I once had a terrific boss, a former newspaperman named Ned Benham. We often lunched together, usually at a downtown restaurant in which we’d be all but certain to see at least two or three genuinely attractive women. He was nearing retirement age at the time, but the accumulated years did in no way diminish his powers of or pleasures in observation.
This one day we were privileged to be seated at a table near a spectacular, handsomely turned out creature, prompting Ned, after taking in the package in its entirety, to say, sotto voce, “Oh, sweetheart, could I disappoint you.”
That in mind, what follows will be brief (reminding me of another Ned Benham insight regarding aging swains — “This won’t take a minute, did it?”).
As I’m all but certain is true of most old guys, I note occasional newspaper ads touting therapies for impotence, prompting me to wonder what the advertisers know that I don’t know. Very often such ads list no names of either medical doctors or psychologists, professionals you’d assume would be among those addressing the issue. When just the somewhat vague name of a “clinic” is given as the advertiser, one is apt to have visions of an exotic harem in which practiced houris somehow manage to raise the dead, or at least try to. More likely, however, is that the ads are aimed at mid-life bucks distracted by problems at home, on the job, or at the office, and I can’t for the life of me imagine, short of some form of device or injection, what such therapy might involve.
And of course there’s the constant hawking of male potency medications, especially on TV and the Internet. Rarely does a prime time hour go by that some macho-looking guy isn’t assuring viewers he takes the stuff. Any computer user’s morning check of incoming e-mail includes not only pitches for ED cures (Erectile Dysfunction, no less), but also promises of guaranteed penis enlargement. For old guys, such pitches, the “tele-dudes” notwithstanding, tend to fall on deaf ears, and not necessarily as a result of being resigned to inevitability.
What I’ve observed is that no one — medical doctor, mind-tinkerer, chemist, tarot-card reader, herbalist, or the like — has addressed what I think may in fact be the way things are with old guys . . . plain and simple loss of interest.
Once it dawns on an old guy that short of buying her an acorn-sized diamond, a Rolls Royce, or a penthouse on the Grand Corniche, a possessor of the form divine isn’t about to be any more than polite to him, if that, his interest starts to flag. He comes to realize that in what author Philip Wylie long ago referred to as “a gentleman’s ball game of some merit” he no longer is a player. Accordingly, sex tends to fade as a compelling subject, its now and then intrusion on his thoughts confined to reminiscence, or perhaps admiration of the proverbial well-turned ankle, but that’s about all. What it boils down to is summed up in what a friend of mine calls an old guy’s pot belly — “A monument to a dead dick.” That may be a bit harsh, yet no less truthful.
Still, there are among us practicing old roosters and would-be old roosters, and the messes and traps into which this holdover capacity leads them can be both comedic and tragic. Apart from the potential danger of embarrassment, violence and disease, the aging rooster on the prowl may as well sport a forehead tattoo proclaiming him to be fair game. A victim of delusion, he thinks the interested glances he’s getting from the sleek-looking package at the other end of the bar is for him as an individual, because he’s still attractive, still a deft hand with the ladies. What he really is is a mark, and those “interested glances” translate loosely as “Well, well, what have we here?”
This and similar preludes to disillusionment, regret and chagrin for old guys is played out daily in countless ways ranging from being busted for soliciting a decoy hooker (spelled C-O-P) to spending a half-hour or so with a real one and waking up with watch, wallet, and dignity gone. And such victims aren’t always among what society deems the lower classes; the police force in any reasonably populous locale can confirm that “johns” include those from the “right” side of the tracks as well as those less privileged. Even more sad if not tragic is the old widower who after acquiring and wallowing in the ministrations of a seemingly accommodating new roommate returns home one day to find his house or apartment stripped — furniture, dishes, pots, pans, linens, books, clothes . . . all of it gone. Think, too, of the smitten old softie who in what amounts to an exchange for access to remembered delights gives his new ladylove a credit card, maybe even an ATM card and his PIN number. The devastation can be horrendous.
Depressingly sad are old guys who start hanging around “adult” book stores and video shops. To each his own, perhaps, but patronage of this sort is demeaning to all those involved — the buyer and voyeur, the seller, and the pathetic exploited creatures depicted in the proffered porn. What’s worse is when old guys bring this crap home where it can be discovered by a wife of forty years, or a daughter or son. Whatever credence they’ve built up over the years as a husband and a father is instantly dissipated, reducing them to just another horny old goat who should know better.
Placing old guys at similar risk, to say nothing of jeopardizing self-respect, is Internet porn, a particularly vicious manifestation of the genre. I’ve been told of one old guy, a retired U.S. Army colonel, no less, who during his nightly wee small hours pit stop often detoured to his computer to call up porn. Caught red-handed one night by his wife, ever since he has been sleeping in the guest room and getting his own breakfast.
Wives of long standing, particularly loving and wise wives, are aware of what more often than not happens to men as they age. They know that after its peak when a man is in his early twenties, male sex drive gradually wanes. They appreciate the validity of what Lord Lyttleton, in his 18th century “Advice to a Lady,” put forth: “The lover in the husband may be lost.” And in truth they, too, even though they may have been enthusiastic slap-and-tickle participants over the years, may find their sex drive isn’t as ardent as it once was. Rather than what my late brother referred to inelegantly as “hot fat injections,” aging ladies may prefer being held, caressed, cuddled, snuggled up with and to. A cheerful “Good morning” smooch accompanied by an affectionate pat on the rump can help assure a veteran wife of her aging husband’s on-going interest and regard.
When it comes to old guys, what film director Alfred Hitchcock called “the McGuffin,” or linchpin of the story being told is vanity; they find it difficult to admit to themselves that erections and the subsequent presumed use thereof no longer are applicable to their lives. The expression “cock o’ the walk,” in fact the etymological leap from cock (rooster) to penis, implies strength, vigor, virility. Surrender of that implication, that image, ingrained in males from infancy and culturally reinforced throughout time, is done so grudgingly, and withdrawal from the field is with great reluctance. Yet withdraw we must.
Sex is with us from cradle to grave, but the interval in our lives when we are active participants in its practices are just that, an interval in our lives. Now, as old guys, that time has passed, and we’re into a new and different time in our lives, a time during which scoring with the ladies no longer is a priority. Instead, it is, or should be, a time of both internal and external discovery, a time when we come to appreciate that we can carry on an extended conversation with a woman without there hovering overhead thoughts or implications of sex.