Column: Well, excuuuuuuuuse me for being this old

By SCOTT SAALMAN

... so, this millennial at work (she’s 24) asked about my weekend.

“I saw Steve Martin,” I said excitedly, hoping to impress. Her face reminded me of an Etch A Sketch screen after you shake it for a do-over. Blank.

I found myself, for the first time, face to face with a member of a generation that does not immediately recognize the name Steve Martin. Incredulous, I let my jaw drop, despite worrying my dentures might plop out right onto her work station’s surface.

I’m kidding, of course. I don’t wear dentures, though being around 20-somethings in the workplace sure makes me feel old and gummy. Each time I talk to one, I swear I can hear my ear hairs growing outward, one inch per second.  

Hello? Did you not hear me? I said Steve Martin! Tap, tap, tap: Hey, is this thing on?

It’s not the first time I’ve received a look like this when showing off my pop culture knowledge with a much younger co-worker. Unfortunately, it’s my generation’s pop culture, not theirs. It’s not necessarily a look interpreted as “Dead Man Walking” as much as it is a look that says “Old Man Talking.” Let’s face it, there are two fresher generations than mine in the workplace now. I’m only 49, but I’m “workplace old” in their eyes.

I first felt “workplace old” two summers ago when an intern and I discussed computer passwords. He told me he typically uses the names of his favorite Pokemon characters for his passwords. I kid you not! Pokemon! I wouldn’t have even known what Pokemon was had my own kids not been wild about Pokemon a few years ago.

I just couldn’t let the Steve Martin thing go.

“You know…Steve Martin? You don’t know who Steve Martin is?”

I could tell she was wishing she hadn’t even asked about my weekend, for she began making sideways glances at the Excel spreadsheet glowing on her computer monitor. When had I reached the age where I was less appealing than an Excel spreadsheet?  

“Steve Martin, the comedian?” I said.

“Sorry,” she said.

In the late 1970s, when I was way younger than the millennial is now, Steve Martin was my favorite stand-up comedian. The fake arrow through the head. The “Wild and Crazy Guy” routine. The white suit. Balloon animal hats. His trademark “Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me” line. “King Tut.” Happy Feet. His Saturday Night Live appearances were the highlight of my life. He was huge. His shows drew as many fans as KISS concerts.

Over time, Steve became more than a comedian. He became a movie star. I decided to latch onto that as a hook to establish common ground with the millennial.

“He’s in tons of movies. You know, ‘The Jerk’?”

She furrowed her brow.

 “You’ve never heard of ‘The Jerk’? Cat juggling? The Opti-Grab? ‘The new phone book’s here! The new phone book’s here!’” These references usually get big laughs from buddies of my generation.

I was sinking fast. The common ground beneath me and Miss Millennial amounted to nothing more than quicksand.

I tried to think of more recent Steve Martin movies. “Father of the Bride” quickly came to mind, but she was only 2 years old during its release. I doubt there was a McDonald’s Happy Meal tie-in with “Father of the Bride.”

In hindsight, I could’ve mentioned “Roxanne” or “LA Story” or “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” or “Parenthood” or “Grand Canyon” or “Leap of Faith” or “Bowfinger” (the funniest movie that Eddie Murphy has ever appeared in) or “Shopgirl,” but as I’ve gotten older, movie titles (or names of anything for that matter ... my kids ... my cat) don’t come as easy as they once did — not on the spot like that.

I told her that besides being an actor Steve’s an acclaimed movie director, screenwriter, playwright, novelist and humor essayist.

He’s also a respected musician, I added. Last year, I purchased his CD, “Love Has Come For You,” arguably one of the best song collections in 2013. The title track won a Grammy for Best American Roots Song.

That CD, which he collaborated on with Edie Brickell, lured me to his concert at Horseshoe Casino near Louisville on the weekend my millennial co-worker had inquired about.

Music, I have learned, can serve as a great bridge uniting generations. So, I resorted to the music angle.

“He’s a premier banjo player,” I said, and suddenly I aged 10 more years just saying the word banjo around her. Her sideways glances at her computer confirmed that just hearing the word banjo created even greater alienation between us. Saying banjo to her made about as much sense as me saying, “May I mambo dogface on the banana patch?”

“I take it you don’t like bluegrass,” I said.

“No.”  

The Etch A Sketch look returned. It was apparent that our musical bridge was the equivalent of the I-35W Mississippi River Bridge collapse of 2007, which she might have remembered seeing on the TV news had she looked up from her Pokemon cards.

She turned to face her Excel file, leaving me with nothing else to add about my incredible weekend involving Steve Martin. Of course, I walked away, thinking, “Well excuuuuuuuuuuuuse me!”

Scott Saalman and the Will Read and Sing for Habitat for Humanity benefit show will be held at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 14, at VUJC. Admission: $10. His humor collection, “Nose Hairs Gone Wild,” is available as an e-book via Amazon and B&N.




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