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Ed Watson

The Real Me – by Ed Watson

Getty Images: albert mollon

I had an epiphany tonight. It didn’t go down particularly well.

I was having a pleasant dinner at the local restaurant. It’s a place that’s always busy, and I’m not really sure why. The food is pretty good, but it’s not fancy or fantastic, and the restaurant’s décor is literally designed to look like the inside of a barn. I suppose it’s where many city people go when they want to have a meal in the country. I was sitting on a high-backed stool in front of beautiful piece of honey coloured Douglas Fir that’s been made into a bar. Above the bar is a valance with wine glasses hanging from it, not far from your head. It’s where they sit singles when it’s busy. Everyone else is spread out behind you at tables under the faux barn rafters. I don’t mind sitting at the bar as I can watch the hockey games and flirt with the servers. Except for tonight. Tonight there is some old guy sitting beside me who is doing a full frontal flirt with all the woman, and most of them are about a third his age. “You’re pathetic” I think, as the guy asks one of the servers about the significance of a crown she has tattooed on the back of her neck. She was making a drink for another customer and was trapped in front of him.

“She’s wearing a wedding ring and you’re OLD” I almost say out loud. But the server doesn’t seem to mind, and although I can’t make out what she’s saying, she appears to be telling him all about the tattoo. And she’s now smiling at him.

The old fellow is perhaps 60. He’s got a full head of completely gray hair that’s combed straight back. 20 years ago the hair probably started just above his eyes, now it begins much higher on his skull and that creates a pompadour effect. He has bushy eyebrows, a nose that’s somewhat aquiline and the skin around his eyes crinkles when he makes an amusing point, as he seems to be doing now as he leans over the bar towards the waitress and says something in a low conspiratorial tone. She laughs, and leaves, taking the cocktail she’s made over to another customer.

“Why don’t you hit on someone your own age, you lecherous old fart.” I think as I stuff a fork full of house salad into my mouth. I look over towards him and sneer, as I’m chomping on some arugula and lettuce.

Then it hit me.

It hit so hard and unexpectedly that I almost choked on my salad and nearly coughed a mouthful of greens all over the bar. It was a revelation as powerful and clear as anything I’ve ever experienced. I looked over to the old guy at the bar.

He is me.

He doesn’t look like me, but if he wasn’t here, I’d be the old guy flirting with the servers.

Like him, In many ways I behave and think in the same way I did in the early 1980’s. Since then I’ve known love and loss, family and fatherhood, a certain measure of celebrity, success and failure. But while experience has tempered and altered my disposition, for the most part I still think like a 25 year old. Except, my body has just entered into the undiscovered country of a sixth decade. So, I’m a 25 year old talking to you through the lips of a 60 year old. No wonder I sound so weird. I can talk the talk, but in practical terms but I’m walking the walk with a sore heel, planar fasciitis and the occasional drop toe that has me wondering if I’m developing ALS. But overall things still work. For the most part. A lot of the time. I’ll leave it at that.

At the restaurant I’ve managed to master my gag reflex and I’m now swallowing the mouthful of salad while staring at the guy next to me. It occurs to me that if he thinks the way he did when he was 25 he’s probably contemplating punching out the moron beside him (me) who’s been staring at him for the last 5 minutes.

And the server with the tattoo? She thinks like she’s still 25 too. (Although the art on her neck is at least that old, and she didn’t get it when she was 5.) She expects guys at the bar to flirt with her and has probably been serving long enough to know that flirting is harmless and it can be profitable.

To some extent we’re all young people trapped in older bodies. And we don’t know it.

The aging process takes place incrementally and our 25 year old minds don’t really notice the inexorable change. That’s why my father, shortly before he died, would sometimes get out of bed and say “What a beautiful morning. I think I’ll go for a run.” And he meant it. His body hadn’t run in 2 decades, but his mind was ready to go.

Perhaps our mental denial is what prevents us from going mad. We’re all headed for the same mortal destination. What happens then may be open to some conjecture but all of our days are numbered. As I’m pondering these esoteric and deep truths, the man beside me hands the server a wad of cash and says. “You keep it. I insist”. She thanks him, and he leaves.

I make a silent vow to start acting my age and begin focusing on being a good grandfather.

Just then the sever comes by to fill my water glass. I smile at her, while at the same time trying to prevent her from seeing a partially chewed mouthful of jambalaya.

“Bye the way” I say, quickly swallowing,

“You’re probably sick of hearing this question, but what’s the story behind that tattoo?”

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