Sittin’ here with Bacardi Gold and coffee, the sun crisp and cold on the lightly budding maple branches at eye level out my back porch window. Welcome to 8 am Saturday before a day of music. I hate big choices; much prefer to turn from them whenever I can. But choices are always made—the day a family friend tossed me in the back seat of our old Plymouth station wagon and told me my father had left; the day Paul Loucks came to see me in my shack in NH and after sharing a case of Pabst decided to spend the year logging to save money for school; the day I was half-way through a second bottle of Chianti and my little plastic radio spoke to me in the Hotel Broadalbin telling me my draft number was 295; the day I walked the autumn fields of NH and chose not to go to Alaska. I adjusted, Paul was killed by a maple tree, I never saw Viet Nam or Alaska. Fate is a twisted road—but we always have a bit to do with it. Libertarians always overplay the hand of choice and Stoics just underplay it by a bit. I hate the decisions because so many roads in life look good and because most of life’s corners I have turned have been blind. And sometimes, when things are running along smoothly, opportunity or disaster just jump right in front of me—the smile of a possible young lover or the death of a beautiful friend. Jesus—really—that happens now!? Getting old for most of us is cutting down on the choices—letting things swing along easily in a groove—less and less interference on the tracks. We get settled, comfortable, stuck in our ways. But therein lies the danger of it all—death without decision.
I hate decisions because they make me live. They are a brilliant fuel, sending that easy groove into shafts of flame burning up the shreds of the present. This little story here catalyzed by morning rum and yet another decision. The details hardly matter. But my resistance to deciding is waning because another feature of old age is learning that the risks of having to decide are life-giving. The blood that has been running through me unnoticed for ten years is now burning at the surface. No long sleepy mornings—everything is on edge. And then there is the clarity. My life stands before me undressed and waiting. Oh, the things I should have said—the little jealousies I should never have allowed to creep into my eyes and give away my old man fears. And the possibilities—possibilities for an old curmudgeonly bastard; another chance, another choice, another way to think about how it all turns out and what it is I will leave the world. Deciding brings every corner of the photograph into play—the ripped edges, the out of focus feelings, and the dark images. When I hold it in my hand I try to reshape the image—what can I be or become? Emerson’s choice between God and weed by the wall may seem a bit extreme, but he sharpens the day with that wild image.
Notice how every choice begins at home in the heart but gently swings wide and considers the other folks and the unknown players down the road. And then as it moves to its limits, it comes crashing back to the heart. And then I say, yes, go for it, old bastard. Or I dwindle inside fearing the risk. Staying the same is now not just happening; it is open for discussion. And I see my life being torn from local friends, and I see the sunlight shine on some possibility that makes me smile, and I figure in my ledger all those bastardly little bureaucratic things that rise up in the midst of change. I can’t bitch about the decision—at least I have one. Most folks my age are done with decisions except for supplemental insurance and which old folks home to curl up in. I’m alive, as Jackson Browne says. The rum and coffee are sitting low in my cup, and the sun is insistent. I need to decide whether to get up and do laundry or get another round before the afternoon show. Spend the day with a lover? Run for cover? This road or another? I could say it doesn’t matter—but it does. A feel of energies, a shift in the eyes, a change in body temperature—there is always much at stake. “And livin, livin day by day; it helps to have some gambling ways.”
Pages turnin, pages torn out and burnin’
Pages no one else will read,
Age that the days can’t measure
Age calls, memories treasure
Of pages that live and bleed.
I’m alive, no plans to arrive
Just turnin corner after corner
With the heat of this day
I can put it all away
And play some tune from another old corner
And turn that page, just once more, just once more, just once…..
Line about gambling ways from George Gritzbach. Photos courtesy of Monster!