On Turning Seventy

Marius van Dokkum

On Turning Seventy

The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.

            Psalm 90:10. King James Version

I have a milestone birthday coming up, the big SEVEN-O, the biblical three score and ten, the average life expectancy for a red-blooded American male when I was a kid, a birthday so far distant that a child couldn’t take it seriously.

O, yeah, yeah pissing in my pajamas, slop drooling out of
my mouth.
2 young schoolboys run by—
Hey, did you see that old guy
Christ, yes, he made me sick!

Charles Bukowski – “the last days of the suicide kid”

Charles Bukowski by Drew Friedman

Cue the cinematic cliches: sand moving through an hourglass, the winds of time ripping pages from a calendar, time-lapsed growth, and decay.

Trite but true: in the wink of an eye, you transition from making out in the back seat of station wagon to being wheeled into assistant living.

But the thing is – as I keep the cliches coming – it’s hard to smell the roses when you’re changing diapers, sitting through interminable meetings, or visiting a loved one in a cancer ward.

Chances are you’re not old enough to remember Mike Douglas’s cloyingly sentimental hit “The Man in My Little Girl’s Life.”

Well, before I knew it, time had gone
My, how my little girl had grown: Then it was:
“Uh! Father! There’s a boy outside – his name is Eddie

He wants to know if we can go steady?
Can we Father? Yes Father?
Oh! can we borrow the car Pop?”

Yes, it seems like only yesterday
I heard my lovely daughter say:

“Dad! There’s a boy outside – his name is Jim
He asked me if I’d marry him?
I said yes, Dad! – Got something in your eye – Dad?
I love him, Dad.”

A child, an adolescent, a young lady, a wife
Oh! and oh yes, Heh! Heh!
There’s another man in my little girl’s life

Hi Dad! There’s a boy outside – his name is Tim
I told him Grandpa was gonna baby sit with him
Thanks Dad. Bless you Dad. Goodnight, Dad.”

Good night, ladies, good night, sweet ladies, good night, good night.

Wise old men and women no doubt take Cicero’s De Senectute to heart, or rather, to head. Cicero wrote it in this sixty-third year and argues that the longer perspective that old age provides is rich compensation for the lost pleasures of youth, that “each stage of existence has been allotted its own appropriate quality; so that the weakness of childhood, the impetuosity of youth, the seriousness of middle life, the maturity of old age — each bears some of Nature’s fruit, which must be garnered in its own season.”

Whistling past the graveyard, he offers this:

[T]he fact that old age feels little longing for sensual pleasures not only is no cause for reproach, but rather is ground for the highest praise. Old age lacks the heavy banquet, the loaded table, and the oft-filled cup; therefore, it also lacks drunkenness, indigestion, and loss of sleep. But if some concession must be made to pleasure, since her allurements are difficult to resist, … then I admit that old age, though it lacks immoderate banquets, may find delight in temperate repasts.

If only!

Yeats, who, on the other hand, cast a jaundiced eye on old age, who bemoaned it as “an absurdity” that had been “tied to [him] as to a dog’s tail,” nevertheless acknowledged that through art one could vicariously hold on to youth by studying “monuments of unageing intellect.”

An aged man is but a paltry thing,
A tattered coat upon a stick, unless
Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its mortal dress,
Nor is there singing school but studying
Monuments of its own magnificence,

WB Yeats, “Sailing to Byzantium”

Hey, it’s the week after Thanksgiving, and I am grateful for so many things, my old age being one of them. The romantic notion of living fast, dying young, and leaving a beautiful corpse is patently absurd. Adrenaline rushes are fun, but near fatal auto crashes aren’t (and I’ve lived through one). Plus, there’s no such thing as a beautiful corpse. Sure, nowadays, I’m not much to look at, my auburn locks have given way to a freckled scalp, my once lithe frame gone paunchy, and my ability to remember names a semi-serious social liability; however, at the moment, I enjoy good health, a harmonious homelife, successful sons, a thriving grandson, and a remarkably wise and kind thirteen-year-old stepdaughter. I enjoy reading, writing, listening to music, hanging with Caroline, and holding court at Chico Feo.

No doubt my good health will not last, but I would like to think I won’t end up like Philip Larkin’s old fools, “crouching below/ Extinction’s alp,” suffering through “a hideous, inverted childhood.”

