Ingrid Gabriel: Geezer Story (Part 5 of Seniors Gone Wild)
Today, Gentle Reader, we examine The Geezer Story … how to identify one and how to choose a favorite so rambling and irrelevant that succeeding generations keep telling it just to hold it up as a shining example of your mental decline. The Story (or Stories, if you and your younger captive audience are in some sort of confined space…hell comes to mind… and they have no hope of escaping), is an important feature of your senior arsenal and no Silver Club member should be without.
You will, no doubt, recognize some classics from the pre-Boomers. The scarcities of WWII, the Great Depression and trudging the vast distances between home and school (uphill both ways in terrible weather) figured prominently among the seniors of that era. My father had a coma-inducing Story about his difficulties calibrating dual carburetors on a VW van that he continued to showcase decades after he sold the vehicle. My mother favored one about a schoolmate who put a hot potato against her head to ease an earache and it killed her (if this was meant as a cautionary tale, it worked…I have never put a steamy spud or even a French fry anywhere near my ears).
Now that my generational cohorts and I are shopping for compression stockings (I like the toe-less option in “nude”), I am curious to see how we Boomer Geezers will approach our Stories. Boomers are somewhat challenged in that our Stories potentially draw on a time in American cultural history when the zeitgeist was really rockin’. It’s like opening a deluxe box of chocolate experiences and mulling over so many delightful options…stoned at a Dylan concert (electric phase), nearly kidnapped at the Chicago Democratic National Convention (1968), arriving in Dallas just in time for the Kennedy assassination, waterbeds, 70s décor and fashion, the New Age, jazzercize. There is no end to the narrative gold available to us.
But a true Geezer Story is meant to stupefy and not entertain the listener. It is designed to force a Gen X or Millennial to nod with faux interest and polite restraint. Geezer tales are not about shagging in a hot air balloon over Tuscany or eating a bad eel in Penang or watching a bloated orange moon rise over the Bay of Siam after trying the local mushrooms.
A Geezer Story is not artful or dramatic. It does not reflect something remarkable about the storyteller and their all-too-brief visit to our beautiful Blue Playground. After decades of life, almost any senior will have some spectacular source material, but you save those great stories for other seniors. A true Geezer Story is about carburetors and death-by-potato all the way down. It pins the listener in place and leaves no space for a question-and-answer period, or (shudder) a gap for some other interloper to cut in with THEIR story. You are the undisputed mistress/master of the room and everyone understands the Rule. That is, “The Senior is speaking…look interested.”
You may ask why I caution against developing a more engaging Story. First, and most obviously, what happened between 1945 and 1963 stays between 1945 and 1963. In our youth, we got good grades, we went to church, we were respectful, and we never cavorted nude through any forest with an equally naked and gorgeous fireman. We never, ever said we were going to walk the dog, when we were really meeting Lance Ellison at the corner 7-11 to ride around in his Econoline van and get stoned. No one did.
As adults, we never took so many tequila shots in a south Pacific bar that we awakened under a frangipani bush instead of our hotel room, nor did we join a dowsing club or take a midnight swim during a Moody Blues concert. We worked hard, saved, invested wisely and sacrificed for the well-being of our children. We are virtuous seniors who arrived at this time of our lives with an unsullied backstory.
Second, if our forebears held forth on the price of baseball tickets, how unions ruined this country, beards, and the unsuitability of women in the labor force, it’s only fair that we also revel in receiving grudging attention. Declaiming a long-winded soliloquy is our right. We earned it, dammit.
One of my own favorite Geezer stories starts out strong, then dwindles, then stops abruptly like it just runs out of words to fuel it along:
“It was twilight, and I was lingering on the main street of Taos, New Mexico. My friends were already at a restaurant, but I was taking my time and enjoying a quiet moment by myself. I passed a darkened art gallery fronted by a low stone wall when I discovered a large bulging handbag nearly hidden by a bush. Seeing no lights or cars anywhere, I arrived at the brilliant conclusion that someone had lost it and I hefted it over my shoulder.
Once I got to the restaurant, I forked out fifty cents for the pay phone (there were no cell phones in those days) and called the Taos police station. When the officer on duty answered, I could hear someone sobbing in the background. After I delivered my message …“Hello, I just found a bag and am at Michael’s place about to have dinner. Do you want me to drop it by afterwards?”…the officer responded sharply, “No, stay right where you are!” and to another person, “Someone found it.”
I joined my friends, and we speculated on how much in cash and credit cards were inside. It was a business bag, not a lady purse, and it seemed impolite to root through it out of curiosity. I never opened it but, given the tension in the voices on the other end of the phone, I guessed it held valuable contents and someone was desperate for its return. The officer and a very distressed woman arrived shortly after, I handed the bag over and they sat at the bar checking through it.
When she came over to thank me, the poor woman looked about to faint from relief. She insisted on picking up our tab. I declined given that my total investment was fifty cents, and I didn’t see any need to be rewarded for NOT being a thief (it’s a low bar, ethically speaking). We went back and forth for a while, insisting and resisting, and then our food came and after a last expression of gratitude, she left with her bag tightly clasped to her chest.”
I wind up my Story by sharing my realization that there is nothing so satisfying as receiving gratitude and honor for doing almost nothing. What could be more gratifying that winning merit and a place in heaven without expending any effort at all? Someone, somewhere is still singing my praises and all I had to do was keep her bag safely in my custody for thirty minutes. When I tell the Story (and I do, regularly), I still get that rosy feeling. I saved someone from heartache by not committing a crime. I am a wonderful person.
Do you see what I did there? Let me diagram it for you. This is a beautifully tepid Geezer Story. It draws you in…a little atmosphere, a lost bag stuffed with something valuable (likely cash but could just as well have been a wad of used tissues and a half-eaten salami sandwich…that’s what I carry in MY bag), the local police and a frantic woman. The Story leads the listener to believe that the bag has an exciting provenance. Maybe it belongs to a celebrity or was intended as a ransom drop for a kidnapped Yorkshire terrier. Perhaps the owner will press a thousand dollars into my hand out of gratitude since she had her mother’s priceless cremains in the bag, or she will give me her business card and insist that I visit her in Bora Bora (all expenses paid).
But, nay. My Geezer Story dies on the vine, shriveled and dry as a raisin, and I hope yours will, too. Please feel free to send me your Geezer Story if you need some guidance. I will be happy to help you dilute it to a dull and murky backwash of a tale guaranteed to drain the life force from your listeners.
I do this because I am a wonderful person.
Copyright Ingrid R. Gabriel May 2023