I just received a lovely letter from the Neptune Society informing me that persons of my vintage are choosing in large numbers to have their rotting bodies cremated.
I don’t need reminding that my time is at hand, it being one of the few things I can remember without prompting. Nor do I appreciate the sense of urgency with which the message is delivered: “time sensitive information enclosed.”
As long as the sun shines directly on my liver-spotted head, I will not allow the funeral industry to hasten my death. Though I’m certain of my near-term survival, I comport myself as if death were imminent, always dressing in such a way as to be casket ready or oven worthy, as the case may be. I wear a sports coat, even to get groceries. If the trip to the market rises to the level of an outing (includes a stop at the pharmacy or dry cleaners), I accompany the coat with a tie. I’m considering wearing a tie to bed, in the event that death is merciful and takes me in my sleep.
Why, you may wonder, should anybody dress formally after having toiled forty years in a uniform he has longed to shed, perhaps even shred? In retirement, you’re as inclined to compromise your comfort as you are to set an alarm clock. Why should you forsake cargo shorts in favor of gray flannel slacks? You’ve earned a stint of unmitigated leisure. You require a reason more persuasive than merely appearing spiffy upon arrival at Cheerful Charlie’s Funeral Home.
Simply put, nothing needs to be turned on its head quite so compellingly as a few beliefs cherished among retirees. Before dismissing me as an eccentric coot, allow me to elucidate. Upon retirement the typical American male consummates THE DREAM, unloading every reminder of time spent in button down confinement, trading the wing tips for well-worn flip-flops, lounging in his favorite sweats, the ones that pair so flatteringly with the Detroit Tigers baseball jersey that he wonders whether this “rig” is too formal for his new found freedom.
The fear of being overdressed prompts him to remove the baseball jersey, toss it lovingly to the closet floor, and to reach for the wife beater T, which becomes his “go to” shirting, largely for its liberating effect on that which he has no doubt is a fetching shock of hair growing on his upper back. He reserves the baseball jersey for October, and for weddings and funerals that he considers significant.
I strongly advise against this practice, this line of thinking. For those males aged 62 years and older, your need has never been greater than to dress like those sartorially resplendent adults of the 1940s and 50s. I ask my aged male brethren to carefully and objectively study their physical appearance. Even without rose-colored glasses, a rush of delusional thoughts fills your brain. You imagine the increased likelihood of your face appearing as a Google pop-up, the caption to which encouraging viewers “to read further and discover this 63-year-old grandpa’s secret to looking 30.”
Dismiss all such thoughts. Allow reality to take control of what remains of your cerebellum. Note that the lines on your face, which for years you dismissed as mattress indentations, are now pronounced and sufficiently deep to transport water. Your eyes are drawn to one such rivulet carved into your forehead. You follow its path and realize that it’s shaped much like the 695 Beltway around Baltimore. You need help. Two remedies come to mind, which if combined could provide a powerful palliative: a Lamborghini and a head-to-toe skin transplant. Even if neither of these is within financial reach, you can obtain a measure of grace and dignity without breaking the bank.
Nothing is as affordable as dressing well to compensate for the unsightliness of old age—all the while keeping you looking sharp for your inevitable date with the funeral pyre. Do this, if not for yourself, then for your community, which already is blighted from excessive exposure to gnarled, ancient flesh. It matters not how fit you think you may be. Elderly flesh requires more not less clothing. The over-the-calf socks are a good idea, particularly when worn with a nice pair of chino’s or gabardines but never with a pair of Bermuda shorts. Indeed, your Bermuda shorts, not your navy blue blazer, are what you should have donated to charity upon retirement.
You can begin rehabilitating your community’s esthetic by donating or burning any piece of bottom-wear that fails to cover your ankles. Ask yourself whether swimwear is really necessary for life’s final chapter? The answer clearly is no. Find a recreational activity that calls for a superabundance of outfitting, perhaps fencing or snowmobiling. Why should I care either about the beautification or greater edification of my community, you ask? Your community, as with all things that don’t meet with your approval (which includes just about everything) can go to hell!
I’m aware that old age offers no gift greater than the freedom to disregard what others think. This gift often impels us to enter into situations for no purpose other than to tell somebody, preferably a snot-nosed kid, to fuck off. I get it. It’s one of my great indulgences. It’s the one thing that makes tolerable the infirmities of old age. Indeed, I’m a charter member of the HEHE Club (Hate Everything, Hate Everybody). Pity the young fool who tries to domesticate an old man’s surliness.
That said, I hope to awaken your highly developed social consciousness for which you were famous but which succumbed effortlessly to the comforts of middle-class living. Whether by the grace of God or by the force of superior talent, our generation developed a rich culture worth sustaining. The young have rendered it barren. As you examine our cultural landscape, hideous in nearly all of its aspects, are you not aroused by the desire to edify it, even if only in some small way. Consider the music, but for your sake don’t dwell on it. Our young people have done for music what ISIS has done for Islam, taken it back to the sixth century, otherwise known as The Age of Alvin and the Fucking Chipmunks. Consider the state of literacy—but again don’t dwell on it. Our grandkids can neither read nor write—neither can their teachers. Ours may have been the last generation to produce persons of intellectual depth, musicians who actually played musical instruments, who wrote songs demanding an audience whose IQ’s exceeded 100.
You may think that it’s only fitting that civilization die with us. Music and literacy are in a state of moribundity, and even though we no longer can do the kind of heavy lifting necessary to give life to these, we can put an arthritic shoulder to the wheel in an effort to salvage at least one vestige of civilization. We can show younger generations how to dress like adults.
In closing remember, too, that death is rarely merciful. Too often, death is preceded by an extended institutional stay, where you will languish, too enfeebled to dress yourself. This task is left to nursing home staff, perhaps in your case a fun loving bunch known for their hilarity and hijinks, which relieve their drudgery by “dressing up” the residents. Imagine the staff collapsing in merriment as they admire their handiwork: you lay in bed staring blankly at the ceiling, wearing a sundress, your heavily rouged face accented by blonde hair extensions. There’s no telling what indignities you may suffer in your addle-brained oblivion. In the charge of strangers, you have no idea how foolish you can look, which is one more reason to dress yourself smartly, and make the most of it while you are able!