Friday, September 30, 2011

Tree rings and crow's feet

Mary’s comment on a previous post went something exactly like this:

“Dude. I gotta say :o, she looks younger than you do.
Why do people say I look
older than Sheri?

That bright light streaking through the heavens that you thought was a falling chunk of NASA space junk? Actually, it was an ascending Venema–after reading that comment.

Me? I say, “Old news.”

There has always been a discrepancy between our actual birth-certificate-certified ages and how old we look – or, more accurately, how old Sheri looks. When we started dating, I mistook her age for about a decade younger than she actually was. Shortly after we went public, Sheri’s friend, S., said our age difference wasn’t visually apparent because I could pass for ten years older and Sheri could pass for ten years younger. I could have taken that as an insult, I suppose, but what I heard was “Michael looks mature enough to consort with Sheri.” To which I thought, “Naturally.”

But recently, another friend–catching glimpses of us in photos on the blog–wrote to us that “Michael is catching up” to Sheri, visually. And then there was Mary’s comment, that with fallow field atop my skull, crow’s feet when I laugh, gray stubble on my chin, I’d passed Sheri by.

Over the last few days I’ve asked people who don’t know me well to guess my age. The massage therapist said 45, the woman working the counter at the Peruvian restaurant guessed 50, and the co-owner of our favorite neighborhood restaurant said, “Hmmmm. 47.”

Those guesses were all in range, and the restaurant owner was scary accurate (wish me a happy 47th on Oct. 15). This unscientific survey suggests that I actually do look my age.

What that means, exactly, I can’t say. How does someone look his or her age? What do we see in each other that allows us to guess an age with remarkable accuracy, so much so that “she doesn’t look her age” is the exception rather than the rule?

Veterinarians look at dogs’ teeth tartar to estimate years. Dendochronologists count tree rings. We humans seemed to be attuned to each others’ posture and hair, skin, fashion sense, and all those things add up to a number. The number is necessary, somehow, or we wouldn’t develop the age-sense. Certainly, there are biological reasons, but perhaps we have social, tribal reasons, too.

Maybe, on some level, perceiving age is protective. On an occasional weekend I walk across the campus where I teach, and surrounded by all that youth, I’m struck with a strange unnerving sense that the authority I have during the week has vanished and that I’m now an alien, an intruder, and I think about that famous Yeats’ line, and I leave as soon as I can, and hurry back to my wife who apparently looks my age, or younger, and with whom I always feel at ease.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Same as the Old Boss.

As a friend wrote on Facebook recently, You don’t kiss and tell, and you don’t fight and tell.

Except, of course, when you write a blog.

“When are you going to write about how you two argue?” asked a young woman who is involved with an older man. She wondered whether an age gap could contribute/influence/lead to a verbal wrasslin’ match. So I said to Sheri, “I think I’ll blog about how we argue.” And I mentioned something about authority, etc., etc.

What happens? She steals my blog idea, and now the world thinks I don’t know how to cut a tomato.


You use a knife. Not a fork.

But it is true, I have more than once given way in arguments out of a sense that Sheri is more experienced, with a better vantage from which to see the world, and thus, bears a greater authority. From a young age I’ve respected authortiy, wanting to believe whatever God, the Declaration of Independence, and Captain Kangaroo had to tell me. Becoming a newspaper reporter, I think, gave me a structure in which to learn to question authority.

Then came Sheri. And I had no newsroom to back up my challenges.

Hot water in the ice cube trays makes the ice better? Cold water in the coffee pot makes better coffee? Okey-dokey. We’ll do it your way.

And when I insisted my way was the right way, we got into some of our most helacious cold-shouldered knockdown arguments. One was over chocolate chip cookies. I’ve never since tried to bake chocolate chip cookies. The marriage means that much to me.

But here’s something else that has happened over the years. Sheri has agreed that there are subjects in which I’m the champ. Where to get the car fixed? Me. Installing light fixtures? Me. Picking a dog from a litter and training it? Me. Sense of direction and where we need to turn? Me.

And because she’s ceded authority to me in those spheres, I’ve found it easier and easier to speak up in other spheres when I question a point-of-view she takes, or a method of doing things. After all, she didn’t marry me because she wanted an employee. She wanted a husband. So now, twenty years deep, my reactions aren’t based on a vassal-serf dynamic, nor are hers. Now, we’re better at listening to each other rather than playing semi-conscious roles.

So I get to cut the frikkin’ tomato any danged way I want.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

You cut tomato, and I cut tomatoes

Set your tomato preferences here
Michael told me this week that he thinks he often concedes to me in an argument.  Because I’m older, because he first knew me as an authority figure (he was a reporter; I was an editor, but not his editor), he still subconsciously believes, he says, that I must always be right. This isn’t true all the time, but enough so that it apparently gnawed at him.

We’ve been talking about this lately because of an ongoing discussion regarding two rather quotidian items: how to cut tomatoes and vacuum wood floors.

Last week Michael asked me for the 875th time in our life together how I like a tomato cut. (I like it cut across; he cuts from top to bottom). I figured he was just being passive-aggressive, because it’s not really that hard to remember. So this time I just opted out. I don’t care anymore how you cut the blasted tomato, I said. Eureka! I realized that I really didn’t care how he cuts a tomato. It tastes the same. There is no right way.

Who's Who?
If I’m honest with myself, I can admit that having Michael think I was right all the time gave me a little ego boost. We both know I'm wrong a lot. (There was that time I was outraged in the supermarket checkout line to find David Duke, leader of the Louisiana Ku Klux Klan, on the cover of a national magazine, only to have Michael tell me it was really Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman). 

But we both fell for the myth (she must be right: she's older!) without even realizing it. Now, when I drag that myth out of the dark corner of my brain and into the light, it seems not only silly but dangerous.

I still think I’m right about the wood floors, though.