One careless purchase transforms CJ Kaplan from a youthful 40-something into a senior citizen.
Usually, age sneaks up on you. One day, you notice a little gray in your beard. The next time you look, you’re suddenly Jerry Garcia. Or maybe you pull a muscle tossing a ball with your kids. Only instead of playing again the next day you find yourself on the 15-day disabled list. These things happen, but rarely can you pinpoint the actual moment in time when you went from being young, or at least young-ish, to being old. Unless you do something as stupid as I did this past December.
My family and I were fortunate enough to spend the week between Christmas and New Year’s in Turks & Caicos, an idyllic island in the British West Indies. We toggled between beach and pool each day, pausing only for meals and fancy umbrella drinks. This was the kind of vacation where you spend the entire time in a bathing suit and flip-flops. Except that when I unpacked on that first evening, I discovered that I didn’t have any flip-flops with me.
Undaunted, I made my way to the gift shop the next morning determined to find the cheapest pair of flip-flops that would fit my Size 12 canoes. After dismissing the high-fashion, high-price tag options, I settled on an unremarkable pair of flip-flops whose only distinguishing feature was a small Brazilian flag on each of the braces. Or so I thought.
I donned my new gear and headed down the pool to meet my family. Upon seeing what I had chosen to gird my feet with for the remainder of our vacation, my wife and daughter burst out laughing.
“What did you do?!?” my wife asked between spasms of hysteria.
“What?’ I said, truly perplexed. “They’re just a basic pair of flip-flops.”
“Daaaad!” my daughter exclaimed in the tone she saves for when I’ve completely embarrassed myself and her, “they’re WHITE!!!”
Looking down at my now blushing feet, I realized what they meant. Consciously or unconsciously, I had chosen an all-white (save for the small Brazilian flag) pair of flip-flops.
White. The classic old man color.
White hat, white shirt, white pants, white belt, white shoes (or flip-flops)—if you find yourself wearing any one of these out in public you might as well put a down payment on a condo at the Del Boca Vista with Morty and Helen Seinfeld. I had unwittingly branded myself as “Old Man Kaplan” and my family was going to savor every moment of it.
“Can we get a prune juice for my dad?” my daughter asked when a waiter came to take our drink order.
“I thought being old made you wiser,” sneered my son as he checkmated my king in a game of chess one evening. “I guess not in your case.”
And when my youngest son, whom everybody regards as the “sweet one,” splashed me in the pool, his battle cry was “Take that, old man!”
They needled me mercilessly. Anytime we were walking and I fell half a step behind, my wife would invariably chide, “C’mon, grandpa. Try to keep up.”
I could take the teasing. But, I had a harder time coming to terms with the realization that I had become my father—a man who had not cared about fashion since the Reagan Administration. No clothes were off-limits for my dad. No color too gaudy. No pattern too garish. No fabric too flame-resistant. And now, with my white flip-flops, I had become his disciple.
Unknowingly, however, Dad threw me a lifeline. On the way home from Turks, we got stuck in Newark Airport for seven hours. I texted my father to tell him that we wouldn’t be home until the wee hours of the morning.
“OMG,” he texted me back. “LMK when u get in.”
I may have become old, but apparently if I stick around long enough I’ll get to be a teenager all over again.