A live performance at the Bass Performance Hall
A live performance at the Brady Theater
A live performance at the Peoples Bank Theatre
Long Beach, CA
A live performance at the Carpenter Performing Arts Center
A live performance at the Saenger Theatre
TV ratings for the Grammys were down 24% this year, which is no surprise whatsoever. About 19 million Americans watched the show, about the same number as resist the idea of renewable energy. Three-and-a-half hours is a long time to watch a bunch of extremely cool people in dark glasses shooting angry looks to the camera, and when the prize for Best Song goes to one that begins:
Hey, hey, hey
I got a condo in Manhattan.
Baby girl, what’s happenin?
You and your ass invited
So gon’ and get to clappin’
—I’d rather turn the thing off and dive into a good book. Having a condo in Manhattan is not in the same league with “I’ve got sunshine on a cloudy day” or “I’ve got my love to keep me warm,” and most men would not tell their love to get her ass over here. It isn’t going to happen, and if it did, there’d be some slappin’. Nor do most men go around bragging about the size of our junk, other than the president.
Sour grapes? Maybe so. I was up for Best Comedy Album once and they gave it to George Carlin. I was up for Best Spoken Word once and went to Madison Square Garden and saw all the plainclothesmen around and realized that, if the author of It Takes A Village had gone to the trouble of flying up from Washington, then she’d get the prize, and she did. She did not say, “It’s such an honor to be nominated along with such well-spoken people as Garrison Keillor.” Nope. And that’s okay.
I’m 75 and that is too old to be disgruntled. Some of my peers are in care centers, waiting for the girl to come with the meds. At any moment, I could join them. And so I am not going to do any whingeing about being overlooked in the parade of awards, I am going to be grateful for what I have—my desk, my gas fire, my laptop—lest my bad attitude attract the Evil Eye who is responsible for handing out thromboses.
I’m grateful for everything, even this cup of dandelion tea, a pleasant vegetal experience, drunk as I sit before the gas fire, gas that probably comes from the Koch Brothers who did so much to elect Jabba the Hut to the White House, but I don’t need to talk about that either.
My parents John and Grace knew nothing of dandelion tea. They regarded dandelions as a curse and a nuisance. Never mind that dandelions are God’s creation and God is incapable of error. They were loyal to Lipton’s tea because it sponsored Arthur Godfrey on radio every morning. Arthur was warm and amiable and when he spoke about Lipton’s, he made it sound like the source of true happiness. We knew that Jesus Christ, not Lipton’s, is the source, but we were human and not immune to commercial blandishments. So we dug up heaps of dandelions to throw away and paid good money for inferior tea.
Dandelion tea is evidence that a deadly enemy can become a friend and a comfort, which I wish were more generally true. I’ve been fighting infestations of millennials and now I wonder how they would taste if I boiled them in water. By “millennials,” I mean self-obsessed persons who make small occurrences into major crises. It’s no problem for me—my women friends are all over fifty and I love them all, we talk our heads off, nothing we say is a problem. We wouldn’t know how to piss each other off even if we wanted to. Seneca said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, then it doesn’t matter which way the wind blows.” In other words, Attitude without Smarts is a dead end. And Smarts without Humility is just Aggression by another name.
I was going to go have lunch with three of those friends on Monday and my car wouldn’t start. I called a tow truck and he came right away, a young guy who was eager to solve the problem, opened up the hood, put the cables on the battery, started her up. Calling a tow truck to jumpstart your car is embarrassing in Minnesota, it means that you don’t know your neighbors, nobody you could call up and say, “You got jumper cables in your trunk, could you come over?” My friends are writers, they turn their phones off during the day and write memoirs.
I drove the car to my neighborhood garage where, in short order, a mechanic discovered that a malfunctioning lock on the trunk was draining my battery. Amazing. It’s like a boil on your rear end being the cause of your migraine. But he fixed it. A friendly young man who took pleasure in solving a problem and did not make me feel stupid for needing his help.
It is inspiring to find competence and we are surrounded by it. I called 911 once and a gang of firemen EMTs were at my door within minutes and hustled in to deal with my semi-conscious young daughter and explain to me, the panicky father, that this was a febrile seizure and she would be just fine. I’ll never forget them. My ophthalmologist, who looks in my eyes with a scope and tells me they look fine and will see even better when I have a cataract removed, is a woman to whom I entrust my future as a writer. The trust is not misplaced.
I had a writing teacher in college, Bob Lindsay—an ex-Marine, bald, with a dent in the top of his head—who had a rule: every day, there was a writing assignment, and if you misspelled so much as one word, your grade would be an F. We were all writers, full of ourselves, eager to show off, and his rule was outrageous to us, but Bob was a Marine and believed that pain could change minds. We had a great deal of attitude but he gave us a competence. After Bob’s class, I was a copy editor for the rest of my life, able to look at my outpourings and catch misspellings, fix the grammar, cut out unnecessary verbiage, substitute the exact right word for its third cousin once removed.
I wanted to be thought gifted, but competence was within reach and so I took that. And now I am trying to be competent at the job of being a lighthearted old man. It never was my ambition before, but now the opportunity is upon me and I am slowly learning.