It turns out that most of the people I deal with on a daily basis – the people I talk to, meet, collaborate with, teaches, zooms in, and eats and has coffee – are 50 years younger than me. They are in their mid-twenties. I am in the mid-70s.
Most of the time, I don’t think of the half-century gap between us, but sometimes it slams me in the face. Like when I see our reflection in a cafe window and wonder, just a moment, who is dragging this old man with these young people.
Or when I flippantly refer to someone like Humphrey Bogart or Archibald Cox and they stare blankly at me. Or when I say ‘the Rosemary Woods stretch’, or being ‘borked’ or ‘swift-boated’, and they haven’t a clue what I’m talking about.
Recently we had a conversation about clothing and I mentioned that I had stowed my Tony jacket in my suitcase above the dresser in the living room. I might as well have spoken of ancient Greek.
Yesterday, one of them said that “inflation is skyrocketing right now.” I had the part that skyrocketed. But high-key? Another reassured me that the âvibeâ of something I had written was âpristineâ. I was not reassured. When one asked another if she had seen me âapplauding Elon Musk,â I wasn’t sure if I should feel complimented or ashamed.
This morning one of my graduate students, referring to another who had driven a Mustang to someone’s shower over the weekend, exclaimed âWhat a flex! “
A “flex? ” I asked.
âA flex! A flex! she said louder, as if talking to someone hard of hearing.
I a m become hard of hearing, damn it. But that was not the problem.
Half a century is a chasm in the landscape of living memory. A person trying to speak through it may appear to distort the space-time continuum. When I was little I remember my father telling me that when he was a boy, he watched Civil War veterans parade through New York City. I was amazed. How could he be so old? How could the civil war have happened so recently?
Most of my first cycle students were born after September 11. They don’t remember a time when the United States was united on anything. They find it hard to believe that I lived most of my life before the Internet.
When I tell them that I have already advised Barack Obama, they are somewhat impressed. Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor? Their eyes are starting to turn glassy. Did you work for Jimmy Carter? They look puzzled, as if I have stepped into the hazy expanses of ancient history. Sometimes I’m telling them that I started my career as an assistant to Abraham Lincoln. It made people laugh. I’m starting to worry that it won’t last longer.