As Caroline says, “we can hope; we can dream.”

And, hey, if you’re on Folly 10 December 2022, come have a drink with me after the Xmas parade at Chico Feo while I’m still among the quick, because, to quote Ulysses from Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida:

Time hath, my lord,
A wallet at his back, wherein he puts
Alms for oblivion.

The old me circa 1978

the new me 2021

Sports Tribalism, Ear Worms, and Falling Acorns

One of my many irritating habits is repetitively singing/reciting snatches from old songs or jingles or poems that have risen from the playlist of my inner jukebox and loop through my consciousness like irritating commercials that repeat time and again during a television broadcast.

After yesterday’s unexpected Gamecock triumph over the 14-point-favorite Clemson Tigers, a line from Warren Zevon’s “When Johnny Strikes Up the Band” took up repetitive residence in my mind. 

“They’ll be rocking in the projects.”

I sang that line out loud at two or three junctures during my six-block trek to Chico Feo, and it is what came out of my mouth as I mounted a bar stool and received my first All Day IPA from Casey. He gave me a quizzical smile. I explained I was happy because the Gamecocks had finally beaten the Tigers after eight long years so I had a song in my heart.

Sitting to my right were twenty-eight-year-old identical twin Kelsey McCormick, a Chico regular, and a young man I’d never met. We started talking sports, and I confessed that although I intellectually understood the atavistic absurdity of team sports tribalism that I whooped and hollered when the Cocks recovered that late fourth quarter Clemson fumble.

“They’ll be rocking in the projects.”

The young man, whose name is Zac, asked me if I was watching any of the World Cup. I said I was paying secondhand attention to the outcomes and was pulling for Germany because my sons had gone to school there, one in Berlin and the other in Bamberg. I mentioned that Ned is currently living in Nuremberg.

Ned (second from right) on an ad for a bar in Bamberg

Kelsey asked me to guess where Zac was from based on his accent. “Three guesses,” she said.

I guessed Minnesota, California, and Goose Creek, South Carolina.

Zac smiled and said, “Pretty Close. I’m from Montana and lived in Seattle and also Phoenix and for a short time in Sweden.”

I asked him what he did for a living, and as it ends up, he had just retired from professional soccer as a goalie.

So, I had been oldmansplaining the tribal nature of sports fans to a professional athlete, a somewhat famous one as far as American soccer goes.

Zac Lubin

He asked me about my line of work, and I said that I had a novel coming out but had taught English for thirty-four years before my retirement. Kelsey mentioned that she had heard me read poetry at the Singer/Songwriter Soapbox and enjoyed my stuff but was less enamored of the some of the other poets she had witnessed. I mentioned two superb poets, Chuck Sullivan and Jason Chambers, but admitted one or two of the other poets read prose chopped up in lines that lacked the compression that makes a poem a poem.  I mockingly intoned:

As I walk around the grounds of the asylum,

the brown leaves like a carpet in a boarding house,

I think of father’s irritating habit of smacking his lips

while smoking unfiltered Chesterfields.

Kelsey got it. “The more condensed the more powerful.”

“Like splitting an atom as opposed to sorting socks.”

Then I leaned over and asked if they wanted to hear my favorite lines of poetry. I mean, what could they say?

O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,

Are you the leaf, the blossom or the bole?

O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,

How can we know the dancer from the dance?

And right at that moment, an acorn fell from the sky and bonked Zac right on the head.

Zac asked about the possible meanings of the acorn hitting him at that moment. and I explained that in a piece of short fiction, you could have acorns fall periodically and serve as symbols that support the theme and provide unity. In a comedy, it could be funny, the acorn hitting him on the head, like a cartoon Sir-Isaac-Newton epiphany, that he was in love or something.

“An acorn’s a seed, right?”

“Right, Zac! The acorn seed sperm hits the ovum of your head. It’s a very good omen for your relationship’s growing.”

“On the other hand,” I went on, “in a sad story the acorns could represent failure, dropping off the trees, rolling across the bar, down across the cooler, onto the ground to be crushed by the bartenders’ feet as they concoct Samurai slings and pull drafts.”

Kelsey asked what advice I’d give a 28-eight-year-old and a 33-year-old.

“Find someone to love, be kind to them, marry them, have children, and be happy around the children.”

We sat there quietly for a while.

