by Hugh Gilmore

The lowdown from Part 1: Last week in this column we revealed that older folks seem confused because they are confused. Reasons and example were offered, including the Dylanesque assertion that “the times they are a changin’.” After much hand-wringing, it was agreed that a committee should be formed to investigate “Why are old people confused?” Hence, part 2 of this column.

No inspiration is sought from this endeavor. No path, either. No advice. Just, in order to create some sympathy for these silver-haired innocents, a true story is offered by one of the cofounders of The Confounded, Hugh Gilmore. (Here, he steps forward).

Committee: What happened sir?

(Turns around, wondering who they’re calling “Sir.” Turns back, gets it, blushes, and starts speaking.)

HG: Estimable Members of the Committee: I try to preserve what’s left of my youth by subjecting my mortal body to stresses of a deliberate kind. Namely, I go to a gym – gymnasium for long. I use machines that make me walk till I balk. I lift things more than 10-times-heavier-than-a-spatula, over and over, till I am near collapse. When done, I then push against unyielding walls to loosen the rubber bands that move my skeleton. When all’s done, I attend to my kidneys, if I may use a euphemism.

Committee: Describe the scene and setting of that latter part, sir.

HG: Well, it’s an unsavory thing you’re asking me to describe.

Committee: Get on with it.

HG: Ah, yes, okay. At LA Fitness gymnasium, in nearby Roxborough, one walks to the back of the heavy weights room, past the mirrored wall where the Narcissus Gang gather for triceps checks. At the left there is a long corridor. Near the end of it, on the left, you’ll see a frosted-glass wall with a maze-like opening for females to slip through and attend to those needs best unseen by males. Ten feet later, the very last opening in the glass wall is the portal for males.

(HG pauses here, as though to be sure he has remembered correctly.)

HG: So, that’s it. I’ve been down this corridor hundreds, if not more than a thousand times. Simple: down the corridor, past the ladies’ room, lies the men’s room.

Committee: Get to the teeth part.

HG: The teeth. The teeth. Yes. My dentist’s chamber lies in Abington, and I had to go there recently because I needed an excuse to increase my intake of pain relievers. And, I decided, since I passed the Abington LA Fitness location on my way home, I’d stop and do my workout there.

I entered the Abington Fitness Center Once and did my usual workout. I walked up simulated hills. I chased infinity along a rubber belt. I finished cardio and went to the machine section, where I lifted up things that gravity preferred to keep down. Then I stretched. (Here HG pauses.)

Committee: Get to the kidney part.

HG: (Looks around, then lowers voice). Never pass a bathroom without using it, my age-mates say, especially when an auto drive lies ahead of you. I walked to the Narcissus Wall in the rear of the building and sure enough, though I’d never been there before, I saw the same long corridor I knew from Roxborough. The buildings had identical corporate layouts.

Down the end of the hallway, as expected, the wall turned to frosted glass. I walked past the first entrance and five steps later darted through the second entrance, the Men’s Room. The locker room was empty. I strode past the sinks and lockers and pulled open the glass door at the rear and entered the lavatory.

Abington’s gym is a bit more modern than my home base, I should add. Quite bright, with nicer tiles and several additional amenities in the lavatory. Dispensing machines on the walls, for example, and more mirrors than we have back in Roxborough.

However, they were a bit careless in the placement of urinals, if you’ll forgive an old-fashioned word. I was in a bit of a hurry and I didn’t want to seem confused – you know, gray-haired guy needing to look all around for what should be obvious. So I did something I rarely do when I simply need to attend to my kidneys – I entered a stall. While standing in there I learned I wasn’t alone when I heard another fellow in a nearby stall flush. A moment later I heard the sound of water running in a sink. I flushed and lowered the seat and came out of the stall.

Men don’t usually look at their fellow bathroom users, so I minded my own business when I went to the sink. However, the other fellow said to me, in a calm, ladylike voice, the voice people use on their befuddled grandfathers, “Can I help you? Do you know you’re in the ladies’ room?”

Fire bells went off in my head. My face turned red. “I’m sorry,” I blurted. I left at once, trying not to run, while saying over my shoulder, “No wonder I couldn’t find the urinals.” The locker room seemed ten warehouses long. “Does she think I’m a pervert?” “Should I go back and explain?” She seemed nice though. So calm. So understanding. We could probably be friends and laugh about this in the future over Postum. “Are you out of your mind,” I thought, “She’s probably calling front desk security right now: ‘Got another one!'”

I kept going, out into the mile-long corridor. I pictured a crowd gathering behind me, pointing, reaching for pitchforks – no, worse! Cellphone cameras. My picture would soon flood the walls of Facebook and Twitter. Post offices.

I reached the main gym and headed for the exit. I’d have to pass the front desk. Word had probably already reached them. I wondered if I should be courteous, thus thwarting any rumors that a creep was stalking the ladies’ room. At the desk I’d explain: That was just me. I mean, I belong to LA Fitness in Roxborough, and the men’s room there is the last room down the corridor, but here, gosh darn, whew, the last one down is the ladies’ room. Can you imagine?

But then I pictured them laughing behind my back as I left. Laughing because I’m an old fool. I made mistakes like this when I was a kid, but let me tell you, once your hair grays people assume your mistakes happened because you’ve lost your marbles. And man is that annoying. But if you get annoyed at people for thinking you’re an idiot because you’re old, they’ll think it’s because you’re an old idiot.

I reached the desk and decided to keep going. I was parked at the far end of the parking lot. I felt like bending low and zigzagging among the cars to avoid the Abington Police when they rushed the lot, guns drawn. After starting my engine I lowered my window, expecting to hear the klaxons sounding. All was quiet. I drove home without further incident. That’s my story.

Committee: We find him guilty of not being aware of his surroundings. Anything to say in mitigation?

HG: It’s not my fault the LA Fitness corporation reversed an entire architectural unit I was used to.

Committee: We sentence you to more old aging. Sentence to begin immediately. No credit for time served.

Hugh Gilmore is the author of two books set in the world of old and rare books. “Malcolm’s Wine” is a noir bibliomystery. “Scenes from a Bookshop” is a collection of stories remembered from his experiences running a bookshop in Chestnut Hill. Both are available in paperback and e-book formats.

Part One