Noe Valley Voice July-August 1998

"Hey, Grandpa!"

By Robert Karpan

I am waiting at the bus stop on 25th and Castro, listening to my radio, when I hear a teenage girl's voice behind me: "Hey, grandpa! Cool Walkman."

Grandpa? A quick glance reveals I am the only adult present.

I turn to retort. Robert De Niro comes to mind: "You talkin' to me? You talkin' to ME?" Too harsh. Maybe George Costanza: "Yeah? Well, the jerk store called..." Too lame.

I rely instead on my quick wit. Too late. She's halfway to Clipper Street, running and laughing with her James Lick classmates.

Grandpa, indeed. I check myself in the glass of the Muni kiosk. A spare tire around the middle -- not full-sized, mind you -- more like one of those small emergency tires that come with new cars. I see tortoise-shell glasses (bifocals, actually), a full head of mostly brown hair with flecks of grey. A mostly grey moustache with flecks of brown. No crease lines indicating wisdom.

Is this the face of a grandpa? Apparently so. The revelation is such a shock that I have to sit down and rest. I suddenly feel like a rotary phone at a cellular convention.

"Grandpa" is the last word that would come to mind if I were asked to describe myself. My image of a grandpa is a kindly man in his seventies with thin white hair, sitting in a rocking chair perusing the Farmer's Almanac.

And her image of a grandpa What's going on here?

In my view, I'm still the man about town who dances till dawn at the Black and White Ball, frolics at the Fillmore, and gets down at Slim's. The suave connoisseur of fine wines and gourmet cuisine. The Nick Charles whose gin martini practically calls out for a Sinatra record -- er, CD. I'm as doggone urbane as you can be -- and still live in Noe Valley.

And yet, in her eyes, I'm a "grandpa." Maybe I passed through some Twilight Zone on my way to the bus stop, and somewhere in a Noe Valley flat sits a vibrant Dorian Gray whose picture is waiting for the 24 on Castro.

I try to see myself through her eyes: guy of indeterminate age, standing at the bus stop wearing a checkered flannel jacket over a golf shirt. Old pair of faded blue Dockers. White socks. Untrendy Rockports. Maybe hunched over a bit. The Dr. Dean Edell program blasting through his Sony Walkman. Well, yes, I can see how my true identity might have been missed.

Later that evening, I stop at Bell Market for a gallon of nonfat milk and other groceries. At the checkout stand, a clerk asks if I need some help getting my groceries to my car. "No, thank you," I croak, stifling a sob.

Now, I'm really depressed. I must be old -- not getting old -- but already old. Rats! It couldn't have come at a worse time. I had plans to play tennis on Friday, and my golf foursome was expecting me on Saturday. My wife and I had intended to take a long walk on Ocean Beach tomorrow, and now this. What a time to get old.

Now I have to list my assets, make a will, and start my estate planning. There are benefits to apply for and retirement communities to evaluate. I'll have to join AARP, of course. Maybe go down to the senior center and pick up a few brochures. Begin peppering my opinions with "I reckon." So much to do and -- probably -- so little time, I reckon.

When I broke the news to my wife, she hit the ceiling. "You're not old," she said. She gave me her speech No. 7, which, condensed, reads, "You're only as old as you feel, don't dwell on what other people say, children of today have no respect, and yes, you still have to clean out the gutters."

After the pep talk I felt a little better, so I made a very dry Bombay martini -- straight up with an olive -- and put on a Frank Sinatra album: Songs for Young Lovers, arranged by Nelson Riddle. Soothed by the lush arrangements, I thumbed through my dog-eared copy of Bartlett's Quotations until I found the Scottish poet Robert Burns:

Oh wad some power the giftie gie us

To see oursels as others see us!

No, thanks.

Robert Karpan is a 54-year-old writer who lives in San Francisco's Noe Valley neighborhood.