“Hey, Wesley,” Kelsey said. “You haven’t asked what advice a 28-year-old would give a 70-year-old.”

I smiled. “What’s your advice?”

“You get to decide how old or young you get to be. It’s up to you. I mean, mentally how old you want to be.”

I said that teaching keeps you young, and I was appreciative of that.

We finished our drinks and said our goodbyes, Zac was headed up to Montana Monday, and Kelsey would be at the Soap Box. He plans on moving down here and starting a soccer-related business.

Kelsey wanted to know if Zac fit in at Chico Feo. “Desitively,” I said. “He’ll be rocking in the projects.”

Moms for Liberty: Vice Crusaders Farting Through Silk

Moms for Liberty: Vice Crusaders Farting Through Silk

“Where they burn books, they will, in the end, burn human beings, too.”

Henrich Heine

“the vice-crusaders, farting through silk,
waving the Christian symbols . . .”

Ezra Pound, Canto XIV

Wandering through war torn Twitter these days reminds me of Neville Shute’s On the Beach, a novel dramatizing the last days of the last survivors of a nuclear war who await their inexorable doom as a radioactive cloud descends upon southern Australia. Except in this case, Twitter is already burning; perhaps a better analogy would be wandering through the streets of ancient Rome during a hostile takeover.[1] Many of the posts project a Titanic-tinged, goodbye forever friends, end-of-an-era, fin de civilisation vibe.

Among the tearful good-byes, the cancer chemo updates, and the political diatribes, I ran across this depressing piece of tweeted news:

Of course, it’s possible that race had nothing to do with the dismissal. However, the timing is problematic, the board has not provided the grounds for his dismissal, and Moms for Liberty’s viewpoints on Critical Race Theory certainly seem racist to me.

For example, the MFL[2] chapter of Williamson County Tennessee complained that showing students films of Bull Connor’s thuggish cops unleashing attack dogs, fire-hosing protesters, and beating Freedom Riders with billy clubs created “negative view of Firemen (sic) and police.”[3]  The same Williamson County MFLers wanted to counterbalance the negativity of the Catholic Church’s persecution of Galileo with praise for the Church: “Both good and bad should be presented,” they demanded.

Of course, book censorship is also a high priority. In this morning’s Post and Courier, there’s a below-the-fold front page story headlined: “Removal of books sparks outcry in Beaufort.”[4] On Page A5 the headline “Horry board OKs controversial library book changes.” And below that story, the continuation of the front-page Beaufort story lists 97 titles removed from Beaufort County Public School libraries, including Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, Bernard Malamud’s The Fixer, Margaret Atwood’s The Hand Maid’s Tale, and Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner.

The MFLers seem especially, almost perversely, antagonistic to LBGQ children and want to prevent those children from reading about themselves, to keep them from knowing that they’re not alone, that happiness may very well await them.

[Cue Yeats]:    The best lack all conviction, while the worst

                        Are full of passionate intensity.

I guess what we’re going to have to do is organize, be vigil, curate candidates, donate money to try to oust these fanatics from the boards.

I mean, removing Martin Luther King, Jr. from school curricula harms our children much more than their reading about sexual ambiguity. I mean, this smacks of Soviet-style state run education where a free exchange of ideas is forbidden.

[1] I.e., during an invasion of barbarians: burning, looting, pillaging, raping,  . . .

[2] I’m sick of typing out its blatantly Orwellian double speak. The liberty of ban books. From now on it’s MFL. (In a rare display of discretion, I’m not going to provide my alternative wording for the initials.

[3] Not to mention snarling German shepherds. BTW, these examples are culled from Kelly Weill’s article in the Daily Beast:  “Moms for Liberty’s conservative activists are planning their next move: Taking over school boards”

[4] The home, of course, of Pat Conroy.

The Eclectic Musings of Bob Dylan

image courtesy of The Telegraph

I consider Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour one of the musical highlights of the early 21st Century. Each week from May 2006 to April 2009, for an hour Dylan aired a sort of parody of an AM radio show, except that the songs weren’t the latest hits from the Hot 100 but an eclectic, carefully curated set of tunes based on particular themes, like drinking, divorce, summer, etc.

Here are the songs from Episode 14, The Devil, compliments of Wikipedia.

