Not ready to be an inspiration

I just saw a video of “very old skateboarders”. They were being celebrated but clearly a novelty due to their age. They were all younger than I am.

Granted, skateboarding is more dangerous than riding a bike. You fall more, and despite what Mike says, you break more easily when you get old. [When I crashed on the 2018 coast-to-coast ride, Mike said, “He bounces well.”] I did my skateboarding in the days of Jan and Dean.

The lyrics give you a hint as to the difference between skateboards then and now. The first skateboards were made by attaching metal roller skate wheels to a board. Like mountain bikes, they weren’t a “thing” right away. Someone had to invent them from old stuff before manufacturers figured out there was a market. Commercial boards came with “composition” wheels, which I recently learned were actually clay. They gripped better than steel but had the annoying habit of stopping on a dime if you hit a pebble or a crack (as mentioned in the lyrics). We spent a lot of time flying through the air and skateboards disappeared until the 70s revival with plastic wheels that could roll over small surface imperfections.

Feel free to admire me for what I do, but not because “he does it at his age”. Check back in ten years; maybe things will be different.

The other alternative for older folks is to be “cute”. I saw my younger co-workers condescend to older patients, calling them “cute”. I don’t think they were consciously infantilizing these people, but our society seems to give us two choices as we age: we can be inspirational or we can be cute. (Of course, there is a whole different standard for public figures – actors and politicians – and elite athletes are old at half my age. TV commentator Don Lemon infamously referred to a female politician as “past her prime”, apparently because he no longer considered her hot. As for ordinary people, the “cute” tag seems to be disproportionately applied to men. Women “past their prime” are not considered cute.)

I guess being cute or an inspiration beats being invisible, as John Prine sang about in 1971. I have posted the original album cut before, so today you get to see/hear him after he was old.

I love the understated slide guitar, and when else have you heard a bowed bass solo in folkie music?

On behalf of old people everywhere, I just ask that you see us as people first, not as old, not as cute, not as inspiring. Maybe you can ask us what it was like to actually see The Beatles, Janis Joplin, Muddy Waters, Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, John Coltrane, Sun Ra, or the 1960s Green Bay Packers. Some of us may have acquired some wisdom over the years. Some of us just might be ordinary folks.