*“Brother, I just saw Yogi. And this time, it was me.”
Having known Carl for more than 20 years, I recognize his different tones. Even through the annoying cell connection from his car, I sensed distress.
“What do you mean, it was you?” I asked. “When? How?”
“I had breakfast and was going through the parking lot to my car,” he said anxiously. “I walked by a car window and saw my reflection…and saw Yogi.”
I made a sincere effort to console. But I couldn’t help myself. “Oh, you think it’s funny,” he said. “That’s cold.” Then he joined me in laughter.
Carl uses Yogi to describe those lines on the faces of the middle aged. You’ve seen them; you might even have them. They resemble parentheses framing a person’s mouth. Carl refers to those lines as Yogi, because that’s the way the classic 1960s Hanna-Barbera cartoon character Yogi Bear was drawn, with those lines around his mouth.
Actually, most of the adult Hanna-Barbera cartoon characters had those lines–Fred Flintstone had them. George Jetson. That’s how you knew they were adults. (Hanna Barbera characters who were criminals or down on their luck also had tiny black specs about the mouth and chin to denote a five o’ clock shadow. Apparently, in Hanna-Barbera’s ‘60s cartoon world, crooks and vagrants didn’t shave.)
If you are of a certain age, undoubtedly, there are little things that concern you. For Carl, it’s the Yogi. For me, it’s Giblets.
Giblets is what I call that bit of skin just below your chin that can begin to hang when you get older. You know—like the skin hanging from the necks of turkeys. A few weeks back, while struggling to get into some jeans before an unforgiving mirror in a J. Crew dressing room, I made a troubling discovery: the beginnings of a Giblet thing.
I froze and stared. To think, all this time, I’d been walking around greater Los Angeles, going places, doing stuff, up in people’s faces. With Giblets. I worked harder to get into those jeans.
I’m getting older. Doing so gracefully is a matter of being dedicated to thinking right, living right, eating right. Exercise. It’s a challenge. Most of the time, I’m up for it.
However, something is happening. Physical changes that played peek-a-boo over the years, are now saying, “Honey, I’m home!” and they’re here to stay.
Little, yet distinct things. Not the graying or slow departure of hair; that’s expected. No, it’s the muted, mysterious expansion of your waist, even though you haven’t really gained weight. Your shape is morphing into something…else.
It’s the notion that, even though friends, family and strangers all tell you that you “look good”—and compared to many people your age, you tell yourself, you DO look good—clearly, some parts have altered. There are things you can’t do anymore. You can’t eat what you used to eat.
And, you can’t wear quite the same clothes as someone in their twenties or thirties. You just can’t. Some pieces. Maybe. But now that you’ve reached a certain age, there is a really thin line you have to walk in dressing in a way that is modern and fashionable, without making a fool of yourself.
Accordingly, there are two rules to remember. Rule One: Just because you can wear it—simply because it fits–doesn’t mean you should. Rule Two, which should be Number One: Clothes meant for young adults ALWAYS make the youngest-looking middle aged person look even older.
You’ve witnessed this. You’re out in public—at the bank, in the supermarket or sitting on a light, mindlessly watching pedestrians go by—when, from the shoes up, you catch sight of an outfit you admire.
Without really thinking, your eyes work their way up the ensemble and you discover it to be topped by a face that looks as if it remembers when David Ruffin was a Temptation. A face that recalls the introduction of the Princess Phone. It’s a middle age face made older by a “younger” outfit they should not be wearing. Hip Hop from the neck down; Chi-lites from the neck up. This is a crime against nature.
I’m not saying the middle-aged can’t wear the latest styles; we can. Thankfully, today there is no need for the fashion-forward middle-aged to dress as our parents did in their middle years. But some of us are tempted to wear articles of clothing in which we have no business.
If you are unsure as to whether you should be concerned about this, simply ask yourself: were you ever in an automobile, as driver or passenger, that pulled into a gas station manned by an attendant in a uniform? As a child, did you own an original Easy Bake Oven? Is there any emotion attached to the name Lee Harvey Oswald?
Do you remember watching first-run episodes of TV’s “Mutual Of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom?” Does mention of something that happened forty years ago make you say, “Seems like it was only yesterday”? Do you refer to daytime TV dramas as “my stories?” Do you use the term, “Slacks?” If you answered yes to any of these, you might want to rethink that mini skirt or those jeans designed to sag.
I’m pretty good at knowing what works for me, but I, too, can slip. Like with those jeans. I simply thought they were a bit tight. I didn’t know “skinny” was a genre.
But once I bought them, washed them and put them on, they no longer felt like jeans. They became denim leotards. And after catching a glimpse of myself in a storefront window, I immediately went to my car, drove home and pried them the hell off me.
Which brings us to Rule Number Three, which really, really should be Number One: Don’t lie to yourself.
Steven Ivory, journalist and author of the essay collection Fool In Love (Simon & Schuster), has covered popular culture for magazines, newspapers, radio and TV for more than 30 years. Respond to him via [email protected]