Columns

From the New York Times, Time magazine, and the complete Chicago Tribune syndicated columns

Even old people need to explore new realms

I’m an American, I like to believe that nobody but nobody is beyond the reach of friendship and understanding, not even North Koreans or former felons or the creators of complex security systems that have driven me to the brink of madness, trying to remember the password for my computer and then having to replace the password and confirm my identity by typing in a six-numeral code sent to me on my cellphone whose password I now can’t remember either.

I don’t have top-secret documents stored in the phone or in the laptop. I have a lot of appeals for donations from Democratic politicians and lefty organizations such as Citizens United for Diversity & Inclusivity In American Humor (CUDIAH), none of which needs to be kept from prying eyes. I’m a Democrat. So what? I wish I had a friend in the password biz who could say, “Oh, passwords went out of usage long ago, nobody does that anymore, you just need a simple voice-recognition system that eliminates the need for passwords.” My current friends are all liberal-arts grads who know nothing about this stuff. Do you get my drift?

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The beauty of a bitterly cold Sunday, 8 a. m.

I couldn’t sleep last Saturday night due to anxiety caused by rewinding various lowlights of my long life that hit me like a brick and I lay in bed and watched the hours go by as I contemplated my imminent demise leaving my dependents impoverished and homeless so when the day dawned I put on a suit and coat and I went around the block to the solemn 8 a.m. Mass rather than wait for the more festive 10:30 and walked through the bitter Minnesota cold into St. Mark’s Cathedral where a couple dozen souls sat, widely spaced apart, perhaps to guard against communicable disease, or maybe to avoid the Exchange of Peace after the absolution of our sins.

My sin was dread, anxiety, nameless unreasoning fear, but never mind. I remembered as I came into the cathedral that there is no music at the 8 a.m., no chipper Bach chorale to brighten the mood, no rousing opening hymn, just this scattering of folks in the vastness, like the Church in apostolic times, a few believers hiding out in the catacombs, hoping men in heavy armor don’t break in and bust our heads.

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Picture in a Frame (July 2022)

The sun come up, it was blue and gold
The sun come up, it was blue and gold
The sun come up, it was blue and gold
Ever since I put your picture in a frame

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What I did when you were asleep

I just heard the story of the professor who refused to have “(he, him, his)” after his name on correspondence and his chairman who said, “You must. It’s policy.” And the professor said, “I don’t care. I won’t.” I understand that the policy police haven’t been called yet to haul him away for genderphobia and I salute him for resisting: the policy has no purpose, it’s about appearances.

Here is one more good reason to avoid a career in Academia. I write “(me/us/hers)” after my name and nobody can tell me otherwise. This is America, not Argentina. When I walk into the clinic and a sign says “Masks required,” I put one on, because there is science behind it. I go to the public library and turn my phone off out of simple consideration for the readers and writers at my table.

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I am giving up anger, so should you

The apartment across the hall from where we’re staying in Minneapolis is undergoing extensive renovation, walls being moved, floors torn up, and every day last week the noise from there was seismic, volcanic, like they were throwing pickup trucks into a giant grinder, and when I walked out of our place and saw a workman I asked him how long this racket would continue and I used, as a modifier to “racket,” a word not seen in your family newspaper, not yet, God help us, though I’ve heard it used by small children in New York attending schools named for saints. Kids grow up faster in New York.

I felt bad about my cursing. I still do. I am trying to give up anger. It’s poisonous and it has no effect other than to make the angerer feel bad and perhaps do something truly stupid. You sit in a traffic jam yelling at other drivers and where does it get you? You read about Kevin McCarthy online and in your fury you hurl your laptop out the window and how does this change anything? (I didn’t do that, only considered it.)

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The Band Played On (Nov 26, 2022)

I’ll always remember the day I planned
Thanksgiving with the Coffee Club Band
Heather was there, Rich, Christine and Rob
The horns and reeds signed up for the job
They ate the turkey down to the bone
Drank every bottle of Cote du Rhone
They stayed for pie and wouldn’t go away
Got out their instruments and started to play
I cleared my throat, I said, “Well, it’s late,”
I said, “Thanks for coming, it sure was great.”
I cleared the table and I swept the floor
I turned out the lights and I opened the door
And I pointed to the sidewalk and the lawn
And the band played on.

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Why I am in Minnesota, if you wish to know

We came back to Minneapolis to see snow on the ground, there being none in Manhattan yet, and to drive around the old neighborhood where I lived when I was broke. It was 1969, I’d quit a comfy job at the U so I could write a novel and become famous. I had an infant son and he and my wife and I lived there for several months, then the money ran out. She suggested we live in her parents’ basement and instead I applied for an early-morning shift at KSJR at St. John’s University and Mr. Kling hired me. I was the only applicant, I discovered later. That shift led to “A Prairie Home Companion” and forty-two years of amusing myself on radio. So when I drive by that house, I see an enormous canyon between what might have happened and what actually did, and I say a little prayer of gratitude.

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A night at the opera, she and I

My sweetie and I went to the opera “Fedora” at the Met last Saturday — she loves opera and I love her so it was a deal, though she blanched at the price of tickets — “We could fly back to Minnesota for the price of two seats on the main floor,” she exclaimed. “But the flight attendants wouldn’t be singing,” I said. “And if they did, we’d want them to stop. Hang the expense.”

So we went. I was proud of ordering the seats on my cellphone and saving them in email, a first for me. I’ve always used paper ducats. I am 80. I am one of the 2 percent of Americans who know what the word “ducat” means. (It’s pronounced “duck it,” my children, in case you’re curious.) So it was exciting crossing the plaza of Lincoln Center, cellphone in hand, wondering as we entered the opera house if, when I clicked on my email, the ticket code would appear or would we be thrown bodily out onto the street.

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GUY NOIR – St. Louis

HM (SING): The winter solstice is one week away
And here he sits in Jimmy’s bar,
Wondering where he should spend Christmas Day,
It’s him……Guy Noir.

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Father Time advises a brown-eyed girl

I had a good conversation Saturday with a college student named Emily, a rare pleasure for an old man like me, most of my social life is spent with geriatrics eager to talk about their most recent hip replacement, but Emily talked about her ambition to go to law school and to devote herself to the issue of prison reform.

A bright articulate idealist from a good family who entertains noble ambitions that nobody in my age group would consider for two minutes; we’re done with nobility ¬¬¬— when we were her age we sang that deep in our hearts we believed that we would overcome, but instead we got good jobs and hung out with cool people and were overcome by piles of stuff we couldn’t bear to part with and now we just hope not to fall down in the street and bang our noggin against a curb and lie there gaga and be hauled away by EMTs who’ll never realize what an illustrious person we used to be and not this gibbering mess on the gurney. And we’re hoping to get a decent obit even though our illustriousness ended when most obit writers were in the third grade. The surest way to get a great obit is to be in the arts and die before 40 and it’s too late for that.

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