08 Aug Why I Wear My Boxer Shorts in Public

Yesterday, as Jill watched me bring in the garbage cans from the street — I was wearing a t-shirt and my boxer shorts — she said, “You have officially joined the world of old men.” She was referring to the fact that I didn’t care who saw me walking around in my boxers. She was right.

By “old,” I mean over 50 — because when you pass that mark, a lot of things change. One of the biggest changes for me was that I stopped caring so much what young people thought of me. As a teacher, I’m very familiar with youngsters. I enjoy their company, but they have only one thing I envy: their pretty youth. Otherwise, they have nothing I want. Which means that they can laugh at me if they please and I won’t take offense. My secret retort to youngsters is this: I am here and happy and have made it this far in good health; may you be as lucky.

The truth is, once you pass 50, you are invisible to everybody under 50. This is especially the case when it comes to impressing young men or young women with yourself as a physically desirable specimen. Pity the 50-something who does not grasp this fact. This realization should not be an occasion for sadness or regret. On the contrary, it should be liberating. As I pad around my house with my uncombed hair and my dirty t-shirt and my baggy boxers and then go to the door to sign for a package, I am reminded of this rock-bottom truth: Who do I have to impress any more? Fuck em!

American culture has stupefied its youngsters with an unceasing diet of fast food and mindless entertainment, dazzled them with fantasies of their own genius and indispensibility, and beguiled them with lies of wild riches and success. As a result, by the time Americans turn 20, they are mess — nearly paranoid about their desirability but at the same time self-assured of their imminent succcess (winning the lottery would be an acceptable consolation to most). It takes about 10-20 years for Life to beat this bullshit out of them, at which point they look back at themselves (if they’re lucky) and say, “Man, what a twit I used to be!”

When I was in my twenties, I was too anxious, too eager, and totally out of control. Everything I did seemed So important! I recall how, when I was in grad school, I woke up in the middle of the night, realizing that I had misspelled a word in a paper I had just submitted to my Rhetoric professor. It kept me up all night. First thing in the morning, I rushed to the professor’s office and told her I needed to check one fact in my paper. She gestured to a pile of papers on a nearby table — clearly she was in no rush to read them. I found my paper, corrected my one misspelled word, then, at last, I could breathe easily. Nowadays, I’m no less careful with my work, but . . . a misspelled word? My fly unzipped? A fart in public? I’m human. Forgive me.

That’s what it comes down to: forgiveness. Young people have a hard time letting go. They have a hard time forgiving. Old folk, on the other hand, know a long road of misteps and mistakes. They have learned how to forgive. That’s why I’m not living to impress youngsters (i.e., anybody under 40). I embrace my fellow oldsters for their wisdom, their generosity, and their good humor. So, if you pass my house and see me outside wearing a dirty t-shirt, worn flipflops, and saggy boxer shorts, give a thought to my liberation and how, if you’re lucky, you’ll live like me one day.