  1. “Me and the Devil Blues” – Robert Johnson (1936)
  2. “Satan is Real” – The Louvin Brothers (1958)
  3. “Friend of the Devil” – Grateful Dead (1970)
  4. Devil In Disguise – Elvis Presley (1963)
  5. The Devil Ain’t Lazy – Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys (193 ?)
  6. Christine’s Tune (The Devil in Disguise) – The Flying Burrito Brothers (1969)
  7. Suzanne Beware of the Devil – Dandy Livingston (1972)
  8. Devil In His Heart – The Donays (1962)
  9. Must Have been the Devil – Otis Spann (1954)
  10. Devil’s Hot Rod – Johnny Tyler (1955)
  11. Devil Got My Woman – Skip James (1931)
  12. Between The Devil And The Deep Blue Sea – Count Basie & His Orchestra with Helen Humes (1939)
  13. Devil With A Blue Dress On – Shorty Long (1964)
  14. Devil’s Haircut – Beck (1996)
  15. “Race With the Devil” – Gene Vincent (1956)
  16. “Way Down In The Hole” – Tom Waits (1987)
  17. “Go Devil Go” – Sister Lille Mae Littlejohn (1948)

In between songs Dylan plays the part of an avuncular DJ, telling jokes, taking calls from fictitious listeners and actual celebrities, and most interesting to me, providing oral liner notes on the history of the musicians and songs. Suffice to say that his knowledge of popular music is encyclopedic, as indeed the wide-ranging selection of musicians and genres of Episode 14 suggests.

Dylan brings the same spirit and encyclopedic knowledge to his just published tome The Philosophy of Modern Song. The book, a compilation of observations of 66 songs, runs 339 pages and is richly illustrated with photographs, movie posters, magazine covers, vintage advertisements, postcards, and paintings. Even non-Dylan fans might enjoy flipping through and checking out the illustrations.

Dylan doesn’t really analyze the songs, but instead paraphrases them in riffs often rendered in second person. For example, here’s his take on “Money Honey,”  a Jesse Stone song made famous by Elvis:

“This money thing is driving you up the wall, it’s got you dragged out and spooked, it’s a constant concern. The landlord’s at your door, and he’s ringing the bell.  Lots of space between the rings, and you’re hoping he’ll go away, like there’s nobody home.  You stare through the blinds, but he’s got a keen eye and sees you. The old scrooge has come for the rent money for the 10th time, and he wants it on the double, no more hanky-panky.”

This jaunty, somewhat down-home prose is reminiscent of his DJ persona’s voice (and might be the way he actually speaks for all I know).

And again, as in Theme Tme Radio, Dylan sometimes provides background by the way of bio.

After paraphrasing Eddie Arnold’s “You Don’t Know Me,” Dylan provides some history:

“Eddie Arnold grew up on a farm, but he also worked in the mortuary field. He was managed by Colonel Tom Parker, who eventually dubbed him “the mortician plowboy” — not even Solomon Burke could call himself that.”

At other times, he philosophizes. Here’s the tail end of his treatment of Pete Townsend’s “My Generation”:

“Today it’s commonplace to stream a movie directly to your phone. So when you’re watching Gloria Swanson as faded movie star Norma Desmond proclaim from the palm of your hand, ‘I am big, it’s the pictures that got small,’ it contains layers of irony that writer/director Billy Wilder could never have imagined [. . .]

“Every generation gets to pick and choose what they want from the generations that came before them with the same arrogance and ego driven self-importance that previous generations had when they picked the bones of the ones before them.”

My approach is to listen to the songs via YouTube and read the lyrics, then read Dylan’s take. It’s a lot of fun, and I’m learning a helluva lot and discovering songs I’ve never heard of. Of course, you  can jump around, say from Bobby Darin’s “Beyond the Sea” on page 85 to Warren Zevon’s “Dirty Life and Times” on page 191, but I prefer to go in order, one revelation at a time.

A Speech on Scholarship

Scholar by Osman Hamdi Bey

A friend recently sent me the copy of a speech that a friend of his had delivered at a Cum Laude induction at Exeter, which reminded me that I too had given a similar speech at Porter-Gaud in the 2010s, so I thought I’d pass it along, for what it’s worth.

Congratulations, inductees for embodying excellence. 

However, as John Donne famously proclaimed:  No man is an island.  These honorees did not arise on the foam of the Aegean fully formed. 

First, we need to acknowledge your parents.

Who read you bedtime stories, salved your skinned knees, said no, then sent you to time out.  

