Trouble with Old People | February 2018

Call Me Garrulous

by Steve Van Auken


One of the consolations of getting old is that you are no longer expected to make sense.

It is a joy to set this burden down. I have never really enjoyed being coherent. Adults need to make sense all the time in order to accomplish the business of the world. But it isn’t much fun. It gets in the way of making stuff up. This is what the old and the very young have in common. We are allowed to say whatever we want and let other people figure it out. Not our problem.

What we are is garrulous. It’s a word applied almost exclusively to old people. Garrulous people are “given to rambling, tedious; pointlessly or annoyingly talkative.” In other words, a lot of fun. I myself am working on becoming garrulous. I know it takes practice. But I can tell by the baffled looks on the faces of people around me that I’m getting better at it.

Some of my friends are miles ahead of me in this. For example, my old friend Joe could teach master’s classes. I was riding with him in his car recently when a police siren went off behind us. As a younger man he would have been upset by this. But not now. As the officer approached our car, Joe was perfectly calm. He had the gift of garrulousness.

“Sir, do you know why I pulled you over? Sir, please roll down your window. No, the other window. This one, the one by where I’m standing.”

“You’re absolutely right, officer. It’s way too beautiful to keep the window up. They said it was going to rain, but look. What do those weathermen know, anyway? I think it’s great that we have lady policemen now, like you. My Mom is in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York. Have you been there?”

“The reason I stopped you, Sir, is because you failed to use your turn signal at the intersection. License and registration, please.”

“Mom took voter registration for the League of Women Voters. Did it for years. And she always told me I took a good picture. But look at this picture on my license. It’s terrible. Do you think I could get a different one? Do you have a camera in your car? Just give me a minute to comb my hair.”

“Sir, it is important to signal when you turn. It is required by law. It gives important information to the other drivers.”

“That’s just exactly what I was telling my grandson last week. He’s learning to drive. Maybe you know him? Brandon? No? Well, I was telling him about the other drivers. I bet they find time to drive over and visit their grandparents. I’m not complaining, he’s a good boy. And I know he’s busy. But sometimes we don’t see him for days at a time. I bet you visit your grandparents.”

“Sir, I’m going to let you go with a warning this time. But you need to review your safety rules and be more careful. I’ve seen a lot of bad things happen out here. Here are your license and registration.”

“Here are some pictures of our other grandson in his baseball uniform. He’s in what they call ‘T-ball.’ But I’m pretty sure he doesn’t even like tea. Why would they give tea to kids? I like coffee. What about you? You and I could go get some right down this block.”

“Good-bye, Sir. Be sure to be careful when you pull out into traffic.”

“But I don’t think we should go for our coffee to that restaurant right across the street. My wife and I were there for dinner last night. You need to go over there now and arrest our waiter. His name is Tyler. He said he would be taking care of us. But he didn’t. I had the soup and my wife had the grilled cheese. Afterward she said she wished she’d had what I had. She always says that. And that’s when it happened. Tyler brought the bill and he charged us full-price! Not the early-bird special! I told him we were in our seats by 5:28. But he said it was after 5:30. It was 5:28! You can call home and ask my wife. I bet he’s there right now, and you can arrest him.”

“Sir, you need to get away from my car and get back in your own car. Right now.”

“These young people. They say they’ll be taking care of you. But do they? No. I’ll wait outside the restaurant while you call the SWAT team.”

“Sir, I’m leaving now. Please take your hands off the squad car.”

“This is a nice car. It’s like the Mercury I used to have. It had a lot of trunk-space. Can I look in your trunk? If I remember right, the trunk release is right down there by your left foot. No, that’s not it. Roll down your window and I’ll show you. Oh, you’re going? Be careful when you come to arrest Tyler. He might make trouble. He has a tattoo. Hey, you forgot to use your turn signal!”

Eventually Joe located his car key — it was in his left sock — and we drove away. I was quiet. I felt overwhelmed with awe. I thought I knew what being garrulous was all about. Now, I could see how far behind I was in letting go of my foolish focus on making sense. I confided to my friend.

“I don’t know how you do it. I would never be able to do what you did back there.”

Joe thought for a minute. “Yeah, you’re probably right. I didn’t want to mention this before, but lately you’ve been chattering a lot about stupid stuff. You’ve gotten kind of hard to follow. No offense.”

A good friend always knows just what to say.