Archive for October, 2020

For the Record: I Am Not an Old Coot

Tuesday, October 20th, 2020
 This is an old coot, according to society.

This is an old coot, according to society.

By Bob Gaydos

    My chiropractor called me an old coot recently. At the time, I was lying on his table on my stomach while he used a snappy tool to somewhat painfully but successfully loosen my upper back, so I didn’t say anything. Out loud.

    To myself, I said something along the lines of, “Who the hell is he talking about?“ Only it was a bit more vulgar.

     For the record, I am not an old coot. Nor am I an old codger. At 79, yes, I guess I am chronologically old. And I have in the past been called a curmudgeon. You can’t be a young curmudgeon.

      You can, however, be a young whippersnapper, Doc.

      Some definitions are in order before I talk about ageism.

      An old coot, according to Oxford Languages, is “a foolish or eccentric person, typically an old man.”

      The Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English goes further: “An old man who you think is strange or unpleasant.”

       Not exactly complimentary.

       The term, “old codger,” which some think is the same as old coot, is not. According to the Free Dictionary, “old codger” is “used affectionately to refer to an eccentric but amusing old man. codger. graybeard, greybeard, old man, Methuselah — a man who is very old.”  It sounds a bit less insulting. But it’s not.

       Curmudgeon, according to Merriam-Webster, is “a crusty, ill-tempered, and usually old man.” Dictionary.com defines it this way: “A bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person.” No age is mentioned. However, other dictionaries pretty much define it as a stubborn, cranky old man. Your pain-in-the-butt, “Get off my lawn!” neighbor.

         I plead not guilty to all three.

         Back to the chiropractor. The label was applied to me with a slight chuckle in his voice, suggestive of the foolish or eccentric person category. The conversation that prompted it revolved around me not doing something or other which others felt would be in my best interests. The term is presumably meant to be affectionate, but it’s dismissive. It suggests that the older person in question is incapable of making rational decisions for himself and for his own benefit, or that he simply cannot occasionally make an unwise decision on his own. That sometimes he’s just a.dumb ass. No, the term suggests that he does what he does because he’s a foolish or eccentric old man. An old coot.

          This assumption was further borne out when the chiropractor asked my partner to make sure I filled out my Medicare form before the next visit even though I was seated a mere 8 feet away from him and within hearing distance. Again, dismissive. By the way, I have excellent hearing.

          Now, it’s possible that I am being overly defensive about this incident. It has been suggested that I sometimes take things personally. And I know the chiro meant no harm and he’s helping this old body to be more flexible. But I feel that at a time when the guy I already voted for for president is 78 years old, the guy I never want to be president is 74 years old and the guy I would’ve preferred become president is 79 years old, someone has to stand up for people who have lived three-quarters of a century and are still contributing to society. And I don’t necessarily think that those with maybe half a century of experience are the best judges of the capabilities of septuagenarians.

         Call it personal. That’s the curmudgeon in me. I’m not suggesting that there aren’t foolish, cantankerous, eccentric, cranky, stubborn old men out there. I know some and I think most of them were probably that way when they were young, too. I don’t know what you’d call them. Sir, maybe.

         And yes, I have my moments. But so do we all. It’s the old coot label I object to and the assumption that comes with it that this is a person not to be taken seriously because he’s old. He’ll be fine. Help him find his slippers. 

          I picked on the chiropractor because actually he’s the only one who’s ever called me an old coot (so far), but his remark was, I think, simply reflective of a lot of people’s attitude towards older men. This is especially true about older men who still have opinions about things and are not hesitant to express them. Yes, that would be me and that’s where the curmudgeon label comes from.

          The closest I can come to for a similar term for women is “old biddy.” You don’t hear that used a lot because women today won’t stand for it, for good reason. It’s dismissive and insulting and most likely used by people who have no clue about what the woman who just annoyed them is really like. She’s just an old biddy. Labels are risky business.

       

This is not an old coot.

This is not an old coot.

   One more thing about old coots. If you have any doubts about whether the term is really insulting, just Google “old coot” and click on images. It’s not a pretty picture. The drawings and photos are remarkably similar in their unpleasantness. Not one distinguished or even normal-looking older man among them. This is how society sees old coots — weird-looking, gnarly, even threatening old men. Someone you might run from rather than go to for mature counsel. So yes, it’s personal.

