When Did You Become Invisible?

At a certain age you become invisible, your mojo springs a leak, that sexual scat you give off lessens, that lust the opposite sex felt for you begins to dissipate and turns into something else your ego must endure, with or without the aid of antidepressants.

Now invisibility is related to the aging process and in the good old USA the loss of youth and the youthful look is an unforgivable sin that leads to sexual invisibility and this process starts at a younger age each year. Now many men and women choose not to go quietly into the night and battle their unavoidable invisibility, and I’m not talking exercise and good diet here. I’m talking about the mutants that have been created by plastic surgeons who will nip and tuck from your asshole to your upper lip for the right price. Who the hell do these people think they are fooling? Sure, they are no longer invisible, but their lack of invisibility has nothing to do with sex appeal but rather freak appeal. Now I don’t know what it feels like being looked at by “these eyes” — maybe the tradeoff is worth it for some, but for me I’m becoming more and more invisible every day. It started for me when my youngest son was a junior in high school and I noted how some women started looking at him with lust in their eyes and had stopped looking at me that way. In the beginning I thought I was imagining things — these dirty old women. I wasn’t looking at their daughters that way. But the more I observed them, the more I found this fact to be true. I had reached the top floor on the sex appeal elevator and was now starting on that painful ride to the basement. Now, the ride car can be slow or fast. You get on the elevator in your early 20’s or 40’s, but make no mistake about it, eventually you are going to get on the elevator and end up in the basement, unless you die before you get there. This is not a happy thought, not something you sit around meditating on because it makes you so happy.  I personally wish there was away around it. I personally liked being noticed, having women desire me.

Now if someone is overly interested in me, I’m a little suspicious. I wonder about her psychological profile. Are there any skeletons in the closet? Knives under the bed? — Stuff like that. Not that I would act on the occasional overture back then because I was happily married, but I do wonder, something I never did before I started to become invisible.

Now when did you start to become invisible? Don’t want to talk about it? In denial? Fine. I understand. I totally understand. It’s not something we want to talk about. But hey, take a look at some pictures of yourself when you were younger, when you were hot. Now tell me truthfully, can you blame them? There’s no comparison. If you have a choice between looking at that guy (or girl) or yourself today, who would you look at? I rest my case. Cut, maybe plastic surgery is not such a bad idea after all.

My Father Slips Away

Benjie Feldman lived some years before his death with his son and the author of this beautiful tribute. We’ve included photos of the two to show the tenderness that lived between them.

Most of us old guys have lost our dads, and for many of us their passing has left a hole that cannot be filled.

In the next room, my father is dying. At 99, his ancient corpus is, at last, shuffling off its mortal coil.

Nine months ago, my father and my mother, then 98, finally admitted they could no longer live independently, and so, according to a long-standing plan, moved in with my wife Marti and I. Shortly after they arrived, Benjie — I’ve always called my parents by their first names — fell in the dining room for no apparent reason. “I was standing there, and the next thing I knew, I was on the floor,” he said when I asked him what happened.

I called the doctor and made an appointment for him. “You’re going to see the doctor tomorrow, if you live that long,” I told him.

“What?” (His hearing has been gone for a couple of years.)

“We’re going to the doctor tomorrow if you’re still alive.”

He shrugged. “Okay. If not, then the day after,” he said, his sterling sense of humor still intact.
The following day, he was, in fact, still alive, so I took him to see the doctor. There were X-rays, blood tests, and an electrocardiogram. As I helped him undress for the X-rays, I couldn’t help but notice how really frail his once-powerful, athletic body was, how his skin was just about translucent, and I felt a rush of compassion for him.

The X-rays showed three fractured ribs and a fractured clavicle — all non-displacement injuries, fortunately, that would heal with time. The cause of his fall was never determined.
In early January, my mother died, and statistically, the prognosis for my father’s continued longevity was not good. With couples who live together as long as they did — 77 years and into their late nineties —  when one dies, the other typically follows soon after.

Still, we hoped that his overall good health would keep him going, and it did — until a few weeks ago, when he fell again, and this time it wasn’t so benign. A couple of days after the fall, he began complaining of discomfort in his left groin, and over the next two weeks, the pain grew worse. My father is not someone given to kvetching, so when he kept talking about the pain, I knew it had to be serious.

