Thursday, March 8, 2007

Appearance Isn't Everything (I Hope)

I've been in Florida this week. Lots and lots of old people in Florida, moving slowly, but undeniably still moving. In fact, the whole vibe was not that different from a 30 or 40 or 50 year old vibe, except in slow motion. It was fun to be in a place where I'm quite obviously considered if not a kid, then certainly just past being a kid. I probably get to feel this way more than most people my age since I look younger than I am, but in Florida, I really was 2-3 decades younger than most of the people I saw.

I was surprised to notice a distinct difference in how elderly men and elderly women reacted to me. (I don't think this was about me or my type. My friend got the same reactions and she's tall and blonde whereas I am...well, not tall or blonde.) The men were, without exception, friendly, animated and plainly glad to be spoken to. They seem to have sloughed off any competitive, macho chest-puffing that may have characterized them when they were younger, and their various (and obvious) aging-related ailments and disabilities didn't appear to be adversely affecting their mood. Even the disgusted-looking gentleman who answered "Not all bad" to my friend's "How are you doing?" did so with twinkling eyes. The women, on the other hand, all - all! - wore apparently permanent expressions of disgruntlement. Several looked as if they were recalling particularly unpleasant experiences and made no response whatsoever to our cheery "Good mornings." (Being without the hearing in one ear myself, I did wonder if perhaps they just couldn't hear us, but that wouldn't explain the sucking lemons expressions or the lack of even a responsive smile or nod.)

So what is this about? A lifetime of slights, imagined and real? Too many disappointments? A lot on their minds? The natural result of having felt obliged to achieve coiffed hair and just-so jewelry for a trip to the pool in their own building? Disapproval of my friend's and my brazen failure to have felt the same obligation? General non-niceness to other women, apropos of my last post? Competitive mating behavior? As in so many other things, the men's reactions were simpler and more linear. They seemed, frankly, happy to be alive, happy to be in a warm climate listening to the sounds of the surf, happy to see a friendly new face. The women were more complex; if they were happy, it wasn't plain to see. They intrigued me, but despite managing a couple desultory conversations, I got no clues about their states of mind.

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