NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
Maybe it’s time to let the old ways die
It takes a lot to change a man
Hell, it takes a lot to try
October 21, 2018
It was a morning much like many of the mornings, these days. He awoke, as usual, too early and with the now familiar disquieting and restless anxiety that sat heavy in his chest. Autumn made its first appearance during the night, a blustery Northwest wind blowing in on an early morning brilliantly blue and brittle sky, signaling the end of another season - another summer. As he lay in his bed listening to the high, lonesome sound of wind whistling through the halyards at the backyard dock, a dull apprehensive anticipation enveloped him - not a dread of what was going to happen, but the pervading, empty sensation that, once again, nothing was going to happen. He would fill this day, like most days, with meaningless errands and made up tasks. A golf game, a boat ride - place holders that ticked off the hours and minutes - to what final end he no longer knew. Now, these days, with greater frequency, he questioned where all this was leading. Unfamiliar with a rudderless course, life, it seemed was a sometimes confusing and meandering trail with no directional signs.
Despite spending his feral formative years navigating through the maelstrom of (what he considered) real cultural and social revolution in the quixotic ’60’s, he does not recognize these current day phony cultural warriors - these people, this place - he now calls the “New America”. He recollects McCarthy’s Children’s Crusade during the apex of the Vietnam War in the summer of 1968, when political leaders were shot down ignominiously on the street like common gangsters, entire cities were really burning and under attack, (not simply under some laughable micro-siege by Antifa delinquents in black ski masks heaving folding chairs through store-front windows). During the Senate Judiciary hearings he watched with a baffled amusement as zombie undergraduates stormed the steps of the Supreme Court building like a scene from the Walking Dead, (only with marginally better groomed “walkers’’), chanting in unison some mindless slogan while banging on the imposing front door as if it were a flimsy cyclone fence.
He wonders out loud how it could be possible that 25% of Millennials claim they suffer from symptoms of PTSD as a result of the 2016 election of Donald Trump! If the reaction to the Presidential election of a single ill-mannered, inarticulate boor evinces this level of pathological derangement, with what frantic ferocity would these self-absorbed snowflakes react if the United States government, under the auspices of the U.S. Army, was snatching them out of their Transgender Studies class and shipping them 9,000 miles to some shithole jungle to get shot at by brown people? Would they scream racism, complain about toxic masculinity…make a safe space demand? He wonders what sort of trigger warnings would be elicited if the National Guard was shooting them down on campus? Is life so devoid of meaning in this Mr. Rogers, marshmallow universe that relatively trivial events automatically attain an elevated life and death status?
He recalls a recent conversation on an airplane with a University of Florida card-carrying millennial, a very bright, attractive second year law school student, a seemingly normal young lady…until she steered the conversation into the foggy realm of “Social Justice”. For one and a half hours she passionately pontificated on the enlightened post-modern positions of the “movement” with a litany of cultural evils, touching upon; white privilege, critical race theory, thought crime, hate crime, hate speech, man-splaining, gender assumption, cultural appropriation, Nazism, fascism, feminism and misogyny – among others. Virtually every practiced phrase was a formal proclamation, a noble declaration worthy of a granite monument etching. He conscientiously summoned his focus and listened intently, because, well…because he actually thought she had a point.
As she recited her well rehearsed mantra as if by rote, his singular thought was that the ink on the handwriting was already drying on the wall for this highly motivated and socially conscience young woman. She would toil in the legal vineyards (probably for one of those ubiquitous overly virtuous subsidized civil rights non-profit law firms), diligently working 65 hours a week. She would date well into her late 30’s, routinely detecting alarmingly serious defects in every man she encounters until her mother’s jokes about being single are no longer funny. Despite a nagging self doubt, she would convince herself that a primary dogma of the feminist altar at which she worships clearly espouses the incontrovertible tenet that men are excess baggage, beat up old Samsonite too worthless to drag through life and unnecessary for her happiness and fulfillment. In her permissively emancipated progressive world, she would seriously consider lesbianism (some of her best friends are gay) but will reject it as too messy. She will end up spending her solitary nights perusing facebook, casting a cynical eye towards her old friend’s children, completely alone - except for her 20 cats and her disadvantaged clients. Self righteousness, ultimately, has its price.
As spurious, sanctimonious and morally superior messages are delivered daily by fiat through a smarmy and compliant media, could the seemingly inconsequential concerns of these social justice soldiers be of such import that they even approach what his generation experienced? But what could be expected from a generation, coddled from birth, who receive instruction in manhood based on a virtue signaling shaving commercial from a razor company? He reminds himself that these are only children whose singular experience with governance is the example set by high-end deal brokers, an elitist political class that had long ago betrayed its people. Corrupt sell-outs who despise the very constituents that elected them and have metastasized into mercenary political day traders, short selling constitutional freedoms and civil liberties. However, never too busy between domestic deals to still recognize the profit opportunity for nation building and wars in far-away, off-brand countries. He realizes the children are blameless victims - the inevitable product of 35 years of the re-educational gulags – laughingly referred to as the government-run public school system.