An X-ray revealed a hip fracture — the dreaded hip fracture. There was no displacement, but still, at his age, any hip fracture has the potential to prove fatal. The typical progression with such an injury is intense pain, loss of mobility, confinement to bed, decreased appetite, a build-up of fluid in the lungs, and finally, pneumonia.

The doctor recommended surgery, but Benjie wouldn’t hear of it. “Everybody I know who had that surgery, it killed ‘em,” he said in his best Brooklynese. “If I’m gonna die, I’m gonna do it at home, not in the hospital.” The doctor had no choice but to respect this stance, so he prescribed painkillers — “I want the good stuff,” Benjie told him — and we agreed to hope for the best.

But the best was not in the cards. The pain in my father’s hip prevented him from putting any weight on his left leg, and he quickly began losing mobility. In just a few days, he was bedridden, and we called in one of the home health workers who took such excellent care of my mother when she was dying; the caretaker began coming for the nighttime hours.

A week ago, my father began receiving home hospice care. The hospice nurse guessed he had anywhere from two weeks to a month.

So now we try to keep him comfortable and wait, while a steady stream of relatives and friends have made their pilgrimages to his bedside to say their farewells. We haven’t had so many visitors in years.

In the meantime, Benjie’s sunny disposition remains unchanged, and he’s sanguine about his fate. Yesterday, only half-joking, he said, “Just put the pillow over my face. Nobody’ll know.”
And this morning, he asked me, “Why is it taking so long to finish?”

“I guess so we can have a few more days together,” I told him.

“That’s good,” he agreed.

Not unexpectedly, my father’s decline has brought me face-to-face with my own mortality. I’ll come to this, too, in time, and when I do, who’ll be there to care for me? And when it’s my time to face the deterioration of my body and mind, will I be able to marshal the same courage, equanimity, and dignity that my father has shown under these circumstances? I can only hope.

I’m trying to cherish every moment with him, knowing that all too soon he’ll be gone. It’ll be hard to lose him. There have been many wealthier men, many more famous, and many better educated. But there has never been a sweeter man than my father. I’m going to miss him terribly.

Editor’s Note: Benjie died on April 14, four days after Jay’s 75th birthday.

Jay Feldman is a widely published writer and the author of several books, including When the Mississippi Ran Backwards: Empire, Intrigue, Murder, and the New Madrid Earthquakes.

Challenging the Cult of Youth

‘Aging Pride’ Challenges the Cult of Youth
The New York Times, February 8, 2018
By Jason Farago

VIENNA — The day after I arrived in this grand city, the ostentatious capital of an empire that vanished 100 years ago, a taxi emblazoned with an ad for an Austrian brand of mineral water drove past me. Its slogan, rendered in now customary hashtag form, was #jungbleiben — or #stayyoung — and in TV commercials for the campaign, Keira Knightley, and Sienna Miller swig straight from the bottles, and Agyness Deyn shouts in passable German, “If you want to stay young, you’d better get started early.” Spend more, consume more, drink up — but never, ever get old.

Well, whether you are strapping or sedentary, and no matter how much you hydrate, old age is coming for you — and youth, I’m learning as a worn-out thirty-something, is wasted on the young. Embracing the fate that awaits all of us, and casting it as something more virtuous than an affliction to be mitigated with spring water, is the project of “Aging Pride,” an extensive gambol through the art of our later years at the Belvedere Museum and one of the largest exhibitions of the season in Vienna.

Frank self-portraits by the printmaker Käthe Kollwitz, the photographer John Coplans, and the painter Maria Lassnig are joined by biting videos and photographs that explore the social side of aging, by contemporary figures such as Martin Parr, Hans Op de Beeck, and Fiona Tan. The show is capacious and good-natured, though in a rapidly aging country like Austria, “Aging Pride” has a particular demographic bite. When the general population is getting older (and art audiences more so), we had better expect a few more gray hairs in our white cubes. With nearly 200 works, ranging across a century and intermingling icons of art history with figures little known outside Austria, the show can charitably be called a grab bag. More than one of its galleries resembles a storeroom more than a carefully hung exhibition. (“Aging Pride” has been mounted not in the famous Upper Belvedere, the plush Hapsburg palace where tourists take lip-smacking selfies in front of Gustav Klimt’s “The Kiss,” but in the Lower Belvedere, where the royals actually lived.) With so many works in relatively little space, the curator Sabine Fellner has been obliged to group the art by clashing themes that cancel each other out more than they illuminate: desire and loneliness, retirement and reinvention, death and memory.

