As men waltz into the zone of infirmity politely known as middle age, they are apparently quite oblivious to their eroding appearance. How else would you explain the legions of middle-aged NASCAR dads who fill the racetrack grandstands on Sundays, shamelessly shirtless, shrimp-pink from UV exposure, and proudly exposing their distended abdomens as living homages to beer?
Ironically, the average middle-aged man is surprised when he finally realizes that he is no longer eye-candy for women who are still well below their menopausal waterline. Somehow, we’re able to manintain the delusion that we lurk behind some kind of force field that blinds young women to all the obvious signs of our advancing decrepitude.
I can recall an embarrassing number of male friends, all older, fatter and balder than I, who have told me, with a shameless leer, “I’m still catnip for the ladies!”
But eventually, the lesson must be learned. Reality can only be denied for so long. This was brought home to me one night recently when I was having dinner with two male friends, who are more or less my age (i.e. still in the shallow end of their fifties curve). I’ll call them Mr. X and Mr. Y.
After a few Tanqueray-and-tonics, Mr. X began to lament that young waitresses no longer flirted with him the way they used to. “It’s the Ice Cream Syndrome,” Mr. X said sadly. “They see me as a large scoop of vanilla.”
“You mean sweet and tasty?” I ventured.
“No, round and pale, with a high fat content,” he said.
Mr. Y, the more sexually adventurous of my two friends, begged to differ. “That’s strictly a mental block,” he said. “If you see yourself as fat and middle-aged and unappealing, you project that image of yourself to others. If you believe it, the young women you meet will believe it too. On the other hand, if you believe that you’re George Clooney’s long lost twin…well, need I say more?”
“No, you don’t need to say more,” said Mr. Y. “If you believe you’re Clooney’s lost twin, the girls will think you’re a fat middle-aged guy with a pathetic case of denial.”
Mr. Y shook his head. “Not so. I score with younger women on a regular basis.” And then, I kid you not, he added, “I’m still catnip to the ladies!”
Mind you, Mr. Y is about 265 pounds, pleasantly pear-shaped, still on the “balding” side of bald, and the proud owner of coke-bottle glasses that, in a defiant seventies style, cover most of his upper face. What young woman wouldn’t be seduced?
“Are we talking about your occasional trips to Southeast Asia?” Mr. X said, “or right here in the good ol’ USA?”
“Right here, baby. I’ll prove it.” Mr. Y then made a wager that he could excite the interest of our young waitress by the time we’d finished our desert and coffee. We were still at the cocktail phase, so this gave him approximately 90 minutes to work his magic.
“What’s your wager?” I asked. “Will you pick the tab if you don’t get a date?”
“A phone number,” Mr. Y said.
It was agreed. And if Mr. Y succeeded, Mr. X and I would cover his share of the bill. So confident was Mr. X of his eventual success that he proceeded to order the most expensive items on the menu.
He also turned up his charm dial to its highest setting. Mr. X and I grimaced at the one-liners and double entendres that we’d both heard innumerable times over the years. Mr. X had opened up his trunk of old favorites.
The waitress, a lithe, blonde 24-year old named Britney, told us she was a graduate student in Physical Anthropology. Mr. Y took this as his cue. He said with a wink, “Is that anything like Comparative Anatomy?”
Britney gave him a puzzled look, and walked away. Mr. X was beaming. “I hope you brought your Visa card,” he said. “You’re gonna need it.”
As the evening wore on, however, Britney actually seemed to respond to Mr. Y’s charms, such as they were. In fact, by the time we were savoring our coffee and cognac, Britney was giggling and blushing at most everything Mr. Y said.
“This is getting embarassing,” Mr. X said. “If you score on this one, I’ll shoot myself.”
“You should’ve known better,” said Mr. Y. “When I bring out my A-game, that’s all she wrote.”
“I’ll believe it when I see the evidence,” I said. “Her phone number, in her own handwriting.”
“It’s as good as done,” Mr. Y said. With that, he excused himself, and intercepted Britney at the servers’ station where she appeared to be preparing our bill at a computer terminal. Mr. X, experienced in these maneuvers, managed to catch her when she was at the station alone. He positioned himself to block her escape. He used another old trick: he spoke in a whisper, which forced Britney to lean closer to him.
Amazingly, Britney was smiling, and lapping up whatever Mr. Y was saying. And then, wonder of wonders, she scribbled something on a cocktail napkin, and gave it to Mr. Y.
“I’m gonna shoot myself,” Mr. X said. “I really am.”
Mr. Y returned to our table, brandishing his cocktail napkin like a trophy. He’d folded it neatly in half, to display the phone number. “Read it and weep!” he said.
“If you say you’re catnip for the ladies again,” Mr. X said, “you’re gonna be wearing my tiramisu.”
“You’re just jealous,” Mr. Y said.
“Let me see that napkin,” I said. Mr. Y held it up, clamped firmly between his sausage-like fingers. “No, let me see it. Let me look at it closely. Seeing as how there’s real money riding on this.”
Mr. Y’s expression changed subtly, but after a moment’s hesitation, he handed me the napkin. “Suit yourself,” he said.
I unfolded the napkin. On the hidden half was a name – not Britney’s. “Who’s Myrna Kibble?” I said.
Now Mr. Y’s expression changed completely. No more brassy gloating. Now he flushed with emabarassmenet. “Myrna is Britney’s mother. A nice retired widow, who’s looking for someone to keep her company. Britney thinks we’d be a good match.”
After Mr. X and I stopped laughing, I said, “Hey, don’t look so glum. Britney’s pretty young. Her mother might be younger than you – technically.”
Mr. Y leaned his face on his clenched fist. “She’s sixty-three.”
Once Mr. X and I recovered from our second paroxysm of glee, we decided to call the wager a draw. After all, Mr. Y did get a phone number in Britney’s own hand, even if it wasn’t hers. Whether or not Mr. Y ever called it, I couldn’t tell you.