Monday, January 26, 2009

The Old People's Circus

AARP Bulletin arrived in the mail the other day. I glance through the Bulletin, which is smarter than Parade magazine and Reader’s Digest, though it seems to want the same audience, printed as a tabloid on cheap paper with a jumble of ill-matched colors. AARP also publishes a magazine, called AARP The Magazine, that has higher production values and a design that recalls Esquire of the late 1980s, early 1990s. I read the mag thoroughly.

I’ve been reading AARP’s publications since I was thirty-three.
AARP is reserved for those fifty and older, and when Sheri turned fifty AARP sent an invite. As her spouse, I could join, too.  But she was reluctant. To her, membership in AARP was an unwarranted admission of age, a hastening of the calendar for a fifty-year-old who felt ten years younger and still had lots of life and career left. “C’mon,” I said. “We’ll get motel discounts!”

My eagerness to join AARP was more impulsive than thoughtful. I looked forward to the gag, that I, not even middle-aged, could tell people I belonged to AARP. Sheri could joke, too; to my mind she didn’t belong with the retired folk, either. We’d be kids sneaking under the tent flap to join the Old People’s Circus.

Now, seems the only time I admit to AARP membership is late at night at roadside motels when Sheri is in the car and cranky after a long day of travel, and we need a less expensive room. “Triple A?” asks the clerk. “AARP,” say I, sounding like a seal barking. Every time I hope the clerk’s eyes will widen, her mouth shaping a surprised “O,” and she’ll say, “You’re kidding me?” Then I’ll show her my membership card.

Instead, the clerk gives me the discount and room keys.

So now, the real benefit to AARP is reading its publications. Some of what I learn is trivial but interesting. The recent edition of the Bulletin contains an item about a
Japanese crime wave perpetrated by those over 65 (thrill-seeking shoplifters, mostly). I’ve also learned more than I thought possible about chronic pain, the healthiest cities in America (and why I should retire to one of those), who I should vote for to protect Social Security (answer: not the guys who want to give a big chunk of our retirement safety net to Wall Street), and the best movies for grownups. The latter is an annual issue timed around the Academy Awards and includes flicks like The Bucket List.

It’s been an interesting peek underneath the tent, but now, I’m six years from enjoying membership privileges on my own. And then I’ll need a new tent. But won't it be creepy when I post my party photos on MySpace?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Hollywood and the Older Woman w/Younger Man

We agree that The Reader is one of the more interesting, complex film portrayals of an older woman-younger man love affair. When we began ours (also interesting and complex), we looked everywhere for examples of older women with younger men, including films. Of course, we were horrified. Mrs. Robinson? Pathetic Cloris Leachman clinging to a young football player? Cate Blanchett with a high school boy? But there are others not so awful.

Here’s a list of films (sort of in chronological order) we’ve seen featuring elderberries and their boy toys. Which movies did we miss? Post a comment and add to the list! We’ll put recommendations on our Netflix queue …

• An American in Paris (what older woman wouldn’t want to seduce Gene Kelly in his prime?)
• The Graduate
• The Last Picture Show
• Summer of ‘42
• Little Big Man (Dustin Hoffman as a young man getting a bath from the minister's wife Faye Dunaway; how come all those older women found Dustin so hot?)
• The Thornbirds (sure it was TV, but Barbara Stanwyck had a thing for Richard Chamberlain’s Father Ralph)
• How Stella Got Her Groove Back
• Something’s Gotta Give (Diane Keaton ultimately chooses Jack Nicholson over Keanu Reeves; what is she thinking?)
• Notes on a Scandal
• The Reader

The Undiscovered Country

Years create secrets. A younger man in love with an older woman learns this quickly. Watching the film
The Reader reminded me. I didn’t learn all Sheri’s secrets right away. Some came out the first night we agreed to love each other. She revealed others in the months and years that followed. Perhaps there are some she still keeps to herself even after fifteen years of marriage. But I remember important truths she told me and when – truths few if any other people know.

The first night we shared our secrets, we sat on the couch in Sheri’s condo apartment. Her cat Pequot hid; it would be weeks before he trusted me enough to sit with us. It was March. In my memory, any March night in Hartford is rainy. In a few short weeks Sheri and I had moved from dating into something lasting, though how we knew neither could say. We trusted. I trusted. So I told Sheri a secret I thought she needed to know. My secret, that of a 26-year-old, seemed important then, but now I know it was like a folded note in a school desk, a teenaged concern. Sheri took the information without judgment or surprise. Then she spoke. Her secret, earned through another 17 years of living, as part of another generation, tasted like blood in the mouth.

An older man in love with a younger woman will have stories to tell. Is that the difference, that older men have stories, while older woman harbor secrets? Maybe. Maybe the difference – at least in the case of Sheri and Hanna Schmitz in The Reader – is that older women willing to dare unconventional love with younger men have likely led unconventional lives. Unconventional lives lead to unconventional joys and unconventional pains: secrets.

Now Sheri’s secrets are mine.

More than anything to do with sex, Hanna Schmitz’s private history initiated her young lover into the complex, complicated questions of adulthood. A younger man with an older woman will learn more about life from her secrets than from her bed.

