. . . seeing daily a geological dirt and stone formation the mystery of which is that it exists at all . . .

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Scotts Bluff from the east, as migrants on the Oregon Trail would first have seen it.

Between August 18 and August 25, 2016, my sister, my brother, my sister-in-law, and I made a small pilgrimage to the cities in Nebraska where we lived from 1950 to 1969 – Kearney, Scottsbluff, and Omaha. Scottsbluff, 21 miles from the Wyoming border, is where we have the most memories in common. Scotts Bluff National Monument dominates the horizon from Scottsbluff the city, as it does all of the small cities in the area, Gering, Mitchell, Bayard, and others. The bluff is to this day a constant in my memory. I wrote the following shortly after our trip to try to explain the significance of Scotts Bluff to me.

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From the southwest, approaching from Gering.

As geological formations go, Scotts Bluff National Monument in far Western Nebraska is not overly impressive. Its elevation above sea level is only 4,659 feet, and it rises only 800 feet above the North Platte River at its base. The Riverside Park in the City of Scottsbluff, is on the other side of the river.

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From the south. A quintessential Nebraska view.

As a kid I discovered in the Encyclopedia Britannica that if the Empire State Building were in Riverside Park in the city of Scottsbluff, it would be almost half again as tall as the Bluff. I used to try to imagine how that would look, but I could never in my mind’s eye get the New York building even as tall as the Bluff.

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The South Butte of the Bluff.

My birthplace is Douglas, WY, at the base of Laramie Peak. I have memories of the Big Horn Mountains in Wyoming from the first five years of my life. I went to college at the University of Redlands, nestled at the base of Mt. San Gorgonio in Southern California. I lived in Upland, CA, for several years at the base of Mt. San Antonio. I know mountains. I know Scotts Bluff is not a mountain.

However, the Bluff dominates the lives and thinking―the consciousness―of the people of Scottsbluff (2013 population, 15,023), Gering (2013 population 8,084), Mitchell (2013 population 1,685), and several other small towns in its shadow.

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From the top of the Bluff looking southeast.

Scotts Bluff still, 56 years after our family moved from Scottsbluff to Omaha, in some way I cannot explain, dominates my consciousness. This past week I was in Scottsbluff for only the fifth time in those 56 years. Driving across the plains of Nebraska and seeing the Bluff come into view brings me to a place of peace and self-knowledge that I have achieved nowhere else I have ever been.

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From the top of the Bluff looking east toward Gering.

The Bluff apparently gave many of the settlers 150 years ago crossing the country on the Oregon Trail a sense of peace and understanding, or at least hope and courage.

Many times in my life I have wondered how I would be different if I had spent the 10 most formative years of my life in the shadow of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the Library of Congress in Washington, or Mount Vesuvius, or the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, or the Great Wall of China, or La Scala Opera House in Milan.

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Looking northeast toward Scottsbluff the city.

If I had read Proust or Heidegger instead of Mari Sandoz and Willa Cather.

It is, of course, pointless to speculate how my life might have been. I know only that my consciousness was shaped in part―a very large part―by seeing daily a geological dirt and stone formation the mystery of which is that it exists at all. The processes of the gathering and demise of the great North American inland sea, and the uplift and erosion of mountains are fairly obvious here. The geological history spans 33 to 22 million years.

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Looking west toward Laramie Peak (128 miles away and visible on a clear day).

The history for me began in 1950. It is the history of knowing day after day the power of the natural world to create itself, to build structures that show us―me, at any rate―how little power or control we have over anything.  The Empire State Building may be taller than the bluff, and we could build another one exactly like it. But we could not―cannot― build another Scotts Bluff. It is not spectacular like Yosemite or the Grand Canyon. It simply is. The bluff is the farthest extension of a reality stretched across the horizon of my life, the edges of my mind, reminding me that we, all of us humans together, cannot, did not, and could not create anything remotely like it. It is the embodiment of the mystery of my life.

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Sunset from the base of the Bluff looking toward Laramie Peak.

