsibility, and my servant. He did not necessarily agree to filling all these roles in my life, and he probably saw me similarly as both his protector and his jailer, someone to emulate and someone to scorn. And God, we could be horrible to each other. I would hold his Power Rangers hostage, and draw him maps to point to where I had tied them up in his closet, but use cursive handwriting so he couldn’t read the map labels. I used to giggle when he bellowed with rage. We sometimes fought like cats, physically scrabbling with each other, me punching him into submission when he disrespected my authority, all the while taunting him to learn to ‘use his words.’ What can I say: children are Id, and my superego was later than some in developing.
Alternatively titled: An Exercise in Futility (get it? heh?)
The cheap birch wood of the sticks were sticky in the palm of my fist as I ran. I clenched them tightly. I was pretty sure I had a popsicle stick splinter in my thumb for my labor. I had five, and I was close to getting a sixth. There was no way I was dropping one now.
I numbly kept going, trying to ignore the sting of sweat trickling into my eyes, the sharp pain in my side, and the heaviness of my feet. My shirt clung to my body like a vine, and my skin itched everywhere. My shorts rode up on the inside of my thighs and most of my hair had long ago given up on staying in the short ponytail. I gasped and panted and tried to get more air and it felt as though I was breathing through water. My face was bright red, and I could feel the heat emanating from my cheeks.
Middle School gym class was the WORST.
“Keep on going! You are doing great!” Mr. Seymour, ever encouraging, yelled from the lap line. He looked at me. He smiled at my round face. “C’mon! You are almost here! Hustle!” I made a pathetic effort to hustle. I reached him and held out my hand. He slapped down a popsicle stick, and I curled my fingers around it as my feet carried me past him. My prize. “Only two more mandatory laps! You are so close to finishing!”
Emotions were running high on the aptly named UN Plaza. Africa was readying for battle with Asia, and it was over… artisanal bread. Africa was represented by a broad bald man with soft cultured accent, wearing an African print shirt and an exasperated frown. Asia was a tiny, bird-like older Chinese lady; her eyes were black and shiny and full of a child’s guile in her wrinkled face. She wore comfortable once-white sneakers, a turquoise visor and a fanny pack. She held her arms close, in front of her body, her fingers at the ready like a Jurassic Park Velociraptor.
It was around 5:00pm. I had just left work and was stopping at the farmer’s market on my way home when I unknowingly entered this international incident in the making.
“The Rosemary and olive bread please,” I asked the man in the African print shirt. He got my bread off of the rack and slid it into a bag for me, all the while staring at the little old Asian lady who had sidled off to the left of his rack. He stopped reaching for my money and instead, slowly and deliberately, placed his hand over his bread in front of Asia.
“Don’t touch the bread!” he said harshly. I must have shown my surprise on my face because he instantly explained: “She’s been poking and touching my breads, my buns, my cakes. No one wants to buy misshapen, poked bread. She won’t buy it, she just wants to touch it and ruin it. She knows what she is doing is wrong and yet if I turn my back for an instant- Hey!”
As he spoke to me, Asia made her move. She darted in from behind me and with a savage little poke of her forefinger, smushed a corner of a cinnamon bun. She glanced around and saw that Africa was watching. She grinned a feral little grin.
“Peh!” she said. She lifted up her forefinger and straightened it.
He moved to intercept.
Her finger flew towards the bun once again. Poke poke poke! She got three strong, bread misshaping pokes before with a snarl, the man managed to move the tray away from her. She moved back slightly, and then whipped around to the other side of his stall and away, her little feet rapidly shuffling on the stone. Once she knew she was safe she stopped and patted her fanny pack. Pretending nothing had just happened she wandered over to a fruit stand, whose owner, having witnessed the exchange, was moving the peaches.
“You have a nice day,” Africa growled at me. He looked sadly at his deformed, fingered cinnamon bun. I looked bemused at his deformed, fingered cinnamon bun. Should I intervene, buy the bun, to smooth over this capitalistic clash in the market?
“You too.” The American, no longer staying true to her role in world politics, was grateful to extricate herself.