We need to acknowledge your teachers.

Especially those in the so-called lower grades who are not present to hear this praise, the ones who taught you how to read, how to form letters and Arabic numerals, how to add and subtract. 

I suspect none of us has forgotten our first grade teacher’s name.  Not you ninth graders, not you, Dr. Mac.

Mine was Mrs. Wiggins.  Who would be about 125 by now I guess, but who will live on as long as there’s one surviving student who remembers her.

And, finally, we need to acknowledge all of the friends of the inductees.

Research has shown that as far as influence goes, peers of teenagers wield by far the most potent power in high school, much more than parents and teachers.  So, thank all of you for being good friends, for providing needed support, or offering good advice.

Also, keep in mind that if you are a senior and not on this stage this morning, it does not mean that you won’t be honored when you graduate from college.   

And, likewise, your being inducted into an honor society in high school doesn’t ensure that you’re going to be inducted into a collegiate honor society.

Life is a process – we’re not seeds, nor buds, but an ever evolving becoming.

Interestingly enough, though, high grades and scholarship are not synonymous.  The student who gruntingly masters information for grades lacks the scholar’s curiosity and never comes close to experiencing the scholar’s joy.  So when I urge you to become engaged in your studies, it’s not so you’ll receive accolades or a handsome salary, it’s so that your life will be more meaningful.

The following statement is going to sound absolutely absurd to many of you, but I fervently believe it:  Being a true scholar is much more profitable than being a CEO, movie star, or hall-of-fame athlete, because if you become a true scholar, i.e., a life long learner, you will escape the nets of boredom, and boredom, as far as I am concerned, is death-in-life.

Despite the caricature of the pallid, bespectacled outsider ill-at-ease in his own body, I dare say that true scholars enjoy charmed lives because they’ve mined the kryptonite that protects them from those empty temptations of the temporal – all of those singing sirens – those manufactured products that are a lot of fun but not all that enlightening – e.g., Modern Warfare 3, or as I have rechristened it, Modern Warfare 3 Homework 0.  

The metaphorical kryptonite that scholars possess is a love of learning.

They have, as Joseph Campbell put it, found their bliss, and are following it.

What thrills a scholar is delving deeply into the profound mysteries of being. 

The scholar marvels at the truncated evolutionary transformation that takes place in the womb.  

The scholar attempts to fathom the idiocies that resulted in WWI.  

The scholar is fascinated by the metamorphosis of Jamaican dance hall toasting into rap music and then hip hop and traces the underlying musical commonalities of all three sub-genres as she conjectures how popular music reflects 21st century American society.

In short, the scholar seeks to see the immense interconnectedness of things, to rip down Maya’s veil of illusion.  

True scholars have found the elixir that is the antidote to one of Adam’s curses – labor – because for a true scholar labor and love are the same, the quest to know more and understand better.

And although Adam’s other curse – that ferry ride across the River Styx – cannot be avoided – by studying what Yeats called “monuments un-aging intellect” – the cave paintings of Lascaux,  The Tragedy of Prince Hamlet, the  3rd Law of Thermodynamics,  Beethoven’s 9th Symphony,  Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal –  our deeper understanding can be liberating and offer comfort as we contemplate our own demise.

I’d like to end by reading two quatrains of a poem that conveys this theme much more powerfully than I could ever hope to do. 

It concerns Alexander the Great who supposedly wept when he thought there was nothing left of the world for him to conquer, and Sir Isaac Newton, who took a very different view of his accomplishments.

It’s called “Worlds”

By Richard Wilbur.

For Alexander there was no Far East,

Because he thought the Asian continent

India ended. Free Cathay at least


Did not contribute to his discontent.

But Newton, who had grasped all space, was more

Serene. To him it seemed that he’d but played

With several shells and pebbles on the shore

Of that profundity he had not made.

I ask you, who would you rather be? 

Thank you, and again, congratulations.

Vacuity Cubed

Alex Gross

Vacuity Cubed

Be assured that a walk through the ocean of most souls
Would scarcely get your feet wet.

Christopher Guest, “Deteriorata”

Hi, how are things?
How are you?
What have you been up to?

I was so drunk last night!
Oh my God!
I love your shoes!

Strange Bedfellows

Bad Mental Picture!

