The Pleasures of Age: Don’t mind him, he lives here

                  One of the great surprises of aging is that I have become invisible. I can go a couple of days without shaving, wear old clothes, and walk down the street, and you won’t see me. I can put on a suit and attend the opera and no one notices. I blend in. No one is aware of the apocalyptic thoughts percolating through my brain; no one checks my math as I see whether one license plate number is divisible by another. No one suspects I am Joseph K., desperately seeking a path through an imaginary legal labyrinth.

No, I am not the Shadow, the old radio hero who had “the power to cloud men’s minds,” and who knew what evil lurked in the heart of man.  Nor am I a Ninja warrior, practiced in the art of concealment, on a secret mission from Sufi central. I am not even a spy cloaked in that secret new fabric that bends light around it instead of reflecting it. I am simply another old fart, taking a stroll in the sunshine. Invisible.

This supreme pleasure of old age stems, I think, from a belief that elders are not really worth seeing, because they are harmless.  In today’s paranoid world, only threats are worth attending to. An old dude poking down the avenue can’t move fast enough to hurt you.

This is unrealistic of course, as we saw in Serbia, where Radovan Karadzic, the man hunted throughout Europe because of his role in the Srebrenica massacre of eight thousand Bosnian Muslims, paraded around Belgrade for years disguised as a cross between Santa Claus and Burl Ives. Appearances can be misleading.

Nevertheless they are normally taken for granted and when they aren’t, one is surprised.

A few years ago, well past retirement age and wanting a quiet space for a writing project, I made a proposal to Wilbur Hot Springs, a northern California resort that had been part of my life more than thirty years. I had been there dozens of times as a guest, I had lived there several times, and had in fact managed it, after a fashion, on a couple of occasions.  Wilbur is owned and operated by Dr. Richard Miller, a psychologist who had been my teacher at the San Francisco Gestalt Institute in the 1970s, and who has since become a close friend. He and I have shared many adventures, some even repeatable; our children grew up together at Wilbur, where they lived for several years, 23 miles from the nearest town. Richard and I are family.

He is a most imaginative fellow, and had revived Wilbur, which thrived in the 19th century as a private health center but had fallen into total ruin by the 1970s, when he purchased it, as a kind of every person’s getaway where guests took responsibility for their own care and in return were given the run of the property, some 250 acres, to do as they pleased. Visitors brought their own food and bedding, and took away their own trash. Over the years, as funds became available, Wilbur became more of a recognizable hotel, with bed linen and rules – though even today, when the main building has been stunningly restored to a kind of elegance, guests still cook for themselves in the huge hotel kitchen.

One of Richard’s brighter ideas, I always thought, was the Resident Artist program. Wilbur offers artists in all media room and board in exchange for 20 hours work per week helping on the desk or wherever needed. It is a good deal for everyone and a number of very talented people have spent time as Wilbur R.A.’s.

Writing is a kind of art, I reasoned, I am a writer who has actually made a living writing, so I have at least the basic skills, I know Wilbur well, it’s a natural. I emailed Richard and asked what the chances were of my becoming a Wilbur resident artist for a while.

The reply came several days later. Cliff, he wrote (in effect), you are a great guy and I love you as my brother and you are an old friend of Wilbur, so ordinarily I would say that you are perfect for the R.A. program. And yet I am worried because I know you disapprove of some of Wilbur’s recent trends [toward gentrifying] and I fear that you will sow discontent among the staff.

I was delirious for weeks. The guy thought I was trouble! I wrote him a sincere note of thanks, that he should pay me such a compliment in my late sixties, and said that the last thing I wanted to do was cause him discomfort, and so I withdrew the proposition. I felt the glow long after, and I still feel it occasionally, retrospectively: see, I can still be considered dangerous. Or not, you see. I have no real desire to be seen as a threat. And yet, I can’t be taken for granted. So age bestows its Ninja gift.

And there is always the possibility that Richard might have been right. Watch out. 

 

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3 Responses to “The Pleasures of Age: Don’t mind him, he lives here”

  1. WilburHotSprings! Says:

    This was such a joy to read, and I will assuredly pass it on to Wilbur. Especially to Dr. Miller, age is nothing but a vague and esoteric number, that can do little else but limit you and keep you from self awareness. It is a treat to see that Wilbur has affected such good people for years past the experience. Thank you so much for your words, and thoughts! Cheers, and be well!

    Sincerely,
    Michael at Wilbur
    @wilburhotspring

  2. Amanda Taylora Says:

    Well if it isn’t my dear old (as in longstanding) friend. My money is on Richard. Certainly you would stir things up anywhere you went. So you are in Santa Cruz now? I am in a small town 60 miles north of Williams and have taken a job in Arbuckle, of all places. Let me know next time you go to Wilbur so we can get together. Love you, Amanda

  3. Amanda Taylor Says:

    Heh heh, perhaps you could edit my misspelled name. :-~

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