A geezer taxonomy

Carl Bode

January 29, 1992|By Carl Bode

FIRST, let me establish my credentials as a geezer. I'm 80 years old -- the Big Eight-O -- with dimming eyesight. I value my credentials in America's fastest-growing group, the old folks.

They have increasing, and in the eyes of some people, inordinate political power. The reason for that power is simple. The geezers come out to vote; the young folks don't. If you doubt my word, you have only to watch how delicately Congress tiptoes around such issues as Social Security, issues that might cause the geezer community to erupt like a nest of disturbed hornets.

I don't think there's any need to describe typical geezers. We can see them any day sitting on benches in front of the K-Mart at the local shopping mall. They're apt to sit there people-watching through the afternoon, but they can be roused to action at any time of the day if their rights -- social, economic or political -- are challenged. They look completely out of it, but they are not.

Geezers have a tendency which has broad and interesting implications. It is that in the evening they read. The young folks don't, but the old folks do.

There is, I think, a lesson here for the press: Appealing to the geezers will be far more rewarding than aiming at the indifferent young.

One of the notable things about the geezer community is how its members vary. The standard geezers are simply the elderly males I have just mentioned. They are usually referred to by the young and middle-aged as "old geezers."

Then there are the young geezers and the very old geezers, not to mention the surprising geezers. And finally, in the famous characterization of Shakespeare, there are the old, old geezers, who have lost the use of every sense.

Let me take some of my examples from the media. John Chancellor is a young geezer. His face is only lightly furrowed, his cheeks are still too smooth, his manner too energetic for the average geezer.

A good example of the media's old geezer is the now regrettably retired Walter Cronkite.

Though, as I have noted before, the great mass of geezers have no surprises, there are memorable exceptions. My favorite is that tough old geezer, Carl Rowan. Several summers ago, a fiesty youth invaded the swimming pool in Rowan's backyard. Determined to defend it, Rowan came out of his house, pistol in hand and winged the invader.

The youth, astonished and angry, cried out, in effect, "The old geezer shot me!"

You will never guess who my favorite honorary geezer is, so hold onto your seat belts while I tell you. It was only a few months ago that the Claude Pepper Distinguished Service Award for being kind to old folks and furthering their causes went to Sen. Edward Kennedy.

I must confess that nowadays few things boggle my mind, but the thought of Ted Kennedy as the honorary Geezer of the Year does the trick. At the presentation ceremony, Sen. Robert Dole announced that he hoped Teddy would stay in the Senate till 2021, making him by that time an old, old geezer.

We especially need more geezers in politics. Theirs is the hard-bought wisdom of experience embalmed in such observations as "We tried it, and it didn't work" or "You can't solve a problem by throwing money at it."

Today, there is a great to-do about limiting the number of terms a politician can serve.

This difficulty can be easily resolved by mandating that no one under 65 can be elected. Then the U.S.A. will be safe from youthful excesses.

Carl Bode, professor emeritus of the University of Maryland College Park, writes from Chestertown, where he lives in retired geezerhood.

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