The Fountain of Youth

Steve Slavin

"Life's tragedy is that we get old too soon and wise too late."
Benjamin Franklin

I am eighty-one years old. But I am young again. You may remember reading about Ponce de Leon, a Spanish explorer who spent many years futilely searching for the Fountain of Youth.

As we age, especially men, we often make foolish efforts to hold back time. If we cannot be young again, at least let us not get any older. For many years, that was my quest.

I tried everything. I dyed my hair, worked out every day at the gym, and drove flashy sports cars. But when I looked at young women, they looked right through me. Or else, they treated me like the sad and somewhat delusional old man that I was.

My children worried about me. They threatened to take away my car keys and began talking about wonderful apartments for seniors.

To them, I had become a cantankerous old man. Loud music – and really, almost any music, bothered me. Twenty- and thirty-year-olds with tattoos and body piercings drove up my blood pressure. Sometimes just going out for a walk would subject me to intolerable levels of noise and sight pollution.

And then, one evening, as I passed a bar just off Bell Boulevard, I peered inside. It looked like any other hangout, and yet there was something very different about the atmosphere. I felt myself drawn inside.

Never much of a drinker, I walked up to the bar and asked for a screwdriver. When the bartender put the drink down in front of me, she did not look right though me.

We made some small talk, and then she rushed off to serve another customer. I smiled at myself, realizing that she was nice to all her customers. It was just part of her job.

Still, the place seemed pleasant, especially for a bar. There was music, but it wasn’t very loud. Most of the customers were quite young, but there was also a sprinkling of older people – some of whom seemed about my own age. As I sipped my drink, I began to relax.

But I couldn’t help wondering what was going on. Was this “bring your grandma and grandpa to a bar night”?

Then I began to stroll around, occasionally making eye contact. A young man smiled at me. I smiled back. I saluted with my glass and he did the same. The young woman with him asked me to join them.

I walked over and introduced myself. There were three or four other people, all of them Millennials, and we all got into a friendly political discussion. When the waitress came by, I ordered a round of drinks.

What may have bound us all together was the happy talk about the president’s impeachment. A couple of them admitted to being Republicans, but the word we all used to describe the man was schmuck.

When it was time for me to leave, a couple offered to drive me home. Although it was just a few blocks, I happily accepted. I was feeling pretty high.

When I got up the next morning, I found myself in a great mood. I remembered my dream – the best I one I had had in years. I got dressed and went for a long walk. The things that usually bothered me – the impatient drivers honking their horns, the morons with their blaring car speakers, and landscapers operating their outrageously loud lawn mowers – none of them seemed to bother me half as much as they usually did.

By evening, I found that I was still in good mood. After dinner, I went out for a stroll. And then, right in front of me was the same bar – the bar I had dreamed about. I had not noticed the sign before – “The Fountain of Youth.”

Was I dreaming now? I pinched myself. Someone walking by called out to me, “Hey mister, do you think you’re dreaming?”

I looked at the young man and asked, “Am I?”

“Well, if you are, what does that make me?”

“That’s a good question. Let me buy you a drink.”

“OK, but just one. The wife’s at home waiting for me.”

We went inside, and the bartender smiled at me.

“Welcome back.” Then she looked at my new friend.

“What are you drinking?”

“Scotch and soda.”

A minute later, she placed our drinks on the bar.

“You must be a regular here.”

“No, but I must have been here last night.”

“You don’t remember?”

“Actually, that’s why I was pinching myself.”

“Well, the barmaid knew what you like to drink. So, either you were here last night, or she’s a mind-reader.

After we finished our drinks, I decided to call it an evening and headed back home.

The next morning, I knew for sure that something had definitely changed in my life. I talked on the phone with my kids, and not once did the words, “senior apartments” come up. That evening I would go back to the bar. Whatever was going on there, I wanted to have more of it.

I remembered that Ponce De Leon wanted to drink water from the magic fountain. Maybe he should have been looking for a different kind of fountain – a fountain from which he could drink vodka.

That evening, my drink was waiting on the bar. Not too many people are drinking anything orange these days. I thanked the barista and she lingered for a while. She was an engineering student at Cooper Union, which greatly impressed me. I confessed to being a recovering English professor.

Then she said something that really surprised me. “You see that group at the table near the window?”


“They’d like you to join them.”

“How do you know?”

“They gave me the high sign.”

So I picked up my drink and walked over to them.

“You must be thinking I’m someone else. So no, even though we look like twins, I’m not Ashton Kutcher.”

“You’re not?” said a very attractive young woman. “You mean all this time I’ve had a crush on you, and you’re the wrong guy?”

“No ma’am, I’m not the wrong guy…. He is.”

We introduced ourselves. It amazed me that I was easily old enough to be their grandfather. But it didn’t seem to matter. I hung with them for over an hour and then headed home.

Every evening after that I went to drink at ”The Fountain of Youth.” Sometimes I hung out at the bar, usually talking to other patrons, and other times I joined couples or groups of people at the tables. I looked around and noticed that there were people as old as I sitting with groups of mostly younger people – all engaged in animated conversation.

I was aware that the nation’s somber mood had lifted considerably since the schmuck had been impeached. But it had to be a lot more than just that. Had attitudes towards the elderly changed all that much? Was eighty the new thirty?

Had we evolved from the “Don’t trust anyone over thirty” mantra of my youth to the “Don’t trust anyone under eighty” of my dotage? Did the young suddenly have a massive attitude adjustment, and begin to appreciate the wisdom of the aged?

Perhaps it was the other way around. Did we old fogeys get past our feelings of uptightness and disapproval of the ways of the Millennials, Gen X-ers and Gen Y-ers? Or had we suddenly worked out some kind of grand compromise?

I would never know the answer, nor would any of my contemporaries who drank at “The Fountain of Youth”. Sometimes it's best to not ask too many questions.

© Steve Slavin 2017 All Rights Reserved

Date and time of last update 11:26 Fri 25 Aug 2017
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