“. . . I pretend I am standing on the wings of a flying plane. . . “

Lara Flynn Boyle in her newsworthy dress

Lara Flynn Boyle in her newsworthy dress

Drive yourself crazy. Try to remember all the conversations you have in one day. On top of that try to think about everything you’ve heard or read that someone thinks is “newsworthy” for the day—news headlines on the hour on NPR or news briefs on Yahoo when you log on—items in the news that keep you au courant. “’Catching Fire’ Catches, Passes ‘Iron Man’ as 2013’s Biggest Movie.” “Top 6 Playoff Quarterbacks’ Pre-Game Meals.” “Designer Breaks Silence over Infamous Lara Flynn Boyle Tutu Dress.”

Three conversations I’ve heard or participated in during the last couple of days have stuck with me. KERA’s Krys Boyd talked on “Think” with Darrin McMahon whose new book is Divine Fury: A History of Genius. A conversation interesting and off-putting at the same time. McMahon says an essential ingredient of genius is “drive.” I’ve never been driven by anything except love of chocolate. Right away it’s obvious I’m no genius. ORLY!

I had a conversation with my sleep doctor. It boiled down to his gentle warning that as one gets older, one will naturally sleep less. Less than the 5 or 6 hours I’ve been getting per night for 50 years? Oh, PLZ!

A friend and I had a conversation about match.com. How many people on match.com admit to being interested in anyone 69 years old? None. Zero. At least not gay men. But if I don’t find someone in 6 months, they’ll give me another 6 months free. By which time, of course, I’ll be 70. BFD.

I don’t come close to being a genius, I’m going to be sleepier as the years drag on, and I’m already over the hill. None of these flashes is surprising news. None is news as big as Lara Flynn Boyle’s tutu dress.

When I was in high school a group of us from the First Baptist Church of Omaha went to a conference at the American Baptist Assembly at Green Lake, WI. It was one of the most important weeks of my young life (not hyperbole) for several reasons.

At a worship service the staff organist played three “Intermezzi” by Hermann Schroeder. I’m not sure I was ever more taken with music at church. I raved about it. My good friend with whom I was sitting couldn’t believe I liked the music. “It’s not fit to be played in church.”

When we returned home I asked my teacher if I could get the music and learn the “Intermezzi.” He not only knew them but he played them and had an extra copy. I still use the copy of that score from 1962—with Mr. Wischmeier’s performance markings in it. Four years later I played Hermann Schroeder’s Organ Sonata I for my senior recital in college.

It takes no particular genius to play the Schroeder “Intermezzi.” They’re technically quite simple. A bit of inspiration may be necessary to play them so they sound “musical” rather than intellectual. Eugene hated them because the melodies are angular and they are mildly (not crushingly) dissonant. They are not hypnotic enough to be appropriate for most church services—in which no one wants to be challenged beyond their comfort zones.

I’m not sure why I was thinking of the “Intermezzi” yesterday. I miraculously found the score—I never put a music score away afterPrentend I'm walking

I use it, and my apartment is stacked with piles of music as if I were an old man who can’t keep things in order—and played through them.

Or tried to.

One would think a short (one minute 40 seconds to play) technically straightforward piece of music that I learned 50 years ago would present no problem. It did. I had to practice—it almost seemed as if I’d never played one line of the piece because it was so difficult (time consuming!) to get it right. I was obsessed. I wanted to record it.

It seems unfortunate that I think of Eugene when I play those intermezzi. They soon passed through my conscious world into my unconsciousness. They brought with them a small repertory of music by Schroeder I love. I’d like to think I would have learned that music even without Eugene—but I needed to prove to him that the music is expressive of something important (the older I get the less certain I am what that might be).

When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am.
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less

than a dozen roses
(Shinder, Jason. “How I Am”).

I knew I’d have to “sleep on” the music before I could record it. The sleep of all these years was not enough. I’d have to sleep with it in my conscious mind. Is that weird or what? Today I played it just fine. Recorded it in one take. The drivenness of my youth took over.

This business of longevity, this accumulation of experience and feeling and thought is more confusing—rather than less—every day. I can re-play, probably with much more musicality now, music I learned fifty years ago. I’m somehow musically (my hands may not agree) in my prime. And yet I can’t find a date because no one is looking for someone 69 years old.

