I’LL TURN 73 toward the end of summer. This aging thing is quite interesting. I don’t recommend it, but it’s interesting.
Forget that malarkey about age being just a number. That’s arrant nonsense. The difference between a child of 10, a middle-ager of 45 and a coot of 73 is just a number?
Dream on, brother.
When you’re in your 60s, you realize you’re no kid or anywhere near it. But turning 70 is quite an eye-opener.
More and more I notice this phenomenon: “Future” vanishes. That long, straight macadam that disappears into the distance as if you’re motoring toward a faraway mountain chain, the Highway of Future. Well, you’re not driving it anymore, Bub.
Instead, you’re on Present Lane.
When you’re younger, “future” is simply something that’s out there, and it’s way out there, so far out there that you don’t really dwell on it. It’s just there, and you know it.
In your bones.
This mostly subconscious notion of an endless future affects lots of things — attitudes, lifestyle, decisions, plans.
Passing 70 years delivers an immediacy to life that you’d never known before. It’s very interesting. I do not recommend it, but there ain’t nothing you can do about it.
Not one blessed thing.
I OFFER this as a public service.
Alas, most folks who read The Unseen Moon, I imagine, are far from being adults with young children.
I read a news story not long ago, an interview with an Army drill sergeant. He said that most recruits today had clearly never had anyone tell them “no” and mean it.
Most of these kids are in universities now, not the Army.
ELEANOR POWELL was Glenn Ford’s first wife, the mother of his only child. Fred Astaire said she was the best dancer in Hollywood, and that included him too.
This is worth watching. She even turns into a gymnast toward the finale. Four minutes of your time well-spent.
The clip is from the 1941 movie Lady Be Good, and Powell was 29 years old. Glenn Ford was a fool to let her get away.
I WAS A newspaperman for about 30 years before I retired at age 55 in late 1999. I never called myself a journalist, and I’ve never taken even one journalism course.
I’ve also been a taxi driver, a loan shark and a repo man.
There’s a link in the right-side column that takes you to Newspaper Days, a description of my decades in that world. It was a profession I fell into, just one more path in a life that’s been almost entirely haphazard.
Take a look if you have some spare moments. It’s a quick tour through exotic places like San Juan and New Orleans, and even haircuts in the Virgin Islands.
You’ll also encounter mangy dogs, suicides, alcoholism, unionism, motorcycles, political correctness, feminist zealotry, homosexuality, paste pots and old typewriters.
I’VE BEEN SINGLE — and I’ve been married. A lot.
Being single doesn’t hold much appeal, and now that I’m considerably older, it holds even less.
Actually, I loathe being single. Maybe I subconsciously married someone 16 years my junior to virtually guarantee that I’ll sail off into the ether before she does.
She goes to the gym three evenings a week. During those times, when I walk through the bedroom, the above is what I see, and I imagine it as a permanent scene. Grim.
I prefer the photo below.
MY FATHER was born in North Georgia on the edge of Atlanta during the First World War.
I was born in Atlanta during the Second World War. My father’s parents were born around 1890, which means I am just two family generations south of the Victorian Age.
My father’s parents’ parents were born shortly after the end of the Civil War. I’m not sure where, probably North Georgia. If they were not born there, they moved there.
My father was an arrowhead collector, a newspaperman, an excellent writer and poet, a boozer who shunned coffee and tobacco, and he wasn’t much of a father either.
For a while, he was a chicken farmer. He was drafted into the U.S. Army late in the Second World War and sent to Korea on a troop ship. He didn’t like that one little bit.
Yes, he was in Korea during the Second World War, not the Korean War, which came later. He never fired a shot at anyone, and nobody ever shot at him. He was a typist.
The war ended, and Uncle Sam shipped him back to Georgia. He never traveled anywhere again if he had anything to say about it.
He was not an adventurer.
As I said, he wasn’t much of a father. He had no interest, and it showed. About the only things that interested him were my mother, booze, writing and arrowheads.
He died in Atlanta of a heart attack in 1991. Coincidentally, he was lying in a hospital bed due to some unrelated issue, and was on the verge of being discharged.
He died just moments after brusquely hanging up the phone. He was talking to me. I had called.
He had not called me, of course. He never wrote me a letter in his entire life. He never wrote my sister either.
Those were pre-email days.
Minutes later, my sister phoned to say he was dead. Age 75, three years older than I am now.
It was Mother’s Day.
I didn’t much like him, but I am just like him. I look like him. I think like him. I sound like him. I think I was a better father, but my daughter might tell you otherwise.
I did make an effort. He never made an effort.
He and I both stopped drinking in our early 50s, but for both of us the damage had already been done, irreparably.
My father was a lifelong leftist. He had witnessed Pinkertons shooting at strikers during the 1930s. For most of my life, I was a leftist too, as was all our family.
Unlike him and the others, I wised up late in life.
