I am in complete awe of Jenny Joseph’s old-woman self in her poem, Warning. The character defies convention and lives life on her terms knowing that society will forgive her because of her age.
Having turned a certain age myself, I too have recently felt anxious about making up for “the sobriety of my youth.” I fantasize about taking up Joseph’s suggestions and pressing alarm bells while learning to spit. But, I wonder if I—someone who for most of her life has played by the rules—could ever get away with publicly freeing my eccentric self.
I come from the Baby Boomer generation, which is known for its rejection of traditional values. I also come from a blue-collar neighborhood that had little tolerance for different ideas. That community expected productivity and compliance. We were not given new cars or trips to Europe, and our families enforced a strict code of behavior. This might explain why I became more George Harrison and less Yoko Ono.
If I do get the nerve to free my inner rebel, I should have no difficulty finding role models in Southern California where I live. My fellow Southern California Boomers dusted off their love beads and bell-bottoms a long time ago. They discovered that to “party like it’s 1999” was not nearly as fun as it was to party like it’s 1968. Here, they not only wear red and purple like Joseph’s character, but also tie-dyed chartreuse and fuchsia.
Some time ago, I attended an Occupy Wall Street rally. It was there that I met a chartreuse-and-fuchsia woman named Mattie. Mattie dressed like a belly dancer and looked around 90 years old. Spotting me standing there with my sign, she used her walker as a weapon to shove her way through the crowd and hobble in my direction.
“I’ve been doing this for more than 40 years now,” she said as she swerved her walker to meet me. Then she turned her head and winked. “Watch this,” she said. Before I knew it, she had scooted into the middle of the street stopping in front of a luxury car and extending her middle finger. Her actions caused the driver to slam on the brakes barely missing her.
Then there was the financial seminar for seniors that I attended where an intoxicated group of the Silver Sneakers, or Silver Streakers as they called themselves, twirled their way into the room disrupting the meeting with tambourines and other noise-making devices. What I thought would be a sedate dollars-and-cents meeting turned into a geriatric Cirque du Soleil.
Probably the most colorful group of Boomers I have ever met was the Top Cats Hatters who shared the train with me from San Diego to Los Angeles. They were a group from the Red Hat Society, which is an organization for older women who don red hats and wear purple as homage to Joseph’s poem. They believe silliness is a necessary part of life and good for the soul.
The Top Cats Hatters were from a working-class neighborhood of San Diego. They wore tee shirts that sported a logo of a large, red fedora with a big feather that looked like it belonged with a zoot suit. The hats they wore were among the most lavish I have ever seen. One lady donned a fez, another a fedora—but the “Queen Mama” wore a hat that rivaled the headpiece of any Las Vegas showgirl.
After almost an hour of raucous behavior, they went silent. I thought maybe someone was ill. I lifted myself ever so slightly out of my seat and strained to peer over the heads in front of me and get a better view. They were praying. After all that carrying on, they were praying?
A call to serve the food they had brought broke the silence. A loud complaint bellowed from the opposite end of the train about the lack of chicken in the containers. “We got Jesus, but we don’t have chicken?” shouted someone from the middle of the group. Once again, the women rocked the train with their antics. Sadly, they disembarked in Fullerton and for me; the rest of the ride was boring.
Joseph’s poem ends:
But maybe I ought to practice a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old, and start to wear purple.
Yes, maybe I ought to practice now. I think sequins and a red hat with a big feather just might be a good start.