Shakespeare wrote that misery makes for strange bedfellows, and you could say the same about a shared antipathy for Donald Trump. Certainly, ten years ago I wouldn’t have imagined myself sharing a bunk with Washington Post columnist Jennifer Rubin or former Republican strategist Rick Wilson, but that was then, and this is now.

Now, as it turns out, these never Trumpers and I share something in common: the wish to see the US remain a representative democracy rather than devolving into a Putin-like kleptocracy run by a former WWE promoter and reality TV snake oil salesman whose mendacity makes Pinocchio look like Marcus Aurelias in comparison.

The much-heralded midterm tsunami has ended up looking like, in the words of Twitter wit Serenity Now, “some mid-cycle spotting,” so Rick Wilson is “staring down into the Valley of Schadenfreude, overlooking the beautiful Lake of MAGA Tears and inhaling the sweet smoke of incinerated personal and corporate billions of dollars that went to dead-enders better suited for an asylum than office.”

Now that’s what I call some postgame trash talking.

Of course, we’re not out of the Disenchanted Forest yet. Trump will probably announce his candidacy Tuesday, Joe Biden is about as popular as a DMV, and voter suppression is a real danger.

Nevertheless, things could have been a whole hell of a lot worse, so fa la la la live for today.

Rick Wilson

Chuck Sullivan Reading “Juggler on the Radio”

George Fox, impresario extraordinare, has made Mondays on Folly Beach a day not to dread but one to look forward to. His open mic Singer/Songwriter Soapbox, which features original works, is attracting nationally known artists such Sierra Hull, Joel Timmons, Sally George, and the poet Chuck Sullivan, who published in Esquire Magazine in the Seventies when Gordon Lish ruled that literary roost and introduced readers to the likes of Raymond Carver, Cynthia Ozick, T. Coraghessan Boyle, and Richard Ford.

Here’s a clip of Chuck reading his poem “Juggler on the Radio” at the Soapbox on 8 November 2022.

[Hat tip to Catherine Coulter for the video]

And, best of all, it’s free!

The Pickleball Extravaganza

Yesterday afternoon, after dropping Caroline and Brooks off at the airport, I returned to my pet-ridden but otherwise empty house, and like a good canine stepdad, took KitKat to the dog park where she spazzed out with her patented chihuahua/Jack Russell berserko barking – high-pitched, frantic – perhaps off putting to the other dog owners. However, being dog lovers, they smiled at her, leaned over, and scratched her tiny head, understanding that dogs, like virtually all animals, are territorial.

Folly Dog Park

Unlike KitKat, the humans at the dog park are friendly, non-territorial. We know each other as acquaintances, and welcome newcomers into “our community.”

After I returned KitKat to the house, I decided to do a very not unusual thing, i.e., to ride my bike to Chico Feo for two or three (or as it turned out, in this case, four) low-alcohol Founders All-Day IPAs.[1]

When I arrived, the bar was pleasantly uncrowded. I conversed with my pals Mike and Francesca, bantered with the Irishman Jack, checked out Cory’s multifunctional Swiss-like army knife thingamajig, and talked Dharma with Megan, a poet, my Buddhist friend who through mediation is engaged in the very difficult process of dismantling her ego. She’s shedding intoxicants –­ ­not only alcohol and drugs, but social media, the World Wide Web itself, preparing to leave Folly to travel the world.

A band was setting up, and someone asked Solly, the greatest of bartenders, who was playing, and he said they were associated with the charity pickleball tournament being held this weekend at the Folly Beach tennis courts.[2]  Then, a bit later I spotted my pal Billy Grooms, the City Councilman, hauling a handsome trophy to be awarded to whoever[3] wins the tournament. It appeared that Chico was helping to promote the event.

Billy Grooms

Billy, a hip-looking fifty-something, seemed to be spearheading the tournament, and as a former manager of FM radio stations in the Columbia area, he’s an expert promoter. He sat next to me at the bar and rhapsodized about the salutatory effects of playing pickleball. As more and more tournament people filled the area in front of the bar, I joked that they had elevated the median age of Chico Feo by a decade or so, that I was feeling downright young, though that was hyperbole. Most of the patrons looked to be in their fifties of early sixties.

Billy likened the pickleball community to the movie Cocoon in which old hedonists fly off into outer space to recapture their youthfulness. Billy mentioned that the close quarters of the courts create a sort of intimacy as doubles partners face off at each other at close range. He extolled the camaraderie that pickleball creates, mentioning that opponents often engage in G-rated trash talking.

