19 February 2010

When You Are Old by W.B. Yeats



Roger Ebert


I love being an old man. Admittedly, it sneaked up on me. I noticed it for the first time while looking in a mirror. I think that is how nearly everyone first notices it. If you were a member of an aboriginal tribe in the Amazon forest, or what's left of it, and there are no mirrors, would you ever notice that you have become old, assuming you get old? I guess maybe you would when you could not walk anymore. Anyway, I noticed it while looking in a mirror in December of 2007.

It took me about a year after that to get in the rhythm of this thing called being old. It was like getting a feel for how a particular woman's hips move when you first dance with her. It just takes a little longer. But I am dancing without having to think about it now.

I had read things like that written by old people when I myself was young. I did not believe them. I wrote it off as an effort to put a good face on something repulsive. If that is your reaction to this, all I can say is that I am telling God's truth here.

I feel sorry for young people, 35, 40 years old. Life is a roiled sea at that age. I vividly remember what it was like to be 35, 40 years of age. I would not want to do it again. I am free of other people demanding my time in return for money I need. I am free from the compulsion to own shit. Free of having to deal with several identities. Free from the need to try to screw everything that walks, or failing that, talks, or failing that, breathes. They do not all look better at closing time anymore. Far from it. They all look old, too. And on the list goes.

Every life, Epifanio said that night to Lalo Cura, no matter how happy it is, ends in pain and suffering. That depends, said Lalo Cura. Depends on what, champ? On a lot of things, said Lalo Cura. Say you're shot in the back of the head, for example, and you don't hear the motherfucker come up behind you, then you're off to the next world, no pain, no suffering. Goddamn kid, said Epifanio. Have you ever been shot in the back of the head?

2666 by Robert Bolaño; Picador Paperback Edition, page 511.

I know that it will not always be fun to be an old man. Every single one of us will be tortured at some point before the end, whether ever so briefly or for a seemingly endless time. Mexicans have a better feel for this than the folks up north with their constant blather about death with dignity. What the hell is “death with dignity” anyway? Mexicans speak of death with courage, which seems to me to be a more realistic goal.

Some will be tortured by old age. Some when they are young and for only a few seconds with the appreciation of the stark reality of the blown blood vessel or a truck in the wrong lane. Some by a lingering cancer. Some by three thugs in a basement room with a bare light bulb. There are then only two questions left for a Mexican. 1. How long will my torture last? 2. Will my courage fail me before it is over?

Bear in mind that I do not claim to know anything about Mexico. This is just something I picked up second hand.

The current plan is this. I need to avoid the big mistake, a big mistake like stepping out in front of a Mexican cab driver--a cab driven by a Mexican cab driver, I mean. I have no fear of Mexican cab drivers when they are walking down the street. I need to avoid getting sick, although there is only a little that I can do to avoid that big mistake. If I can avoid the big mistake, I think I have about ten years more before being an old man starts not to be fun anymore. Man, that would be beautiful if my current experience of the thing is any indication. I will then deal with the Distinguished Thing without any whining whatsoever. I promise.

I do love that phrase “the Distinguished Thing.” I had never encountered it until John sent me a link to an entry in Roger Ebert's blog, Go gentle into that good night. John is my college roommate with whom I broke a lot of bread in Germany as well as the United State. I had lost him, and I have thankfully found him again. (Actually, there were three of us in that dorm room, and I need to find the other one.)

Anyway, John is right. That Roger Ebert is a bright guy. I really did not know that. I had never read anything by him before because, as you know, I like to pretend that I do not like movies. Also, I was reluctant to be disloyal to the memory of Pauline Kael. In any event and on John's recommendation, I read this. I read this several times. Mr. Ebert's torture consists of cancer and multiple surgeries. His courage has not failed him yet. This blog entry is full of wisdom. I do not claim that old people have cornered the wisdom market. There are a lot of dumb-assed old people. I do claim that if anyone ever does it, it will be an old person.

Also, if you open your eyes, you will see a link to his classic 1970 interview of Lee Marvin written for Esquire or some such.

At the end of the article he posted youtube videos of poetry readings. Hell, I did not know there were poetry readings on youtube, but I should have guessed that. Poetry is meant to be heard not read. So this is good.

I enjoyed all of Mr. Ebert's selections. I would have chosen the one by Matthew Arnold, the third great Victorian poet, to post here for a particular reason. That blow-hard literary critic Harold Bloom describes Arnold's poetry as “derivative” and his poems as “embarrassingly close to Keats.” Well, Harold, people are still reading the things that Matthew Arnold wrote 150 years after he wrote them, which is more than anybody will be able to say about anything you have written 150 years from now.

My temptation was to post the Matthew Arnold poem in order to spite Harold. But Matthew Arnold's poem is more fitting for that time when being an old man is not fun anymore. Let us do a classic selection by W.B. Yeats instead.



I am off to break into La Mexicana's house on Calle Esperanza, watch vintage Mexican movies on television, and pet old Zumm. Not because I enjoy vintage movies, mind you. This is just my latest program to improve my Spanish. Pedro Armendáriz. Dolores del Rio. The De Película channel. La Mexicana is working full time during the day now. Poor Blanche said:
Why, they told me to take a streetcar named Desire and then transfer to one called Cemetery and ride six blocks and get off at Elysian Fields.

All I have to do is walk about five blocks to Hope Street.

1 comment:

Ruth said...

Yep, that figure of about 10 years is pretty much spot on, Tio.

Ruth,
who's been old about 10 years longer than you have.