Bob McPhail 5:30 p.m., May 25
- Community Blog
Toot a Hollow Horn
Hear in your head the sweet, mournful ending to just about any romantic song; Los Lobos' interpretation of "Goodnight My Love" with its alto sax fadeout comes to mind. Think of autumn, with the start of school and the end of summer, when it's time to get a little more serious about things. Oktoberfest comes to La Mesa and other places, yet for all the forced gaiety you know colder days are on the way.
On La Mesa Boulevard there last weekend I walked along, gently ignoring a question from a passerby as to whether I'd accepted Jesus as my personal saviour. Occasionally I'd stop to talk to someone I recognized, but mostly the vendors' knickknacks for Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas were what caught my eye. Fancy colors and a festive atmosphere don't quite mask the concept that these holidays will follow one after another and the last quarter of this crummy year will zip by like a carnival ride.
Jesus is just alright--oh yeah--but is it really the business of someone I've never seen before to pester me about my relationship with Him? I wonder if my high school sweetheart would pester Jesus endlessly to get his hair cut, and whether it would piss Him off after about the three hundredth time as much as it did me.
Time passes; a year is nothing now. Two years ago seems like a few months ago, and I can't even remember if it was three years ago or ten that one of the old acquaintances I ran into at the Oktoberfest had last crossed paths with me.
Life's been rough lately, not in the natural disaster or not-enough-to-eat sense, but in the why-am-I-here sense. I didn't get along that great with my dad, but since he passed away in the summer I care little for this business of not having any surviving parent. Online social networking, for its part, has spoiled many a perfectly nice fantasy. People who vanished from your life long ago and into the wide wide world are back again, their lives seldom as full of mystique as you'd like to dream. Now I wish I could have just gone on wondering wistfully about aforementioned high school sweetheart, Crawford High Class of '73, instead of having her on my case constantly during a recent ill-fated visit. Yet even now I'll drive past her old place along University Avenue, turn my head, and feel a twinge of vague longing.
Much has ended this year, and when you're in your mid-fifties you have to wonder what will replace it and how permanent it will be. I wonder too: Did I set up my life to be relatively affluent, low pressure, and non-commital because, in essence, I'm a minimally functional human being? Or am I a minimally functional human being because I set up my life to be relatively affluent, low pressure, and non-commital? I teach part time, and find if I get up quite early on Monday mornings I can take care of most of my out-of-class responsibilities for the week by noon. Tenants at my rentals like me because I'm prompt in responding to their occasional concerns. I very much appear to be on top of things because I am; there's just not that much to stay on top of and that's the way I like it.
Along College Avenue in the house where I grew up, I have this early memory from the late 1950s of watching from the front window as people rushed by in their cars, running everywhere at such a speed. The fire station was up the hill, and from time to time you'd see the trucks rushing urgently down to a conflagration of some sort then lazily returning an hour or so later, their engines lugging with a goodle-goodle sound. That was cool indeed, but to my little kid's brain most of the rest of the endless frantic to-and-fro seemed dumb, and not something I wanted to get caught up in when I grew up. So, I suppose in the end I was true to my true nature, content to live life in the slow lane, more a bemused spectator than a participant.
Cue that romantic song now. You go through the time of high hopes and dreams, hit the rigid wall of reality, grow a bit perhaps, and long for what never was but certainly should have been. I think of the holiday season, the kid in Polar Express saying "I believe," there toward the end of that creepy movie, and it hits me in the gut because, really, I'm that kid. It seemed for a time, that week before Christmas last year, that miracles could happen and dreams can come true. Now it seems there's no reason to believe and nothing to believe in, but perhaps the lifelong ability to delude myself is what has kept my hair attached to my head and my joints lithe and my physique athletic... when I can resist the year-long urge to drink myself to sleep while snacking on comfort foods and lying around like one of those harbor seals at the Children's Pool.
Last weekend I did the old workout for the first time in months, a quick-paced three and a half mile run with weights on my arms. The problem is that I finished it with the stubbornness of an ex-military man, feeling stronger than I did in high school, with strangers complimenting the demonstration of animal-like vitality in someone who obviously isn't that young anymore. It convinces me that I'm doing fine and don't need to change a thing, when really I wish it would show me that I'm a physical wreck and blowin' it by spending so much time in a funk. I can rally anytime, I guess. I just don't want or need to. Such are the pitfalls of being free, non-committed, and of good genetic makeup in middle age.
As I told my high school sweetheart during the summer fiasco--when she'd allow me to get a word in here and there--we don't have all of life ahead of us anymore and we need to figure this thing out. I tried; she didn't, or at least that's how it seemed. I resent the way she acted yet empathize with her, but on the other hand wish I just didn't care. However much she infuriated me, I'm basically on her side. I miss her, but don't miss the strange individual I found myself dealing with. The visit at Christmas wasn't perfect by a long shot, but it's one of those things that leaves you feeling never quite the same. The summer visit, coming all of a week before my dad bowed out, was a one-two punch that killed something in my soul. This middle age stuff, where hopes and dreams are long dashed but we're not yet quite ready for the sweet, mournful alto sax fadeout, is for the birds.
So, some of us still believe, even if it seems utter lunacy to do so and when you're not even quite sure what it is you believe. There are only a few truly magical moments in this lifetime, and you live for them and hope one will come along when you're at your wits' end. What other motivation is there to get out of bed when you are free to lie there as long as you want and really don't have to do anything? Some people absorb themselves in a career or other activities--or just create difficulties out of thin air--to hide from themselves. Left to my own devices, I on the other hand am rather content with my own company. I think I was much happier though, when I didn't know anything beyond what I could dream and imagine in childplay. Oh well... the saying goes that God places us on this earth to accomplish certain tasks. If that's so, I think I'm going to live forever.
Halloween will come, then Thanksgiving, then Christmas, then a new year. Children will rejoice in the holidays as I once did, but now I'll just sit there and wonder how time could pass so quickly, how magical a year ago seemed... and how dumb I was to feel that way. I'll keep waking up every morning and going through my pleasant routine. In a few years, after swearing it could never happen again, I'll fall for another woman and the world will seem bright and full of fancy colors until I'm ripe for another romantic smack-down. Then from time to time someone will ask me why I don't have a wife or kids or even a significant other, and if I feel like answering at all I'll tell them that I just don't F'ing know why not. Maybe it's my hair. I suppose if it's what I really wanted I'd have found it by now.