The virtues of “Aging Pride,” then, lie in the works themselves. Nudes of old people, men and women alike, play a crucial role in this exhibition — as markers of the body in evolution, and as test cases for the social meanings of desire and disgust. Ms. Lassnig, a hero of Viennese painting who died in 2014 at 94, appears here in the 1975 self-portrait “Butterfly,” her breasts drooping, her arms gaunt, her mouth pursed.

A more recent nude self-portrait on show is “Centered” (2002), by the American figurative painter Joan Semmel — whose unabashed paintings of herself unclothed influenced a generation of feminist successors. Ms. Semmel, who turned 70 the year she painted the work, sits with her right leg bent and her arm wrapped around her knee. She holds a camera in front of her face: a marker of authorship, but also a mask.

Compared with the paintings, the photographs of nude older people in the exhibition display less benevolence. A late suite of images by Mr. Coplans, a British artist (and co-founder of the magazine Artforum) who photographed his body with merciless objectivity, divides his nude, reclining body across four starkly cropped prints. His distended belly, flabby thighs and skin speckled by decades of exposure to the sun appear in a cool, even light, as if he were already on a mortuary slab.

But there are also more tender photographs, and not all the nudes are self- portraits: Juergen Teller photographs a then-64-year-old Helen Mirren in the bath, her nipples faintly visible beneath the soapy water, her face steely and seductively absolute. The image is a confident sally against double standards of sex appeal: If Denzel Washington can still draw looks in his early 60s, why can’t she? Paintings of nude old people are relatively rare in art history, not only because of a cult of youth and beauty. More concretely, humans now live decades longer than they did just a couple of centuries ago. (When the Belvedere was built in the early 18th century, the life expectancy for European males was under 30.) In the catalog for “Aging Pride,” Ms. Fellner notes that the ranks of the elderly are set to expand 37.5 percent in Austria over the next 12 years alone. Low birthrates from Spain to Slovakia, combined with increasing life spans, will see Europe’s workforce shrink nearly 12 percent by 2060: a phenomenon with not only worrisome economic consequences but political ones, too.

What sort of lives will these old Europeans lead? Loneliness is a risk — though changing work patterns and isolating technologies have seen a surge in loneliness among the young — and long-term relationships pose hazards of their own. Mr. Op de Beeck’s grave video “Coffee” (1999) shows an older couple in an overlit cafe, she staring into the distance, he slumping in his chair, bored, absent.

Increasing life spans and improving medical technologies have also introduced a growing danger in old age: that of dementia, of the body outlasting the brain. In a revealing series of black-and-white portraits by the Austrian photographer Regina Hügli, people with Alzheimer’s disease show expressions of delight, confusion, bemusement and utter vacancy.

But old age can also be a third act of life, permitting new identities and greater social independence. It need not entail a loss of sexual desire — western literature bulges with dirty old men, and women of a certain age, too, have the right to desire.

One of the delights of “Aging Pride” is a short video by the Austrian artist Carola Dertnig, who interviewed her grandmother, then 86, about a dream she had the night before: she had fantasized that she was in a forest, locked in the arms of “a hunk.” She is embarrassed to have such desires at her age, but only a little. “Such a nice fellow I picked up in my dream,” the grandmother says wistfully, before the telltale strains of Barry White’s “Love’s Theme” play.
“Youth’s a stuff will not endure,” sings the downhearted fool in Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night.” To grow old, though, is not only a chronological fact but also an inevitability of fading powers and sagging integument. To grow old is a social phenomenon, one we have the power to make better or worse if we want to; and Europeans, facing a stark demographic future, should probably get to work.

No art in “Aging Pride” speaks more eloquently to our collective power to reimagine old age than a clip from the German choreographer Pina Bausch’s “Kontakthof” — her 1978 masterpiece of lonely-hearts on the dance floor, which she created for her company of dancers in Wuppertal, Germany, but later restaged with volunteers over 65. The older dancers, wearing the same tight suits and slinky silk dresses that Bausch’s regular troupe had worn, go through the ritual preening they learned over decades; they get lucky or get humiliated, and come back for more. Their bodies are notably stiffer than the average professional dancer, but they are here, they are boogieing, and they are ready for love.

© 2018 The New York Times Company
A version of this article appears in print on February 10, 2018, on Page C1 of the New York edition with the headline: Challenging the Cult of Youth.