           I speak here for all men of a certain age and mindset. I may occasionally say or do something that annoys you. If so, I apologize in advance. I’m human. But there’s still a well-functioning brain behind this (hopefully) non-threatening facade. So save your labels for your jelly jars. I am not an old coot.

rjgaydos@gmail,com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.

 

        

Banning Books, an American Tradition

Tuesday, October 6th, 2020

By Bob Gaydos

 Captain Underpants

Captain Underpants

   It would appear that I’m the kind of guy who, when visiting a book store (remember book stores?), headed straight to the banned book section and got comfortable. (Remember how comfortable.book stores could be?)

     I do not make this confession arbitrarily or boldly, but rather matter-of-factly. Also a bit surprisingly. Until recently, I had no idea that I was such a fan of banned books, Then, Banned Book Week showed up on Facebook and other social media and I started looking at the various lists of books that have been banned or challenged, as the American Library Association puts it.

       I’m a few days late to mark the annual reminder of the importance of freedom of expression, but in a time when voices of protest and outrage are being stifled, I figure any day one can promote the free expression of ideas is a good one. So, my list, in no particular order, compiled from a few lists found on the Internet:

        — The Catcher in the Rye

        — To Kill a Mockingbird

        — The Lord of the Flies

,       — 1984

        — Lolita

        — Catch 22

        — Brave New World

        — Animal Farm

        — The Sun Also Rises

        — Invisible Man

        — Howl

        — One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

        — Slaughterhouse Five

        — In Cold Blood

        — Rabbit, Run

        — Moby Dick

        — Canterbury Tales

        — Captain Underpants

        — The Kite Runner

        — The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

        —.The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

        — Fahrenheit 451

        — Moll Flanders

     I’d be interested in hearing what banned books are on your list so I can add to mine. And I know some of you are voracious readers. So please contribute.

     I’m writing about this because we are living in a time when reading, indeed, learning of any sort is under attack by forces — Republicans, Evangelicals if you want to be specific — who seek to maintain power by discrediting education of any kind. “East Coast Elites” is supposedly an insult. Higher education, Republicans believe, is a threat to America, a survey tells us. We hear claims of fake news and hoaxes and Fox News is full of outright lies. It’s all nonsense, created and disseminated out of fear. Fear of others, of the unknown, of feeling inferior, of discovering that long-held beliefs were simply not true.

      Education is the answer, but our education system — already challenged with adjusting to distance-learning because of Covid — has a lot of work to do to repair the damage done in recent years. Encouraging reading is a good place to start. Even in Covid America, books are available as never before online. Some free. I read “Slaughterhouse Five” and reread “1984” on Kindle. Seemed appropriate. And there’s plenty of time to read. 

       The American Library Association began Banned Books Week in 1982 in response to increased challenges to books in libraries, schools and other public places. Its stated aim is “to celebrate the freedom to read and to promote silenced voices.”

      Reasons why books have been banned or challenged include: LGBTQ content, sexually explicit language, profanity, racism, violence, religious viewpoint, sex education, suicide, drug and alcohol use, nudity, political viewpoint and offensive language, Sounds like a shopping list for Republican politicians. It also sounds a lot like life and one person’s “offensive language“ is another person’s truth.

       The decision on whether any book is appropriate for a child or a teenager theoretically belongs to the parents. I say theoretically because some parents don’t get too involved in such things. My parents were not book readers, although my mother devoured at least four newspapers every day. I don’t remember them expressing an interest one way or another in what I was reading. I guess that’s a decision by default. They trusted me and my teachers. I think it eventually worked out fine for me.

       Other parents, however, are extremely interested in what their children are consuming. That can be a good thing, I think, if it allows for a variety of viewpoints and room to explore. By the way, Captain Underpants is on my list because I have two sons, now grown. I also think a couple of my books were high school reading assignments for one of my sons. Kudos to the teacher.

        Anyway, in a country in which clearly anyone can grow up to be president, I think it would be a good thing if he or she had actually read a book or two, including some that challenged his or her beliefs. But maybe that’s just the Orwell, Vonnegut and Salinger in me.

rjgaydos@gmail.com

Bob Gaydos is writer-in-residence at zestoforange.com.