The Old Coot learned from a master

Not every man becomes an old coot when he gets old. You need a mentor, a trainer, to make it into the old coot fraternity. It’s not easy. The by-laws are extensive and must be both memorized and put into daily use. 

It’s a long set of rules: complain about today’s society, talk about the good old days, share your medical knowledge with long winded descriptions of every procedure you’ve undergone and the list of all the ailments you are presently dealing with, insist on stopping during a conversation when you get stuck on the name of a person, place or thing until you come up with it. That’s a short sample of the old coot by-laws.

I was lucky; I started my training when I was in my late twenties under the guidance of a high-ranking member of the old coot society, Don Gipson of Patterson, N.Y. He was my boss at the time, well into his sixties. He passed along wisdom about aging, preserving your energy, the corporate world and the world at large. Those lessons served me well, on the job and in social interactions. 

Our corporate workday ran from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Don strolled in at 9. He didn’t slink in like I did when I was late. No, he strode in with an attitude that proclaimed, “I’m early!” That was my first lesson: Attitude! Think it and be it. In his case it was to preserve energy. He knew he had only so much, and that most days he’d be at meetings or community events well into the evening. 

“You’ll understand when you get older,” he told me.

He taught me to be a skeptic of both, new ideas and existing ways of doing things. “If everyone was doing it, it was probably wrong.” It took me a while to master this concept. I wasn’t as fast a learner as Jack Roskoz, a co-worker who also reported to Don. Jack became a “Contrarian” at an early age and it served him well as he shot up the corporate ladder. 

Don applied this “dare to be different” principle to everything, even a cocktail party. He and his wife Gert didn’t populate their dining room table with a selection of snacks and hors d’oeuvres like everyone else. They cooked a big turkey, cooled it down and set it on a platter in the center of the table. Everyone loved it, walking around the house socializing, while nibbling on cold turkey instead of a bunch of squiggly globs of whatever.

Don solved the belt problem. I bet you didn’t know there was belt problem. I didn’t. I got dressed, slipped a belt through the loops and off I went. Not Don. He bought an assortment of belts at a thrift store and equipped all the pants in his closet with them. 

He wasn’t perfect; he had one flaw; he wore white socks with a black suit. It was similar to the belt thing. One color in the sock drawer eliminated a daily selection process. I was the emcee at his retirement party and presented him with a new pair of white socks. He didn’t get the joke. He’d been doing it so long he hadn’t given it a thought in years. 

His “attitude” skill was profound. He didn’t retire at 65, which was mandatory at the time. He convinced the company to change the rule, and stayed on the job for several more years. That’s covered under old coot rule #15 – If there is no good reason for a rule, throw it out. Now, I’m the mentor. I’m just having a hard time getting the “youngsters” I hang out with to listen to me.  

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