Recently I find myself involved in conversations with old people. This is not always easy, though sometimes it is all too easy. In any case, I thought it would be useful to offer a guide to help you through.
“How are you?” This is usually seen as an invitation to talk about health issues – hip and knee replacement, cancer, allergies, bowel movements and the like. Listen sympathetically, checking your own symptoms against what you are hearing.
“Getting any?” Usually sex is not included in any Senior Seminar – at least among men. (I remember that George Burns said something like, “Having sex when you are eighty is like shooting pool with a rope.”) When the subject does come up (as it were), you will notice a much broader definition of “sex” than you had when you were nineteen.
“You look great.” This usually leads to a discussion of sagging skin, weight gain, hair loss, unusual hair growth, odd things appearing on the skin, lapsed grooming for the socially distant. Best here to combine sympathetic nods, flat-out denial (Don’t say, “You know, you did not look all that great when you were younger.”) with efforts to debase one’s own appearance.
“I can’t do that anymore.” I’m reminded of the old sports truism: “The older I get, the better I was.” Well, I can’t run a marathon anymore. I can’t solve a Rubik Cube any more. I can’t play be-bop piano any more. You get the idea. This is a good topic for bullet-proof boasting since you are admitting you can no longer do it.
“My fucking computer.” Note that saying “fucking” here is an effort to sound younger than you are. My main suggestion here is Do Not Offer to Help, for offering to help means you are now responsible for the probably failed outcome, and this may be a lifetime commitment.
“China!” I don’t mean the complex geo-political scenario, or the conspiracy theories about the origin of the Coronavirus. Old people use the term as a one-word explanation of shoddily manufactured goods, no matter where they were manufactured.
“I can’t remember the name of the movie, but it’s got that actor – can’t remember his name – who was in another movie we really liked.” This tends to be an Old Person Monologue, not a conversation. Laugh at it.
“How do you get out of a kayak?” This is only one of many related questions about how to do things that used to be easy, even automatic. The challenges may be physical (e.g., the kayak) or mental (e.g., “How do I assemble the Cuisinart?”).
“Where did I put my . . .?” This is not really a conversation starter, for the speaker is asking himself or herself. If it’s a cell phone, just call it on the other cell phone (if you can find it). Similarly, “Where did you put the . . .?” is not really a conversation starter. An accusation is not a question. Tread carefully.
“What?” As your hearing starts to go, you find this one-word question frequently inserted into the conversation. A better and more creative way to handle this is to repeat back what you thought you heard, no matter how ridiculous. Kim and I do this from time to time, and it can be very amusing. Sometimes. So, “This is good wine – could I please have another glass?” becomes “You can take your wine and shove it up your ass.” Or “What a beautiful start to our new day” is heard as “I smell a fart and it makes me want to play.”
I had some more good ideas for this Guide, but I can’t remember what they are. I jotted them down on a piece of paper, but I can’t find it. If I mentioned them to one of you, please let me know so I can include them.