Or perhaps, he reluctantly concedes, his disdain for this new age belief system is just a naturally occurring generational affair, another symptom of aging - a lack of cognitive fluidity, an ideological rigidity that leaves no room for new and unfamiliar ideas, only a reticent and intractable philosophical stubbornness - the cynical unreasoned equivalent of the old nasty white-haired cat screaming “…get off my lawn!”
He ponders the entire idea of coming back to this place after nearly half a century - much of it looks the same, feels the same - but has an odd cacophony, a remotely unremembered dissonance. With a melancholy flash of the obvious, he realizes it is not the place that is so different - it is he who has changed. He realized that the sub-conscience rationale for his return at this late stage of life, perhaps based in folly, was an effort to reach back and make things right - a cosmic “do over”. But throughout his life and travels, this place by the water, especially this water, the Lake St. Clair of his boyhood was a special place with an easy, familiar feel – as comfortable as slipping into an old pair of Levis.
He remembered another simpler time when an early morning offshore breeze, a rising sun, dancing on perfect water as flat as gleaming ice - skis ready to go - was the most important event of the day. He reflected on the days, now more than 50 years past, when, in his naive and unsullied reality, seemingly every experience was new and shiny and exciting; the exhilarating sensation of popping a longneck; that slender blue-eyed girl - his adolescent muse - half child, half woman, who wore a thin mustache of perspiration on her upper lip on those lazy sun-baked mornings and who fascinated him from the giddy-up; all those young buddies experiencing the exhilarating pure joy of youth. Now, with the worldly treasure he has accumulated over a lifetime, what would he give for one day, one hour - a single moment - in that time? He considers the reality of movement in three of the dimensions of space - back and forth, to and fro, up and down. Only the fourth - time - is static, limited to forward movement at the predetermined pace of the universe. For even back in the day he recognized that this life was divided into moments - mere snapshots in time - and the moment would not last - would survive only in memory.
One week, perhaps next summer, he would top off the tanks and head out to the shipping channel. And then, free from the limitations of space and time, make a course due Northeast, past the islands that dot the St. Clair River, right to the mouth of Lake Huron to revisit the ports he remembered as a boy traveling on his father’s 42 foot Chris Craft Constellation (elevated helm, gleaming teak decks, bulbous bow high up on the prow - the absolute perfect boat). But memory, like so many areas of life is seldom accurate. For years he had related colorful stories to his wife of the quaint romance of the picturesque little lakefront towns remembered from his youth, but a trip earlier in the summer to Port Sanilac for a wooden boat show proved to be fantastically disappointing.
The voyage began with a three hour boat trip up the St. Clair River, through Port Huron and Lakeport along the east coast of Michigan, past the Lexington lighthouse, until surprisingly, he found his way to Port Sanilac. He maneuvered the 33 foot Sea Ray into the relatively new and unfamiliar, municipal marina, where apparently the entire dock staff was on strike, compelling his wife to handle the lines. Concrete docks, smooth and clean, replaced the uneven, ancient wooden structures that he recalled would inevitably result in splinters when one risked shoeless ambulation. Finding a well, he set out for town, his wife in tow, in search of a bag of cocktail ice.
Entering the outskirts of town he located what he thought might be the outdoor covered roller skating rink which, all those years ago, doubled as a dance floor and “casino” on weekends. In his memory he recalled a shiny white, gingerbread trimmed, old timey edifice, with a spacious smooth wooden floor, lights strung overhead in circus big top fashion and posters plastered in the immediate area and throughout the entire town which advertised to the visiting boaters:
“…Dance to the Stylings of the Guy Lombardo Traveling Orchestra –
As Seen On The Perry Como Show!!”
What he found was a rotting and dilapidated wooden wreck of peeling paint, peppered with posted “CONDEMNED” signs, barely standing - as lonely as an abandoned, tinsel decked curbside Christmas tree on a cold January morning.
Moving on, he found the piece of ground where the old clap-board General Store once stood – old ceiling fans, the musty smell of licorice and tobacco, well worn pine floors and weary screen doors - where his dad would send him from the marina to fetch ice in his red Radio Flyer. In its place now sat a dirty, rundown concrete block convenience store and a two-pump, no-name gas station. Instead of the big-bellied, white-haired old men of his memory that sat around a pickle barrel smoking Lucky Strikes and trading local gossip, was now a contingent of young, mangy, heavily tattooed townies and greasy haired toothless layabouts with the dental hygiene of a mini-meth head convention, all of whom appeared to have done more drugs than an entire research center of retired lab rats. Standing behind him, his wife (the Living Martyr) thankfully, only smiled. “Picturesque”, she intoned as she turned on her heel, “and romantic”.
Time touches everything. Maybe next summer he’d journey a little farther – maybe up to the Great Stone City at the tip of the thumb where the deep orange sunsets were strikingly magnificent. From there, across the prodigious Saginaw Bay to Au Sable point and Tawas City and points north…hope springs eternal in the breast of a true Time Traveler. Who knows - the quest for yesterday’s respite might just be found tomorrow.
Nirvana, it’s been said, is always just up the road.