The world has changed in many ways since I was a kid. One of the big ones is the return policy most department stores employ on most items. The stores still have a “no return” policy on some items, but back when I was younger, they erred on the side of no returns for just about everything. They put you through the wringer too. “Why are you returning this? What was wrong with it? According to section D sub point B of our return policy, there has to be something wrong with it for us to give you your money back. Was it the wrong size?” Ummm, yes, that’s it. “Then get another size.” I don’t want another size. “Well, you can’t have your money back on this item, unless you have a qualified reason listed under the return policy.” If this doesn’t read confrontational, go back and read it in the most confrontational, dismissive, and rude manner possible. After working in the service industry, I wondered who hired these awful, angry people, and did they analyze all of their employees and put the most confrontational ones on the returns desk? I still have anxiety issues whenever an item goes bad, doesn’t fit, or I somehow realize I’ve made a bad purchase. I mentally prepare for the battle that more often than not, doesn’t take place now. For those who still have issues returning items, I developed a battle plan.
Try to find the teenage male working behind the counter, if you’re returning an item. They don’t give a crud about the bullet points on the return policy of the company. The typical teenage male does everything he can to avoid confrontation. They might even speed through your transaction before the manager nears, in fear of doing something wrong. If there is no teenage boy available, go male over female, and young over old. If the only checker available is an old woman, either stand in the longer line, or just go home and come back another day. Older women tend to treat your return like a pop quiz on the laws and bylaws of the company’s policies on returns they’ve studied so well that they don’t even have to look them up.
If you’re getting a haircut, flip it. An older woman has paid her dues, learned her craft, and studied the finer points of her profession so well that she treats every haircut like a pop quiz on cutting hair. She might not talk to you, but her skills and techniques are so refined that she may speed through your haircut without anything but the necessary Q&A’s. If you see a young, attractive female, she will talk to you, and if you’re lucky she might even lead you to believe that you’re young and attractive again, but you’ll probably walk out looking like Mo Howard from the Three Stooges. And wait in line or just go home, if the only available stylist is a twenty-something male, because they don’t give a crud.
“I’m Geoffrey, Geoffrey Guardina, and I’ve been diagnosed with cancer,” Geoffrey said. Geoffrey caught me off guard with that unnecessary addition. I asked him a very pointed question about his kid. Geoffrey answered the question, but he basically since I have the floored me with that comment about his health. It caught me so off guard that I pictured myself having cancer, and I took a moment to thank The Creator that I didn’t. He had an unmistakable look in the space that followed. The look asked, how come he hasn’t said I’m sorry to hear that yet? His look condemned me. It’s social protocol for him to say that, yet he refuses.
I missed my spot, I admit that but I just met this guy, and he just talked about how he was his kid’s high school baseball coach. I didn’t expect him to pivot into a terminal diagnosis. He did, and I failed to fulfill my contractual obligation of social protocol.
“They’ve given me four years to live,” he added.
“I’m sorry to hear that.”
Who was wrong? Geoffrey told me he had a fatal condition about one minute and thirty seconds after our greeting. I did not fulfill my end of the social contract. Geoffrey presumably wanted to inform me that he was a fighter, and he expected all the kids on his baseball teams to be fighters. We could also say that death defines the life of a person soon after they learn that it will end soon. It defines a life as much, if not more than any accomplishment in life. Yet, I come from a long line of men who defined strength through silence. What’s the first thing they say about a person who died a long, slow death. “He knew for years that he was dying, but I never heard him complain.” A man who works his diagnosis into his intro probably does a whole lot of complaining. Regardless how I think Geoffrey Guardina reacted, it leads me to wonder how I will react to the news that I am informed that my time as a resident of Earth will end soon.
WE want athletes to retire before they’re ready, so WE can remember how good they were. OUR ideal scenario involves them retiring one year too soon over one year too late, but some athletes love the game so much that THEY want to play one more year beyond their expiration date. WE find that absolutely revolting, because WE want to remember how great they were in their 20’s.
Nothing lights up message boards like a premier athlete who stays one year too long, and he becomes nothing more than one of the better players in the league. Due to the fact that some of us live vicariously through athletes, we take their desire to play one more year as some kind of personal insult.
