This ends with a whimper, not a bang

The meaning of life?

The meaning of life?

Today is Palm Sunday. I’ve been to church for 67 Palm Sundays in a row. The last 45 were in churches that had a Procession of Palms of one sort or another. My favorite were the ones at my little now defunct church (St. Paul Lutheran) in Farmers Branch, TX, where we walked around the block singing, with the music accompanied by bagpipe! If there were bagpipers in Jerusalem in 30 CE, I doubt they wore Scottish plaids.

Today I will not attend a Palm Sunday service. At about the time the church I belong to is processing (it’s pretty splendid – I think they may even have a donkey) I will be at home checking on my cats and doing a little busy work around my apartment.

One of my best friends, who belongs to the same church, asked me why I don’t go to church any more. The cheap shot answer to that is, “No one’s paying me to go these days.” For that entire 45-year span, I was paid to be where I was. But I would have been there anyway. The other flip answer might be that I have somewhere else—down on Main Street—I’d rather be. And that’s true, too.

The real answer, however, is that I simply can’t get there. I don’t have any compelling reason to go. I don’t get it any more. And if that were to change, Palm Sunday with all that hoopla and all of those people would not be my first day back.

It seems to me that one of two things happens to people who have been churchy all their lives as they get older. They either become more attached to the services, or they drift away (or make a clean break to the affair as I have).  The more aware you become that today might be your last—and, believe me, anyone who’s 68 and isn’t aware of that isn’t using the mental powers homo sapiens has evolved for itself—the less certain you are that the answers to all those BIG questions you’ve always relied on are true. Or, conversely, the more certain you become.

The meaning of Life 2?

The meaning of Life 2?

I have to break into my own line of thinking here to make the little note that I am told by some people that I think about death too much. It isn’t healthy. Yes, it is. As I said before, if you’re my age and aren’t thinking about it, that means you don’t give a fig about understanding “the meaning of life” (sorry, but we old folks have more in common with teenagers and their angst than we like to think—when was the last time you thought about “the meaning of life”).

Really. I mean it. Why do you think Alice Walton built the Crystal Bridges Museum? She’s worried about the “meaning” of her billions. She’s not going to get out of here alive any more than I am. And she knows it. Except that she makes so many people’s lives miserable, she’s really pathetic. That (and I say this without irony) profound collection of art and its total accessibility to anyone who wants to see it won’t save poor Alice. And once she’s dead, how can it possibly be important to her that she’s done this one beautiful generous thing. (Sorry. I was at Sam’s Club yesterday. Alice has become my little private symbol for the totally bizarre and incomprehensible nature of human life.)

So back to my original subject. Why I’m not going to participate in a parade at church today.

Yesterday the friend who asked me why I don’t go to church was leading a Lenten retreat at our church. He asked me to drop by and play the organ for a few hymns for their closing Eucharist. I did.

And here’s my problem. I don’t “believe” (whatever that means) any of the language of those hymns. Well, maybe I can get my mind around the idea that, if there is a God, there’s a wideness in his mercy. But all I have to do is sit at the organ and play those nice tunes while people sing, and I get all wimpy. Is it because it’s what I’ve done all my life and it’s so familiar it just feels like reality?

The meaning of Life 3?

The meaning of Life 3?

Or are music and church and those things (even Alice’s art), after all, a way to figuring it out. I don’t know.

“. . . make your house fair as you are able. . .”

across the street R
When you get to be my age (I’m that old guy you used to avoid because you didn’t want anyone who was out of touch with the realities of the modern world to be telling you what things were like in the “good old days”), you begin to think things that would have been unthinkable even a couple of years ago.

I’ve been wondering why we spend so much time and energy keeping our homes so spotlessly clean—and why we are so judgmental of anyone who doesn’t. This house cleaning business is a mystery that has built in intensity in my mind over the years. It’s an obsession that cuts across cultural, racial, gender, and age lines with impunity.

I did what I often do (old habits die hard) when I want to investigate the origin of something that seems to me to be purely a societal foible—I went to Strong’s Concordance of the Bible to find Biblical references to it. “Cleanliness is next to godliness” may be an idea that comes from the Bible. “Clean” appears 117 times in the King James Bible. But not one use has anything to do with your tent or your house. All of them are about ritual “cleanness,” rituals no modern American (even a fundamentalist who claims to live by the Bible) would think of practicing.

