I’m getting old. Saturday night and me and the wife shared a pizza at a place filled with burping teenagers saying “dude” over and over again. We were home by 8:30. After checking in on some college scores, I curled up in bed with a new one volume history of Gettysburg, and was asleep before the late news started.
The worst part was that I enjoyed myself immensely. That’s the part that makes me feel old.
Pete Townshend wrote the lines “hope I die before I get old” when he was 20. These days he’s pushing 70, as rich as Croesus, with a much younger girl at his side, and musically is revered like few others. He may have meant it then, but I suspect he’s sorta glad things worked out differently.
Townshend’s music has probably saved my life about 86 times. For me music is not simply life-affirming. In my teens I could listen to records like “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia”…..both incoherent narratives, and they made sense. Townshend was writing these things specifically to fit into my head.
I never felt like I knew him. I felt like he knew me.
It was always that kind of relationship.
We’ve both grown old together….and honestly it’s not so bad.
Sure things hurt that didn’t used to hurt. Sure things that used to be black or brown are now grey. We need glasses now. And our ears ain’t so good. (Lucky all we need to do there is turn up the volume. One thing that cannot be compromised is volume.) We’ve added a few pounds. Crow’s feet. We embraced technology…..and now we’re kinda back-tracking. I like the feel of a legal pad and pen more than a keyboard again.
But it doesn’t take as much anymore. The feeling of crisp fall air……or the explosion of fall colors….these things can literally turn a bad day into a good one. Sitting on my front porch when the night is quiet. Tinkering on an acoustic guitar. My dog curled up next to me on the couch. My cat sitting over my left shoulder. My wife catching me looking at her the way I used to look at her. Knowing the kids are tucked in and safe. A close game on TV. A cold drink. Breaking Bad on Netflix, A great book.
In 1884 Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote “in our youth our hearts were touched with fire”. Ollie spoke the truth. We needed that stimulation. We needed that urging, The concept of growing old when we were 20 was bizarre. I worshiped my father, but I could never imagine being like him. It’s this mind set that allowed Townshend to write “My Generation” and mean it. And for me to hear it say, “yea, me too”.
But those days are gone. I’m still not comparable to my father. He was a much better man than I’ll ever be. But I’d like nothing better than to keep trying. And that’s going to take time. And that’s going to mean getting even older.
So then onward. There is much to do. There is time to be savored. I don’t want my heart touched with fire anymore. Perhaps simply kept warm. I want more early nights. More stolen glances. More music. More legal pads and more pens.
I hope to grow old before I die. With Pete.
In a bit…
Bad things always seem to happen to good people. Of course, good things happen to bad people all the time too, but we don’t take much notice of that. I think because it’s more common. “Often” becomes the norm….which is why we notice teenagers behaving nicely more than we do teenagers behaving badly. And why we take note of bad weather at the beach but the blue sky and hot sun are un-remarked upon.
One rarely gets the whole story, which is another way of saying we generally only hear one side. It would be nice if this weren’t so but so goes the world. We make do and make assumptions. And it’s at times like these that you’d better not have a reputation for being one of those bad people with seemingly incessant luck. If we haven’t heard your side, we don’t want it. If we have, we don’t believe it.
I was thinking on this on and off today. It made more sense in my head, believe me…but then again what thoughts don’t?. We’ve become so fragmented from each other. It breeds fear and pettiness. We smile at each other and then mutter imprecations when out of earshot. At the risk of sounding sexist I’ll say that girls seem better (or worse perhaps) at this than guys. I’ve heard girls verbally scratch each others eyeballs out to others, and then 10 minutes later they’re together laughing like sorority sisters. It makes for good water cooler chatter but it’s a bit repugnant nonetheless. Guy are generally too lazy to pretend to like someone. To steal a Twainism…it’s the difference between lightning and the lightning bug I suppose. One of the main problems of disagreeable persons is their sheer numbers.
So that’s that. The week is almost done and soon we can pull the car into the garage and not have to pull it out again the next morning. We can study our couches and watch football and late-season baseball and that sport where people drive around in circles really fast and try not to crash. We can pretend we’re normal by acting normal. We can fit in by embracing isolation. And if we get really bored we can head out to the local boozer and drink until we throw-up. At least people are honest when they’re drunk. For better or worse. Ever see 2 drunk people who hated each other pretend they didn’t? Me neither.
I must choose the appropriate mood music for the evening….so if you’ll excuse me. The days are getting shorter. That makes no sense at all…”days” being the same 86,400 seconds no matter the month….but it’s the norm to say the says are somehow shortened when the leaves turn. I suspect you’ll allow me to say it. If only so we can pretend to get along.
In a bit..
Both came to me today.
This morning I noticed the trees are starting to turn. The most beautiful time of year is upon us. I instinctively reached for my phone to grab a picture, forgetting that I haven’t had a phone for 2 weeks….since dropping it in a cup of Diet Coke with ice. So the photo will have to live on in my memory (it looked something like this pic but not the same). Someday I may get another phone, although there is something quite liberating about not having one, In truth it’s not much more than a tracking device you willingly carry everywhere you go, ensuring you’ll have zero privacy…..thanks to…..well….you. We needn’t worry about the NSA. They can just sit back and watch us spy on each other and read all about it on facebook and twitter.
