Dalton Delan | The Unspin Room: Grateful for the wisdom that comes with the gray
Smithers the cat curls up beside me on the couch, forepaw batting at dream-mice she no longer chases waking.
Sweet 16, she is 80 in our years, and has earned the right to rest. Her top job she does automatically, lowering my blood pressure like a furmometer. Ensconced by the table, my father-in-law Len enjoys his newspaper over his favorite raisin cereal. He left the law at 75, and further down the road he gave up competing with the crazies driving, but you wouldn’t know it when he steers his electric cart round the supermarket aisles. Reminds me of bumper cars — only without the bumping. Our world narrows, but we make of it what we may.
Shrinks still take off the month of August. So do the French. Me, I took my birthday — this Leo can command a couch, too — but I am as averse to retirement as I’ve ever been. On the tennis court the other day, a new opponent asked “What did you used to do?” Them’s fightin’ words, pardner. I’m about the last guy at the club still working. I like it that way. To live is to do.
But who knows for how long. I have a pesky fly bugging me. No matter how much I remind myself it’s a floater, a bit of flotsam in my eye, I keep thinking it’s something to swat away. Rust flaking from body parts. Luckily my dentist, Jacqui, is like family, a sculptor whose clay is human and who maintains my smile despite my being long in the tooth and as shivery in the chair as a lion in winter. My doctor, as he reaches the coconut of my prostate, tells me he doesn’t like going to the dentist as he’s never cared for someone else’s fingers in his mouth. Given the moment at hand, I resist the urge to quip to each his own. Besides, he’s threatening to retire, which terrifies me. He’s the last of the old-time practitioners who prescribes less is more, just the way I like it.
The flesh failures. Sagging and dragging. Takes more to rev up in the morning and three tries to finish an episode on Netflix, repeatedly interrupted by falling asleep. On the flip side, I awaken with the night still young. Ah, the short-cycling of aging. The same boy lives in my brain, but he is surrounded by a crumbling edifice and a catalogue of what the late, great short-story writer Grace Paley titled “The Little Disturbances of Man.” She nailed it. Goodnight, Gracie.
Our kids are adults now, sure that I am verging on doddering and hopelessly unwoke. I yam what I yam. On work Zoom calls, every one of the Hollywood Squares looks like they could be my child. When did everyone get so young? My cultural references — author, singer, baseball batter, star of television or silver screen — all receive blank stares. Truffaut recognition is rare as truffles. Was Norman Mailer a kind of Amazon packaging? I might as well be discussing pterodactyl sightings at the La Brea Tar Pits. Yes, Virginia, the late Jurassic is where I hail from. They named the park there for me.
Is there some wisdom that comes with dotage? I’d like to think so, and as an eminence grise I try to spread the experience gleaned from my decades in media like soft butter on toast, humming in my head “I’ve forgotten more than you’ll ever know.” The Davis Sisters took it to the top of the country charts in 1953. These days, I’m lucky if I can understand the words being sung on Sirius, and luckier still if I care. The hooks are missing. Takes six producers to pen one meaningless lyric. With so many of the greats of rock gone — Franklin, Joplin, Hendrix, Holly, Harrison, Morrison, Allman, Orbison, Lennon, Marley, Mercury, Moon, Bowie, Spector, Tosh, Presley, Prince, Garcia, on and on — I can barely stand to hear them. When Dylan goes, it’s over.
Spare me your TV series about time travel. We only go one way. Time and again, in my days at the used bookstore, they’d back up the truck and dump the literary detritus of someone’s lifetime of reading. As I sifted through the boxes and bags, I reconstructed the person they outlined. I, too, am in my books. Giving up the material things gathered in my travels, collecting is a mountain you spend half a life climbing and the other half falling down. What was the point?
Looking back, I let most days get away unsavored, transiting at best a memory motel. Now I think what if this were my last day, and strive to live it that way — helpful, humble, self-pitiless, family to friends and a friend to family. Consider the alternative. I try not to.