People who observe Advent in the church sing with fervor (because they know without thinking what it means),

People look east, the time is near
of the crowning of the year;
make your house fair as you are able,
strike the hearth and set the table.
People look east and sing today,
love the guest is on the way.

Those words sound like a folk song of some sort, but Eleanor Farjeon wrote them in 1928.

Strike the hearth and set the table.

Strike the hearth and set the table.

Make your house fair as you are able.

Because cleanliness is next to godliness. That applies to both our persons and our homes. And that truism is so thoroughly ingrained that even people who couldn’t care less about God or godliness believe it (or at least live as if they believe it) as fanatically as godly folk do—perhaps even more so.

Of course it may be a purely animal instinct that we couldn’t eradicate if we tried. Watch a squirrel build and maintain her nest. Think about your cat’s constant grooming and cleaning.

But cleaning isn’t all that’s involved in making our houses as fair as able. There’s this decorating business.

I’ll soon be faced with figuring out how to live “comfortably” in the increasing poverty in which I will live as I get older. I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff (including the pipe organ in my living room) so I can get a smaller, cheaper apartment when it’s necessary. Stuff I’ve bought or been given because it’s beautiful or makes my home look like I’ve “[made my] house fair as [I] am able.” I have some lovely things. Three paintings by the Canadian artist Allen Sapp come to mind. I must sell them.

The cleanliness issue is going to follow me wherever I go (I’m not referring to personal cleanliness). I have these valuable paintings on my wall, but I have no skill in (or, shall I be honest and say little interest in) spending time and money to keep the place fair as I am able. Yesterday I came home to a mess on my living room floor made by my cats scratching on the “Wide Cardboard Scratching Board with Catnip.” I inadvertently left it in a more obvious place than I should have. I was in a hurry to catch the train to come to my inamorato’s house (which he keeps as fair as he is able—and I love it!) and had to decide whether or not to get out the vacuum. I did not. That would be unnatural behavior for me. Later.

Across the street, a new building (actually refurbished and remodeled) is about to open with 250 apartments to rent. I’ve been wondering what it will be like to watch 250 renters move in. Think of the STUFF!

It’s not an architecturally distinguished building. In an effort (I suppose) to make it more exciting or inviting, the owners have installed outside lights that change color. From blue to green to pink to purple—all night long they change color. Is this making the apartment house fair as they are able? Is it a money-making come on? Is it playing out the same mammalian instinct that keeps my cats groomed? Beats me.

I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff

I must get rid of stuff, lots of stuff

It’s fun. It spruces things up. But you have to admit it’s pretty silly.

 

Hail, hail, the gang’s all here

So much better

So much better

The gang shows up in the middle (in fact, it first appears in the overture) of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance. If anyone ever asks you what tunes Arthur Sullivan is noted for, two obvious examples leap to mind, “Onward, Christian Soldiers,” and “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here!” (If the person asking is very sophisticated, you might also mention “Tit-Willow.”) I’ve wondered since the first time I heard Penzance if “Hail, Hail” wasn’t some old British “public” school song Sullivan snitched. But it’s not. He wrote the tune. The words we all know were attached to it in 1917 and published as a popular song in America. But it’s Sullivan’s tune.

Why would anyone ask you what tunes Arthur Sullivan is noted for, you might ask. Who knows? It’s simply what was on my mind when I woke up this morning. I looked it up when Jerome—who has been in a production of Pirates and loves G&S—and I returned to his place after seeing Pirates yesterday. I’m fond of G&S, too. When the short-lived Dallas G&S Society began, a good friend hounded me to get involved, and I would have if I hadn’t had two jobs at the time. It’s a shame the Society didn’t thrive—a city the size of Dallas needs such a group.

Well, now, that sounds pretty much like a letter to the editor. It’s not. It’s a way into what I want to say.

Yesterday Jerome and I celebrated our anniversary. The earliest e-mail to him I have saved in my webmail is from March 2, 2012. One year. We saw the University of North Texas Opera Theater production of Pirates. Then we went to an elegant dinner (there’s no other kind to be had there) at our favorite Mideastern restaurant, Babouch. Then we came home (to his apartment), watched a bit of TV that he had recorded (the Graham Martin show, with Richard Gere—whom we had seen in Arbitrage the night before, courtesy of Netflix), and went to bed.

“Me, senescent.” Me, growing older. That’s what this blog is about, or so it says at the top. And that’s true. Growing older, I’ve come to believe, is OK.