Later in the day it came to me that if me and my friends live a full life, perhaps to 70 and beyond, this is what we’re going to have to get through. .
Bob Dylan is gonna die. Neil Young. Mick and Keith (well maybe not Keith). Sir Paul McCartney. Pete and Roger. Randy Newman. The guys in Los Lobos. Ray and Dave Davies. Chuck Berry. Jerry Lee Lewis. Little Richard. BB King. Fats.Tom Petty. Bruce Springsteen. It’s gonna be like losing Elvis…..over and over and over again, We’ve never been without these people. They changed the world, and they’re not faded pictures in dusty photo albums. Most of them are probably out there on some stage right now, playing music. They have never not been with us. When they pass, then what? It’s gonna be like trees in the fall going from green to winter bare. No more colors.
It was a scary thought and I wasn’t sure where it had come from. We are going to lose them all. I remember Elvis dying. And John Lennon of course. And then Kurt Cobain…..which affected me more than I ever thought it would. I cried when I heard the news. I was alone. I never cried in front of anyone, because there was no one in my life at that time that could have understood what losing him meant to me. All these years later there’s still no one.
Nothing lasts forever except a great song. Even the fall is temporary.
They are not going to burn out. They are not going to fade away. They’re just gonna go like the rest of us. Time is gonna run out. What do we do then?
Enjoy the explosion of colors. With a great soundtrack.
In a bit…
My Mother lost her brother last week. Donald Loftus died at the age of 89. His last few years were not easy ones. If there was justice in the world they would have been,
He enlisted to serve in WWII at the age of 16….although family legend has it that he was really 15 and got away with it because he was so earnest. Regardless, he was a child. When I as 15 I had to be home before it got dark. Donald was given a rifle and sent to the Philippines.
He was captured by the Japanese and somehow survived the Bataan Death March, He spent the remainder of the war in a POW camp, where he was subjected to unspeakable cruelties. War crimes. Horrors that no amount of time could possibly erase. At the end of the war when he was liberated he weighed 88 pounds.
When he received his back pay (for his time as a prisoner), he used it to send his parents to Florida on a vacation. I never knew he did this. His eldest son mentioned it in a gorgeous eulogy he gave today at the funeral. I’m sure Donald has friends for 30 or 40 or 50 years who never knew he was a POW either. The Greatest Generation didn’t feel the need to talk about the things they’d done, or the things that had been done to them. Or the fact that they sent their parents on what may have been the only vacation of their lives. Never has a generation been more aptly named. Donald was once asked to lead folks in the Pledge of Allegiance and at once grew suspicious. “Why me?” he asked. “Because we wanted a war hero” he was told. “Well, go find one then”, Donald said. And that was that.
Parks and highways are named after crooked politicians. “Welcome to” signs for small towns tout them as “home of” somebody who could throw a football or baseball. We built marble statues of high school football coaches and granite busts of actors. Nobody names anything for quiet, heroic men like Donald Loftus. There will be no statues. No marble busts. He’ll live on in the memories of his 7 children and his 23 grandchildren. My Mom and her brother Frankie are the last 2 Loftus siblings. Two out of thirteen. He lives on with them. And us nieces and nephews. And the many friends he made. He lives on with us. But still, I can’t help but think he’s getting shortchanged. He’d certainly disagree with me. The last thing he’d want is somebody making a fuss over him. He never believed what he did was extraordinary. His country needed him and he went. His parents and his brothers and sisters needed him and he survived hell to get back home to them. His wife and children needed him, and there’s nothing more heroic than being a good husband and father.
If that’s not somebody worthy of recognition I’m not sure who is.
There’s a picture our family has. Somebody sent it to my father in the mail years ago. It was published in “Stars and Stripes” during the war. The Red Cross was allowed into POW camps, where they could collect names and serial numbers of the prisoners and send postcards home to the families. It meant “your son is still alive”. That’s all. No other details were permitted.
Something about this photo haunted my father. The men were lined up…and in the front row was a boy. He looked like a mascot. They all stared impassively into the camera. These men were all in their early 20s….but looked much older. Haunted. Emaciated. But not without a certain dignity. And this boy….his eyes burned. Like the men behind him he didn’t look mean. He didn’t look defeated. He didn’t even look defiant. I want to find some sort of flowery word here…but nothing is coming. He looked tough. I’ll settle for that.
My Dad thought it was Donald. It was the equivalent of a needle in a haystack. How many prisoners? How many photos? Everybody tried to talk him out of it. Dad was as stubborn as a Loftus (he married one after all) and kept writing letters. To the Army. To all sorts of government agencies. It took years. But finally. The men in the picture were identified. The boy in front was 16 years old. It was Donald Loftus. POW. The picture was taken at Christmas time. A propaganda attempt by the Japanese.
I was in the room when my Dad showed Donald that picture. It was maybe 20 years ago. Maybe less. It felt like I was intruding so I left. I have no idea what my Uncle said after seeing the photo. I never asked him about it. I never asked my Dad about it either. I regret that now.
What a moment that must have been. Two of the greatest generation…sharing a moment in time. And one saying, for sure, something like, “it was no big deal Joe. Have I told you about my latest grandchild? He’s gonna be a ringer…”
Men like this just can’t be replaced. The world seems a lesser place without them in it.
If you’re in that room with them, don’t walk out.
In a bit..