Not the poet—though yes, a poet, aspiring. Old. At Big Cup he regards us slickened with testosterone, his eyes entertained. Though his full hair helps him seem a youth in drag save for the swags of his neck, he can’t but help present himself as age itself, a brand of birthmark we think we won’t accrue, unnerving as June rime limning a suburban lawn, as if he were a black man scouting a Mormon temple. His melting candle of body, cupped, burns. He grins. Compare him to the man-crone trolling Our Place in Des Moines with Frank Fortuna and Dan Grace two decades ago: Brutally cruising, drunken, his halo of hair aflame, he swaggered to budding men declaring "You'll be me!," his annunciation denunciation, then stalked off, sated. The boys, abashed and angry, decided time was a virus you just had to swallow. "The faggot angel of death," Frank baptized him. Now Frank is fifty-one, commences drinking at noon. Maybe knowing Frank, or himself an initiate of crones, and warhorse of Village cafes whose soldiers now are wraiths, (who here knows what old men know?), Milton acts like he belongs. He steps among tattoos, buzzed hair, and bashful mouths, inhales the caffeine and finds himself an appropriate chair, surveying the sipping guys, while taking care to seem a clean old man. He winks, to summon us to the fallen fruit of himself that if we’ve got guts enough we will pick up and eat.---
Age, more than anything, humbles as it teaches. All of us, if we're lucky, will be old one day. All of us have fallen fruit offerings. To the very young, it is unthinkable to accept that one day you will grow old.
When I was in college, there was this old guy that came to the dances. He would walk around wearing a bland smile, mingling, yet not mingling. He had a bald spot at the back of his head. He wore old man polo shirts and pressed slacks. He said things like, good evening and pardon me. He was probably on the tail end of his thirties. At first my friends and I thought he was a parent or a chaperon of sorts. Although we never spoke to him, we heard he was a student. We had no idea old people could be students.
When I went back to college at thirty-three, I remember just how young everyone on campus seemed. I was in the thirty-something age demographic where I should be well on my way. Instead, I was a single mother going back to school, starting over, essentially. I had a toddler. I was getting a divorce. I was talking to lawyers, it seemed endlessly. I dyed my hair black and cut my long tresses Cleopatra-style. Every piece of clothing I wore that year was black. I may as well have been a space alien on campus.
I was going back to school for an entirely different "skill set" that would lead to an entirely different career. I wasn't interested in football games or any of the school activities. I didn't care about anything other than taking the few required classes, so I could get a new and different job, with better insurance and benefits. I just wanted to get on with.
When I went in the student union to grab lunch or a quick coffee, bright-faced students behind tables would ask if I'd like to sign up for their club, or rush for their sorority. I thought they were joking or being rude. I felt like I was that old guy on campus. I felt completely displaced. I was.
I remember an enormous student in a letter man's jacket would sometimes wave hello and make conversation as I walked from one building to another. I never thought it odd I ran into him so much. I just didn't give it any thought. One day he asked if he could join me at my table in the school cafe. Sure. I thought, aha, he thinks I'm a tutor. He asked me on a date. I know I looked around for his table of laughing friends that had dared him, but he just sat there, waiting expectantly for an answer. I asked him if he knew how old I was. I told him how old I was, that I had a baby, that when I was in my twenties I dated a couple ball players and did not plan on repeating history. Oh. I think that was his reply
We did became friends, and I went back and revisited old territory, but in an advisory friendship role.
I think back to that old guy from early college days. I don't think I was mature enough in my twenties to be a friend with someone out of my age group. I wonder what I missed by discounting him.
I spend a lot of my time with older people. And younger people. I have much to learn from them.