“He was too old two years ago,” WE write on message boards. “Now MY lasting memory of him will be of him will be of him being a good player, but I wanted to remember him as great.”
Imagine you’re this professional athlete. You’ve sacrificed more than anyone knows. We rarely talk about the lonely, arduous hours spent in gyms and weight rooms. We rarely talk about how some of the best to ever play the game didn’t hang out with the fellas when they were teenagers. No one cares about the boring details of a gym rat, spending all of their free time doing something, anything they could think up, to get whatever edge they could find on an opponent. Some probably played some video games in their free time, but how many of the premier athletes spent a tedious amount of time studying game film, trying to spot a weakness or tendency of your opponent? We’ve all heard stories of athletes hanging out with their professional peers, drinking, doing lines, and groupies, but how many of them went to bed, because they believed sleep would help them heal and play at maximum efficiency. After all those sacrifices that didn’t feel like sacrifices at the time, because they loved the game that much, you turned 30, and a bunch of people who know nothing about the sacrifices you’ve made in life, and continue to make, to get better, are demanding you retire. They claim you’re doing it for the money, but you don’t need the money, and you haven’t for about ten years.
You love the game, and you’re not ready to end your career. You know your physical skills have diminished slightly, but you think you still have something in the tank, and you love the game. Isn’t that the most important thing? You love it more than the twenty somethings who coast on God-given talent. You remember when that was you, but you’ve mentally matured to the point that you’ve learned from past mistakes, and even though your physical skills have diminished a little, you’ve developed techniques to compensate for that. You think you can make up for diminished physical play with smarter play, and you finally appreciate everything you took for granted when you were a twenty something.
You were wrong, as it turns out. Your skills diminished more than you thought, and you realize that you are over-the-hill. Now that that’s clear, you can go into next fifty some odd years of life knowing you left the game on your terms, for the right reasons, and that you left it all out on the court or field.
Imagine being in your early 30’s, two years removed from being one of the best athletes in the world, and the sycophantic broadcasters who once called you one of the game’s greatest are now telling you to call it a career. NBC broadcaster Bob Costas was one of the worst, in recent memory, at doing this. He asked the question everyone was supposedly afraid to ask, but everyone asked. “Have you given any thought to retiring?” To listen to Bob Costas, every player should retire at 26, one year after the average physical peak, just so he/WE can remember them for who they were. The world according to Bob would have it that every aging athlete should be forced to retire after that championship game, so he/WE can live with the memory of them as champions. After listening to Bob Costas broadcast the 2022, American League Championship Series, some audience members stated that his performance suggested that he may have stayed one year too long. I instinctively blanched at the notion that anyone but the individual, and the individuals who sign their checks should decide when someone is done, until I remembered how often Bob spoiled an athlete’s jubilation by asking his sanctimonious questions. I now view it as karma.
Theodore Roosevelt once talked about how hard it was for him to deal with the idea that he peaked so early in life. (T.R. was in his early forties when he became president.) Imagine how difficult it must be to peak in our twenties, when most of us are too immature to process and appreciate, such is the life of the athlete. They still have fifty some odd years of life left, and active aging athletes learn how difficult that can be, secondhand, from those who’ve lived it. So, the athlete plays a year, or a couple years, longer than they should have. We don’t want to remember Franco Harris in a Seahawks uniform, Muhammed Ali v. Larry Holmes, Michael Jordan in a Wizards uniform, and Willie Mays looking lost in the outfield. With the perspective of time, we now know that the athlete doesn’t tarnish their moment in the Sun, but what does it say about us that WE continue to fear that it will? The aging athlete wants to arrive at the definitive answer that they’re done. Better that, they might think, than living the next fifty years, thinking they could’ve played one more. WE don’t think that way. WE think they should’ve retired a year earlier, so WE can remember how great they/(WE?) were in their prime. It’s their lives, and they sacrificed everything for the game, and they were so great at one time that someone is willing to pay them to see how much they have left. WE have nothing on the line, and they have so much. They’ve earned the right to make the decision when they are done. It should be none of our business, but WE make it our business every time an aging athlete decides to play one more year.