Do we get dumber as we get older, or were we always kind of dimwitted?
I'm with stupid
Back in the early 1990s when we first moved from New York City to the Capital Region, I had to patch together a couple…
When I was growing up and attending the Plainedge Public School system, there were a couple of different sets of identical twins in my grade. There was one in particular though that stands out to me. They were two girls who were fun and gregarious and while they looked very similar, and at times appeared to act in a very similar fashion, they also sported significant differences. Still, when I first met them I remembered that I had trouble telling them apart. One of the ways I learned to tell the difference was that one of them liked to wear a shirt that said, “I’m with stupid,” which underneath the print had a finger pointing to the left. I assumed that the individual branded as being “stupid” was the other twin. I’m not sure if the other sister was insulted by the t-shirt, but I’m beginning to think about buying this shirt for my wife to wear when she’s with me since apparently, at least as far as some of my recent actions are concerned, she may wish to alert people I come into contact with that my critical thinking skills are apparently on the wane. In other words, with age may come wisdom, but I’m finding of late that it is far heavier on the “dumb” than the “wise.”
As my parents began to age, I started noticing that they seemed to really struggle with certain aspects of life that previously hadn’t created too many roadblocks for them. Any kind of mechanical or electrical device, or really any situation that we all deal with on an everyday basis seemed to flumox them beyond hope. “Rob could you come over and get the DVD player to work?” or “Rob, Dad cut his finger going through the kitchen garbage again (Don’t ask), what should we do?” These scenarios became pretty standard in their so-called “Golden Years.” Is this what old age has in store for all of us?
All is not lost. This is Benjamin Ferencz, the last surviving prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials who is still actively fighting for justice at the tender age of 100. Yeah sure, but can he work a DVD player? (Getty Images)
Back in the early 1990s when we first moved from New York City to the Capital Region, I had to patch together a couple of different part-time jobs since teaching positions were few and far between. I ended up telemarketing for a while to supplement my part-time teaching gig, and I have to tell you, it was just as rewarding and glamourous as you’d imagine it to be. For most of my time in the “pits,” or “on the floor,” or whatever industry buzzword those in the business had created for sitting in a cube and calling as many annoyed souls as possible, my job was to sell the Visa card at the very reasonable interest rate of approximately 19.5% Of course we didn’t see it as selling credit cards, we saw it as selling dreams (If your dreams typically consist of paying usury rates of interest on the debt you have accrued on your credit card, a card you probably shouldn’t have qualified for in the first place).
From my first days as a telemarketer, I proceeded to distinguish myself. There was a huge whiteboard up in front of the room where the staff, including myself busily sat in our cubes making our predatory calls. It listed everybody’s name and little stars next to our names for every verified sale we received. My name, not unlike the “Sneetches” of Dr. Seuss fame, who had no “star upon thars,” was typically bereft of stars. In other words, I was usually the low man on this ignominious totem pole. Still, clinging to the idea that even a broken clock is right twice-a-day, I occasionally succeeded in hawking my wares. However, a lot of the time, my sales were made at the expense of an individual who perhaps had seen too many sunrises, and was most likely not too far from facing their final sunset to be making such a decision. Still, I didn’t control the names that came up across my screen when I hit “dial” so my responsibility was to sell that credit card to whomever was unfortunate enough to pick up their phone.
Leonardo DiCaprio as Jordan Belfort in the Wolf of Wall Street. Belfort’s salesmanship over the phone was legendary. Incredibly when it comes to my own selling acumen, I’m closer to being the actual Leonardo DiCaprio than I am to being a salesman comparable to Jordan Belfort. (You Tube)
One afternoon back in 1994, my automatic dialer landed me upon an older gentleman. He picked up his phone and answered in a friendly manner. Not only didn’t he hang up on me or tell to go “F” myself, but he seemed interested, at least somewhat in what I was trying to sell. He agreed to purchase the credit card and the rule was that if somebody bought the card, we had to read through a large paragraph filled with disclosure type information which most people either ignored or used the time in which I was reading to rethink their purchase. My octogenarian customer (I had noticed that he had been born in 1906) was all set to make the purchase, however, I kept looking at his date of birth which was staring me in the face from my computer screen, and I felt that I was most definitely taking advantage of this man who was so old, he probably was too old to fight in World War Two. Finally, after I read to him all of the disclosure information I paused and I said, “Sir, honestly, do you really want or need this credit card?” He responded by saying, “Not really.” I said that I didn’t think so, and I let him off the hook. Did this moment of moral clarity hurt my bottom dollar? Absolutely, however switching from foreign to domestic wines was a small price to pay for not taking advantage of a man whose was born during the Roosevelt administration. That’s the Theodore Roosevelt administration.