“How I Am,” by Jason Shinder (1955-2008)

When I talk to my friends I pretend I am standing on the wings

of a flying plane. I cannot be trusted to tell them how I am.
Or if I am falling to earth weighing less

than a dozen roses. Sometimes I dream they have broken up

with their lovers and are carrying food to my house.
When I open the mailbox I hear their voices

like the long upward-winding curve of a train whistle

passing through the tall grasses and ferns
after the train has passed. I never get ahead of their shadows.

I embrace them in front of moving cars. I keep them away

from my miseries because to say I am miserable is to say I am like them.
—Shinder, Jason. “How I Am.” The American Poetry Review (November/December 2005).

“So as not to be the martyred slaves of time. . . “

howtheuniverseworks_artheadA funny story.

Twenty-ish years ago my psychiatrist in the Neurology Department of Harvard University Medical School decided he and several patients could benefit from a seminar on ending procrastination. One of those “life-changing” seminars such as play interminably on PBS during pledge campaigns. The psychiatrist intended to make reservations. Finally at about 5 PM the day before the seminar, he called and apologized for waiting until the last minute and asked if they had room for three or four more participants.

The woman in charge of reservations, he told me later, laughed and said, “Of course we do. We have almost no reservations. This IS a seminar in procrastination, after all.” Of course.

I forgot to go.

My psychiatrist’s patients were exclusively Temporal Lobe Epilepsy patients . . .

[If you read my blog, you’re tired of hearing about it. But, please, my writing yesterday was the beginning of writing about the gift I now understand TLE to be.]

. . .  which I have known at some level, since Dr. Donald Schomer gave me a name for it, is more a blessing than a curse.

I love “How the Universe Works” on the Discovery Chanel. 16,000,000,000 years ago. Physicists talk about quantum physics or parallel universes, ideas that boggle the mind. The Swiss Institute for Particle Physics and its atom-smashing machine. But my understanding of creation is stuck at laughing at Sheldon on “The Big Bang Theory.”

But there’s something about thinking about time. Is time real? How do we know we’re not going backwards? Or that everything in the universe is happening at once in a zillionth of a second and it will be over before you read the next word?

TLEptics experience dissociation on a grand scale. Lasting for days. Weeks. We also have astonishing déjà vu experiences. I’ve lived entire days over in a second or two. And no one else has a clue what’s going on unless the TLEptic tells them. Most of us never do because it would seem we were frankly crazy.

Perhaps we were (are).

Or perhaps we have momentary flashes of experience of the passage of time the rest of you don’t get to have. What does it mean to

First Methodist Church, Omaha

First Methodist Church, Omaha

live a day again in a second? My neurologist says he can touch a certain place in my temporal lobe with an electrode (assuming I let him poke a hole in my skull) and give me as long a déjà vu experience as I want.

So what is time? Experience stored physically in the brain? And what time is it now? Who knows?

When I was in high school (we say “when” as if we are measuring “time” and some has passed since the experience we’re talking about—perhaps it hasn’t happened yet and I’m imagining it’s going to happen, or perhaps everything we know is happening all at once), I was a darling of the little old ladies (mostly younger than I am now), members of the American Guild of Organists in Omaha, NE.

The Guild met monthly at yet another church with some organist playing to show the capabilities of the organ. After a meeting at the First Methodist Church, I found a copy of J.S Bach’s The Little Organ Book on the organ bench. I brashly sat at the organ and played number 45, Ach wie flüchtig, ach wie nichtig!

Ah how fleeting,
ah how insubstantial is man’s life!
As a mist soon arises
and soon also vanishes again,
so is our life: see!

I played the little piece to the oohs-and-ahs! of the little old ladies. I’ve played it countless times [“times”] since, mostly at funerals with those congregations totally unaware of the appropriateness of the music.

A student in one of my classes would, by this point in her essay, have a comment from me to the effect, “What’s your point?” I would point out to her that she had not begun with a clear thesis, so her writing seems to have no point. So I’ll create a thesis right now [“now”]—or tell you what my point has been all along although you’d never guess it.

The passage of time may be a figment of our collective imagination. We have clocks, both analog and digital, to measure a “reality” that we cannot prove is real. I know this is one of those sophomoric twists college kids like to ponder and argue well into the night (as long as they have enough beer). I admit to being sophomoric.

