TROUSER TROUBLE AND FEAR OF PEDDLING…How Shall I Age? Gracefully or Fearfully?

| July 7, 2011 | Comments (0)


Time has blurred  my memories of childhood. What it was like growing up the son of two eccentric, mis-matched but loving parents is moving to fade-out; the decades  – there have been seven of them, or is it eight ? – have swallowed most details,  leaving me  only with fleeting, hazy recollections. There are, however, two things that stand out vividly, two pronouncements, one uttered by my Mother, the other by my Father that are crystal clear. These two edicts have profoundly influenced my life these past 72 years.

“Turn out the light before you leave the room!” ” Did you switch off the light before you went out?” “Do I see a light in the bathroom?” These variations on a question that was  couched more as  a warning were constant reminders uttered by my Mother throughout the day and constitute one of the most indelible recollections  of my early childhood. To be sure, there were other fiats from her that sailed through the air as she careened about the house;  the advice not to use more than one square of toilet paper, the reminder to screw the toothpaste cap back on the tube, but the one about turning lights off was carved in stone and seared into my brain in a Manchurian Candidate manner that causes me to this day to snap at people who leave lights on when they exit a room.

My Father’s advice, equally clear though delivered in a less high-key manner was that “marriage is a contract and a promise and should never be broken.” Coming from a man who was an atheist and whose battles with my Mother  often descended into physical brawls where he invariably emerged the loser, she being stronger and bigger physically, seeemed strange to me, but the enduring  impact of his message  was guaranteed by the sincerity of its delivery.

In truth, the parenting of these two people who brought me into the world was minimal and inconsistent, marred, when it was exercised, by ego, insecurity and pre-occupation with other matters. So I can say, when I left the familial fold that I was equipped with only  two weapons to deal with the challenges of life that I would encounter: TURN OFF THE LIGHTS  and  NEVER DIVORCE !

Though my parents’ position, and hence my own opinion, on lights and divorce  was always with me, until  recently I never  had the opportunity to put into practice these deeply held convictions on conserving electricity and the sanctity of marriage. For one thing, most of my life was spent in neo-colonial ease living in the Tropical East where servants hovered and gin and tonics were constantly served. In those clove-scented precincts every movement, every act had its own meaning and assigned actor and who was I to interfere by turning off a light as I sat inebriated under a slow moving ceiling fan, a crooked half-smile on my face. Lights were switched on and off  by bare-footed, silent  people who were supposed to do those things, just as lawn chairs were moved to the protection of screened porches promptly at 5 PM  before high tea, leaving the marauding moquitoes outside to their own buzzing devices.

So never having to lift a finger to do anything – aah! those sweet days are now gone as I sit here in the South Bronx fending for myself with such undignified pursuits as doing laundry and washing dishes! – my experience with the functioning of light switches is near- non-existent.

As to putting into practice my firm belief  inherited from Papa regarding the enduring value of undisturbed matrimony, I am hobbled by law and sexual orientation from putting my money where my mouth is, so to speak. I am queer and live in a country where gay marriage is not allowed. To be sure, there are flurries below the radar in several states – New York is the latest – that declare same sex marriage legal, but the real prize that seems light years away is having gay marriage recognized at the national level.  Not in my  lifetime I fear. So here I sit unable to practice what I would preach if I could. Actually I am getting quite good at turning lights out and have put off  several recent  house guests, by curtly lecturing  them to ” Turn off the bloody lights! ” Hopefully these free-loaders will not darken our portals again…..

All by way of saying, these boring edicts from my parents, as annoying and unoriginal as they were, somehow became  symbols for me that I must live a responsible life, that I must do things right, that promises made should be kept, not flung aside even when seemingly insurmontable difficulties arise. People receive “the word” in different ways. I guess light bulbs and marriage vows somehow spoke to me in  an unaccountably powerful manner. I have been with the same partner for over 30 years. Whatever you call what we have, it seems to be stronger than the house of cards which marriage is these days. Thank you, light bulbs !

I have indeed digressed. Now I must return to the original purpose of this essay which was to discuss trouser trouble and the fear of peddling.I hasten to clarify:  peddling a bicycle, not peddling eggs or watermelons.  I’m afraid it’s all related to aging, so kindly bear with me as I whine about the challenges of getting old.

Before he unceremoniously kicked me out of his hacienda in Talpa de Allende, Mexico several years ago – one minute you’re invited, one minute you’re not! –  saying only that the chemistry between us was wrong, my friend, Lon, confided one morning before the tequila started to flow, that he could no longer stand un-assisted and put on his trousers. At that time I was in my late 60s and he was somewhere over the hump into his 70s. I thought his admission a bit pathetic, but wouldn’t you know, one morning not long after my abrupt expulsion from his abode, I found myself in the same dilemma as Lon. Luckily I fell over on the bed behind me as my foot missed the trouser leg slot. The second time I tried, I collapsed again only achieving success a third time as I leaned against the wall. My cream-colored wall now has a “lean on” spot smudged with the sweat of my hand groping for mural support which I am ashamed to use but compelled to rely on.

In the weeks since this humiliating collapse, I have worked hard to regain my old upright, stand alone put on my pants like I was still in the Army and it was reveille stance and I can report that 50% of the time I have succeeded. I guess it is all a matter of balance. Unfortunately I cannot get into Tai Chi, so I must find other ways to improve my equilibirium. I’ve discovered that a glass of red wine seems to steady my legs. Thus each morning brings the challenge and reward of  trouser legs well-entered. Standing on one leg is a thrilling experience! Simple pleasures, how sweet you are !

In the meantime I must work on other things, my drooping posture and my old person shuffle when I walk. And there is that bicycle in the basement. I haven’t been on it for over ten years. Dare I try to ride a bike again ? When I told my friend Kyra who works in Starbucks that I was going to the beach and maybe I would ride my bike along the dunes, she cautioned, “Be careful ! You might fall over and break your hip !” Don’t know if  she was being kind or cruel.

But, no question about it – we have to keep on truckin’  –  or in my case peddlin’ – and try to do what we always did when we were younger. To be continued ! Hopefully not from the hospital !


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