August 10, 2001 (Ira Pilgrim)

Dirty Old Men

With rue my heart is laden

For many a lass I had,

For many a rouge-lipped maiden,

That's got a richer lad.

In rooms too small for leaping

Such lads as I are laid,

While richer boys are keeping

The girls that do not fade.

Samuel Hoffenstein, 1928

In the movie The Man Who Came to Dinner, the gray-bearded Sheridan Whiteside propositions a woman. She responds with, "At your age, sex should be nothing more than gender." On the late night, Johnny Carson era, TV show Laugh In, actor Artie Johnson, acting as an old man, approaches a woman sitting on a park bench and whispers something in her ear. She responds by hitting him over and over again with her purse. The character that he played is usually referred to as "the dirty old man."

The idea that there is something abnormal about an old man having lascivious thoughts, and acting on them, pervades our culture. The same thoughts and actions by a man from ages 15 to 50 are considered perfectly normal.

I gave a concert at a nursing home in San Francisco. An attendant told me about something that he considered to be almost unbelievable. He had entered a room unexpectedly and found two of the residents "going at it."

The idea that there is such a thing as a dirty old man is baloney. Inside of every old man's brain are all of the thoughts that he has had since childhood. There is no such thing as a dirty old man. What you actually have is not a Dirty Old Man, but a Dirty Young Man's mind in an old man's body. With rare exceptions, all young men have lascivious thoughts and they have them a good deal of the time. It requires great concentration to take a young man's mind away from sex. Advertisers are well aware of this and, as a consequence, sex permeates almost all advertising. This contributes to men having their minds below their belt during most of their waking moments; and some of their sleeping moments as well. Most of the popular TV series are about the sexual behavior of the characters in them. Believe it or not, sex is more popular than violence.

The slogan of the '60s, "Make love, not war," had some real merit. However, making war doesn't seem to have diminished in popularity despite the fact that it is much less appealing than sex. Servicemen often manage to have both war and sex at the same time.

In one of George Bernard Shaw's plays, a young Russian aviatrix parachutes into an upper-class English garden. She is welcomed by the family and is then systematically, and tactfully, propositioned by every one of the men in the family. When she is similarly propositioned by the father of the family, she is surprised and says, "You too?" He replies, "......this bald head is natures way of giving the young man a chance." And that statement pretty much summarizes my thoughts on the matter.

I am old, but my mind is no dirtier, or cleaner, than it was when I was young. Baring some degenerative brain disease, it will probably remain that way until I die.

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