This is the hard part: I don’t know where to start this. I don’t want to sound like a drooling old pervert, but the fact was, she was quite pretty and I found myself glancing at her in that way that I imagine all older men of mine do – wanting to look, wanting to admire, wanting to imagine, but not wanting to get caught at it.
If this was a love story, I would begin it there: with me looking, but trying not to look. It is not, but it could be. There are countless stories of old men finding much younger women who don’t think of them as old. In fact, one of the happiest couples I ever knew was that of a 75-year-old man and a 35-year-old woman. They’d been married 15 years when I met them. But this is not one of those stories, although I would like it to be.
When you’re old there are so many possible beginnings to any story of your life, not as many possible endings. However, to write about being old, who really wants to do that? Writing about being older or getting older… no, that’s not as desirable as it is to write about the ability to be young, to stay young.
Anyway, the young woman was sitting across the room from me, by the window in the coffee shop. She was radiant and the sunlight made her even more so. She wasn’t beautiful merely because she was young, but because she could have been both a model and the girl next door. I’m sure other men there had also noticed her. Some of them were probably staring at her, others probably wanted to, but I didn’t notice that. Who else might have been looking at her wasn’t my problem. My problem was that she was looking at me. This lovely young woman with long, shining, dark hair, a blemish-free face, eyes that appeared to be blue and a deep red smile kept glancing at me.
While men my age have dreams about attracting someone like her, the fact remains she was easily young enough to be my child, maybe even my grandchild. Still, she was looking at me. When I returned her gaze there was that little flutter. You know, when two hearts realize that two pairs of eyes have met and held for a moment. Was this the same reaction of attraction I’d often seen when I was a young man or was I just imagining it? After all at least 20 years had passed since the last time I looked for and hoped for that kind of reaction.
A few years ago one of my favorite TV shoes was Men of a Certain Age starring Ray Romano. It was the story of three friends, two of them single, who were coping with being well into middle age. That look was one the two single guys looked for and usually recognized when they saw it. The hard part after that was trying to decide whether to do something about it. I tried to remember the way some of the women on that show looked when one of the men thought she was “interested.” That didn’t help. The girl by the windows was still glancing at me. Sometimes it seemed she was staring at me. Did that make any difference? Did merely glancing mean one thing, but staring mean another?
Couldn’t she see that I was 58 years old? Didn’t she realize she shouldn’t be staring, flirting as it were with a man, much too old for her? After awhile, it seemed to me she couldn’t keep her eyes off me. To be truthful with you I was starting to get excited. I knew I was still a handsome man, my hair was beginning to gray, my face was slightly wrinkled and I thought I could pass for someone ten years younger.
For me, her staring was both embarrassing and flattering. On the one hand, I knew if I was still married, I’d be making a fool of myself. Would I still be doing that if I walked across the room to talk with her? Than again, I was afraid of what I might do if she approached me. If there was the possibility of an affair with someone so young and attractive, would I take it? I like to think I wouldn’t. I like to think I would thank her, tell her how flattered I was, tell her if things were different, If I was twenty years younger, things would be different. Now, though…” That’s where my thought processes were while I was folding my napkin and looking over my bill, getting ready to leave. That’s what I was thinking when she suddenly got up, heading straight toward me.
“Oh, no” I thought, “it’s happening.”
“Excuse me,” she said very sweetly.
I nodded, quite unable to speak. For a moment I thought I was going to faint. I realized I wasn’t breathing, at least, not breathing easily.
“Would you happen to know Jim Luciani?”
I didn’t. The name was familiar only in the sense of Lucky Luciano. I quickly scanned my memory as well as I could, thinking that somewhere in my past there might be a Jim whose last name I didn’t know who might have been the man she was asking about.
When I realized I was probably looking like someone who didn’t understand the question, or the language, I shook my head slowly. Looking into those beautiful blue eyes, thought, I couldn’t stop wishing I was Jim Luciani.
“No.” she said, implying: you should.
“When I was ten, he lived next door. He was such a nice old man and you look a lot like him. Anyway, I just wanted to see you up close. You know, in case you were him. Sorry if I bothered you,” she whispered as she turned toward the cash register.
She caught me so far off guard and spoke so fast I didn’t have time to think of the clever line I was supposed to say, the line one of the guys in Men of a Certain Age would have thought to say that would have led to a smile, maybe a giggle and a desire on her part to linger. She didn’t linger. She didn’t even look back as she paid her bill and left.
It was then I realized two things: inside my head I was still about 25, but outside of it, 25 was already a long way behind me; and even an old man can be vain.
Since then there have been a couple times when I thought someone younger than me was looking at me. In each case I’ve gone to find the nearest mirror to see if there was something on my face or on my clothing or if something was unzipped, something that could be making me more noticeable than the old guy across the room I didn’t want to admit I was.