When I’m 65

Last week I was walking home from work when I saw the shoe shine guy outside the Key Bank building.  In the past he’s offered a shoe shine, in a very friendly way, and this time I made the spur of the moment decision to accept his offer.  Why not take a few minutes for an old-fashioned personal service and come home with some spit and polish?

He turned out to be a good guy who did a really fine job on my shoes, and I’d definitely recommend him and use him again.  As I sat in his chair and we talked, however, the conversation turned to our ages, and the shoe shine guy guessed that I was . . . 65.

IMG_5157“65?  Wait, seriously — 65?”  I was somewhat flummoxed.  “I’m only 57!” “Sorry.  I guessed wrong,” the shoe shine guy said, and then he went back to his work, flipping his brushes and applying his polish and snapping his towel as I stewed about the fact that I evidently look almost a decade older than my actual age. I gave him a good tip when he was finished and then headed home, trying not to walk with an old guy shuffle.

Kish gets a kick out of this story, and so do I.  I’ve never been vain about my appearance because there’s absolutely nothing to be vain about:  I’m about as average-looking as you can get.  I know that as I’ve put on mileage I’ve acquired grey hairs and creases and wrinkles I didn’t have before.  I’ve always thought, however, that you’re only as old as you feel and have tried to maintain a youthful attitude.  Now I know that rationalization doesn’t apply to the exterior me — the shoe shine guy has confirmed it.  If a guy who is working for a tip overshoots by eight years on his age estimate, you’ve got no room for argument or self-deception.  You’re squarely in AARP territory.

Today, as I celebrate birthday number 58, I’ve adopted a more nuanced perspective on the shoeshiner’s comment.  Who wants to look like a kid, anyway, and fret about whether their skin is smooth and their hair has the dewy sheen of youth?  Why not embrace with the Keith Richards alternative instead?  I apparently look like I’ve packed a full 65 years of living onto my 58-year-old frame.  That’s not a bad thing in my book.

Hydration Nation

IMG_5192Driving home today from Russell’s show in Detroit, Kish and I stopped at a Speedway somewhere along Route 23 to gas up.  I went inside to use the facilities and there, strategically located on the path to the restrooms, was this extraordinary shrine to hydration.  An entire section of the interior was devoted to every non-alcoholic form of refreshment you could possibly imagine — and this picture doesn’t even include the coffee station that included eight different kinds of coffee and a mocha java machine.

Are Americans really so thirsty that a random gas station stop needs to include a Quench Quad that features so many different kinds of soft drinks in sizes that include large, giant, and suitable for use as a swimming pool?  Is it any wonder that so many Americans are struggling with obesity issues when they are guzzling king-sized cups of sugary beverages and spooning down frozen concoctions every time they stop for gas?

David Sedaris

Last night Kish and I and Mr. and Mrs. JV went to the Ohio Theater for a visit by David Sedaris, the best-selling author, essayist, and serial contributor to National Public Radio.

Sedaris is an extremely funny man.  You might call him a humorist, the latest in a long line that stretches back to Mark Twain and Will Rogers and Bill Cosby of the late ’60s/early ’70s chicken heart era.  Rather than just throwing out one-liners, Sedaris tells tales of his childhood and his family, his beachfront home on the North Carolina shoreline, and his travels.  His stories build and twist and turn, hysterical and loving and mixed with social commentary all at once, always written with just the right observation and word choice.  It’s not easy to write something funny, but Sedaris makes it seem effortless.

Last night Sedaris read some of his pieces, then turned to selected entries from his diary, and finally fielded some questions from the audience.  The stories were vintage Sedaris — one about his effort to have a fatty tumor cut off by a random doctor who agreed to return it, in violation of federal law, so Sedaris could feed it to an old snapping turtle, another about his younger brother whose conviction that vaccinations cause autism is just one of many curious beliefs — and his diary entries, from around the world, touched upon his interest in having a different meal on Thanksgiving, the sensible British approach to what words may be used on radio, and other topics.  Along the way he threw in a few X-rated jokes about a snotty kid who gets a surprising answer when he asks his grandfather to “tell me something I don’t know” and a woman’s visit to her gynecologist.

Sedaris kept his audience well entertained with just a podium, a table with some liquids to wet his whistle, his notes, and of course his personality and his voice.  The setting recalled an earlier time, when Americans didn’t need to have loud music and constant visual stimulation to be entertained.  But be forewarned — while Sedaris’ venue is a throwback of sorts, his sensibilities and language are thoroughly modern and likely to veer suddenly into the scatological and sexual at any moment.  It’s not a show for kids.

I Can’t Ikea

I set off today with great plans to put together a bed frame we bought from Ikea for the spare bedroom.  I successfully put the slatted sections together, then hit the wall when I tried to assemble the bed frame using dozens of unknown pieces and parts and instructions that have no written words.

IMG_5144Seriously, what’s with the piece that looks like a piston, anyway?  What ever happened to simple bolts and screws?  Messing around with the tiny wooden dowels and plastic snaps and and rubberized tips and random straps and odd metal contraptions made me want to get out a ball peen hammer and start pounding on things on general principles.

Rather than put the bed together the wrong way, and have our next guest experience some kind of disastrous bed failure, I decided to chuck it and hire someone to do it for me. There’s a reason we have “handymen” in the world, and Ikea is one of them.