I was much younger when all of this transpired, and perhaps because of this I couldn’t quite understand why this man would agree to purchase a completely unnecessary credit card from the “Willy Loman of Telemarketing” no less. Then I began to watch my parents age and all of sudden I began to see their cognitive abilities decline ever so slightly. I began to wonder. When does this happen? Is there a particular age where we begin to lose some of our cognitive abilities? Is it at 65? 70? Or, is it a gradual thing. Much the way our bodies tend to decline gradually, be it small aches and pains, trouble getting loose, our steps beginning to feel heavier, waking up stiff, and the slight but ever so noticeable twinge of pain in the knees whenever stairs have to be negotiated, does the brain also show signs of wear and tear?
Many Americans were concerned with whether 69 year old William Henry Harrison was too old for the office of the presidency. Harrison appeared to be extremely fit for his age and even gave the longest inaugural address in the nation’s history in a chilly and blustery rain storm without a coat. He would of course die from pneumonia a month later, but in fairness that may have been more due to his failing decision making skills regarding whether he should have worn a coat, as opposed to his vulnerability to the sniffles. (Getty Images)
Perhaps it’s too easy of a crutch to blame everything on age once one turns 50. You often hear people lament that everything goes downhill after 50. Now that I’m 56 I tend to believe that, but is it a self-fulling prophecy or is it simply a way of covering up for some questionable examples of decision making that I’ve been guilty of lately? For example, recently the Capital Region was assaulted by one of the fastest and most furious onslaughts of snowfall that I’d ever witnessed, and I went to school in Oswego where it snows roughly from September thru June. In about 10 hours, some 30-odd inches of snow fell, and coupled with the attempts by the town plows to clear our streets, the end of the driveway had snow piled up just about to my eye level, which if I was Danny DeVito would have been just fine, but I”m over six feet tall, and this was going to be a task and then some.
I woke my son up and told him that there was simply too much snow for our very decent sized snowblower to handle and that he was going to have to start shoveling the end of the driveway while I plowed out the rest of it as best I could. The problem was that while the snow was quite light and fluffy, it was simply too high, and the snowblower kept clogging up. I usually use a stick or a very long and large screwdriver to unclog it, but because it kept happening, I began to put my gloved hand into the chute that blows the snow to save time. I don’t recall how many times I did that, but I certainly remember the last time. The blades engaged with my hand in the chute, and I let out quite the audible, “F#c&!!!!!” I looked at my throbbing hand still inside its glove and as I prepared to pull my glove off, I fully expected the fingertips on my right hand, specifically the ones from my ring finger and whatever you call the middle finger (I usually just refer to it as the “FU” finger), to have been taken off. I also considered that my father had lost one of his fingertips in an automobile accident and that my mother’s father had chopped off his index finger to stay out of World War One while he was still living in the Ukraine, and I thought, wow, families really do have a fate.
Bruised and bloodied, but still able to count to ten without breaking a sweat. (Hoffman Collection)
I was relieved to see that I had all ten fingers, and despite the fact that my ring finger had become completely numb, it felt like I would survive. However the thought of what I had just done, and the stupidity that perpetuated it seemed to consume me for at least the next hour. I was so angry at myself that I wasn’t sure I could move past this egregious lack of judgement. I could not come to grips with what a stupid thing I had just done. I was quick to blame it on age. It appeared that while still in my 50s, my critical thinking skills had already been compromised by “Father Time.”
I quickly thought about another dismal lack of judgement that I had also demonstrated recently. I had decided to take up drumming again as I had done in my youth, but I thought this time it might be fun to learn how to drum to jazz since jazz music has become my new obsession, and being that this is most likely my last year as a full-time public school teacher, I was looking for a hobby to fill up some of my new found free time. (Minus whatever is left of course from the unabridged “Honey-do” list that my wife will no doubt be planning for me). I called up a local drum teacher who I knew and he said we should meet at a local music store for a lesson. As soon as I walked into the music store I began to have second thoughts. Most music rooms are windowless, cramped little rooms with limited circulation. Was this a good idea in the middle of a pandemic? I went into the back room of the music store to see him and sure enough the room had no windows. After a few minutes we both foolishly took our masks off, stood close to each other for close to an hour, and even held the same drum sticks. A few days went by and I didn’t give it anymore thought. That is until he called me at work and told me that he was sick and that he had tested positive for COVID-19. I ended up quarantined, but fortunately I either somehow avoided infection, or endured it without any symptoms. However, it was the stupidity and lack of judgement that I once again demonstrated that angered me, and caused me to question whether my decision making skills had completely deteriorated.
