Oh, you shiny young people! Yes, you can get up out of a chair without gruntulating. Yes, you can herd the Internet through the ether using only your retinas. Yes, you have tiny adorable pores. Good for you! But you know what you can’t do? You can’t age somebody fifty years just like that.
We can do that. We do it all the time. It’s awesome. Just the other day I saw a picture of a little old man who turned out to be one of the Monkees. Not the cute one, or the other cute one, or the super cute one–the smart one. I happen to know exactly what he looks like, with his little knitted hat, because he’s right there in my head. I’d recognize him anywhere. And he went straight from that little knitted hat to this little old man, the kind you’d see fumbling in the grocery line trying to swipe his card four different ways before the clerk does it for him, and not like a Daydream Believer at all.
Sometimes the rocker types continue, in their seventies, to dress in their underpants and eye makeup and scary hair like they’re still twenty, and they look like twenty-year-old burn victims. And it’s not as shocking. It’s what you’d expect. If you’re a kid in the ’60s and you try to imagine your Monkee fifty years older, you’d give him a receding hairline and a saggy chin and draw some lines on his face, but somehow you’d miss the true picture. Ultimately, he was recognizable. Respectable, even.
I remember watching TV with my mom and dad when June Allison or somebody else I’d never heard of came on hawking diapers in a commercial and both my parents went Whoa, what happened to her, as though whatever it was hadn’t happened to them too. I thought: Why would anyone be surprised by what a little old lady looks like? She looks like a little old lady. Naturally, I assumed little old ladies were born that way, so the process of transition was pretty theoretical to me. It was not, at any rate, something to take seriously.
It’s thrilling to witness an abrupt fifty-year aging. It’s the kind of thing high school reunions are famous for, and it’s remarkable how fast you get used to it. You’re all, Whoa, dudes, what happened to you? And then a minute later it’s Oh Hi Steve Linda Gary Debbie, and everyone settles down. Somebody will show up looking like Jane Fonda does at eighty, which is not natural, and you’re mature enough to shrug and not take it personally.
You young people can’t do that. You can’t suddenly see your friends transform into old people. Closest you can come is that age-progression thing you might see on a milk carton where they take some little kid who’s been missing a while and try to computerate him into his current age, but it never looks right. It looks like weirdly artificial skin deterioration, as though the kid has aged for real and then gone in with a grade-B photo editor and tried to smudge himself up. But that’s the best you can do. You know, unless your friends are on meth.
The thing young people don’t quite get about us old ladies is that we still feel all fresh and new and spongey inside our old lady suits. And then we peer out our eye-holes and BAM our friends are suddenly fifty years older. It feels like having a superpower. We’re, like, The Decrepitator!
It’s a few minutes before we recognize the flaw in our outlook. That we’re really more like Superman, tracking in a little Kryptonite on our booties. Uh-oh!