I’m here again, at The Poet’s Hall of Fame. Quite a few authors, masters of the craft, once sat inside this eclectically decorated room and penned soon-to-be-published books. The name of today’s most popular, talented and successful such author to have written his masterpiece here is oftentimes whispered by members of the international literati.
But today not one master of the craft is here. Today is Saturday, so the crowd includes a few older folks. Weekdays bring a throng of university students, dressed to impress and equipped with flashing laptop computer screens that turn The Hall of Fame into a distorted image of one of the houses of congress, minus the pressed suits and gridlocked conversations.
Today’s group of wise and earnest senior citizens, however, earlier this morning swallowed their prescribed pills and vitamins to the tune of fresh-squeezed, organic orange juice. That much is apparent by way of the peachy pink flush that colors their soft, lined cheeks. They next pulled out from their closets plaid flannel shirts, faded 501 jeans, and fatigue jackets with frayed cuffs. Add a few pair of wire-rimmed glasses and gray beards (including my own), and there you have us.
Sipping bitter coffee. Munching on vegan muffins that no doubt contain great spoonfuls of granulated sugar that will send our glucose levels into the stratosphere. But what the heck, if you can’t cheat on Saturday, then when can you cheat?
Some of us cheat and eat while studying old-fashioned, paper newspapers. Which habit taunts us till we begin to spout and spit political philosophy. Yes, the tall man sitting at the table in front of me — I know his frequent presence here well enough to understand that he’s a lawyer. A suave-mannered lawyer whose wife must listen to his wisdom born of white hair and long exposure to the fumes emitted by oak-panelled courtrooms. I sometimes stretch my elephant ears beyond their normal limits, and thus intrude in silence on their one-sided conversation. My goal: to count the number of times a female voice joins the conversation. That number, it turns out, is statistically insignificant. Frequent, though, are female head nods, which may indicate either constant agreement or represent a non-verbal way of saying, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
And so I feel embarrassed, because I own the same insulting habit. Even when I was a young child, just out of diapers, I scoped out the least little breathing break in a conversation, and then dived into that slip of air to tell you what little AVT thought. After all, I was impressed by my articulate opinion, so it stood to reason — to my reason, that is — that my opinion would impress you. I ignored the wrinkled noses and wayward glances that oftentimes came as responses to my speeches.
Somewhere, a long time ago, I read that writers are not the talkative type, that most of them prefer to express themselves on the page. So either I’m not a writer, or the adage is flawed. Or I’m an example of a flaw in an otherwise reliable adage? Could that type of flaw be yet another medical condition common to the old and frail? I’ll have to ask one of my nine doctors. Likely is the need for an additional bottle of giant pills, another set of visits to the Vampire Clinic to have more blood sucked from my sagging veins. And if I’m lucky, I’ll have to buy a ticket for another exciting ride through the scan the damned body tube. We’ll see. Like my Philadelphia friend reminds me, “Whataya gonna do?”
Nowadays, in the winter of my life (as Frankie S. might say), I try to curb my interjections. My tongue is stippled with teethmarks to prove my assertion. Still, I’ve discovered that the best way to avoid committing this mortal sin is to make myself scarce when such conversations occur. To do otherwise requires frequent trips to the confessional. That proposition unsettles me, because as a serial interrupter I suspect that God must have imposed a limit on such transgressions, after which absolution must be refused.
Interruption #1: Baby Girl, Please Remain Young
A healthy bit of innocent comic relief in the form of a baby girl now attends this time-honored gathering of weathered hippies. Complicated, multi-syllabic, poly-paragraphed apologies for the twisted state of global politics fly around her pink-cheeked head. Yet, she walks back and forth from her parents’ table to the corner bookshelf, each trip choosing a different book to deliver to Mommy, who reads the story with her. Eventually, baby girl appears to tire of walking, and so she gets down on all fours and crawls the round-trip distance from Mommy to bookshelf. I smile to myself and wonder why we old folks at some time, and for some odd reason, decided that it was more noble to walk, even when our legs cramp and our feet burn, than it would be to crawl and thus gain greater mobility and muscular relief. Society’s rules are sometimes a matter of nothing more than false pride.
Interruption #2: So What’s The Point Of This Lengthy, Wrinkled Whine?
Older folks, as in the group to which I belong while holding on to the tail end of my youthful years inside my dreams.
I cannot yet settle with this new reality — new for me, that is — of being old. At what precise point in my life did I become old? On what day, month, and year did my deterioration begin?
1981: I remember driving one of those bullet-shaped Toyota tanks westward, along a nighttime Venice Boulevard in Southern California. For most of the east end of that highway, the streetlamps and vehicle headlights sprayed a white, diffused light, offering just enough illumination to allow a driver to negotiate traffic.
But when I reached the intersection of Venice Boulevard and Lincoln, the traffic signal turned red in front of me. I stopped and noticed that all four corners of this intersection were so brightly lit by billboard advertisements, fast-food lollipop signs, and gasoline station fluorescence that I needed to squint my eyes. Seeking a slither of darker air, I stared into my car’s rearview mirror. There I noticed that I had a bad case of dandruff. Not an uncommon occurence back then; my hair was full and thick. I reached my right hand up to the top of my head and began to use my fist as a hairbrush, desperate to whick away most of the dandruff before I reached my friend’s beachside cottage.
Long story, made shorter:
I repeated this redlight fist-brushing exercise at each of several successive intersections, only in gradual fashion admitting to my arrogant self that dandruff was neither inside my rearview mirror, nor in my bushy hair.
I had acquired a broad speckled spray of white hair, that speckle just beginning to mingle with my darker bush, but bound eventually to overtake and conquer what for so many years had been my Samson’s pride.
I mark that night in 1981 as the first time I took note of my mortality. Yes, I am strange. But I think I’m not alone.
I’ve been coming to this Poet’s Hall of Fame to write since the days when my hair was brown and my hopes were high for one day publishing a book that would make me feel relevant. Of course, because I was young and not a genius, I found out soon enough that my goal might not be reached for many years, or might never be reached. I was a green writer. Back then, I thought too much about how fast my writing would mature.
Well, this year is 2014. I never, when I was a young buck run through by copious amounts of testosterone, thought I’d live to see the year 2000, much less 2014. As well, I never imagined the truth about AVT the scribbler. Although I’m old, gnarled and withered, as a writer I am still green. And green, my friends, is to me a refreshing color.