Some years ago I remarked to a friend, “I thought getting older would mean my body would stay the same, but it would just be more wrinkly. I didn’t realize my body would actually start breaking down.” I was in my late 20s at the time and psoriasis had begun its march across my flesh. But getting older—something we are all doing, even three-year-olds—has all sorts of surprises.
When I was sixteen and working in my first job at a tiny restaurant, I rang up a customer, and enquired how his day was. “Fabulous!” was his reply. He had just attended his twentieth high school reunion and had a blast. From him I learned that, “your tenth, it’s okay, but people are still trying to make something of themselves. By their twentieth, they’ve relaxed and are just fun to catch up with.” I filed this away for that day in the far future when I would attend my twentieth reunion. The far future has nearly arrived because my twentieth high school reunion is next year.
When I was 22, a newly minted college graduate, I moved to the big city and I landed a temping job that first sent me to a posh private high school in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where I was to assist in the bookstore, selling books to the returning high school students. I was young, but they were younger and I will never forget the realization that when they looked at me selling books in their bookstore, they saw an old person. I was only five years older than some of
them, but I could see in their eyes that I had moved from their “part of our
group” classification to a different “old person” classification. Though, to be
fair, it could have just been an “old(er)” classification, at the time it felt like
the same thing.
This week I went for a drive and cycled through radio stations, singing along as I drove. One of the stations was a classic rock station and not once did it play the classic rock I listened to during my adolescence: Led Zepplin, the Who, the Eagles. No, this station playlist consisted of, as they told me several times, “the
New Classic Rock.” The new classic rock is what was the new music of my adolescence: Bon Jovi, Tesla, Guns & Roses. There’s nothing like a marketing
scheme branding a seminal part of my youth as “classic” to mark the passage of
I have also recently had another realization. After seeing Magic Mike, I was checking up on Channing Tatum on IMDB.com and I realized that all of the up-and-coming hunky stars are younger than me. And not just by a year or two, or even the four years difference that separates the boyfriend and me. Channing Tatum was born in 1980, the year I started Kindergarten. Our age difference is enough that we wouldn’t have been in high school at the same time. Chris Hemsworth? Nine years younger. Shia LaBeouf (not that I find him particularly
attractive) is twelve years younger. If any of these dreamboats ever want to enter into a relationship with me I will have to probably explain a lot of things like the ‘84 Summer Olympics and the first term of Reagan. They might not
even know that John Cougar and John Mellencamp are the same people.
And the thing is, I didn’t see it coming, though I should have. When I was little, movie stars were old. Harrison Ford? Old. Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd? Old.
Richard Gere? Old. I didn’t haveenough concept of age to know how old they were, I just put them in the rather broad “same age as my parents” category.*
Though actually, all of those actors except Harrison Ford are actually
younger than my parents. After years of leading men being old, there was a sudden transition when dreamy actors were just a bit older than me. George Clooney would probably have to explain bits of 70s culture to me, but we could make it work. Actually, he’s 13 years older than me, and nearly the same age as Richard Geer, who I have in a completely different “old” category.
Then suddenly, actors in Hollywood were just a little bit older than me, if not the same age or a bit younger. We could have gone to high school together. Ethan Hawke and Joaquin Pheonix? We’re pretty much the same age. Joaquin Phoenix is two days younger than I am and I have liked him since “Space Camp” when he was Leaf Phoenix. Ethan Hawke I’ve had my eye on since 1985’s the Explorers. But let us go on. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon? Two and four years older, respectively. Edward Norton, six years older, Leonardo DiCaprio only two weeks younger than me. Christian Bale is born in the same year. Mark Wahlberg is three years older. We are in the same demographic group. Theoretically, dating would not be a problem. It was also exciting to watch someone my age
win an Oscar for best adapted screenplay, or be “King of the World.” Once that begins to happen to people substantially younger than me, I foresee an old-lady grousing of “whippersnapper” and “upstart.”
The problem is that now if I like a breakout actor I probably have to face facts that he is too young for me to theoretically date. I can follow his career, see his movies, sure, but it is more like a nephew or a favorite neighbor boy. We did not come up at the same time and we were not shaped by the same things. What’s more, I have to face the realization that actors in my age demographic are not the young up-and-coming actors any longer, which means that I am past up-and-coming, myself. I do not really need to up-and-come, but it is a little odd to be in the “older, established” category so suddenly and when I do not really feel established.
This is only the beginning. Soon, more and more actors making a name for themselves will be born when I was in fourth grade, then junior high school and eventually high school. After that they will all be in the “I’m old enough to be their mother” category which just leaves me with an “ew” feeling should my liking turn into movie crush.
And actresses? In about four years, the few actresses my age still acting will have shuffled off to the over-40 actresses retirement home. I will see them now and then playing the mother of someone nine years younger than they are** and then now and then in their 50s playing a grandmotherly sort. But that’s an entirely different essay.
*This category is so broad for children it makes the early elementary school students I work with fun to question. When I ask them how old they think I am sometimes they come back with an incredibly unrealistic answer of “seventeen” and sometimes they completely overshoot and go with “fifty-six.” Every once in a while they hit the “just a bit younger” sweet spot which gives me an odd feeling of elation that is entirely out of proportion to the random nature of their answers.
**The Graduate reference