Meeting New People

Inevitable in becoming an old guy is a change in the dramatis personae with whom the drama of one’s life is played out. The important characters — family, for example — are likely to remain constant (granted, not always on speaking terms), but the peripheral players are all but certain to change. Men and women with whom an old guy worked for forty years fade from view and thus become yesterday’s bananas. Good ol’ knockaround buddy Harry relocates to Tucson and maybe is or is not heard from only through an annual Christmas card, or perhaps a birthday phone call. The neighborhood pub is knocked down and replaced by an Applebee’s, and the guys with whom the old guy has gone fishing, played cards, or played golf for years and years have either died, succumbed to various ills and infirmities, or have moved away.
What this means is that an old guy is all but certain to meet never before known people, some of whom will be worth his time and attention, others wastes of both. The one overriding truth in this inevitability is that unlike a workplace, a club, a professional association . . . whatever . . . fools needn’t be suffered, gladly or otherwise. An old guy has the luxury of selecting those with whom he plays or socializes. Besides, it’s likely he hasn’t the patience to put up with people for whom he feels no attraction and in whom he has no interest.
The fact is that most of the new people you, an old guy, are likely to meet will be of your own age, or at least of your generation. In many respects this is good, mainly in that such people are likely to know what you’re talking about. Thus you don’t have to explain who Jack Benny was, or that War Admiral was a race horse and not commander of the Pacific fleet during what TV’s Archie Bunker referred to as “ . . . WWII, the Big One . . . it was all in the papers.” But the flip side of this coin toss is that many of these new people of your own generation are windy bores, or are dishwater-dull. Even worse, some of them are bullshitters, people — men usually — who’ve been bullshitters so long they’ve lost sight of the truth (as opposed to out-and-out liars, who at least are aware they’re lying and perhaps anticipate some form of retribution; bullshitters, on the other hand, are bulletproof).
Mentioned earlier was the guy with a bumper sticker reading, “The Bible said it, I believe it, and that’s that.” Of the same breed is the fellow who forty years ago became either a Republican, a Democrat, or whatever, and ever since hasn’t bothered to inquire as to what his party of choice is up to. Accordingly, an administration dominated by one party or the other can be a disaster, yet the guy remains oblivious to its shortcomings, its insensitivities, its downright gaffes and failures. Such people are and remain alarmingly uninformed, are mentally lazy and thus unworthy of your attention. They’re the kind of people who by speaking three consecutive sentences can make your eyelids droop, or who start a comment by saying, “I see where that [insert racial slur] . . .” Click! Off goes your listening switch and it’s on to wondering what you’re going to have for dinner.
You haven’t time for such people, haven’t time to listen to their inanities, their prejudices, the outpouring of their concrete minds. It isn’t a matter of being impolite, but rather of not wanting to be overwhelmed and suffocated by the dust and debris of other people’s mental claptrap.
Where do you find interesting people, people with whom you might enjoy talking and spending time, people preferably but not necessarily age peers? It can depend upon what you like to do. I’ve been a golfer all my life, more often than not on public golf courses, meaning I’ve often been paired with strangers, with people I’ve never seen before and am not likely to ever see again. Most of them have been just that, people I haven’t seen since. But some of them now are among my small circle of friends, people in whom I’ve been rewarded to discover common interests, a like sense of humor (especially a like sense of humor).
I don’t recall the context but do recall playing in a foursome of strangers, and over a putt on about the fourth hole having cause to mention long ago heavyweight boxing champion Bob Fitzsimmons. “Ah, yes,” said one of the group, “Ruby Robert, he of the infamous ‘solar plexus’ punch.” It turned out that this guy, like me, knew the names of every heavyweight champion dating back more than a hundred years to the reign of John L. “The Boston Strong Boy” Sullivan. We formed an instant bond and nattered away on a variety of subjects throughout the rest of the round, his mind being as cluttered with trivia as was and is mine. Unfortunately, he was a winter visitor to Florida from Milwaukee and I never saw him again and have no idea what happened to him. But had he been within reach I know we’d have become friends.
If you’re a reader you’re likely to find your counterparts in the nearest library. Books open worlds of possibilities, and people who read them are apt to be considerably more interesting than the people happy to tell you that never in their lives have they read a book. Further, many libraries offer seminars and discussion groups on a variety of subjects, and if such a session is on a subject in which you’re interested, you’re certain to meet people with a similar interest.
My father was a lifelong and not overly successful student of the running horse, and over the years of his patronage of Metropolitan New York race tracks became friends with a number of fellow punters and employees of the New York Racing Association (NYRA) and its concessionaires, people he saw and spoke with only on the days he went to one of the tracks. Yet he knew what they had done with most of their lives, where they lived, whether or not they were married and had children, and so on, all or much of the minutia of friendships. Following a day at a track he would relate something one of his friends told him, some detail that to us, usually just my mother and me, made the person of whom he was speaking seem like someone we knew almost as well as he did. Thus when at the track, and apart from the races themselves, he was never lonely, never bored; there was always someone — an usher, a bartender, a fellow punter — with whom he could and would chat.
The point being made here is that to meet people with whom you’d like to spend time you have to go out among them, keeping in mind that the truism that no one is going to beat a path to your door is especially true of lonely old guys.
The trap in all this is that you’re likely to meet a lot of rejects before you strike pay dirt. Don’t be surprised if after even months of friendship something happens, or something is said that tells you you’ve been riding the wrong horse. Foul jokes don’t do much for me, and after a guy tells me the third or fourth dirty story I cross the street when I see him heading in my direction. Racial slurs aren’t in my bag either; when I hear one, my consciousness switch goes to the “Off” position and I start looking for an exit. I don’t have to put up with this form of stupidity and neither do you. It’s not rude to turn your back on a bigot, and you don’t have to say anything; you can just walk away, determined to avoid any future contact with such a person.
There’s a subtle twist in all this, however. Some of those you meet will say or do things aimed at shocking you, perhaps even testing you. You have to decide on the spot whether what you know about that person at the moment makes it worthwhile to continue the relationship. A man I know, a retired career military type, habitually employs ethnic and racial slurs, but it’s part of his old curmudgeon act, for if anyone, regardless of “race, creed, color, or country of national origin” was injured or in need of ten dollars to tide him or her over, this guy would be the first to dig in his pocket or come to that person’s aid. There are more of these types among us old guys than you might think likely, so be prudent and patient in your judgments, weighing carefully the worth to you of the total person.
Avoid whiners, people for whom the sun never shines, flowers never bloom, humor is unknown. When I was young and someone I knew met me in the street and asked how I was, I always wanted to get right in his face and open my mouth as if at the dentist and complain of an impacted wisdom tooth, or some similar dental disaster. My thought then and now was that the person asking me how I was really wasn’t interested in my state of mind or health, but merely was making conversation. I’ve done it and do it myself. Now, however, I find that some people my age, when I run into them and ask how they are, will rattle off a recital of woe about everything from physical ills to high taxes and thoughtless children. Such people have a lot of baggage to unload, but I refuse to be an available porter, and so should you.
Often cited is the bromide, “Be careful of what you wish for because you just might get it.” A take on that might work out as, “Be careful of those from whom you seek friendship, because it’s possible they could become your enemies.” I once worked as a press agent for showman Mike Todd, and on more than one occasion he would say, “God save me from my friends. I know all about my enemies.”

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