Monday, June 6, 2011

"The Story of Old"

There will probably be a series of these, since, I do not seem to be headed in any other direction.

I saw a wonderful cartoon in the New Yorker recently. A caveman Dad, imparting his wisdom to his attentive, young son, says:

“When I was your age, everything was exactly the same.”

That’s cave man times. That’s – at least it used to be – China. That’s, to some degree, still Mid-West farmers. In environments where conditions remain substantially the same, valuable advice can be passed down from generation to generation, resulting in the older generation receiving honor, attention, prominence and respect.

In environments where conditions do not remain substantially the same, however,

They get nothing.

That’s our world today. With everything constantly changing, “The Wisdom of the Ages” has no practical value. There’s nothing to learn from old people. So there’s no reason to listen to them.

Why would you? These people are from Another Time. Their “wisdom” no longer applies.

It’s not only the young who are prejudiced against old people. I’m sometimes prejudiced against old people myself. And I’m old.

Not long ago, we went to see a play that a friend of ours was acting in. He told us that he’d leave our names at the Tickets Counter. We would have to pay for the tickets, but we wouldn’t be shut out. It was a small theater, and the seating capacity was limited.

Okay, so we drive to the theater, and we go in. I step up to the Tickets Counter, and

I tell them that tickets had been reserved in our names. The plan here was simple. I’d pay the money, they’d hand over the tickets, we’d go inside, and we’d see the play.

The problem was…

The two people assigned to handle the Tickets Counter (they may well have been volunteers)

Were old.

Not like, in their nineties or anything, but comfortably seventies-ish. And, being old – this is a stereotype, but it generally fits – they were utterly clueless dealing with modern technology.

When things go awry, I usually don’t get angry. More often, I just watch the incompetence unfold, and I chuckle. I don’t know why it is, but, to me, the more screwed up a situation gets, the funnier it becomes.

Maybe I’m still looking for quintessential “drawn from life” moments I can transplant into shows, even though I don’t do shows anymore. Maybe I simply enjoy laughing at ineptitude. And not just other people’s. I crack up at my own ineptitude as well. Maybe even more.

We had time. The play was not starting for fifteen minutes. The inept septuagenarians behind the Tickets Counter, however, took all of it. And then some.

First, they were unable to find our names on the “Guest List” posted on the show’s website. More specifically, they were unable to find the website. When they finally worked that out, they had an inordinate amount of difficulty charging our credit card for the tickets. And once they finally mastered that, they were repeatedly unsuccessful at printing up our tickets.

We did not wait for our printed receipt. The show had already begun.

Give these folks a sheet of paper with names on it, give them cash money transactions, give them the traditional pasteboard tickets – those people would have breezed right through. But here, wrestling with websites, laser printers and credit card procedures, they were simply out of their depths, looking flustered, sweaty, humiliated

And old.

I roared (inwardly; they were embarrassed enough already) at the dizzying display of mechanical cluelessness. But my laugh was fueled by a knowing nervousness. Those old people behind the Tickets Counter could very easily have been me. Though I would more likely have been funnier about it, easing the playgoers’ anxiety, as the rest of the audience filed happily into the theater.

Since “old” is rarely an advantage, it is best to keep the telltale “giveaways” in check. (Like you avoid volunteering where you were when you heard that Kennedy was shot.) Sometimes, however, “old” sneaks insinuatingly up from below, exposing you for the aging crone that you are.

Once, I wrote a pilot script and it didn’t sell, and, behind my back – which wasn’t very nice – the studio assigned my rejected project – whose concept I had created – to a younger writer, who rewrote the script, and subsequently received the “Green Light” to turn it into a pilot.

When I got wind of this turn of events – I actually read about it in Variety – I called the writer who had taken over my project to wish him luck and offer my assistance.

The writer had been on the staff of The Simpsons. I had seen one of his episodes, and had enjoyed it tremendously. It involved, as its climax, a “jail break” of babies, whose clandestine exit was scored, to hilarious effect, to the tune of the movie theme from The Great Escape.

I had never met the young writer, and, kicking off our phone conversation, I wanted to break the ice by complimenting him on his Simpsons episode. But, rumbling up from my age-sensitive unconscious, rather than saying “The Simpsons” (which premiered in 1989), I heard myself instead, on more than one occasion, saying, “The Flintstones” (premiering in 1960.)

I compounded my doddering first impression by referring to The Great Escape repeatedly as The Dirty Dozen.

You cannot successfully hide “old.” But it’s a revealing sign of the times that you’d want to.

Follow-up on “The Peter Sellers Story.” The “auctioneer who breaks everything” sketch was rehearsed and taped, but did not appear in the final telecast. I don’t know why. I guess, the show’s producer, Lorne Michaels, thought other stuff that was shot had turned out better, and since the show was too long, something needed to be cut. I don’t think YouTube includes sketches that didn’t make it into the show. Although they might.


YEKIMI said...

Knowing that you are a big fan of Westerns, any thoughts on the passing of James Arness?

Max Clarke said...

What a great phrase, Earl, " the incompetence unfold...."

Mac said...

It's true. It's funny, frustrating and underscored with the thought "one day I'll be trying to do this and the technology will be a mystery to me."
I hope you got well-paid for that stolen pilot. It happened to me but you were a lot more gracious than I was - "I've wired the building! It's gonna blow!" (Not literally that, but you get the idea) - not the most dignified response but man it's tough to be nice when it happens.

Zaraya said...

Mr. Pomerantz; don't you think that the old people that screw up are like the "woman driver" or "mullet wearing driver" or "mullet wearing women driver", you only notice them as being part of a set because they stand out due to their behaviour? What I mean is, this old thing may just be observational bias.