Over the years, I’ve been lucky enough to receive some pretty spectacular hate mail. However, what I’ve noticed is that people will never get more offended than by the stuff I’m saying the least seriously, with my tongue most obviously in cheek, that has the least relevance to anything happening anywhere in the world of any importance whatsoever.
Take Monday’s column on naked old men parading around gym locker rooms. First of all, everyone knows this is true. Second of all, I obviously wasn’t saying, “Shame on you for being alive, old people! Cover up your disgusting bodies and let us younger men parade around free in an exhibitionist paradise! We are Adonis! You would be our Soylent Green if we had our way, old men!”
Which is clearly how some took the column. I wish I could publish every letter I got, but if you’re offended super easily by the most obvious of observations that wouldn’t make the cut at even the tamest stand-up comedy club, you apparently cannot write a letter to the editor under 50,000 words. Here then, are some of my favorite bits ([sic]s are all their own):
• You said you are not “advocating peeing on naked old men, but…wait, I guess that’s exactly what I’m advocating”. What an absolutely horrible thing to say. If “naked old men” were replaced by any other group of people we would be outraged, and no newspaper would print it… How sad and hateful. And please keep in mind that not everyone is given the gift of aging.
• Someday, if you are fortunate, you will be 58 years old, and if you are even more fortunate, you will come to realize what a shallow, self-absorbed, insufferable prick you are. If the appearance of my contemporaries, or someone even older, disturbs you, don't look. I am a combat veteran and I have been in physically and mentally demanding profession for the last thirty years. I earned getting to look this way. Again, if you are fortunate, you might be able to say the same.
• I can't believe the tribune would allow such a jerk to write such a column and then print it. I'm a 74 year old tribune subscriber, who goes almost daily to a health club and have no idea what he is talking about. I know the biggest jerks I see at the club are mostly 20 somethings. STEPHEN MARKLEY you are an a--hole.
• I voted in the Nixon election but did not vote for him so, yes, not all of us old folks are moneyed Republicans with nothing else to do but hang around showers naked (as you’ll find out, 58 year-olds still work for a living). I abhorred Nixon and all he stood for. I demonstrated in Washington D.C. against the Vietnam War. You probably don’t remember that war, but many young men were killed who didn’t have a chance to attain a Cryptkeeper physique.
Wow, Vietnam! How'd we get there? Nothing could be more telling than the fact that everyone who hated the column chose to express that opinion by e-mail (and were obviously having a very difficult time not employing the word “whippersnapper”) while those who enjoyed it, tweeted at me. Obviously, I’d tend to side more with those who took sixteen seconds to tweet “@stephenmarkley laughing out loud at doctor office reading your article in @redeyechicago. Made my day. Hilarious and true”—But that’s only because sixteen seconds is the appropriate amount of time to spend replying or commenting on that particular column.
Most interestingly, the column seemed to cleave open a divide between those who can feel their mortality and those who blithely assume it’s not something to worry about right now. As many of my hatefans correctly pointed out, one day I will have that aging body and the shadow, the specter, will grow long, something any sane person my age should already be taking into account as they watch the number of gray hairs disperse at their temples from day to day in the bathroom mirror. Youth and beauty (or in my case, exactly average white-guy lookingness) are the most impermanent of gifts. A sense of f***ing humor, on the other hand, is obviously one of the sturdiest and most cherished.
And hell, if as I grow old I lose that sense of humor along with my youth, I can always go to the gym and dangle my balls in some whippersnapper’s face.