Furniture Challenged

For the most part, I think I’m a pretty capable person when it comes to the basics of American life.  I may not be able to fix a car, but given enough time I can puzzle through the arcane 1040 tax form instructions, or load a moving van with reasonable competence, or do a load of laundry without turning everything pink.

IMG_5126But there is one area where I realize that I am far out of my depth: picking furniture and determining whether it “goes together” with other furniture or, say, a rug.  In fact, I would go so far as to say that I am fundamentally furniture-challenged.  So when Kish asks my opinion on a particular chair or end table or desk, I know that she is just being polite and humoring me, because no rational person would ever rely on my furniture opinions.

I never had to make a furniture decision until I got my first apartment during college, and my decisions were based entirely on what I could afford — which wasn’t much.  Stylishness didn’t enter the equation, which was a good thing, because college life isn’t conducive to maintaining fine furniture unless fine furniture increases in value with beer bottle rings on every flat surface.  And after college Kish and I lived with an eclectic collection of college remainders and other hand-me-downs that we were grateful to get until we bought a house — at which time Kish, fortunately, made all of the furniture decisions.

So here I am, in my late 50s, and I now realize that I am completely clueless in this basic building block of American life.  Does this chair “go together” with this cabinet?  You might as well ask me to perform a differential equation for the value of X prime.

Vets End

For decades it squatted on the west bank of the Scioto River, directly across from downtown Columbus — a bland, nondescript, hunched building, instantly forgettable to all who drove past it, noteworthy only for its absolute, unflinching genericness.

The Franklin County Veterans Memorial was home to trade shows and auto shows and generic meetings of groups.  No one really cared much about it, one way or the other.  And when Franklin County Commissioners voted to demolish the building as part of a plan to add some much-needed dash and character to the west bank of the river, no one really cared much one way or the other about that, either — with one striking exception.

For one group, Veterans Memorial was a grotesque living reminder of a horrible few days — a period in their lives that was so terrible that just looking at the building and parking lot brought back soul-crushing recollections of angst and strain, panic and pressure, and the ultimate in testing nightmares.  That is because, for years and years, every new law school graduate who wanted to be licensed to practice law in Ohio had to come to Veterans Memorial in Columbus and sit in its cavernous main room to take the multi-day bar exam.

After three years of law school, your professional and financial future rode entirely on your performance on one test.  It was an all-or-nothing proposition:  pass, and you went on to become a practicing lawyer; fail, and . . . well, failure was unthinkable.  Everyone who has taken the bar exam remembers the sense of suffocating pressure, the grim expressions of their fellow test-takers, and the oppressive atmosphere in that testing room.

Some lawyers who successfully navigated the bar exam make jokes about it now, much like people who’ve been through a painful divorce attempt awkward humor about it.  But the jokes aren’t funny, and every lawyer knows it.  Deep down, every lawyer in Ohio is secretly thrilled that Vets Memorial has been reduced to rubble, and that the ugly physical reminder of their ugly rite of passage is no more.  We are free.

Good riddance!  May the rubble itself burn in hell.

The Lesson Of Scary Lucy

Lucille Ball originally came from Celoron, New York, a small town in the western part of the state.  Celoron decided to celebrate its most famous citizen by commissioning a life-size statue of the legendary TV sitcom star of the ’50s and ’60s, who was one of the most gifted physical comedians of all time.  No doubt Celoron also hoped to spur visits to the town by diehard fans of the star.

Unfortunately, what Celoron got was “Scary Lucy,” a large bronze piece that bears no resemblance whatsoever to the familiar redhead.  And it’s not because it is an abstract modern art piece, where achieving an actual likeness of the subject is not the principal goal.  No, the statue is, in fact, an attempt at a faithful representation of Lucille Ball — it’s just one that fails miserably and is pretty frightening-looking to boot.

The friendly, funny woman from I Love Lucy is depicted with a spoon and what appears to be a bottle of Vitameatavegamin, in a nod to one of the show’s most famous episodes.  So far, so good, I guess — although people who don’t know the show might think the statue is supposed to represent a scary governess chasing a young child and insisting he consume a hated spoonful of Castor Oil.  But the face and head doesn’t look like Lucille Ball in any way.  Instead, they depict a ’50s motorcycle punk apparently turned zombie, with a greased swept-back hairdo, googly eyes, poor dental work and a bad complexion.  If you didn’t know it was supposed to be Lucille Ball, you wouldn’t guess it was her in a million years.

The good people of Celoron don’t like the statue, presumably because it gives them nightmares, so they’ve decided to hire another sculptor to “fix” it, even though the original sculptor offered to provide a new statue for free.  I have no quibble with the decision not to go back to the well with the original artist — given the quality of this statue, who knows what kind of horror he might produce.  But how does an artist “fix” Scary Lucy?  Cut off her head and attach a new one?  That’s just about as scary as the current effort.

What’s the lesson?  Do your due diligence.  Before you hire an artist to create a statue or paint a portrait, look at their past work and the people they are trying to represent, and make sure that they are truly up to the job.  And if they ultimately produce something that looks terrifying, for God’s sake don’t display it publicly — unless it’s Halloween.