In other words, pickleball is a helluva lot of fun, not to mention great exercise.

Megan had spotted some young women across the bar dressed up as old folks, sporting white wigs and unhip attire, and wondered if they were mocking the pickleballers.

Although I was wearing a fedora, not a pith helmet, I immediately assumed my amateur anthropologist persona and went over to ask them what was up. “Noooo,” they chimed in unison in their pleasant upstate twangs, “we love pickleball.”

As it turned out, they were bachelorette party participants. One of the women, a short twenty-something in a white wig, assisted by another costumed woman on a stool, performed a magic trick for me with boxes and colors, and I dutifully played along. “Yes, green was the color I had chosen!”

All in all, it was quite a night at Chico with a much more wholesome crowd, some of whom seemed to have stepped directly out of a family friendly sitcom from the Sixties, Hugh Beaumont and Barbara Billingsley types. When one country club Republican-looking fellow shook my hand and said what a pleasure it had been chatting with me, I accidentally blurted, “Yeah, mon,” which perhaps confused him and made me feel slightly guilty.

Meanwhile, in front of the band stand, young couples danced with their toddlers. I warned Solly that now these wholesome folks had discovered Chico, they’d overtake the joint, displacing lovable territorial losers like I-and-I.

He shook his head like that ain’t ever going to happen.

Addendum: The next night I ran into the bachelorettes who had been in costume, and after reading this post, they wanted the world to know that they’re not twentysomethings but thirtysomethings. Whatever, they were a blast to hang out with. Safe travels, ladies.

photo credit Mikey

[1] Note to writers: the phrase “low alcohol Founders All-Day IPAs” is technically redundant because “low-alcohol” is implied in the adjective “all-day.” However, it sounds too cool not to say – low-alcohol Founders All-Day IPAs. I say ear music should trump over-rigid grammatical purity.

[2] Note, they’re called “tennis” not “pickleball” courts. Last week the NYTs ran a lengthy article about pickleball’s bourgeoning popularity and how traditional tennis players resent having their courts overtaken by practitioners of what they consider a bastardized version of their beloved sport. In fact, Megan, the Buddhist, falls into the traditional tennis category.

[3] In the a-foolish-consistency-is-the-hobgoblin-of-little-minds mode, I consider using the pronoun “whom” as a subject an almost unforgivable grammatical lapse.

Complaining About Mansplaining

Is there anything worse than contrarians mansplaining conspiracy theories?[1]

What really gripes me is not so much the ridiculousness of their arguments but the smug all-knowing tone these crackpots employ as they confidently explain, for example, that the US government is injecting tracking devices into its citizens via the COVID vaccine or that Princess Di and JFK, Jr. are alive and well shacking up in Bolivia.

Whenever I fall victim to such an occasion, I immediately call bullshit, and if that doesn’t work – if my interlocutor insists on droning on – I end the conversation by stating that I’m seventy, the clock’s ticking, I’m incapable of being convinced, and I’d much rather spend this precious moment doom-scrolling or watching the shadows of the trees sway on the fence of this beer garden rather than learning about how Kennedy and Diana survived their crashes and ended up in La Paz.

I’ll admit this scenario rarely happens, maybe once a year[2]; more frequently, I fall victim to someone mansplaining something I’m all too familiar with, e.g., the plays of William Shakespeare or the principles of Mahayana Buddhism.

Once again, it’s the all-knowing tone I find more offputting than the presumption that I’m ignorant.

In this situation, I might interrupt and say something like, “Yeah, I dig. By the way, who’s your favorite minor comic character? Mine’s Thersites from Troilus and Cressida,” or “‘By the way, have you ever contemplated the affinities of quantum mechanics and Buddhism? You know, ‘form is emptiness, emptiness is form.'”

Sometimes these ploys don’t work because mansplainers are terrible listeners. It’s as if they’re reading internal teleprompters or something. They feel compelled to educate you, or perhaps to highlight their own learning.

Anyway, here’s a handy little chart courtesy of Kim Goodwin and the BBC.

[1] Okay, I mean besides pedophiles, serial killers, Amway representatives . . .

[2] A negative byproduct of hanging out in bars. I can’t recall ever being accosted by a conspiracy theorist at a dinner party.