Older folks can feel overlooked, ignored. This is a short piece to take you there.
I’m an old man, okay? I’m finally starting to realize that. Slowly. One loss at a time. For instance, I used to run to and around a neighborhood park before breakfast three times a week. Now I walk there and sit on a bench before heading back. That kind of thing. That, and then there’s a young woman who walks by, briskly, probably on her way to work. I say young. Well not that young, maybe in her thirties. Late thirties. But to a guy in his late seventies, that’s young.
She’s attractive in a nice, sweet way. Not, god forbid, the ‘sweet’ my mother used to describe a woman when I was in college: ‘She’s a sweet girl, you should meet her.’ That ‘sweet’ was the last and only good thing left to say about a marital prospect. This hard-walking lady seemed sweet to me in a different way. Reminds me of my daughter’s friends that used to come around the house. Except they were friendly, polite.
But don’t get me wrong. My head still snaps when she passes. That’s hard-wiring from an earlier age and an aesthetic judgment. She’s art on the hoof. And I’ve always appreciated art so don’t think I’m a horny old fart coasting on fumes of hormones past. I’m not. My attitude with this particular lady is a different thing. I have tried saying, “Hi,” as she cruises by. She never answers. Just keeps going. I find that annoying and even insulting. It’s not like I expect her to stop and chat and want to hear the story of my life. I know I’m not in China where they revere old folks. And I don’t think of every young woman as my granddaughter happy to see me and eager for my attention. But she doesn’t have to treat me like I’m some statue. Or a bum looking for a handout. Or some guy pushing weird flyers or petitions in her face. I just wanted to have this pert, alert woman smile and say “Hi,” back. Or even just wave her hand to acknowledge that I’m alive, to affirm my presence among the living. You get overlooked a lot when you’re older…like you’re fading into the woodwork of life.
But of course, there could be other explanations. Maybe she has some issues, mental issues, and it takes all her concentration to keep it together on her way to therapy. Or maybe she has work problems and has to screw up her courage to face another day. Or her mother taught her to never talk to strangers.
One morning, before the woman came by, there was a young dog running loose, scared, excited, chasing here and there, looking for something, for someone. I walked near him. Knelt. Held out my hand with a piece of my bagel. He was cute, short, mostly beagle with maybe some Jack Russel, I figured, the way he bounced on all fours when he ran. I spoke softly, crooning. “Here, boy. Don’t be frightened.” He stopped five feet from me, head down nose forward. No collar. As he inched forward to snatch the treat, a woman spoke behind me. “He must be lost, poor baby.” I looked over my shoulder. It was my ice lady. “Look,” she began, like she was used to command…maybe in an office or a bank, “why don’t you stay by your bench with him and I’ll contact the shelter.” She pulled out her cell phone, talking while she punched digits. “I know the folks there and they’ll send someone over. I have to get to work but,” she paused to reach into a bag, pulled out a foil-wrapped roll-up and tore off an end, “here’s something to keep him happy in the meantime.” Then she hurried away.
‘Your bench’, she called it. Like I owned it. So, she has noticed me there. Hmm. She just could never be bothered to stop and say hello.
A week later, I’m sitting on my bench, Mylo on a leash…the shelter let me adopt him. The woman stops to pet my dog, scratch behind his ears. She smiles at me, says “Hi.” I don’t answer.
That’s all I ever wanted from her.