Two old guys acting (dare I say it?) like an old married couple—except, of course, that we don’t actually live together. Two old guys knowing the limits of being set in their ways. It’s fairly obvious I shouldn’t say “two” old guys. I should say an old guy and his inamorato. He’s seven years younger. A young guy.

Tosh (and Jerome)

Tosh (and Jerome)

Here’s the thing about “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here,” Babouch, an anniversary, and me, senescent. I probably would not have dragged myself to Denton to see Pirates, and I wouldn’t even have known Babouch existed were it not for Jerome. And that’s sort of what happens when you start getting older (my right hip feels like I’m just plain old sometimes) and you decide being happy is meant more for old guys than for young guys (this applies to gals, too, but someone else will have to write that one). I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. We have things backwards in our collective mind.

Life, liberty, and happiness are not meant for young folks. They’re meant for old folks. I can see clearly now.

I can see clearly now, the rain is gone,
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It’s gonna be a bright (bright), bright (bright) Sun-Shiny day.

I wouldn’t say with Johnny Nash that all the pain is gone and all the obstacles have gone away, but I see clearly now that, even with aches and pains and curmudgeonliness, and all the other things we have  been warned to believe are the evils of old age, life is for us old folks.

“Hail, Hail, the gang’s all here.” The old guys have it. We know about the gang. We’re all here. And I don’t really give a damn how silly or sentimental you think this is. When you’ve been through what we’ve been through and hung on and come out the other side of youth, you’ll understand that even John Boehner and his megalomaniac sequestration don’t matter.

Difficult as it is for two old guys who’ve been practicing their idiosyncrasies for sixty years to match up their quirks, it’s possible. And that difficulty makes the end result much more important—at least that’s my experience. I’m not going to get any sappier than that. You’ll just have to trust me on this one. Do you have any idea how much more handsome Richard Gere is now than he was in An Officer and a Gentleman?
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The old man and his organ.

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If anyone breathes a word of this to anyone, I will deny it until the day I die. But I love my organ. Sometimes in the middle of the night when I can’t sleep, I get up and play with my organ. I’ve even been known to play with my organ naked. My organ isn’t very big as organs go. But it’s big enough for my pleasure. I can do many different things with my organ. I do kinky things with it—things it was never intended to do. My cats love my organ, too. They like to jump up and sit on it. And two of them crowd around me when I’m playing with my organ. They like to watch, and sometimes they even get between my hands and my organ. When I am alone, I almost always play with my organ barefooted. I hardly ever let anyone see my organ. My inamorato gets to see it every time he comes to my house.

My organ.

My organ.

If you’re still reading, you must know I’m talking about the pipe organ in my living room. And yes, I do kinky things on it. I play whatever I want. I’m old enough not to give a fig what anyone thinks—even my dear friend Steuart Goodwin who built it over forty years ago. He doesn’t like my choice of music some times.  It’s been in my living room for only about seven years. That’s a long story I’ll tell someday.

The organ is a mechanical action instrument—the clacking noise you hear is the sound of the wooden “trackers” (thin slats of wood attached to the keys that pull down the valves under the pipes to open them). Nothing electric or electronic here except the wind blower. It certainly is not designed to play Cole Porter.

But, as I said, I play whatever I damned well please, and I don’t particularly care how it sounds or who thinks ill of me. It’s my organ, and I’ll play what I want to, so to speak.

So now I’ve made all the junior high school moronic jokes there are to be made about my organ. I got started writing this because I just played one of my favorite songs and realized that nearly every serious musician I know would be offended by it. Well, go ahead and be offended. Or not. I am one of the luckiest people I know. I have this lovely instrument at my disposal day and night. If I want to play Bach, I can. But usually what I want to play is some old song that warms my heart—or at least touches it in some corner of nostalgia that nothing else can reach. I play for myself and don’t care about such niceties as perfection or “authentic performance practice!” So if you want to listen, I’d be delighted, but remember, it’s my party and I’ll play how I want to.

What’s this “CTRL+/CTRL— ” command?

A dissertation's home

A dissertation’s home

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Yesterday I was reading one of my favorite blogs (click this link only if your shock level is at least moderately high). As you can clearly see—which I could not, even with my glasses—the post is for those of you with much younger eyes than mine. The blogger suggested that I enlarge my screen, and I asked how on earth I could do that.

