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Beware the mirror.
Don’t panic, there’s no symbolic meaning here; you don’t need to do any intellectual heavy lifting. I’m referring to real mirrors, regular mirrors, those reflective things you hang around the house. You see them at gyms, at hair salons, restaurants, department stores.
Any place you put them, they can do damage.
I’m getting pretty shaggy, so I make a trip to see my personal stylist to get a haircut and a trim. I’m at a point in life where there are a number of things to trim beside the hair on my head — eyebrows, mustache, etc. — and Ray is the man to do it. He’s been trimming me for more than 25 years; he knows my hair, the odd bumps and grooves on the melon (play as much hockey and football as I did when you are a kid and you sport a wealth of cranial irregularities).
It takes fifteen minutes and Ray’s work is done. He turns the barber chair and tells me to check out the job in the mirror.
“Great haircut, as usual, Ray. But, who is the old man?”
What I see reflected in the mirror is startling, and disconcerting: the image of an old guy, looking a bit the worse for wear, several junior chins blobbing out beneath chin No. 1, bags blousing beneath watery eyes, epidermal oddities aplenty, earlobes a bit longer than normal — the whole old-guy package.
It’s the damned mirror.
No, it’s evil.
The most evil mirror?
The one that hangs above the low dresser in the bedroom. If I stand across the room, it affords me a view of the top three quarters of my body.
In the morning, freshly arisen and unclothed, this is not something I want to see. In fact, no one should gaze upon this image; it can sap one’s will to live. I look over at Kathy; she is on the bed, propped up, reading and writing. And staring at me with a look of … what? Horror? Sadness? Pity? It’s clearly an existential moment for her.
What do she and I see?
It’s an old guy, carrying what appears to be another, somewhat smaller person around his midsection, scrawny legs barely able to move the load.
Seeing this is worse than gazing at Medusa. At least, with a glimpse of that hideous mythic creature, you turned to stone and never had to face the specter again. Not so with the image in the bedroom mirror. As long as that mirror and I are in the same room, I am guaranteed a disturbing experience.
Confronted with the old fat guy, I turn away quickly, only to see a similar image reflected in a mirror hanging over the bathroom sink.
He has hair sprouting all over his body, in spots that shouldn’t have hair. For crying out loud, those sleek and beautifully muscled lads in the magazine ads don’t have hair there? What’s going on?
I suppose I could fill a hot tub with molten wax, rent an engine hoist and have myself dipped and stripped, but even hairless, there remains a problem: there’s no getting rid of all those chins, the watery eyes, the extra person draped around the midsection.
The mirror shows me that my structure is collapsing, and other evidence supports the reality. There is no need for an actual mirror in these cases; there’s a “mirror effect” produced by many things, and the “reflections” they produce are just as nasty as those seen in a silvered surface.
We shrink, you know.
I’ll be frank: my waist measurement exceeds my inseam measurement — by quite a bit. In fact, with my stubby legs, I likely buy standard pants with the shortest inseam available for an adult. Anything shorter and I would have to patronize the guy who custom tailors clothes for circus monkeys.
As if that’s not bad enough, for the last year, I’ve noticed something ominous happening to my pant cuffs: the back of the cuffs are being shredded.
Because I am shrinking. The combination of a gradually collapsing skeleton and the person around my waist pushing my pants down puts the cuffs under my heels.
I could wear suspenders (a sure sign a guy is headed for the tunnel and the bright light) or I could wear cowboy boots, with a substantial heel. And, of course, I could go to the monkey tailor. But, I can’t afford a tailor and I would probably fall off the cowboy boots, so I have to live with this, and the fact that Kathy has taken to calling me “Shorty.”
I also have to learn to live with another nasty sign provided by a mirror effect: my ankles are giving way. The outside edges on the heels of my shoes are being ground off at an alarming rate. I can imagine someone gathering my shoes after my game clock ticks to zero: they pick up a pair of my old man walking shoes (though I, for one, don’t believe in walking as a regular activity), and they see the sad, rounded outside edges on the heels. They imagine me lumbering, Chaplinesque, down Last Chance Boulevard. It’s poignant —a kindergarten version of Heidegger’s meditation on a worn shoe. They weep.
Then, they throw the shoes away.
The mirror effect is everywhere.
I look at the snazzy lazy susan Kathy installed in a kitchen cupboard. It has two levels: the bottom tray of the spinner holds her supplements — a dizzying array of odd herbal and quasi-medicinal compounds designed to keep her healthy well into the next century. The top tray holds my goods — stuff prescribed by doctors to keep me alive until tomorrow.
Me and the extra person I carry around my waist.
I look at my section of the carousel and it is clear that I am standing on the Big Edge, an old man teetering on the last precipice.
The mirror effect.
The answer, get rid of mirrors, as many as possible, real and otherwise. I can’t throw away the goodies on the lazy susan, or I won’t make it to tomorrow. I can’t stop wearing shoes, at least when I leave the house, but I don’t need to check the heels.
The pant cuffs? I am not going to wear suspenders, ever. I’ll go to a Big and Tall store, waddle to the Big section, amp up the waist measurement, get the inseam hacked down to near-dwarf length, and lash the waistband above my extra person with a heavy-duty belt. Or, I can tell people that rats have eaten the back of my pant cuffs.
The actual mirrors? I’ll slowly, slyly, remove mirrors in the house one at a time and hope Kathy doesn’t notice, although it seems she always has her mug in front of one of them. I will leave her favorite mirrors, and refuse to gaze upon “his” image.
This way I, and the extra person I carry around my midsection, can languish comfy in the notion that no one ages, no one shrinks, no one’s ankles give way under an overweight cargo, no one grows extra chins and sprouts hair everywhere on the body.
Best of all, without the mirrors, and with a reduced mirror effect, I can continue to eat and drink as if I were 30 — a regimen that also assures my extra person remains happy. No image, no reminders, no problem.
Once I jettison several mirrors from the house, and stash my old shoes in a recycling bin, I’ll enjoy a Manhattan (double, if you please), two cherries. From there, since it’s winter, I’ll sit down to enjoy a massive portion of a daube (if Kathy is away, it will be lamb, if she is home, it will be beef and she can pick out the hunks of cow), slopped over a pool of cheesy polenta. If I am in a plebian frame of mind, I will substitute a hefty slab of pan-crisped mac and cheese for the polenta. If I must include vegetable matter (other than what might find its way into the meat mix), I’ll go with roasted root vegetables — carrot, fingerling potato, turnip, parsnip — the sweetness of the vegetables heightened by the roasting process. A simple salad of greens dressed with garlicky vinaigrette should be harmonious, don’t you think? With the meal, something red: a Corbieres from Languedoc-Roussillon.
If there is no old, fat guy reflected in a shiny surface, no ill messages transmitted by tattered clothing and wrecked heels, the old fat guy doesn’t exist, does he?
So, the next time Ray spins me mirror ward in the chair, I will close my eyes and say, “As usual, Ray, a superb job.”
Then, I’ll amble, Chaplinesque, down an anything-but-level sidewalk, toward a rapidly setting sun, making sure I don’t catch a glimpse of my image in a nearby window.