I believe it was my mother who once said that she looked forward to old age when she no longer had to pay attention behind the wheel of a car and could rely upon the quick reflexes of younger drivers to get out of her way. She said this after a near collision with an elderly driver of a gas-guzzling Chrysler that had launched itself, momentarily airborne, out of the parking lot of a Jack-in-the-Box and landed just in front of my mother’s station wagon.
Although I understood my mother’s point, I expressed my doubts about such a plan. First, if one is warned not to operate heavy machinery while under the influence of sinus medication, it seems to me, then, that driving a motor vehicle while legally blind might be a tad more problematic. With the number of younger drivers texting, jabbering on cell phones, applying makeup, and manscaping with a personal groomer behind the wheel, I’m not certain that they will see other drivers at all, let alone the youth-challenged. Secondly, there are enough inanimate objects that geriatric drivers can plow into on every road to shorten any trip to the Piccadilly Cafeteria.
I had largely forgotten this conversation until years later. I had slipped away to the Bally Total Fitness around the corner from my office for a lunchtime workout. As I moved through my circuit from one machine to another, I almost collided in another elderly gentleman who always seemed to be tottering in my path. Older people were quite common in the slower hours at the gym. I was on a tight schedule, so I took a deep breath and changed the pattern of my workout to perform a different exercise. Looking at this little man, hunched over the bicep curl, I hoped that I would still be able move about at his age.
By the time I finished my workout, the elderly gentleman had disappeared. I dashed to the locker room with just enough time for a quick shower before I had to head back to the office. I stripped off my gym clothes and stuffed them in my locker, while grabbing my toiletries. Just then the elderly gentleman shuffled from the showers in my direction. I nodded at him and said hello, however, instead of greeting me back, the old man grabbed my genitals in his hand, jangled my junk, and muttered something unintelligible. He released my loins, threw his head back and cackled, before shuffling off to the far end of the locker room and out of sight.
I stood there for a moment, feeling naked–partly because I was, and partly because I felt violated in a very intimate way. I knew that I was at a crossroads where I could see myself as a victim of a rather impotent sexual assault, or as someone who had just been in the wrong place at the wrong time as a little old man with dementia shuffled by. On one hand, I felt a personal responsibility to report the man to management, because he might do it again to someone less forgiving, plus he obviously needed some help, right? Plus, it neither seemed like a sexual assault nor did the little guy seem to be aroused by it, so maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing.
As I replayed the events in my head, it now seemed that what the little old guy might have actually said to me may have been “Boy, that sure is a big one, young fella!” and had merely grabbed my reproductive organs to indicate exactly what he was referring to, less there be any confusion with another part of my body, such as my right elbow or nose. This logic appealed to both my aversion to conflict and personal vanity. Also, since I needed to be back at work in 15 minutes, I chose the latter theory and headed to the showers.
In the almost 20 years since that incident, and I think that I missed the most obvious explanation: Sometimes older people just like to mess with younger people’s heads. I can see that old fella now, telling the story over dinner to his little wife. “I grabbed this young whippersnapper’s peter at the gym today, Gertie, and you should have seen the look on that schmuck’s face.” He slaps his knee and laughs and wipe his eyes. “I love @#%*ing with these kids today. Pass the salt.”