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The invisible man. May 30, 2011

Posted by ourfriendben in Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Are you invisible? Silence Dogood here. If you happen to be a superhero, invisibility can be a very useful addition to your bag of tricks. It could also be quite convenient to be able to become invisible if you were, say, a Ninja, a magician, a CIA operator, or a robber hitting the local 7-11. But for the average person, invisibility tends to be viewed as a drawback rather than a weapon or survival tactic.

Prior to this week, I’d only seen or heard of invisibility in action in one context, that of people who are overweight. My girlfriends who pack on extra pounds—who are plush or plus-size or goddess-sized or whatever you’d like to call them—have told me through the years that they feel invisible. Men don’t see them; their bosses don’t see them; waiters and store clerks don’t see them.

Then, just this past week, I discovered that overweight wasn’t the only modern cause of invisibility. First, a friend e-mailed to say that she felt totally invisible, a victim of our ageist society. It’s true that every cited demographic seems to refer to people between ages 18 and 49, as if no one else exists or counts. But I’d always assumed this was a stupid mistake of the advertising industry, rather than an actual perception by the public. Certainly, I’ve never felt that way about older people, whom I’ve tended to find a lot more interesting than the general run of humanity, or seen this sort of invisibility-through-discrimination in action.

But after pondering my friend’s e-mail, I had to wonder if I was simply being naive. She lives in an urban, cutthroat-competitive environment, an extreme remove from my own existence here in the precise middle of nowhere, PA. Perhaps in the major cities, when women reach midlife they just disappear, unless they happen to be, say, Courteney Cox or Oprah or Goldie Hawn or Debbie Harry.

So alrighty then. I was still pondering all this, and kicking it around with our friend Ben, when yesterday’s paper arrived with its Parade magazine featuring the stars of a TV show called “Men of a Certain Age” on its cover. We don’t get TV reception here at Hawk’s Haven, but even I had heard of a couple of the new series’ stars, Scott Bakula and Ray Romano (from “Everyone Loves Raymond”).  And the photos of Bakula, Romano, and costar Andre Braugher show that these guys aren’t hard to look at.

Having never seen any of them in their so-called prime and only seeing the photos in the issue of Parade, I’d say that Bakula is red-hot, Romano is sweet-and-lovable, and Braugher is a slow burn to be reckoned with. Yet sure enough, the topic of midlife invisibility came up.

Huh? Men can become invisible? Men who aren’t stereotypical cartoon characters like Dilbert or Dagwood or Charlie Brown or what’s-his-name who owns Garfield? Good-looking men can feel like they’re invisible?! What about all that stuff about silver foxes?!

But there it was in black-and-white, in Parade of all places. The interviewer asked how much of the show was drawn from the actors’ life experiences, and Andre Braugher brought it up, actually saying “Like being invisible.” Ray Romano quickly elaborated: “Yeah, we did a little run on the show about the fact that there’s an entire generation of women for whom guys like us don’t exist. I’ll be at a stoplight next to a woman in another car. In the old days, I might at least have gotten a slightly illicit glance back. But now it’s as if they’re seeing their grandpa. You’re completely invisible to them.”

As I was shrieking about this to OFB, who of course refuses to read Parade himself, he sang a snatch of a Jimmy Buffett song, “Nothin’ but a Breeze,” on growing older: “One day soon I’ll be a grandpa/All the pretty girls will call me sir/Now where they’re asking me how things are/Soon they’ll ask me how things were.” Buffett goes on to say that he won’t mind being a grandpa as long as his partner is willing to be his “awesome Grandma” and they can continue to live the Margaritaville life in the islands. But this cheerful, PC addition didn’t keep the light from going on.

“All the pretty girls will call me sir.” Looking back at Ray Romano’s comment, suddenly I saw the emphasis: “…there’s an entire generation of women for whom guys like us don’t exist.” Oh. Would that by any chance be women who’re your daughters’ ages rather than your own?!

In my experience, most women don’t expect kids their sons’ ages to look at them the way they would their female classmates. Of course there are high-profile exceptions, like Demi Moore or kids whose female high-school teachers find themselves on trial (and subsequently in jail) for seducing minors. But most women have better sense than to want to be romantically involved with kids their sons’ (or, gack, grandsons’) ages. Eeeewwww!!! Sure, these guys can be cute, or even gorgeous. But so what? Falcons are gorgeous. Flowers are gorgeous. Art is gorgeous, music is gorgeous. Most women have the good sense to appreciate gorgeous kids the way they’d appreciate any other art form: as an aesthetic treat, and nothing more than that. Period. The end. Lusting after someone decades younger than you, deluding yourself into thinking they’d lust after you, is just sick. 

Think about it: When you were in high school, you could easily identify other high school students at the mall, as opposed to those “old” college students. (Eeewwww!!!) And you could, in high school or college, easily identify people who were older than that. (Eeeeeeewwwwwwwwwww!!!) The first sign of advancing age, in my opinion, is no longer being able to distinguish high school from college students. And God help you when parents hauling babies around start to look like 16-year-olds to you, certainly not the parents you remember, those old people.

Not that it’s guys’ fault. Genetics has hardwired them to find fertile partners, to go forth and multiply. And if that means a luscious 18-year-old instead of your 48-year-old spouse—especially if that 18-year-old happens to resemble your spouse when she was 18—you might find yourself hoping to get lucky. But please, think about how she feels about you before you try to make your move. Eeeeewwww!!!

For those who are forced to experience it, from weight or other personal-appearance issues, from being wheelchair-bound, from age, or from whatever reason, invisibility in a society that exalts individuality as a means to public recognition must be the hardest cross to bear. The other day, I almost wept when I read a quote from Lady Gaga, “I only feel alive when I’m onstage.” Nooooo!!! What about the rest of your life? Where is the balance between public and private, between performance and personal growth?! Where is rest and regeneration? Oh, no, no.

Thinking through to the end, I had to conclude that invisibility equals freedom. If no one’s looking, no one’s judging. “Eeewww, look at that woman’s thighs!” “Gross, that guy’s going bald. And check the paunch and butt crack sticking out of his—eeewww—shorts!” “Oh geez, could you cover that up?!!” Dress and act age-appropriate, and suddenly you’re freed from competition with subsequent generations who are bound to win. At least in a Darwinian sense.

It all comes down to this: When you’re young, strut your physical, sexual stuff. At midlife, strut your intellectual, powerful stuff. Past midlife, strut your wisdom and shamanic/magical stuff. Revel in the stage you find yourself. It’s all good, as long as you don’t try to reverse gears.

Raymond, are you listening?

               ‘Til next time,