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Charlie Hatton
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Howdy, friendly reading person!
I'm on a bit of a hiatus right now, but only to work on other projects -- one incredibly exciting example being the newly-released kids' science book series Things That Make You Go Yuck!
If you're a science and/or silliness fan, give it a gander! See you soon!

Express Yourself, Before You Mess Yourself

To me, the worst part about getting old is losing expressiveness.

(Well, that or the incontinence. Or the gut-wrenching dementia. Also, liver spots.

But let’s stick with the speed bumps I’ve already hit, shall we? There’ll be plenty of time for wearing diapers, forgetting where I live and mottling up like a week-old Granny Smith. Or someone’s actual Granny, Mrs. Smith.

Today, we cover expressiveness. Or lack thereof.)

One of our most unique abilities as humans is to emote, to convey precisely the subtleties and nuances of our complex intentions — messages that we desperately want someone else to receive.

“But emoting can be used in other places, too — in job interviews, during police interrogations, while trying to scam cash out of tourists or children.”

Usually to get them into bed, or to prevent them from writing a speeding ticket. But emoting can be used in other places, too — in job interviews, during police interrogations, while trying to scam cash out of tourists or children. These are all moments when expressiveness is key — and where it fails us more often, the older we get.

You can see the signs in many older actors. They make their livings out of delivering subtle but crucial messages — with a toss of the head, a particular expression, or a burst of fire from their leetle freend. But as some actors age, those old talents can fray — limiting the range of what they can effectively convey. Take Chevy Chase, for instance. Always a wise-ass, in his earlier work he could play roles with subtle shades of difference — the wry straight man here, then the coolly glib hipster in this scene, then a confident savvy snark over there. Similar, sure — but Clark Griswold did not equal Ty Webb was not the same as Irwin Fletcher.

Now, he plays a great bitter old man. He’s got ‘confused and angry’ still in the repertoire, ‘indignant’ going strong, and he’s as ‘scathing’ as he ever was. But it’s the expression, the non-verbal messages between the quips and zingers, that seem to be fading. He’s just one example — and a damned funny actor, still — but something seems to seep out of us as we age; the essence of our ability to tell stories with our eyes, our face, and our very presence.

Why does it fade? I don’t know — maybe our timing starts to slip, or our faces dough up so some of the muscles don’t work quite the way they used to. Maybe we just get tired of expressing all the time — because we all do it, constantly, even if we’re not paid as exorbitantly as actors to broadcast messages with our faces.

I bring this us because I sense that I’m starting to lose my expressiveness, too. I know this because I occasionally visit the CVS drug store close by my office. And when I purchase items, I step up to the counter to see the cashier jockey du jour.

And they won’t stop talking at me. Clearly, there’s a problem here.

Oh, it was different back in the day. Back when I had my full arsenal of withering expressions — from the ‘what rock did you crawl out from under?‘ to the ‘ex-cu-yuh-HUUUUSE me?‘ — the exchanges were short, if not particularly sweet. They’d go approximately like this:

Clerk Chick: Hi! Welcome to CVS!

Me: *acknowledgement of greeting, polite response and wish to speak no further, wrapped into a glance and brief nod*

Clerk Chick: Uh… do you have a CVS card?

Me: *raised eyebrow and pursed lips, conveying possibility of extreme unpleasantness if this line of questioning were to continue; cash for payment in outstretched hand*

Clerk Chick: Oh… um, kay. I’ll just ring you up, then. Here’s your change… and you have a nice-

Me: *almost imperceptible shake of head to say, “no, no, shhhh, honey — don’t speak; let’s not ruin the moment.”*

Clerk Chick: Erm.

Me: *satisfied smile; fond adieu bid with a slight nod as I collect my purchases and leave*

Ah, those were the days. Zoolander may have had his ‘Magnum’, but I had an entire arsenal of looks for every inconvenient occasion, designed to repel any sort of unnecessary chitchat or interaction. I could be in and out without a single word, yet with volumes silently spoken between us and understood completely. And security was almost never called to ‘get that creepy guy out of here’ or ‘somebody see if that guy’s having a face seizure or something’. It was expressive bliss.

That was then. Lately, I’ve evidently been off my game, because it doesn’t go anything like that. Instead, it goes like this:

Clerk Chick: Hi! Welcome to CVS!

Me: *acknowledgement of greeting, polite response and wish to speak no further, wrapped into a glance and brief nod*

Clerk Chick: Did you find everything you were looking for today?

Me: *mild alarm at the continued talking, furrowing of the eyebrow to nip it in the bud*

Clerk Chick: Um… is that a ‘yes’?

Me: *deeper furrowing; also, scrunching of the nose to show extreme displeasure*

Clerk Chick: All… right, let’s say you did. Good. Do you have a CVS card with you?

Me: *wide-eyed horror — the looks aren’t working; slow nod and backing away to make it stop*

Clerk Chick: No? Okay, would you like to apply for one?

Me: *mild hyperventilation; panicked shaking and making a cross symbol with my index fingers*

Clerk Chick: I’ve got a form right here; it’ll just take a minute.

Me: *low moaning and gnashing of teeth; attempts to rend shirt in anguish sadly repelled by strong cotton blend*

Clerk Chick: Just fill this out, and we’ll set you right up!

Me: *desperate glowering and shoving of items into cashier’s hands; bewilderment that she doesn’t seem to understand — am I emoting in Spanish or Swahili or something today?*

Clerk Chick: If you’ll just give me a phone number to put in the system, I can print a card out for you right now.

Me: *collapse into heap on the floor; possible foaming at mouth; visual scan around the room for Twilight Zone TV cameras*

Clerk Chick: Thanks for shopping CVS!

You see? It’s a nightmare. Where once a well-placed glare would grease the checkout wheels, now I’ve lost my ability to avoid idle chitchat. With the non-verbal lines of communication closed, I’m forced to actually interact with other human beings. In a drug store — I mean, who does that? Lonely grandmothers and cough syrup huffers, that’s who. Not this aging hombre.

So I’m left with two choices — either find an elderly cashier, on whom my old tricks are more likely to work, or play dead by the counter until the cashier kid stops yammering and a nice pack of EMTs come to cart me away. As long as they’re willing to pack my soda or candy bar on the gurney with me, that’s totally worth the ambulance ride — just so long as they don’t defibrillate me.

That could get a little uncomfortable — and with my advanced age, I’m not sure I could effectively communicate ‘*heart’s fine, not dying — just wanted to buy a Pepsi without trading life stories with the counter flunky*‘. Not with a single expression, anyway. And charades would take too long — they’d have me zapped before I got across ‘first word, rhymes with ‘fart’.

Clearly, I can’t patronize the CVS any more. I’ll have to get my wife to buy all my extra sodas and snacks at the grocery store, and I’ll take them to work with me every day. At least I know I can still get her to understand me, and whatever nuanced message I need to convey.

Assuming she still reads my Facebook updates. I’d better tweet her to find out.

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