In my mind's eye, I'm super old. I'm out in the yard on a hot day with my shirt off. A puff of gray hair sprouts from the sunken crater that is my chest. My pointy elbows could poke your eye out, but that doesn't stop my grandchildren from clinging to my legs like ivy. We tumble down into the soft grass. A haystack of giggles.
This is the old-man-hood I imagine for myself. Whenever that day comes, that is.
For now? I have to get out of these skinny jeans.
They've snapped off the circulation in my thighs. I'm like the guy on the Discovery Channel who let himself get eaten by an anaconda. I'm a little lightheaded here in the hot, forced-air furnace that is the Urban Outfitters dressing stall.
"Everything okay?" comes a soft voice on the other side of the door.
"Oh yeah," I say.
But it's not okay at all. I think I may need to have 911 come and cut the skinny jeans off. Like with the jaws of life they use to cut off car doors after highway crashes. I pant and realize the only thing more humiliating than being stuck in a pair of skinny jeans is trying them on in the first place.
If you have the money to dress in the latest fashion, that can push away the crazed monkey that is old age. Skinny jeans? They're a symbol of my mortality. I'm gonna get these sumbitches on if it kills me.
Why couldn't I have hit middle age in the 1980s? When baggy pants were the rage? I look over to the dressing room wall hook. That other pair may fit. I stand and hop around violently until the stuck pair comes loose, cracking my head with a loud bang against the stall wall in the process.
"Do you need anything?" says the voice outside the door.
"I'm good, thanks!"
Isn't a fully realized grownup a person who dresses the way he or she wishes, with no regard to what's popular? Am I supposed to just strap on the Velcro shoes and wait for the grandchildren to show up?
My mother lied about her age until the day she died. My sister and I found her birth certificate in an old lockbox after she passed. We held it out and blinked with disbelief. She had used white-out to change her birth date.
For her, it was a number on a page. I'm not afraid of the number (57) -- I'm afraid to look like the number. I reach for the larger-sized pair of skinny jeans, which seems like a contradiction in terms.
Some of us want to hide our age because age-ism is sure enough the quietist, most unseen-ism in our culture. There will never be a die-in or protest to quash the inequalities of youth vs. age.
Being on the receiving end of it is not always a deep cut. That's the quiet part. It's more like a series of strange, benign accommodations that send a message that, at best, you're not the same as everyone else, and, at worst, you're on your way out.
The student who works the towel exchange on campus at the SERF pool? He never looks in the clean towel bin when a fellow student steps up for an exchange. The worker takes the top towel and flips it on the counter.
When he sees me he stabs through the bin searching for a brand-new towel. Every time. The fact is, the new towels suck! They don't absorb water until all the film is machine-washed from them. I hate those new towels. The student's action draws a shaky line between what is a kind gesture and what is an accommodation. I don't want to tell him to give me an old towel when all he's doing is trying to be nice to the lumpy old guy.
This larger pair of skinny jeans shows promise on the first tug. They actually pull on with a minimum of grunt. I walk in a tiny circle before the dressing room mirror. A solitary confinement of self-absorption.
I rip the skinny jeans from my legs. I dress in the clothes I came in, gather the pants and emerge from the fitting room.
A half dozen college students -- all in skinny jeans -- stand between me and the cashier. I am a poser, I think. I look around. The store is filled with deer-legged skinny jeans people. The sight at first depresses me and then ...it liberates me.
I head for the door and abandon my skinny jeans on top of a pile of paperback books at the front of the store. Outside in the fresh air I feel alarmingly alive. I feel my age.