Sunday, January 11, 2009


We were on the beach in
Belize, the drowsy afternoon heat sweetening our limbs and our libidos. It had become our neverland, this stretch of sand out the front door of our rental cabana. For two blessed weeks, we were away from jobs, snow, deadlines and misbehaving faucets. We floated through each day and could, if we chose, reinvent our whole lives for the duration.

Belizean men and women trudged the shoreline to show us their wares: woven bags, coconut shell jewelry, beach hats. One of them was George, a garrulous guy from a nearby town who hawked hand-carved bracelets and marijuana. Making small talk, he bumbled into the Land of Big Mistakes.

What he said to Michael: “Are you and your mother enjoying Belize?”

The sweetness shriveled; his banal question shredded me like a handsaw. We were unmasked, the Older Woman and the Younger Man. I felt as though my husband (then 41) and I (58) had been ripped apart by all the waters of the deep: his generation on one shore and mine on the opposite.

What Michael said to George: “She’s my wife.”

I thought of that day yesterday while watching
The Reader, the film starring Kate Winslet as 36-year-old Hanna Schmitz in post-war Germany who takes up with a 15-year-old named Michael. During a bike holiday in the countryside, a waitress at a roadside cafĂ© inquires whether his “mother” has enjoyed her meal. Yes, he says. Then, while the scandalized waitress watches, he kisses Hanna. Yes, he tells the world, we are lovers.

You have to love a kid who would do that. It’s easier, though, for the teenaged movie Michael to proclaim his infatuation with a woman in her 30s — those ages and even the span between them are saucy, seductive, juicy.

In real life, my Michael never wavered. “She’s my wife,” he said, as though any fool could see that. With those three words the churning waters subside, the continents reunite, the lovers’ equilibrium recovers.

You have to love a man who can do that.

Not Enough Whiskey in the World

Younger Man:
We worked at the same newspaper, and that’s how we met, but things really took off when we agreed to meet for drinks. She wore a short skirt and black hose, and she sat at a shiny metal bar in a dark room smoking a Merit Light and drinking a shot of Jameson. She terrified me.

Older Woman: We’d been playing on the paper’s volleyball team for a while, and sharing music and stories. So I asked Michael to go for a drink after work. At the bar, he said something about his editor. “He’s the same age I am, 26,” he said.
26????? I took a gulp of Jameson and thought hard.

YM: Thought about what?

OW: Thought I was way off thinking you were 32. Wondered if you knew how old I was. Wondered if you had laid down that “26” as a subtle way to get me to tell MY age.

YM: No. It wasn’t a hint. I thought you – I thought she, that is, Sheri – was about ten years older than I. She looked like she could be 36. This great mane of blond hair. Slim. Like Candace Bergen in her Murphy Brown days. But it was the cigarettes and whiskey that scared me. I hadn’t yet learned to drink hard liquor. I didn’t smoke.

OW: I was willing to play at the edges of conventional romance. Ten years I could handle. If you were 32 to my 43, well, we could see where that led. But a 26-year-old was a whole ‘nother country. Still, you had a certain sureness about yourself, and a calm approach to the world that I admired. Plus, you could really spike a volleyball so I knew you weren’t one of those plaid-shirted, courduroy-pantsed, bearded tea-drinkers from my past. And your kindness made me know you also weren’t one of the dangerous boys I’d often found.

YM: Edges? You were willing to dive into the gorge without a bungee. Seventeen years! When I was born you were a senior in high school. When I was a high school senior, you had been married and divorced. I like to imagine the colors and shapes that quivered before your eyes when you learned my mother is four years older than you. There’s not enough whiskey in the world.

OW: Yes, and I have nephews older than you, sisters older than your mother.

YM: These days, they’d call you a Cougar. Cougars are hip now. Older women and younger men – it’s all the rage. I saw a half-hour special on Entertainment Tonight.

OW: One of my best friends told me, “Just have a fling. If it doesn’t last, so what?” That was almost 18 years ago.

YM: A fling is easy. It’s what happens in the intervening years that’s most interesting. Right now Demi Moore is, what, 46? And Ashton Kutcher maybe 30. Now, imagine them at seventy and fifty-four. Where’s that Cougar roar? Now that you are 61, I couldn’t have imagined this life. You can retire soon. I’m still building a career.

OW: Now that you’re the same age I was when we met, I’ve watched you become the man I knew you’d be. Being with a younger man, one who’s still building a career, tricks me into thinking I’m at the same place in life. Besides, I can still swim a half-mile a lot faster than you can.

YM: Yes. That’s the interesting stuff. I trick you into feeling young. Sometimes, you trick me into feeling old. There’s so much I’ve learned about what it means to live with and love an older woman. There’s so much I still don’t understand. And there are some things waiting for us that scare me. That’s why it’s good to write about it now, to take on a shared blog, a shared book. We’ve got a past to figure out, and a future worthy of wonder.

OW: Oh my god. Joan Collins is married to someone who is 32 years younger.

YM: What are you doing?

OW: I googled older women-younger men.

YM: What did you find?