I have been told that I am mellowing with age -not, I fear, like a fine wine… or is that cheese? At any rate, I suspect it is more of a dilution, than anything; I think they should be more specific. But, whatever, apparently there is an incongruity that has been noted and duly catalogued. People have always been doing that to me, though. I should be used to it by now, I suppose, but I have learned to accommodate, and that which at one time cankered, now merely itches, like those sweaters I get on sale at Value Village.

Do you think that’s what they mean? Is it that I’m becoming more tolerant, and maybe more accepting of adversity, or is it that I just can’t be bothered anymore -so caked with years that not as much gets through? A sort of perceptual deafness?

It’s the latter that worries me. I like to think I was never as vitriolic as those around me, but perhaps I’ve fallen victim to a retrospective misreading of my memories. Retirement can do that: work confronts you like a mirror in the morning before you’ve shaved, and all the scruff you see is what you’d really be like if there weren’t others around to point them out. I suppose wives do that too, but sometimes you have to retire from them as well.

But mellow? That sounds too much like what happens to an old banana. I’d like to think I’m made of sterner stuff. I mean, I still swear, and although I sometimes I get the words wrong, it’s the emotion that counts, right? I don’t tend to shake my fist at people anymore, either -I can’t run as fast as I used to, and besides I’m often not sure what I heard from them was something provocative or just my name.

And yet, I have to admit that sometimes vocal mellifluousness -if I can assume that is an uncle of the noun ‘mellow’- has been able to stand me in good stead on occasion. In the mall, for example.

Malls, like hospitals, are anathema to me, but nonetheless sometimes I require periodic consultations when I discover something malfunctioning, or am looking for a serviceable replacement. And, in both places, I find the corridors interminable, and the crowds turbulent -I am generally a creature of still waters. So, I often seek solace within groynes, as we used to call them, although I hesitate to use the word nowadays. Let’s just call them breakwaters – the places where they keep the benches.

The problem, however, is that in rough weather, there simply aren’t enough of them and so competition for space is ferocious. Everybody from bag-laden shoppers, to elderly be-caned retirees, to teenagers texting their friends in the next reef, to the homeless seeking shelter from the rain, compete for space. I have always been egalitarian, I think, and so, like a squirrel looking for a hole of his own, I avoid even the prospect of conflict.

On one less than auspicious occasion, however, I inadvertently misjudged the availability of space on the particular bench I was being buffeted past, and bumped into a young woman intent on both her phone and a likely still-warm seat that just availed itself for public auction.

I suppose that I, too, was preoccupied with my inability to satisfy my mercantilian tasks, and so had decided to sit awhile and regroup. I fear I am not as Mall-able as I used to be, and distracted by the promise of rest, reached out in hopes of easing myself onto the bench.

Unfortunately -for her, I suppose- I touched her phone… Okay, I grabbed it, but as soon as I realized my mistake, I let go immediately, and the phone clattered to the hard tile floor.

It didn’t seem to be damaged, but the woman was. At first, her face registered surprise, and then her eyes scrinched up with emotion, and her lips synced something that I took to be ‘Phew’. I didn’t actually hear the word, but I smiled at her reassurance that I hadn’t broken it, and apologized.

Her face expression remained complex, though, and she muscled me out of her way and sat down. I shrugged and was about to leave and search for another seat when she again mouthed a ‘phew’ followed by some words I couldn’t make out because they were aimed at my bad ear. Well, I mean it’s not bad or anything -it’s done legion service over the years, but like an expensive hotel, it has become rather selective in the clientele frequencies it is willing to accept. Hers, malheureusement, were not among them. But she continued to attempt entry with a barrage of hissing-sounds and confusingly quick lip movements that I despaired of reading. The word ‘old’ seemed to appear now and then, and each time, I’d smile in hopes that it meant she was sorry she’d taken my seat and was going to surrender it. The rest of her face didn’t seem very clear, though, so I shrugged, and turned to leave. Sometimes you just have to move on.

As soon as I took my eyes off her, however, she jumped up from her seat, jammed her elbow hard into my ribs to alert me that the seat was now vacant, and disappeared into the crowd. Although, I felt bruised, I was also grateful to her for letting me know she wanted me to have her seat, and I smiled as I made my way to the bench.

But I noticed people were staring at me and shaking their heads. I turned to one of them, the woman next to me, and sighed. “At times, I’m glad there’s still some respect for the elderly, eh?” I said to her inquiring eyes.

“You’re a saint, you know. I don’t understand how you can do it,” she replied, still shaking her head. Fortunately it was to the other, more accepting ear.

“Pardon me?” I said, wondering if maybe I had misjudged the good ear’s ability.

“You were so calm with her,” she continued. “I would have poked her with my umbrella and given her a piece of my mind.” The man on my other side, another former head shaker, converted it to a nod. “The words she used…” he added, mid-nod, “Where do they learn them all?”

I merely shrugged, innocently I suppose, because the man smiled and rejoined the chorus of head shakers along the bench. And for a moment, I felt special -not anything like a saint, you understand, but just receptive enough to accept the praise. Mellow, I guess you’d call it…


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