One day last summer, I arose to go to a doctor's appointment. First, aided by my granddaughter, I conducted a frantic search for my car keys. Then, failing to find them, I took my wife's car.
Near the doctor's office, I noticed that the clock in the car had the wrong time. At the next stoplight, I decided my wife must have failed to reset the clock for Daylight Savings Time, so I decided to do it for her. When I tried, I discovered that the clock has an automatic reset.
This called into question whether I knew the correct time. Since my retirement, I no longer wear a watch, so I checked my cellphone only to find that the battery was dead. At the next stoplight, I asked a young woman who was waiting for a bus for the time and discovered that I was more than an hour early for my appointment.
At the unplanned breakfast that I enjoyed to use up the time, I realized that the morning's events were the first signs that I'd entered a new life stage.
The stages of a person's life may be described in many ways, such as by the decades of age -- teens, 20s, etc. -- or various categories like childhood, adolescence, young adult, etc. However, I have determined through personal observation and discussion with others of my vintage that there are four stages of a man's life beyond childhood that are of crucial importance to men. I expect that all male readers of a certain age will agree with me.
I call the first stage, beginning at about age 13, the "golden years." I am well aware that term is more commonly applied to the retirement years, but since I am currently experiencing those so-called golden years, I can attest that the term is much more appropriate for describing this earlier stage of a man's life. There is no better way of describing the period extending from the onset of raging hormones until, perhaps, one's early 30s.
The golden years for guys are those years when young, pretty girls almost always smile at you if you make eye contact. During those amazing years, most girls do everything they can to make you notice how attractive their hair, makeup, clothing and lithe bodies are. Some girls flirt with you and a few may even hit on you.
Men, of course, don't know that these are the golden years when they are in them. This behavior of girls seems natural and ordinary. The male creature in these years is so naive as to assume that this will go on forever.
But, alas, every guy, some on the cusp of 30 and some well into their30s, reaches a point when he becomes aware that he no longer exists -- at least as far as pretty, young girls are concerned. I call these the "invisible years." During these years, young girls act as though they can't see you; they are oblivious to your existence.
This is a shock to every man. Some react to it by pathetically trying to get the attention of girls, perhaps by joining a gym and trying to look younger, or dressing the way that young men currently do, or getting hair transplants. But the best one can hope for is to delay the onset of invisibility a bit. In fact, for many who take the most garish steps to be visible, invisibility may actually be hastened.
But life has other stages in store for us. The next is the "cute grandpa" stage when young girls begin to notice us again. They even smile at us again, but it's a much different smile than we got in the golden years. Rather than being a come-hither smile, it's an "Isn't-he-cute (just like a grandpa should look)" smile. Whereas I used to enjoy the smiles of young girls, I hate this sort of smile, probably because it reminds me of my mortality.
Then there's the stage that I can only assume will be the final one. It's the one whose symptoms I detected that morning.
At breakfast, when I thought about the look my granddaughter gave me when I was frantically searching for my keys and the look that the girl gave when I asked for the time, I realized that I'd entered the "doddering old fool" stage. In this stage, the girls no longer smile at you -- they just shake their heads in bewilderment.
Of course, I may be wrong; there may be other now-unknown stages yet to come. Doddering old fools are not the most reliable people to report such things, after all.
William R. King of Fox Chapel, a retired University of Pittsburgh professor, can be reached at email@example.com. The PG Portfolio welcomes "Local Dispatch" submissions and other reader essays. Send your writing to firstname.lastname@example.org; or by mail to Portfolio, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh PA 15222. Portfolio editor Gary Rotstein: 412-263-1255.