Will our many similarities include dying at 75? I hope not because I’m having way too much fun.
* * * *
(Note: The inimitable Jennifer Rose recently noted the 20th anniversary of her mother’s death. This got me to thinking about my father, which led to the above. I wrote about my mother after she died at 90 in 2009.)
* The lad on the right in the photo is John Zimmerman. We were good friends. He went on to become a pilot in the Vietnam War and later a captain for a major airline. He sent me this photo a few years ago when we reconnected on Facebook.
AROUND 6 P.M. yesterday, I was watering the yard with a hose. Six months a year, this is not necessary. The other six months, it surely is. Just plants. I don’t water the grass.
If grass grows, it needs mowing.
I started with the Alamo Wall, spraying the ivy that covers the far side. Had you told me when I was middle-aged that I would spend my waning years behind an ivy-covered wall, I would have thought you daft or worse.
I went on to water things on the wall’s other side, where the yard sits. I only water plants I like. I do not like the loquat tree or the peach either. Not too fond of the pear.
They are trash-tossers.
I do water the sole remaining banana stand, the four rose bushes and the two daturas. I water the towering nopal cactus because I don’t want it to die and thunder down.
I do not water the huge maguey, but I do soak the two beefy aloe veras and the surrounding greenery. I douse the pole cacti, which are over my head now.
I water no bougainvillea. Damn things are on their own.
While watering I was thinking about history.
I have a bachelor’s degree in history. There are few degrees more useless than history. I almost topped myself, however, because when I first attended a university right out of high school, I majored in philosophy.
That was at Vanderbilt in 1962. But I soon dropped out and dropped philosophy too. What was I thinking?
I read lots of history these days. Recently, I’ve been focusing on the Middle Ages, the Dark Ages, but it’s unfashionable to say that now. Maybe it’s a race thing.
There was lots of fun stuff in the Middle Ages. There was Charlemagne; his daddy, Pepin the Short; Vikings; Dual Papacies; tribes with names like Lombards, Franks and Jutes; and women named Gerberga and Himiltrude.
Nobody is named Himiltrude anymore.
About a thousand years passed between the Roman Empire’s demise and the Renaissance. That time in between was the Dark Ages. We’re about 200 years shy of another millennium passing.
We’ll enter another Dark Age because people never learn. When baby girls once more have names like Gerberga and Himiltrude, you’ll know it’s time to dig caves and stockpile canned goods and hand grenades.
In the meantime, I wake every morning in the king bed next to my child bride, feeling fine and looking ahead to another day of blue skies, cool breezes and flocks of snowy egrets flying between here and the green mountains.
My Middle Ages were Dark Ages, but now my Old Age is a Grand Age even though I gotta water the yard.
WE MAY HAVE iPods and iPads and iTunes and even flaming Samsungs today, but we do not have trains. Freight trains are nice, but passenger trains are lovely.
One advantage of being vintage is that you had trains in your life, and now you have trains in your mind.
A railroad track passes directly behind the house across our street. Freights thunder by day and night. My favorite is the 5:45 a.m. Who needs an alarm clock?
Most passenger trains are gone, and we’re left with the occasional line that transports tourists. Alas.
As a child I boarded trains at the huge station in Jacksonville, Florida, and rode 200-plus miles northwest to Sylvester, Georgia, where I stepped down onto dirt.
Grandparents picked me up in an old Ford, and we drove to the farm on rutted, red-clay roads.
The Air Force paid for a solo sleeper to Rantoul, Illinois. I woke the next morning and watched a forest of white-barked birch trees passing. I’d never seen birches.
Also courtesy of the Air Force, a few months later, I railed from Rantoul to the San Joaquin Valley of California, via Chicago. All the way across much of America.
From New Orleans I would ride the elegant Southern Railway to Atlanta to visit my parents. “Southern Railway Serves the South.” It surely did. But not anymore.
Traveling solo with two bottles of tequila, I rode in a sleeper from Mexico City to Ciudad Juárez. I stood outside on the bucking platform between cars and watched the desert mountains in the distance, which was romantic.
With the woman who’s now my second ex-wife, I took a train from the English Channel to Paris, and a few days later an overnight sleeper to Barcelona.
The following year found me on a train alone from Edinburgh to Inverness and a few days later, with a new traveling companion in the form of a lovely American anthropologist, aboard a train from Inverness to the craggy coast of Scotland.
From there we ferried to the Isle of Skye.
I stood outside, six days later, as my traveling companion, leaned out the train window (just like in the movies) as it pulled from the station in Chester, England, taking her to Wales. My ride, an hour later, went to London.
I never saw her again.
Again with my second ex-wife, I took a train from Los Mochis, Mexico, to Chihuahua with an overnight at the Copper Canyon. After a following night in a Chihuahua hotel, we took a jammed, third-class train to Ciudad Juárez.
That was in the 1980s, and it was my last train ride.