Or. . .

I still play the Bach Ach wie flüchtig! I play it much more slowly than is normal (or than I played it to show off for the little old ladies). I like to hear all the notes in my old age. [You can listen to the Dutch organist Ton Koopman play it in the standard fashion here.]

Or perhaps I play much more slowly now because I think this is beginning to be the end of my life when in reality it’s the beginning. Or this very moment is eternity. Or we don’t exist at all. Or, if we do, we should be getting ready to die. Is that too startling, depressing for you? You should be a TLEptic. You’d have had a lifetime [“time”] to think about these things.

“Be Drunk,” by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
(translated by Louis Simpson)

You have to be always drunk. That’s all there is to it—it’s the only way. So as not to feel the horrible burden of time that breaks your back and bends you to the earth, you have to be continually drunk.

But on what? Wine, poetry or virtue, as you wish. But be drunk.

And if sometimes, on the steps of a palace or the green grass of a ditch, in the mournful solitude of your room, you wake again, drunkenness already diminishing or gone, ask the wind, the wave, the star, the bird, the clock, everything that is flying, everything that is groaning, everything that is rolling, everything that is singing, everything that is speaking. . .ask what time it is and wind, wave, star, bird, clock will answer you: “It is time to be drunk! So as not to be the martyred slaves of time, be drunk, be continually drunk! On wine, on poetry or on virtue as you wish.”

‘The mystery which binds me still—‘

I found a picture of an old Kansas City streetcar!

I found a picture of an old Kansas City streetcar!

My current “disability” prevents me from driving my car. Poor thing sits down in the garage forlorn and neglected. I get around with the help of friends and the DART system. [A google search for “Dallas DART system” brings up first Dodge dealers in Dallas, a sign of the materialistic and don’t-give-a-damn-about-global-warming mindset we live in.]

Some of my friends [most of them] either think this is strange or feel sorry for me.

Years ago every major city in America had streetcars. Fuel-efficient electrically powered cars on tracks. They were somewhat limited where they went, but people walked (bizarrely) two blocks to their offices after they got off the “car.”

Just before the Kansas City streetcars were destroyed (both Ka and Mo), my dad and my uncle took their four sons “over town” on the streetcar so we’d remember it. We got on in the west side of Ka and went over the Inter-City Viaduct to the east side of Mo and the Swope Park Zoo.

Then came the General Motors Streetcar Conspiracy, and streetcars were replaced with General Motors buses belching carbon into the air and helping convince all Americans that God made the internal combustion engine and meant for the Koch Brothers to control America.

When I was in high school, we took the General Motors carbon-belching buses around Omaha following the routes of the streetcar tracks that had not yet been torn up.
After school I walked up Harney Street (a full 3/4th mile!) to the First Baptist Church to practice the organ for a couple of hours. Then I’d walk five blocks down to Leavenworth Avenue (after two hours of strenuous pedal practice) and catch the General Motors carbon-belching bus out to Elmwood Park and south to Walnut Street where I got off and walked down the hill two blocks home.

My plan for today requires no wonder or sympathy. I’ll walk two blocks to the Parkland DART station, ride to Baylor Hospital (about 20 minutes). I’ll walk four blocks to the Landry Fitness Center to exercise in the therapy pool for an hour, then walk back to the DART station, catch the Green Line, change trains at Pearl Street, go to Mockingbird station and take the shuttle bus the3/4th of a mile to SMU where I will have my regular session with the 11 members of the football team in my classes who miss more than half the Fridays in the semester.

At that point, I have to become a carbon-producing American and have a friend pick me up in his car because I have a doctor’s appointment at a place I can’t get by train because Dallas is still mostly following God’s edicts about internal combustion and the Koch Brothers.

And Cincinnati, too

And Cincinnati, too

I suppose I couldn’t have lived the way I did when I was in high school and wouldn’t be willing to do this now if I didn’t have a certain affinity with Edgar Allen Poe (no, I’m not claiming to be a poet). I don’t remember when I discovered “Alone,” but I’ve known for decades that he says something I want to say and can’t.

