The Old Coot likes being second best

I watched a movie the other day. In one scene, a business conference was being held in a luxury hotel. The walls were sprinkled with motivational posters: “Excellence is Everything” – “Winning is the Only Thing” – “#2 is not an option.” I found it amusing; in a way only an old coot would because those slogans don’t apply to me anymore. They don’t fit the condition I find myself in.

“Excellence” is not an option, not for an old coot. Mediocrity is the name of my game. The posters at a seminar I might attend, are a lot different than those at a hyped-up business conference: – “Working up to average is an honorable goal!” –  – “Being #1 is overrated (so are #2 & #3).” “Getting your pants on without tripping signals a good day ahead.” It’s a tough transition, going from the first string to the sidelines, but those who embrace the change find gold at the end of the rainbow. 

The old coot world is a comfortable place. Nobody expects much of you. They know you have limitations. When asked to help move something, we give them the “bad back” story. When they want to borrow money, we give them the “fixed income” excuse. When they want us to go to the opera, we give them the “can’t stay awake after eight” routine. Eventually, they think we can’t do anything; the requests stop coming in. Old coots are free. We can go about our business unencumbered. If we do step in to lend a hand, we get the royal treatment. We help a niece move to a new apartment by standing around supervising and occasionally shuttling a box from the truck to the house, having tested it to be sure it’s filled with pillows. “Don’t hurt your back Uncle Coot,” our appreciative niece cautions, having accepted the “bad back” groundwork that was laid down years earlier. “That’s OK honey, I just want to help,” we reply. We get an “A” for a “D – minus” performance. That’s how the old coot deal works.

Sure, there are drawbacks. Nobody said being an old fossil was easy. We’re not sure if the niece’s name is Laura or Lynn. We know it starts with an “L,” and getting the first letter right is good enough when your goal is “mediocrity.” Nobody expects more, least of all us. Our little stumbles slide by unnoticed. People know our memories aren’t what they used to be. They’ve heard our conversations, the ones sprinkled with old cootisms: what’s-his-name, thing-a-ma-jig, what-do-you-call-it. They know we “walk the mail” – bring back home the letters we were supposed to mail after giving them a journey through town in our back pocket. They know our refrigerators are plastered with post-it-notes: get milk – mow the lawn – go to the Rotary meeting. Our life history is written out on yellow sticky paper. I save my old notes in a metal, fireproof box. It’s a time capsule for the archeologists to uncover a thousand years from now. They’ll conclude that the people of this era had small brains, limited memories and were forced to write everything down. They’ll be right! 

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