Poetics of Passing Youth
As a boy I marveled, walking slowly between the musty shelves in the army surplus store. Here was a connection to pre-World War II history, such as leather bandoliers and webbing straps from India’s Northwest frontier, the colonies and the Canadian militia. Lots of cool stuff. But to buy anything, being a poor boy, was out of the question. Today, being a boring old grownup, I don’t buy any cool army surplus because I just can’t justify the expense. Similarly, while I enjoy looking at other men’s nice new rifles I won’t buy any of my own.
It’s the story of my life: As a boy, I couldn’t afford comic books because they cost as much as a bottle of soda pop—which I couldn’t afford. Not unless I first collected six empty bottles. Now pop is affordable—but not worth buying. Now I finally have a wallet, but—argh! Today one comic book costs several pops. Rats! Finally an adult, but still no comics… Except for the really good ones. But I’m still frustrated because, let me tell you, in my day there wasn’t so much advertising: Two-page panel spreads that you could really get “into” were normal back then, not the exception.
I guess my life is universal. In his film review of Moulin Rouge, (Starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor) Roger Ebert speaks of getting a cheap flight to Paris: “Like almost any American college boy…I went to the Moulin Rouge on my first night in town.” His ticket allowed him to stand at the very back, far away, past thick cigarette smoke. “The tragedy of the Moulin Rouge is that by the time you can afford a better seat, you’re too old to enjoy the show.” Ah, youth.
All I can say is: Good thing I have a sense of humor.
Youth, of course, in every time and space, means: something precious inside, something with a short half-life. The poet A.E. Housman understood.
“When First My Way to Fair I Took…”
by A. E. Housman
When first my way to fair I took
Few pence in purse had I,
And long I used to stand and look
At things I could not buy.
Now times are altered; if I care
To buy a thing, I can;
The pence are here and here’s the fair,
But where’s the lost young man?
—To think that two and two are four
And neither five nor three
The heart of man has long been sore
And long ’tis like to be.
Footnote: Copying my brothers I eventually had a paper route, but I didn’t buy comics as they did: Besides a weekly history magazine costing a dollar, I forget what I bought… probably I just saved my money.
~The man they claim is President Obama’s mentor, community organizer Saul Alinsky, wrote in Rules For Radicals, shortly before he died, that he was still true to his youth because he was still trying for a better world, still caring. On another occasion, Alinsky wrote that young people expect to like, and be liked, by people they meet. Me too. (I feel sorry for grownups with mechanical hearts and eyes like fish)
The opposite of Alinsky-style caring would be the cranky old bachelor—every neighborhood has one—who appears to be “social-skill challenged,” being devoid of small talk. His problem is he needs to “give a care” before he can do small talk: A problem shared by Sheldon, that self-centered physicist on TV, on Big Bang Theory.
I think of writer-director Joss Whedon saying: “Loneliness leads to nothing good, only detachment.” I guess if you’re detached then you won’t be bonding with people…, which could explain a crank not doing small talk. I suppose, for nerds, understanding the value and purpose of small talk is a developmental leap in communication skills. It was for me.