Trish was visibly upset while looking at the photo on my computer. She turned to me and said, “I’m not having this thing hanging in our house.”
“But it’s hilarious,” I said. “It’s ironic.”
Trish frowned. “But don’t you think it’s too close to home?”
“No way,” I said, “Not at all.”
The “it” in question was an enormous 4’ by 6’ photograph by British photojournalist Martin Parr. The photo captures a Jewish couple in their 70s lounging at a Florida beach resort in 1997. On the left lies the husband, fast asleep, his yarmulke askew, his folded newspaper off to the side. His red, white and blue striped polo clashes with his blue checked shorts.
On his left is his wife, peering at him from behind the book she’s reading, called “Silvana.” Its cover describes the story as “a passionate Jewish-Italian saga about food and love and the American Dream” — bubbe beachside porn. She is probably thinking, “Can’t you be more like the men in here?”
Trish and I are in our 50s, not in our 70s like these two. And while the California home we were starting to decorate was destined to become our retirement getaway, that would be a long, long time from now. So no, the photo was not “too close to home.”
To be fair, it’s a stretch for me to say “I’m in my 50s.” I’ll be 60 in a few months. But I’m not “in my 60s.” What even happens to men when they turn sixty? Nobody has told me anything. Are there preparations I need to make? Am I supposed to buy tickets to the opera?
At any rate, I’m a long way from my 70s. I run a company, play competitive tennis, leg press 500 pounds and can still party ‘til
dawn 11:30pm. But I understand that I’m closer to being the older man in the photo than the younger man I once was — and Trish is not all that far behind me.
“People will think they’re your grandparents,” Trish said. “Who has a massive photo of their grandparents hanging in their dining room?”
The couple did look like my grandparents, who also went to Florida back in the day. Then again, the couple looked like most Jewish grandparents. The man wore shoes on his lounge chair, for goodness’ sake. The woman wore see-through white socks with a seam running down the middle, the kind they used to give out in hospitals. Had she recently been a patient? Were the bruises on her arm from diabetes or just from old age?
I bruise easier myself now, come to think of it, mostly from bumping into inanimate objects. I opened the shower door into my head yesterday. Last week, I walked into a tree. With age comes wisdom, not grace.
“Their lounge chairs crack me up,” Trish said. “And their names are on them?” Trish shook her head.
The chairs were comically decrepit. And the couple’s last name, “Weiser,” was scrawled on each one, written in brown marker on peeling masking tape. The Weisers weren’t wealthy, and this was not a resort for the well-heeled. It was a beachside getaway for the retired middle class, and like the Weisers, it looked tired.
Trish and I recently returned from a spring break trip in the Bahamas with our 18-year-old daughter Hannah and several thousand of her closest high school friends. She’s our youngest child, so we were a bit older than most of the other parent chaperones. But we kept up.
We barely saw Hannah the whole trip, but Trish and I had fun playing pickleball, working out, and having drinks with the other abandoned parents. And we occasionally hung out at the pool. Our chairs weren’t named or numbered, and I wore flip flops, not shoes. Still, I’m sure I fell asleep once or twice with my Kindle at my side, and I imagine Trish looked up from her phone when she heard me snore.
When we returned home, I saw the photo in a new light. I wanted to buy it even more now. Mr. Weiser looked so peaceful, sleeping next to the woman he built his life with. And while Mrs. Weiser was enjoying her book, she still looked up occasionally, pleased to see her husband so relaxed. I bet you anything she told her husband that his new outfit was cute.
The photo isn’t ironic after all. It’s iconic.
Judaism teaches that a great marriage is characterized by peace, respect, nurturing and kindness. We call this shalom bayit, peace in the home, and the Weisers clearly had it. I think Trish and I do too, though I know I don’t always make it easy.
There’s a tender moment in the Torah when Sarah overhears God say that she is going to have a child. Sarah laughs when she learns this, thinking, “Now that I’m withered, am I to have enjoyment, with my husband so old?” But when God retells this to Abraham, God skips the part about Sarah thinking Abraham is too old. The rabbis taught that God made this omission, this little white lie, to protect their shalom bayit. No one wants to hear that their partner thinks they’re old.
I tried one last pitch to convince Trish that we should buy the photo. “This photo isn’t too close to home. It has nothing to do with us, babe — we’re hot.”
Trish crinkled her nose.
“Fine,” she said. “If you want it so badly, go ahead and get it. I’ll get used to it.”
Sweet! I knew she’d come around. We’re a pretty good couple that way.
Trish and I are older now, but not Weiser. Maybe with a bit of sunshine, hard work and bad fashion sense, we could be. We should be so lucky.
Turns out this photo isn’t too close to home. It is home.