“Alone,” by Edgar Allan Poe

From childhood’s hour I have not been
As others were–I have not seen
As others saw–I could not bring
My passions from a common spring–
From the same source I have not taken
My sorrow–I could not awaken
My heart to joy at the same tone–
And all I lov’d–I lov’d alone–
Then–in my childhood–in the dawn
Of a most stormy life–was drawn
From ev’ry depth of good and ill
The mystery which binds me still–
From the torrent, or the fountain–
From the red cliff of the mountain–
From the sun that ’round me roll’d
In its autumn tint of gold–
From the lightning in the sky
As it pass’d me flying by–
From the thunder, and the storm–
And the cloud that took the form
(When the rest of Heaven was blue)
Of a demon in my view–

Poe’s meaning, of course, has something to do with the deaths of his parents when he was but a very young child and his subsequent life in orphanages. I have no such experience. In spite of the fact I had to walk and take public transportation when I was a kid, I had a marvelously loving and understanding family.

I knew (as perhaps everyone does—but I don’t think so) even before I felt and understood the terror of my first temporal lobe seizure that “I have not been As others were–I have not seen As others saw–I could not bring My passions from a common spring–.” The temporal lobes, by the way . . .

. . . process emotions, fight-or-flight reactions, and are important for short-term memory. Some symptoms of a temporal lobe seizure may be related to these functions, including having odd feelings — such as euphoria, fear, panic and deja vu.

If a person has a temporal lobe seizure, many kinds of feelings and actions get strangely short-circuited. I have “euphoria, fear, panic and déjà vu” even though my seizures are pretty much controlled by hefty doses of Carbatrol and Lamictal.

Dart Baylor station - nicer than you thought, no?

DART Baylor station – nicer than you thought, no?

My willingness to take public transportation stems partly from the fact that, ironically, trains and buses are good places to be alone. In a crowd. Euphoria, fear, panic, and déjà vu are pretty weird to experience when you’re with people.

They’re pretty weird at 5 AM at home alone, waking up thinking (for reasons known only to the divine mind that chose the Koch Brothers) about Goethe’s Faust (read in high school) and knowing this is a morning to leave the driving to someone else. My temporal lobes are not doing too well with emotions yet today.

I’m not saying you should ride the train only if you have epilepsy or want to be alone in a crowd.

A river runs through it (my life, that is)

Laramie Peak - from a shorter distance than my childhood vantage

Laramie Peak – from a shorter distance
than my childhood vantage

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On a bookshelf in my apartment, next to the two histories of our family my dad wrote and published, are three books (1).

Yesterday I was nostalgic—no, feeling a tad sorry for myself because here at 68 when I should be seeing the world with my husband and joying in the company of my grandchildren, I am alone with three cats. My mild nostalgia/self-pity is not a big deal. But I saw the books and my mind wandered to Dad’s work when he was my age.

At that time my parents lived in Sacramento. He was semi-retired, doing interesting work as an interim pastor sent to various places to work with churches without pastors. One of those places was Spokane, WA. My then partner and I visited my parents, and the four of us made a trip to Glacier National Park. A delicious outing.

For some time before he died (until he could not physically or mentally maintain his concentration—he was, after all, 97), Dad was writing a memoir tracing his life’s journey along the Oregon Trail.

He was born in Kansas City, MO, and lived (after five years in Wyoming) in Kearney, Scottsbluff, and Omaha, NE, all on the Platte River—and the Oregon Trail. Eventually he moved to California, that home in Sacramento—the ultimate goal of many pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail.

I am, as I said, in a nostalgic mood (or something related to that), so I will do a bit of river-remembrance of my own. And in the process, some Oregon Trail thinking which will be of interest to my siblings and about two other people.

My brother and I were born in Douglas, WY, on the North Platte River. Douglas is a small town nestled at the foot of Laramie Peak.

