Harmless Old F*rt by
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Prompted By Ageism

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There is plenty of ageism out there, and I have probably been a victim of it of late in a usual way: hiring.  Based on a transition plan we put in place a couple of years ago, I am scheduled to retire from my firm on December 31st.  It made good sense for everybody — I certainly wanted to leave on my own terms — but, as a workaholic for the past 45 years, I am ambivalent about it. I have increased my non-profit board work a fair bit and will likely do some grad school/law school teaching, but have also made a casual effort to see if there was a “next chapter” out there to continue my career as an in-house counsel.  I have generally pursued jobs I am over-qualified for and/or could probably do while half-asleep. (I excluded being Attorney General of the United States on moral and ethical grounds.)   Nada.  No one mentions age and I am not in the least bit paranoid, but I am also not naive.

Here's where ageism really grates: when you know that you are viewed by those around you as a harmless old f*rt. 

But, as noted, such ageism is SOP for us boomers and I feel no need to dwell on it, nor do I feel particularly crushed by it, especially as I am blessed with a very ample nest egg.  But here’s where ageism really grates: when you know that you are viewed by those around you as a harmless old f*rt  (hereinafter, “HOF”).  And I’m not talking about striking out with hot young women at bars.  That’s not exactly my style, and I sort of think my wife might not approve.  Moreover, trying something like that is simply inviting rejection. Besides not being naive, I am also not a masochist.

But what if the ageism rears its ugly head not by rejection, but by acceptance?  That’s what really, really hurts, particularly since it tends to be unavoidable.  Not when AARP magically discovers you and starts flooding your mailbox; AARP finds everyone, and at the ridiculously young age of 50.  [Insert here standard joke about unleashing AARP to find children whose pictures are on the back of milk cartons.]   No, I first realized I had become a HOF a few years ago when, back in my old turf in Manhattan, I had several younger women ask me for directions.

At first, I thought that this might have reflected a softening of the general “Do not interact with strangers; do not even make eye contact” ethos of New York. And, to be fair, I was  well dressed and looked like I at least knew where the hell I was going.  But, on further  — and sadder — reflection, I realized that what had changed was that I could no longer be reasonably thought of as a sexual predator or, indeed, any kind of a threat.  (Not that I had ever been, but you get the drift.)  To the contrary, I was a HOF and just the sort of safe, non-gender-specific person that a hopelessly lost and totally helpless young out-of-town waif could ask for directions.

Since then, I find that I am asked for directions a lot when I am back in New York.  And I am always pleasant and, if possible, helpful (just don’t ask me about the outer boroughs).  But, quietly inside my harmless old brain, I am crying.

Profile photo of John Shutkin John Shutkin

Characterizations: been there, funny, right on!, well written


  1. Boy do I get it, John. All well said. As a law bro who has been through it (seeking late in life employment) let me just say be prepared to hear one or ,more of the following (all true in my experience): “It’s not a fit”, “You’ll intimidate the (fill in the blank)”, “What resume?” “We don’t hire former (fill in the blank)”. You may find that your “HOF”ness is not perceived as being so “H”
    As to the direction seekers, yes I have much the same experience. I wrote of our historic dirt road: the Appalachian Trail crosses it and I have fielded numerous requests from young distaffs who can’t find the resumption of the trail. HOF indeed but it’s nice to get the equivalent of a “Thanks Boomer” rather than an “OK Boomer”

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Tom. I think Retro is going to become a form of support group over this week’s prompt. And, yeah, this “OK, Boomer” yhing is becoming quite the put down. Other than. “FU!” and “Get off my lawn!” I can’t think of a proper retort.

  2. Marian says:

    This is a great take from the male point of view, John, and really complements my story on becoming invisible as a 50-something woman. There are upsides, so we sniffle a bit and carry on.

  3. I’ll give you directions any time John, and I’ll even lend you my Senior Citizen bus pass!

  4. Laurie Levy says:

    It’s hard to accept aging, John, but what’s the alternative to being an HOF or an IW (invisible woman)? I love your reply to Tom, having to choose between “FU” and “get off my lawn.” I can’t think of a better retort for the OK, Boomer thing except to remind myself that for a number of years, I didn’t trust anyone over 30.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    John, I had a different experience, being laid off when three months pregnant with my second child and going to the unemployment office every other week to collect my check (with a three-year old in tow). I had to avow that I REALLY was looking for a job (not so much), but told the counselor that the bigger I got, the harder it became. She was sympathetic and told me to persevere. I was NOT seeking employment, but my wonderful cleaning lady/mother-figure assured me that it was my right to collect unemployment (which I had paid into). So not ageism, but another form of discrimination akin to what you describe.

    Don’t fret too much about feeling harmless. I think it is better than being viewed as a potential rapist, right? Everyone on this site knows how quick your mind is and you are just being pleasant and helpful.

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks, Betsy. And you certainly were a victim of discrimination. And equally bad.

      And thanks for knowing that I’m just being helpful, but all those out-of-town waifs are not as knowledgeable as my Retro colleagues.

  6. Suzy says:

    This is priceless, John! I love your designation as a HOF! As Betsy says, it’s better than being seen as a potential rapist, isn’t it? Your last sentence, about crying inside your harmless old brain, is a perfect ending for the story, but I hope it’s not how you really feel! If it is, we can have a therapy session the next time I see you!

  7. Wonderful story, John . . . and how on earth did you find such a perfect photo? But I think we might be under some misconceptions here. First of all, although you might indeed be one, I would never assume any man is a HOF as appearances can be deceiving. My guess is that these women who allow you to give them directions might just do so because you look and act like a decent guy, not because you’re a HOF. And, I follow a few women on Instagram who are most definitely senior citizens and are seriously sexy, no two ways about it. Maybe not to everyone’s taste, but certainly to some and with a following to prove it. So much for HOF and IW!

    • John Shutkin says:

      Thanks so much, Barbara. And I’d like to think that some of my approachability is based on me seeming to be a decent guy, but I was no less decent 30 years ago and no one asked me for directions then. And you are right about seriously sexy women of a certain age. One need only check out Helen Mirren or Jane Seymour (currently in The Kominsky Method) to see that. And, of course, all the beautiful women on Retro!
      As to the photo, that is just the magic of The Google at work. I think I just typed in something like “images of old men giving directions” and voila!

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