I turned 79 a week ago and I’m quite satisfied with the promotion. I celebrated with lunch with five friends at an outdoor restaurant under a canopy on a perfect summer afternoon and in memory of my frugal parents I ordered the most expensive wines, and the Lord, who prepares a table in the presence of my enemies, prepared an even better one for my friends, and we feasted ourselves silly. My wife was away, tending to the settlement of the estate of a crazy bachelor uncle, and texted me, “I miss you too much,” a very nice touch. I can’t remember a better birthday.
I didn’t see anybody over the age of thirty-five, and sitting there, half-deaf, I enjoyed being alien, just as in Paris I make no attempt to appear French.
The best gift I got was the word “disarray,” spoken on the phone by a niece in L.A. Somehow I had misplaced that word in favor of “chaos,” “mess,” “clutter,” “shambles,” but “disarray” is so elegant, it sounds French, like the name Desirée , an improvement over “clutter,” which makes confusion sound trashy. My niece agreed. “It’s what I do,” she said, “I bring glamor to confusion.”
At the age of 79, Less is More. Had someone given me a book, nicely wrapped, it would’ve been a burden, but the word “disarray” was perfect. It implies that once we were in array and soon will be again, as soon as the problem is solved. I was in disarray myself, having forgotten to wear a hearing aid, so I didn’t understand most of what was said and had to pantomime comprehension, which I am good at, having been an English major and sat through lectures about books I hadn’t read. The gentleman on my left, however, was a Lutheran minister — and still is, so far as I know — and he spoke loud and clear, so I was not without company. He is a Dane and in Denmark the Lutheran church has debated whether belief in a Supreme Being should be required for ordination. Richard Dawkins argued against God’s existence, saying that omniscience and omnipotence are contradictory. I believe God will clear this up when we meet Him, meanwhile we live with disarray and pray for forgiveness. In my remaining years, I hope to forgive myself. I feel I’m making progress.
Looking around at the tables around ours, I didn’t see anybody over the age of thirty-five, and sitting there, half-deaf, I enjoyed being alien, just as in Paris I make no attempt to appear French. I seemed to be the only guy on the block who had owned an Underwood typewriter, used carbon paper, had cut the head off a chicken with an axe, been baptized total-immersion, and seen Rod Carew steal home. I felt like a cultural treasure.
Irrelevance is a great blessing. You realize we are not in control. Maybe $88 billion cannot buy a functional democratic government in a tribal country up against forces that espouse cruel misogyny and bribery, and I’m not referring to Texas. So I skip reading the newspaper, preferring not to waste the day in hopeless anger, and instead drink my coffee and write a wedding sonnet for a couple in California and joke with my daughter who is starting a new life in a new city and sit with my wife and enjoy the breeze and smell the hydrangeas. My old heroes are dead and I look forward to new ones. I want a novelist to come along whom I cannot put down. I look forward to Governor Hochul of New York and hope she proves to be tremendous — we are in disarray and sick of reading about it and look to her to be admirable.
Meanwhile, my life gets smaller and smaller. I once was ambitious and now I see that my main assignment is to amuse my wife. This morning I screwed up the coffee and she found a puddle of it on the floor. I come from the era of Hills Brothers Instant and she comes from the era of Starbucks and its successors, the roasters of artisanal beans from a certain valley in Sumatra.
This morning, she was disappointed and so I said, “Well, if we need to get separate apartments, it’s okay,” and she laughed very hard at this. She loved her dad, whose name was Ray, and I would never diss a Ray, my plan is to be a ray of sunshine every single morning, so here I am, I can do no better.
Prairie Home Productions