He said, “Press ‘control +’” (English teachers: should I put a period on this sentence, or is + punctuation? I’m sure I don’t know.)

Control+. (Looks funny with a period.) You know—the screen enlarged!!!

I bought my first computer in 1987 to write my PhD dissertation (The Life and Musical Influence of Henry Kemble Oliver, 1800-1885—aren’t you glad you asked?). Somewhere in this apartment is the box of 5¼-inch minifloppy disks on which my dissertation resides.  Somewhere in two moves in Massachusetts, the move to Dallas, and two moves in Dallas my one print copy disappeared. I gave my sister one—because it’s dedicated to her—and I hope she still has it somewhere (send it to me, Bonnie?).

Or I have to find those 5¼-inch minifloppy disk fossils and locate someone who has a reader for them. But that’s another story.

Please, Genesis, use my CTRL- command

Please, Genesis, use my CTRL- command

I want a CTRL+/CTRL— command for my life.

For starters, piled in my entrance-way is a bunch of stuff I’ve been meaning to (even trying to) get the Salvation Army, or the Genesis Benefit Thrift Store to take away for months. (If any of you Dallas readers knows how to light a fire under Genesis, please do so. There’s some stuff here they could make some money on. Remember the French provincial coffee table? The Futon has never been used—it’s in its original factory wrapping—but that, too, is another story. I seem to have lots of “other stories” today.)

I want a CTRL— command to make that pile smaller. No, to make it disappear altogether.

Much more stuff in my life could use a CTRL— command. My waistline for starters. My library. My depression. Car insurance payments. Junk mail. My seizures. Drone warfare. Student conferences next week. Obstructionist Tea Party congress members. Poop in the cat litter boxes. Barbara Cargill’s power to wreak havoc. You know, the normal detritus of life, in no particular order.

Some things I’d definitely like a CTRL+ command for. Time with my inamorato. My retirement account. Core muscle strength for Virabhadrasana III. Time with my inamorato. My salary. My memory. Colleagues for Tammy Baldwin and Jared Polis. Gun control. Time with my inamorato. Chocolate. Opera.  A trip to Easter Island. You know, the normal joys of life, in no particular order.

CTRL+ for a 68-year-old brain

CTRL+ for a 68-year-old brain

All of this began, you see, with my learning something new at age 68—something as basic as the CTRL+/CTRL— command. How have I managed to use computers for 26 years and never known that command? How have I used my mind for 68 years and still do not know if I believe in God?

“All I want Is a Room Somewhere. . . “ or do I look like Audrey Hepburn?

Bought in Wisconsin, shipped to California, dragged to Iowa, Boston, Dallas

Bought in Wisconsin, shipped to California, dragged to Iowa, Boston, Dallas

Fifteen years ago my late partner bought a sofa. An ugly sofa. It was not one of those we had looked at together in furniture stores. I did not like it from the moment I opened the door and the delivery men asked where to put it, until I took it to the dump last year. My cats, on the other hand, loved it. Their claws sent it to the dump.

The cats did for me what I could not do for myself.

My late partner also bought a coffee table. Ersatz French Provincial with a glass top. Just the thing for some old queen’s home, but not mine. Two days ago I finally found the ottoman I’d been wanting for years to replace it. The curved legs are on their way out (if the Genesis Benefit Thrift Store truck ever arrives).

“The harmless spray solution is undetectable to you, but keeps most cats from scratching furnishings.”

“The harmless spray solution is undetectable to you, but keeps most cats from scratching furnishings.”

The ottoman is—I suppose—a bit flamboyant. RED. Red and overstuffed. Probably not less queenly than French Provincial, but—it’s mine!
I’m obviously asking for trouble from cats with claws. They ruined the sofa. Think what they can do with a small overstuffed ottoman.

The solution? ScratchNotTM Training Spray.  An all-over application. “The harmless spray solution is undetectable to you, but keeps most cats from scratching furnishings.”

My apartment is more graduate student thrift store modern than anything Nate Berkus would design. It hardly has the look of royalty. That’s partly because I’ve never thought it seemly to spend enough money on myself to make a place “mine.” I have the leftovers from my failed marriage (1967-1975—stuff I’ve dragged from California to Iowa to Boston to Dallas), my second “relationship” (1980-1988), and my third relationship (1992-2003) scattered all ‘round (not true—not “scattered” but at the core). And a few family heirlooms, including my paternal grandmother’s sewing machine. I also have about 1,000 books, many from my father’s library.

