The Awkward Age

03/18/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011
  • Daniel Krotz Writer and radio producer living in the Ozark Mountains of rural Arkansas

I received the offer of a scooter today in the mail. I'm not talking about a Vespa-like conveyance that I might use to buzz around Venice and pick up hot Italian Babes with offers of a ride and cappuccino (as a prelude to bigger and better things). No, the scooter in question is the battery operated variety that you see parked in the pharmacy line inside Wal-Mart. The advertisement included the gift of a free magnifying glass that would be mine solely on the basis of calling a toll free number and talking to a "Care Consultant" about why I might need such a scooter. I suppose the magnifying glass will be helpful to scooter drivers who aim to miss pedestrians.

The true beauty of the scooter offer is that, like the magnifying glass, it can be had for free. That's because my Personal Care Consultant will complete all the necessary Medicare or VA forms and personally advocate on my behalf for a free or "nearly free" scooter. Hubba hubba.

Initially, I was miffed at being targeted for such an advertisement. After all, I belong to the generation that invented rock and roll, popularized the recreational use of controlled substances, and vowed never to trust anyone over thirty. I am hardly ready for a scooter. On the other hand, free is free and scooters don't grow on trees. To say nothing of magnifying glasses. Frankly, I'm struggling with the decision of whether to call or not.

Assume for a moment (we're going to do a very short James Thurber slash Walter Mitty riff here) that I am helling around Venice on a Vespa reviewing Sophia Loren look-alikes to invite out for coffee. Personally, I find the assumption entertaining and not without excitement. It will certainly be hard to give it up no matter how many free scooters may fall under my Yuletide Medicare Tree.

Of course, I've never driven a Vespa, or even ridden on one, and there is no assurance that young Italian girls will overlook the geezer hair sprouting out of my ears like Badland's tumbleweed. There is also the risk, perhaps certainty, that they might find me cute in the way that causes young women to josh Grandpa about his salad days. It is sometimes painful to catch glimpses of what is clearly within the sight others.

So there you have it. I am caught between a lingering fantasy of a Roman Holiday, and the aspirations of a Care Consultant who hopes that I am infirm enough to require batteries for effective locomotion. My goodness, what an awkward age.

Henry James wrote The Awkward Age in 1899 (it was first serialized in Harper's Weekly) to witness the coming of age of an adolescent girl entering decadent London society about when time turned the corner into the twentieth century. The Awkward Age's theme is a reworking of William Blake's paradox about how we exchange innocence--a thing we revere--for experience, a thing we admire and respect. Irrespective of that important conundrum ,the novel is mostly James doing a lot of fussy sniffing about how society and culture was becoming increasingly irresponsible and immoral. It is also written almost entirely in dialogue, "he said she said" and is frankly a numbingly complex, boring read. By the time I finished its 416 pages I was ready to volunteer for a beating in lieu of reading it again.

The body of James' work, however, can be summarized by saying that he sees every age as an awkward age. The prospect of going back and being thirty again, a time when I was an incomprehensibly incompetent human being, is chilling to imagine, and no doubt James would feel the same way about himself. And I am quite sure that he would agree with me that life is, simply, awkward. So:

I suppose I'll put off calling my Personal Care Consultant , at least for a little while. Maybe. Maybe not. In the mean time, though, I am through with Henry James. I am scratching him off my bucket list and I'll never read another one of his damn books again. See, life is good.