I don’t remember the first time I heard the word “sir,” but I do remember how I reacted.
“Sir? SIR? Are you talking to me? I’ll ‘Sir’ you.”
Of course the person was talking to me. I’m sure he thought he was showing respect. And I’m sure he was surprised at my reaction. But you don’t go around “Sirring” us Baby Boomers. Not if you know what’s good for you.
Anybody who knows anything knows we Baby Boomers are convinced we don’t look our age. Our parents looked their age. Or older than their age. At 50, my dad looked every bit of 50. Or more. And he was okay with that. Proud of it even.
But not me. Not us.
We, meaning my generation, haven’t aged a day.
At least that’s what we keep hearing. We keep hearing it from each other. It was like a broken record at my 50th class reunion last September. “You look fabulous. You haven’t changed one bit.”
Really? I’ve barely a hair left on my head, but I look exactly as I did in 1967?
The crazy thing is I believe every word of it.
Double chin? What double chin?
Unfortunately, every now and then we run into someone who tends to disagree with our opinion of ourselves.
The “Sir” folks, for example, who now seem to be everywhere. They always want to open the door for you. Or get your bag out of the overhead compartment. “Here you go, Sir.”
Then there’s the checkout person at the supermarket, if you happen to make the mistake of showing up on a Tuesday. “Senior discount, Sir?” Or worse, the ones who go ahead and give you the senior discount without even asking.
But the last straw, the coup de grace, came last week at the gym.
The gym, to be clear, is another place we Baby Boomers go to hear how good we look. We could be on a treadmill pouring sweat and gasping for breath with our ample bellies bouncing like a beachball at a summer rock concert, and our friends will walk over to tell us how young we look.
“And so do you!”
It’s all good. Except when we encounter someone who does not know how to play the game.
Like last Wednesday.
I had just run seven miles (that’s SEVEN. Period. MILES. Period.) on an elliptical machine and was in the middle of my usual 300 crunches on the abdominal apparatus, when I heard the guy next to me grunting and groaning as though someone had just taken a 2 by 4 to him.
I could not help but notice he had just done ten sit-ups.
We happened to make eye contact and I thought it appropriate to commiserate, to say something kind. So I did. “This machine can really knock the heck out of you,” I said.
“That’s for sure,” he answered, trying to catch his breath. “And I’m 51 years old.”
“Well, I’m going to be 69 in November,” I said, and then paused, anticipating the obligatory, “No way, you look great.”
But this 50-something obviously didn’t know the rules. He responded with, “Yup, when I see you old-timers trying to work out, I’m impressed.”
I suppose I should have been impressed with the word “impressed,” but I couldn’t get past the word “old-timer.”
Is that what I am now? An old-timer?
Suddenly, “Sir” doesn’t sound so bad.
Life is filled with rites of passage that involve aging. You finally get your driver’s license. You get carded at a bar and produce not a fake ID but a legitimate one. You get served a drink without being carded. They start calling you a man instead of a boy.
And then, just like that, you’re an old-timer.
What’s next? Pops?
I desperately needed a compliment and I thought I had one the next afternoon as I stepped toward the exit of an airplane in Austin, Texas. I was wearing this madras plaid shirt I had picked up back in June. Madras was really popular when I was in high school and I was pleased to see it is back. “Nice shirt, Sir,” the flight attendant said as I walked past. And that felt good. But she could not leave well enough alone. “It’s fancy,” she added.
Fancy? FANCY? Paisley is fancy. Polka dots are fancy. Madras is definitely not fancy. It’s, well, classy, I’d say.
Don’t worry, I think I’m going to be okay, especially if I can spend some time with my people. I’m heading to the gym right after writing this and, come Thursday, will be spending countless hours at the Pittston Tomato Festival. Typically I can be found eating a soppressata sandwich at the Sabatelle’s Market booth or banana cream pie at Patti Marianacci’s. You know, in case you want to come over and tell me how good I look.
I’ll be easy to spot. Just look for the old-timer.
In the fancy shirt.
Ed Ackerman writes The Optimist every week. Look for his blogs online during the week at pittstonprogress.com.