I’m a bit like Audrey Hepburn. No, not Eliza Doolittle, but Audrey herself. What you see is NOT what you get. Marni Nixon, as everyone knows, wanted the room somewhere. Marni did for Audrey what she could not do for herself.

All I want is an ottoman somewhere.

All I want is an ottoman somewhere.

What’s done is done for Audrey, but not for me. A new sofa and ottoman. Rid of chairs I moved from Boston to Dallas—chairs I never liked—and books (a giant giveaway a few months ago), Laser Disk recordings (200, including “My Fair Lady”), and more. On my new sofa is a needlepoint pillow my sister gave me that says, “The Queen has spoken” (by that decorator M.E. every gay boy in the country knows, but whose name I can’t remember). The queen has spoken:

“All I want is a room somewhere (here) with one enormous chair” I bought myself.

Oh, and, by the way, if you think ScratchNotTM Training Spray keeps cats off furniture, have a look. Groucho obviously thinks it’s loverly.

All I want is a room somewhere,
Far away from the cold night air.
With one enormous chair,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Lots of choc’lates for me to eat,
Lots of coal makin’ lots of ‘eat.
Warm face, warm ‘ands, warm feet,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Aow, so loverly sittin’ abso-bloomin’-lutely still.
I would never budge ’till spring
Crept over me windowsill.
Someone’s ‘ead restin’ on my knee,
Warm an’ tender as ‘e can be.
‘ho takes good care of me,
Aow, wouldn’t it be loverly?
Loverly, loverly, loverly, loverly.

Where have all the bloggers gone?

Joanie. Unhappy.

Joanie. Unhappy.

Joanie is nine years old. Definitely pushing beyond catdom middle age. She was born feral and saved as a tiny kitten by an employee of City Vet in Dallas (her name, of course, was Joanie). Kitten Joanie was a mess, and by the time they spent money and time fixing her up (including setting a broken leg), they wanted a good home for her.

Enter the old fart (well, I was only 59 at the time) cat lover. I, of course, took her. She has lived uncomfortably in my apartment for nine years. She was mightily offended after a year here when the Cat Brothers, Groucho and, of course, Chachi moved in. Joanie does not love Chachi, but she has tolerated him for eight years. She tolerates his brother Groucho even less.

Now Joanie, for reasons I cannot imagine, has decided they both must go. Or she must hide. Her favorite place is under the bed. If I’m lucky, I can get her to come out long enough to have her picture taken. She has become a growler and hisser.

Joanie is about 60 in human terms, and she’s had it with these younger folks. I’m 68, and I still teach 60 nineteen-year-old university students every semester.  I haven’t had it with the younger folks. But I am getting tired. They are so strange (and they tolerate me about the way Joanie tolerates Groucho; I’m their means to an end—college degrees which will make them rich).

I have a problem in my right hip. How much pain did those old folks have to be in before they got new hips? Poor old things. I suppose there’s something creepy about a fat old man posting a picture of himself in tight yoga clothes on the internet for all the world (the thirty of you, at any rate) to see. But I want to demonstrate what I continue to do with my aching hip. Not bad, huh?

The old bridge.

The old bridge.

This writing was going to have a point, but I think I’ve forgotten what it was. It had something to do with Joanie looking totally disgusted with everything (doesn’t she, though?), and my being able to manage Setu Bandha Savangasana even with a pained hip (it’s probably what’s keeping me from a steel one). From grouchy Joanie (wouldn’t you know—now that I’m saying awful things about her, she has come out from under the bed and is lying in her favorite position on my right foot and purring) to my painful hip I was going somehow logically to get to blogs. I Google blogs and follow tags about old age, trying to connect with other old fart bloggers and increase my “traffic.”

Joanie. Happy?

Joanie. Happy?

A really weird thing happens to blogs about about getting older. They stop. The last month in their archives tends to be January 2010, or March 2011, or February 2007, or. . . you get the picture. All I ask is that, when I remember too little or my logic is even more bizarre than it already is—Chachi just came in and Joanie growled and left, by the way—someone please get WordPress to remove this blog. Sheeeeesh! I want to be immortal, but not by what I leave behind in cyber space!

When I remember the connection between Joanie’s growling, the pain in my left hip, and blogs without bloggers, I’ll let you know.