If You Can't Get a Woman Get a Clean Old Man
April 10, 2009 11:12 AM Subscribe
I’m curious about the origin and usage of the term, “Clean old man.” I’ve run across it reading on a few occasions.
posted by Phlogiston to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
In Nathanael West’s Miss Lonelyhearts, set during the 1920s, a drunken newsman comes across an old man loitering in a public park restroom and taunts him, singing, “If you can't get a woman, get a clean old man.”
In Jim Thompson’s The Grifters, set during the 1950s, the protagonist makes up a joking story about a pretend book he’s read:
"The setting is the men's washroom in a bus station, and the characters are a clean old man and a fat young boy who live in one of the coin toilets. They ask little of the world. Only the privacy incident to doing what comes naturally. But do they get it? Heck, no! Every time they begin to function--you should excuse the language--some diarrheal dope rushes up and drops a dime in the slot. And in his coarse surrender to need, their own desire is lost. In the end, fruition frustrated, they gather up the apple cores from the urinals and go off into the woods to bake a pie.”
John Katz’s Love Stories: Sex Between Men Before Homosexuality makes brief mention of Gavin Arthur, in the 1920s, recalling the clean old man song having been sung by his shipmates at some earlier point when he’d been a sailor.
The Thompson example, in particular, struck me as odd because he seems to assume that his audience will be familiar with the expression.
Does anyone know if it’s an antiquated, generic term for homosexual? A specific term for older men who engage in cottaging? Are you familiar with any other literary examples.