David L. Robbins
Novelist, Educator, Playwright, Essayist
Take That, Father Time! (Native Son #20)
by David L. Robbins on May 19th, 2014

I’m a sailor. I grow unwanted things on my face.

The sun hits me twice: once on the way down, again after bouncing off the water. Sunscreen, floppy hats, stay indoors, I’ve heard it all.

Because I am a sailor, I make annual visits to a dermatologist.

A conversation with a dermatologist goes like this:

“This is going to sting a little.”

“OK.”

“This might hurt a bit.”

“All right.”

“You’re going to feel a small stick.”

“Fine.”

“This might smart some.”

At which point, I throw up my hands.

“Doc, listen. I’m going to tense up just once. Then you go ahead and burn, freeze, stab and carve all you need to. Don’t talk to me until you’re finished. Then I’ll relax. OK? You’re exhausting me.”

When he was done, I felt like I’d played goalie for a dart team. I looked like it, too. Within the hour, scabs pocked my pate, nose and temples.

 

FORGOING VANITY

That evening, I kept a promise and took my girlfriend’s teen daughter to the theater. I bumped into lots of friends. At each encounter, I explained my beat-up visage. Dermatologist. Sailor. It’s cool.

After several one-sided accounts and parting backpats, the girl addressed me straight.

“Look. No one notices. No one cares. You look fine.”

“No, I don’t.”

“You do. It’s fine.”

She said this to comfort me, I know, but being a doubter that things are ever fine, I checked the bathroom mirror. They were not fine. I looked just as distractingly dinged up as I thought I did.

Reaching our seats, the dimming of the lights did little to soothe me. My girlfriend’s daughter is very pretty, popular at school and no more or less vain than any child of her age and experience. But let me assure you, if the sores and gouges on my face had been on hers, we wouldn’t have been at the theater.

In the receding dark, I asked myself if I and the other graying patrons around me any longer had a claim to vanity? I’m 59, probably the average age for that audience. When were we supposed to surrender to the notion that we look fine not because we do but because no one cares?

The older we get, the more we collect, like a wool sweater. Wisdom, memories, fortunes, family, discipline, so on and on. That sweater is a precious thing as our lives cool, of course.

 

WHAT IF I’M NOT READY?

But what about all the wear and tear that sweater gathers? The nits and lint, holes, fading hues and elasticity? Are we wrong to want our outer selves, our clothes and flesh, to look and feel new as long as they can? If we drag ourselves to the gym or the salon or the tailor or the dressmaker or the barber or the dermatologist or the surgeon – or Match.com or church or school or the arms of a loved one – to retain that showroom shine a little longer, why shouldn’t we?

We give up so much in return for what we gain, don’t we? I trade my young man’s joints for an old man’s tricks. My black hair for a head full of know-how. My waistline for good food, a cigar, ease and comfort. A six-pack from playing basketball every day for a six-pack of beer on a sailboat.

Do I also have to set down the last thing I’ve carried with me all the way from my youth? Must I finally abandon my lingering image of myself as a young, handsome fella?

What if I’m not ready to do that?

The girl would say yes, give it up. Vanity was yours long ago and now it is mine and by right. You look fine.

But I say different. I’m going to continue to fret and fuss over my looks, not because I am — or have any cause to be — conceited. But because enough gets taken from us, just plain yanked away, as we age. So why hand anything over gladly?

Our ongoing bout with Father Time sends me for inspiration to the greatest fighter of my lifetime, Muhammad Ali. One brutal fight after another, he emerged proclaiming, I’m pretty!

And he said this: “A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of life.”



Posted in Boomer Articles, Boomer Mag    Tagged with boomer magazine, native son, richmond, self, age, body, aging, appearance, vanity, rva


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