There was this suspicious looking guy at the beach last weekend.
He was middle-aged, balding, a bit flabby, and alone. And he was dressed for winter – jeans, shirt with collar, boots – when it was warm day.
I saw him lingering awkwardly around the café, sipping on a bottle of water, and decided to keep an eye on him. There was something about him that was not quite right.
Eventually he found a patch of grass and squatted with crossed legs as though about to meditate. He took a notebook from his backpack and started scribbling in it, while watching the parade of joggers, bikini girls, surfers, kids and families that filled the promenade. Then he pulled out a camera and took a few pictures – of the beach, the sky, the clouds. At least, that what it seemed like from where I was sitting – they might have been sneaky pics of kids!
What was he up to? Was he a pervert? On drugs? Was he dangerous? Or just deranged?
Well, he was me! I was taking a rest after walking several kilometres from a nearby beach.
And the above observations are the thoughts I imagine pass through the minds of those not in the same demographic – i.e. male, single, middle-aged. For I’ve noticed in recent years, that the unmarried or unattached S.N.A.G. (sensitive new age guy), while acceptable in the twenty-to-thirty age group, somehow morphs into the S.M.A.C. (sleazy middle-aged creep) when he hits his late forties and fifties, at least in the eyes of many people.
My daughters, both in their mid-twenties, first alerted me to the phenomenon, when they pointed out that my habit of talking to little kids and babies at the supermarket was probably scaring the parents. A young father might be able to get away with it, or a hobbling, silver-haired octogenarian, but not a balding, spectacle-wearing middle-aged male like myself.
I have since kept well away from playgrounds, toy stores or any such places, lest I be nabbed as an undesirable, my repulsive visage flashed across the pages of the Sunday Mail.
But the phenomenon is not confined to the ‘relationship’ between the single S.M.A.C. and children. For example, I’ve noticed that younger women react differently to single middle-aged men, as though the man’s marital status might represent a serious threat to their physical wellbeing.
This is well illustrated by a story my daughter told me. She once worked in a small office in which there worked many young women. There were also a couple of married guys, a few older married women, and a fifty-year old guy who lived alone. He collected jazz records, liked to travel and go to the opera. My daughter befriended him – after all, he seemed nice enough and talked about interesting things.
Unfortunately, my daughter was unaware that this man – due to age, gender and marital status – was ‘untouchable’. Her female colleagues ridiculed her – and the poor S.M.A.C. – until she desisted from talking to him again.
In John Irving’s book, The World According to Garp, Garp’s mother, Jenny – a single mother by choice – refers to herself as a ‘sexual suspect’.
I think this term sums up the S.M.A.C phenomenon. ‘Normal’ men do not reach middle age alone. There must be something wrong with them. They are diseased, damaged, deranged or dangerous. They are sexual suspects!
Of course, without hard evidence, such a hypothesis is bound to make huge generalisations, reach faulty conclusions, and be warped by personal experience. I can only say in my defence that I hope these are an unconnected collection of observations.
But spare a thought for the single S.M.A.C next time you see a movie or TV show about a child molester, serial killer or random pervert. Is he a middle-aged male? Is he single? Balding? Does he wear glasses?
No wonder people run away from me!
by Max Funt