Later, we lived for two years in Kearney, NE, where my sister was born. The city is on the Platte River which is formed by the confluence of the North Platte and South Platte Rivers about 100 miles west of there. From Kearney, we moved to Scottsbluff, NE, which is (once again) on the North Platte River. “Nebraska,” by the way, is an Anglicized version of the name French explorers gave the river as a transliteration of the Omaha Indian name meaning “Flat Water.” Folks in Western Nebraska say the river is “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

A mile wide and an inch deep

A mile wide and an inch deep

Scotts Bluff, a siltstone outcropping (once under the water of the great inland sea) which has remained intact because limestone deposits harder than the sandstone kept the soil beneath them from eroding away, looms over the city Scottsbluff. From the top of the Bluff, Laramie Peak, 120 miles west, is visible on a clear day. That as I was growing up I could look west and see the (to a kid, faraway) place where I was born gave me a kind of comfort. Two promontories, both beside the Platte River.

We used to say ruts on the south side of the Bluff were made a hundred years before by wagons on the Oregon Trail. I doubt that, but I’ve never looked into it seriously.

We moved from Scottsbluff to Omaha, about 10 miles north of the confluence of the Platte and the Missouri (the city may have expanded that far south by now, for all I know).

The romance of the river ends there for me. I boarded a Greyhound bus in the fall of 1963 and headed to Redlands, CA, to go to college, and except for the following summer never lived in Nebraska or by the Platte River again. I was, however, in the state that was the destination of those pioneers on the Oregon Trail. I’ve lived all over the country since then, but I did complete the “westward ho!” as my father did.

Somewhere I have pictures of Laramie Peak faintly visible on the horizon from the top of Scotts Bluff. I took them before I had digital photography (the last in 2001). I, of course, can’t find such pictures on the Internet because people look east where the towns are when they are on top of the Bluff.

If you read my blog regularly (thank you) you know that you have to tolerate a great deal of sappy sentimentality and a lot of self-revelation no one should make in public. Yesterday I saw my psychiatrist whose job is to help my neurologist keep my meds in balance. [Note to myself: write someday about the “entitlement” that makes me eligible for this incredible care that I can’t afford. Hmmm. ACA anyone?]

At any rate, Dr. Bret. She always schedules me at the end of the day so we can talk for an hour instead of the 15 minutes my insurance (without co-pay) pays for. She understands all of my “issues” better than anyone else. Depression.

The chasm I cannot cross

The chasm I cannot cross

She said, “I think you have trouble finding people to be kind to you.” What? And then, “You know, you are fragile.” What? Ho, ho, ho! you’re saying to yourself if you know anything about me and co-dependency and addiction and all of those ways in which I’m screwed up.

I do have trouble finding people to be with who are kind to me. I’ll write about that the day after I write about my “entitlement.”

But fragile? I’m the bull in the china closet most of the time (not to be confused with other closets). I do not have a delicate nature. And I do not have one of those fine, sensitive “artist’s” minds.

From the time I was six years old until I was fifteen, I was regularly in a place (not figuratively, literally) from which I could see, staring over a chasm of 120 miles, the place where I was born. The chasm was (is) the earth. I don’t have pretty language for this. But I have known my whole life that I’m caught in that space, that I can see the place from which I came. But I can’t get there from here.

Yet.

________________ (1)

•             Franzwa, Greory M. The Oregon Trail Revisited, 4th Edition. Tucson, AZ: Patrice Press, 1988.
•             Haines, Aubrey L. Historic Sites along the Oregon Trail. Tucson, AZ: The Patrice Press, 1981. (Foreword by Russell E. Dickenson, Director, National Park Service, United States Department of the Interior.)
•             Mattes, Merrill J. The Great Platte River Road, Second Edition. Lincoln, NE: Nebraska State Historical Society Publications, 1979.

“We’ll have an old fashioned wedding”

"We'll have an old fashioned wedding"

“We’ll have an old fashioned wedding”

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Somewhere in my apartment is a CD box set of Fred Astaire movies. Most are with Ginger Rogers, of course, but I’m pretty sure You Were Never Lovelier with Rita Hayworth is part of the set. I don’t remember which songs are in which of those movies—and I have no head for remembering lyrics wherever they are from. However, I remember “I’m old fashioned, I love the moonlight” from You Were Never Lovelier because the lead-in dialogue includes Fred saying to Rita, “I’m a plain, ordinary guy from Omaha, Nebraska.” He says “Nebraska” with an accent he didn’t learn in the first six years of his life (in Omaha). His odd pronunciation is beside the point, except it’s one reason I remember the song.

