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It Happens to the Best of Us: I'm Not Cool Anymore

Despair turns to hope during a humdrum trip to the grocery store

By Peter Gerstenzang

A few mornings ago, I saw a reflection of myself and had to summon every bit of strength to keep from shrieking. What was staring back at me, from a darkened winter window, was sad, morally repugnant and just plain creepy.

As I caught a glimpse of myself on the NordicTrack, wearing a velour sweatsuit and horn-rimmed glasses so I could watch CNBC, I had the most unsettling epiphany: I’m not cool anymore.

I looked beyond the window at my snow-covered suburban lawn and wondered what had happened to my rebellious nature. Where was the guy who once wore mirror shades and motorcycle boots, whose long hair was held in place by a bandana? How did he morph into the guy who was exercising before dawn? Who chugged prune juice? And now dressed like senile mobster, Vincent “The Chin” Gigante? I did not know. And I was bummed about it.

My need to be Cool with a capital C was once the most compelling drive in my life. More important, even, than my desire for sex, which itself, was deadlier than a Search and Destroy mission.

I Had A Pompadour, Once

How urgent it once was to have the perfect car, the perfect music playing in the car, the perfect haircut worn by the guy driving the car. Which, in my case, meant a copy of Lou Reed’s mustard yellow pompadour. Plus, having the digits of my left hand covered with black nail polish. A look that occasionally got me a few dates at school but if displayed in prison would have gotten me extra desserts and plenty of invitations to the Spring dance.

OK, so maybe I looked strange to some people. But in my glammed-out glory, I felt absolutely immortal. In other words, cool. Of course, that can’t last forever.

In middle age, we have to stop dressing like we did in high school. We have business meetings to attend. We need to shop for food. We have kids who expect us to be dependable and sort of normal. If we showed up at a school play dressed like the bass player in The Cure, it wouldn’t work. Authorities would drop a net on us, shoot a tranquilizer dart into our butt and put us on an involuntary psychiatric hold. Don’t ask me how I know this. I just do. This sort of get-up has to be abandoned in midlife.

But if we can’t be cool now — black lipstick cool, nose ring cool, hair like lemon meringue cool — what do we do? We try middle-age cool. Which, since our fashion choices are now limited, has to happen in our hearts and minds. With our behavior.

Take me.

Call It Insurance Salesman Chic


Last week, after a flurry of winter flakes, I made my way to the supermarket. Due to the cold, I had to forgo any hip clothes. I walked down an aisle in a down vest, duck boots and blocky snow pants. I looked like a preppy version of The Michelin Man. As I came upon the soft cheese section, I fell into despair. I would never again be allowed in a punk rock club. Unless I was there to sell them some insurance.

Then, suddenly, a bit of salvation was thrown my way.

A slight elderly woman was wrestling with a heavy frozen turkey, caught somewhere between holding it and letting it pull her into her shopping cart. I approached cautiously, the way you have to do it these days, so she could see I wasn’t hiding a handgun in my fanny pack. I smiled and helped untangle woman and turkey. When she saw the bird was safely in her cart, she said thank you, patted my arm and wheeled off. And something very pleasant occurred to me.

I realized I might not have been capable of such a kind deed when I was young, overly concerned with myself and trying not to chip my nail polish. And I felt all right. Even if I did look like a hedge fund manager. Even though my most recent rebellious act was to put out my recycling bucket a few hours early.

It wasn't hangin’ with The Stones when they made Exile on Main Street, but, as you get older, you adjust. You realize that doing something kind is the next logical step — the start of a selfless, authentic new life. A life where, symbolically speaking, you go around helping women put turkeys in their shopping carts.

And you realize that's pretty cool.

Peter Gerstenzang is a humorist, video director and journalist. Read More
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