My independence from in-house imprisonment quickly ended when my freelance writing business dried up in 2008 while the bills continued to pour in. I landed a job as a copywriter at a pharmaceutical ad agency and girded myself for the adjustment to a 9-to-5-and-then-some world. But I was caught off guard by the age gap, made apparent during my first meeting with my assigned team. There sat 55-year-old me surrounded by people under 30.
Luckily, my boyish facial features and lack of gray hair allow me to pass as someone ten years younger. But even that recalculation kept me a generation removed from these whippersnappers (a term as outdated as I felt). And while my appearance was fooling people, what was in my head couldn’t.
I sat dumbfounded as my co-workers fingered their cell phones like Chopin racing through an étude, while my primitive device without a full keyboard or Internet access sat in my briefcase, serving one daily task: to let my wife know which commuter train would bring me home. I learned to nod in false recognition during conversations about bands I had never heard of and TV shows I had never seen.
My uttered factoids and one-liners dredged from an era when my office mates were still unacquainted egg and sperm invited stares and tilted heads akin to dogs hearing an unfamiliar command.
Yes, I could do the work here. But was I to remain an outlier whose out-of-touch remarks would short-circuit every non-work-related conversation? My uttered factoids and one-liners dredged from an era when my office mates were still unacquainted egg and sperm invited stares and tilted heads akin to dogs hearing an unfamiliar command. Most disconcerting was the constant awareness that I could easily be their father. There was no way around it: I was a stegosaurus one step away from the tar pits.
Then one day during a talk about yet another band far removed from my CD rack, the Beatles came up. I mentioned that I’d watched them during their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, which obviously blew my cover. Better yet, I mentioned that my wife had seen them at Shea Stadium in one of their last live performances. I had grown accustomed to mouths hanging agape around me, but this time it was different. “Wow! I wish I had been there for that,” one of them said. “Now that’s some serious history to be a part of,” said another. Before long they were bombarding me with questions about the British Invasion, the Vietnam War (somehow my almost getting drafted impressed them), what it was like to work at a typewriter before computers took over office life. Suddenly I had new status, a unique position as an eyewitness to moments in history that could enlighten and inform.
I had discovered that I didn’t have to jettison my past to make room for the present; there was plenty of room for the old me in this young world. And a welcome audience among those who were born too late.