Look, Forrest Gump wasn’t smart and life for him was like a box of chocolate so maybe I’ll be okay. (Getty Images)
I felt that aging was the only logical explanation that would explain my recent lapses in judgement. However, I began to think about some of my other hard-to-explain moves and decisions that I had made throughout my life and I began to wonder if perhaps there wasn’t a bit of a pattern that was emerging. For example, on one occasion when I had rented a pressure washer, I wanted to see what it would feel like if I stuck my finger in front of the hose when it was on. I got my answer, and it was most unpleasant. I also once bought a second-hand pressure washer and I hooked it up with my outdoor electrical cord which had a cut in it. I decided to use it anyway and I’m not sure how or why, but I got shocked, and I can tell you that was also unpleasant. I even touched a groundwire while changing a light sensor on my lampost to see if it was live, and after the shaking stopped I ascertained that it indeed was live. I’m also guilty of using a gas-powered chainsaw inside my house in order to trim a Christmas tree, but in fairness that move was made out of frustration, as well as my own Semitic inexperience regarding Christmas.
My stupidity isn’t limited to the Western Hemisphere either. About 10 years ago my wife and I took the kids to London, and we decided to take a day-trip through the “Chunnel” to Paris. As we waited to meet our guide on the train platform, a beautiful young woman who claimed to be from the “Institute for the Mute,” handed me a chart and pointed on the paper as to what she wanted me to do. I signed my name, and because I’m “smart” I wrote down a fake address because, hey, you never know. She then started pointing frantically to the chart but I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do. One of my sons said that I was supposed to give her a donation. I looked at my wife for guidance, but she wanted no part of this Euro-adventure. I gave lovely French maiden 20 Euro since I wasn’t even sure how much money that really was. She took the money and blew me a kiss, and I dreamed of a Euro-romance with my gorgeous mute girl from Paris.
Like Uncle Billy in It’s a Wonderful Life, sometimes I can’t think because it hurts. (Getty Images)
Sadly, “Me and the Mute Girl” would never become the romance novel I imagined. As we were touring around Paris our tour guide, trying to be helpful made an announcement warning everybody that they should beware of young attractive women coming up to tourists claiming to be from the “Institute for the Mute,” and asking for a donation. He went on to say that of course there was no “Institute for the Mute,” but after all, he barely felt the need to tell us this since who would be silly enough to fall for such a ruse. Who indeed? Again I was angry at myself for being such a doofus. I also began to think that maybe I look like an easy mark. An American rube who’s just aching to be parted from his Euros.
On the other hand, perhaps we should honor the dumb. After all, they have to navigate their way through life with only half the brain power of their brighter compatriots. I decided that we would all benefit from a list of the dumbest movie characters that we all love to feel superior to:
- Louis Tully (Ghostbusters) — Everytime he tries to hit on his attractive neighbor, he locks himself out of his apartment.
- Ishmael (Kingpin) — As an Amish man, he’s not as worldly as most of us. I’m not sure though whether this excuses the fact that he tried to go “number 2” in a urinal.
- Biff Tannen (Back to the Future) — Not only is Biff always bested by Marty McFly, he struggles to deliver even the lamest of puns, i.e. “Make like a tree…..and get outta here.”
- Otto (A Fish Called Wanda — Otto may have been stupid, but don’t call him stupid because he will lay a hurt upon you. Still, he did believe that the central message of Buddhism was, “Everyman for himself.”
- Harry and Marv (Home Alone) — Little Macaulay Culkin tormented the dimwitted “Wet Bandits,” and that’s pretty sad considering that Michael Jackson carried around Macaulay Culkin like a good luck charm.
I suppose the only comfort that one can feel when it comes to feeling stupid is that somewhere, someplace there’s always somebody stupider than you. For example, no matter how many fingers I almost cut off, I know I’ve never used any of them to cast a vote for Donald Trump, so I’ve got that going for me..which is nice.