Saturday, August 31, 2013

You'll Be Older, Too!

To respond to the Beatles—

“They say it’s your birthday. . .”

(What’s it to you!)

It is indeed my birthday, made significant by another Beatles’ song which asks whether I will still be needed and fed at a certain age. Yep! I am actually that old today—which is a little scary.

But being that certain age also drives one (me) to be philosophical about the long distance that lies between then and now. A few months ago, I was seated at a family wedding next to a pair of childhood friends. So, of course, we talked about childhood and friends. Suddenly, I was me now (at this advanced age) and me then at age 10 and 15 and 18 and 20. I was climbing with Harvey on the roof of his house on 57th Street. Did we really do such a reckless thing? And then Harvey and I were going to Saturday night dance classes at the Rosalie Cotler School of Dance and doing the shag to the 45 rpm record that Rosalie’s husband Allan played every week, “Hit the Road, Jack” by Ray Charles.

After six months, we took Ray’s advice and decided “not to come back no more, no more.” We had sound reasoning for our decision—we were certain that we had both learned all that Rosalie could teach us and were ready for any occasions that might call for dance in our futures. ((By the way, Harvey’s wife Susie, who was the other childhood friend sitting with us, assures me that Harvey could have used some more lessons. I have no doubt the same applies to me.)

And while we were speaking about dancing, Susie and I began sharing tales about AZA dances and Charleston-Savannah connections. Suddenly, I was with Carla Needle, who was visiting from Charleston, and, while trying to sneak a goodnight kiss, accidentally ringing Jodie Center’s doorbell at 3 a.m. to the annoyance of her mother. The incident proved it is possible to be embarrassed and thrilled at the same time. Good times. . .

Then in a bittersweet moment of reminiscence, Harvey and I shared stories of our 1969 excursion to Fort Jackson, South Carolina, where we joined with about 20 former high school classmates to go through a farcical but worrisome early morning army physical in the midst of the Vietnam War. Fort Jackson in mid-July is the embodiment of hot and humid. Add a group of zealous army sergeants, and you have the makings for “torture” or for an Arlo Guthrie video.  
What made the remembering bittersweet for Harvey and me was recalling a funny Mark Garfunkel story from that day and then also sharing our sadness that Mark had died (way too young) just weeks before the wedding we were attending. Army physicals in 1969 were a pretty haphazard thing. You expected to pass, and the army guys expected to pass you, no matter what. One of the “tests” involved checking your urine for diabetes or some other possible disqualifying illnesses. Mark had trouble peeing that morning, so three or four of us helped fill his beaker. It really didn’t matter; the “doctor” checking the litmus strip placed in the urine never looked to see if it changed color. The only thing crazier than that army physical was the thought of improving our country’s military might by adding Harvey or Mark or me to the troops. How we all avoided serving in Vietnam is another story. And though I haven’t seen Mark in close to 40 years, I still miss him.

As Harvey, Susie, and I talked and shared at the wedding, we also slowly began crossing back across the gap between past and present, morphing between our childhood and adult selves. Suddenly, we were old friends in our early 60s, telling stories about children and (in Harvey and Susie’s case) grandchildren. We shared stories about sicknesses past and present, too. That seems to be a necessary part of growing older.

And now it’s my birthday, and I have reached the Beatles’ magical mystery age. But I can still recall what it felt like to stand on Harvey’s roof and listen to his mother yell at us or to sweat and laugh in that room at Fort Jackson as we shared piss and stories. And I know a hundred reasons that I’m happy to be loved and needed, especially at 64.

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