I think that set of CDs is here somewhere, but a couple of weeks ago I got the urge to watch You Were Never Lovelier and couldn’t find it. That was for the better because I hate watching movies on my old TV set –and I steadfastly refuse to watch movies on my laptop. The TV is enormous—a 29-incher—and old fashioned, not flat-screen or digital or plasma.  Its worst attribute is that it is not “shoebox” shape, and it cuts images off on both sides of the screen.

My late partner and I bought the TV about 15 years ago when old fashioned TVs were dirt cheap, and a flat-screen anywhere near that size would have cost too much not to seem obscenely self-indulgent.  Now the flat-screens are as cheap as the old fashioned ones were then. We intended to replace the monster when the prices of flat-screen came down. But he died 10 years ago, and I’ve never had any thought of spending that kind of money on myself.

For most of the time since he died, I have not cared. Shoebox shape didn’t matter for watching “Antiques Roadshow” or reruns of “America’s Funniest Home Videos” or “Criminal Minds.” And once in a while “Masterpiece Theater.”  Any show with a continuing story line that needed watching regularly was frankly impossible. For years I would not have remembered what night a show was on even if I had decided to keep up with it. I have basic dish network, provided as part of my rent, and can’t see spending money on TV. (Remember the old Tom Lehrer song with the line, “Now there’s a charge for what she used to give for free in my home town?”)

My urge to watch You Were Never Lovelier originated with my reading about New Jersey’s fight over same-sex marriage (two weeks ago Governor Christie was still planning to sue to keep them from happening). For some reason I had a vision of the governor standing in court singing, “We’ll have an old fashioned wedding” from Annie Get Your Gun. You know, “We’ll have an old fashioned wedding Blessed in the good old fashioned way.”  Old fashioned weddings are definitely two-sex affairs.

An ordinary boy from Omaha Nee-braska

An ordinary boy from Omaha Nee-braska

From “old fashioned wedding” to “I’m old fashioned, I love the moonlight” was a simple mental step and then to You Were Never Lovelier (I did have to look up the name of the movie even though I remembered the song).  I like Ella Fitzgerald’s singing “I’m old fashioned” better than Hayworth’s version. I don’t suppose Ella ever danced while she sang.

That I remember a song simply because in the dialogue leading to it someone says he’s from Omaha, Nee-braska, seems at this moment absurd.

I’m old fashioned.

That has nothing to do with loving the moonlight or wanting a wedding. I had an old fashioned wedding once—yes, in a church with bridesmaids and everything. I even have pictures, but they’d be harder find here than You Were Never Lovelier. I think there are fewer and fewer old fashioned weddings.

Or perhaps gays and lesbian weddings are bringing old fashioned back. I don’t know. I’ve been to only one, and it wasn’t very old fashioned.

But there’s a whole lot of me that, were I to marry, would want an old fashioned wedding. It wouldn’t matter that I’d be marrying a man. Don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to get or be married. But old fashioned sounds good to me.

I’m not going to make a list of the old fashioned things I’d like to see, but can you imagine John Boehner inviting President Obama to come to his Congressional district and help him plant a tree?

The fact is I never saw Astaire and Hayworth or Rogers movies until I was older than 50, except for the odd late-night TV showing here and there. I had never really paid attention to them. I first took Ella Fitzgerald seriously when a fellow graduate student was writing his dissertation on her in the 70s. Even then I didn’t pay close attention to her music until 1990 (I was 45) when Red, Hot and Blue, an album of Cole Porter songs by various performers, was released to raise money for AIDS research. That led to my buying one of Ella’s Cole Porter albums.

Cole Porter never sounded so wonderful

Cole Porter never sounded so wonderful

I have to remind myself of the convoluted details of my discovery of music (and much else) that I love. One’s understanding of “culture” doesn’t simply happen. It takes effort. I never thought, “Now I’m going to set out to understand something I didn’t understand before.” Or did I? A great part of my being old-fashioned is not simply longing for the way things used to be. More importantly, it’s longing to understand some of what has made me who I am. Before it’s too late.

And that’s not Katy Perry or The Hunger Games.