Thursday, May 25, 2017
I used to know this woman. A long time ago, I was working as a consultant in Lansing, Michigan, and my then-boss introduced me to her; she worked as a recycling coordinator for a city in Oakland County, a heavily populated area north of Detroit. She was smart and energetic and unique and I liked her but only talked with her a little before I left the firm.
Fast forward a few decades. I was able to find her again thanks to Lord Zuckerberg of Facelandia. We liked each other’s posts and appreciated each other’s writing but that was it. I learned that she relocated years ago to an extremely rural area of northern Lower Michigan with her husband and daughter. She works from her home as a writer, although the word “writer” doesn’t do her justice. She’s a “word goddess,” as her wonderful new website proclaims. A “wordologist.” A “content collaborator.” And I just discovered that she’s one of the most fun and compelling conversationalists ever.
I stumbled upon her website the other night and was so impressed – it had just been redesigned – that I filled out the “Contact Me” form and scheduled a phone call. We had that call today. When we hung up after just over an hour, I noticed that I had taken no fewer than 19 pages of notes. She monopolized the call, throwing out book suggestions and the names of people I need to Google and things I need to think about, slogans and catch phrases interspersed with descriptions of her life and background. She shared tidbits about her friends and family, compliments and kind words about me, lessons she had learned and decisions she had made about her business, and enough humorous anecdotes to keep me chuckling long after the call ended. We promised to stay in contact – we might work together if we can figure out how – and even exchanged a few follow-up text messages.
And this is what occurred to me: I’m in a rut. I do my work and focus on my family and worry about money and fret about the Oval Office Occupant Who Will Never Be My President and lament the tragedies taking place around the world (including the bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, England three nights ago and the drunk driver who drove on the sidewalk for three blocks in New York’s Times Square on May 18, plowing into pedestrians and killing a young woman). I bitch and moan about a jerk with whom I work. I whine about the normal teenage things that my kids do. I spend just enough time in Facebook to be disgusted by at least five posts each day. I concentrate on gun violence, police brutality, climate change, racism, war, death, corruption, the ugliness of politics and all the other bad sh*t going down at the local, state and national levels. I think about all the things I wish I could change and should have done differently and hope don’t happen. But that’s really it.
I don’t take classes or go to lunch with friends. Anita and I talk about going for walks at night like we used to but we’ve both been too tired to launch this plan. I haven’t resumed my Portuguese lessons and I seldom read books like I used to. I don’t play with my puppies or engage with my son and daughters. I can’t remember the last time I went to a concert, an amusement park, even a movie. I’ve denied myself stimulation and somewhere along the line I’ve gotten old.
And then I talked to this potential colleague today. It was a great call. It made me smile and ponder and wonder and remember. I pledged to check into some things and figure out others. I promised to come up with reasons to talk again and write together. And I backed away from my desk feeling better about who I am and what I can do.
My wife and kids deserve a fresher, more positive, more energetic and balanced Patrick. Anita’s been struggling and coping and tolerating the Old Me for far too long. I’ve denied myself excitement and possibility and an expanded mind and more living in my life. And I’ve denied the people closest to me blue skies and singing birds as well.
I bet I’m not the only one either.
If I can get all this enlightenment from a single phone call, imagine what I could glean from an all-day conference…
Thursday, May 18, 2017
Jack Kennedy was in the White House when I was born in March of 1962. He wouldn’t pass the Texas Book Depository and meet his gruesome end until November of the following year. I don’t remember it, of course, but I do remember my mother crying when Martin Luther King was shot in April of 1968, and again when JFK’s brother Bobby was murdered two months later.
I remember staying away inside during the Detroit riot in late July of 1967, worried that a stray bullet would take me out, even though we lived 16 miles north in Royal Oak and were in no danger.
I remember when Mary Tyler Moore threw her knit hat in the air every Saturday night in the early 1970s and when Nixon flashed the ‘V for Victory” sign on his way out of Washington.
I remember when Saturday Night Live was funny and disco was all the rage.
I remember when America’s air traffic controllers went on strike and Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.
I remember when Michael Jackson’s ‘Beat It’ and ‘Billie Jean’ were all over the radio and people tried to name each artist singing “We Are the World.”
I remember when Lloyd Benson told Dan Quayle that he was no Jack Kennedy and Mike Dukakis looked like a toddler in a tank.
Thank goodness I still have my memory. Kind of.
It’s been 21 years since I sat on Dolley Madison’s couch in the White House, eating jumbo shrimp while the Leader of the Free World – who I later figured out was cavorting with an intern named Monica during this time period – chatted with other guests a few feet away. (I was one of hundreds of environmental professionals from across the country invited to Washington for the Clinton Administration’s big announcement about protecting the Everglades.)
It’s been 26 years since I witnessed the birth of my first child in a crowded room at Lansing’s Sparrow Hospital (and years since we talked) and 27 since I lost my job in the governor’s office due to an unpredictable electorate.
It’s been 37 years since I closed my locker and left Seaholm High School in Birmingham, Michigan for the last time.
It’s been 47 years since Apollo 11 mission commander Neil Armstrong stepped foot on the moon and 400,000 hippies partied at Max Yasgur’s farm in the Catskills.
Unfortunately, it’s been just over four years since I last posted a piece on this topic – with almost the same exact title – here at What’s the Diehl? See what I mean about “kind of” having my memory?
When I call my now-77-year-old Mom – which I don’t do nearly as much as I should – our conversations consist primarily of health reports: what’s wrong with her ankle and knees, what the doctors think is causing my dad’s headaches, who’s sick and who’s dead. The older I get, the more I have to report when it’s my turn to talk. Mom frequently tells me that “growing old’s not for sissies.” I don’t have the heart to remind her that she’s expressed this a hundred times.
My kids listen to music that’s all about genitals and intercourse by artists – and I use the term loosely – I’ve never heard of like Lil Uzi Vert, Kodak Black, Kendrick Lamar and Lil Yachty. I’ve tried to introduce them to real talent like Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, The Rolling Stones, Prince, Billie Holiday, Maria Callas and Luciano Pavarotti but they’re not interested. They think Earth, Wind & Fire are three of the four elements of life and Fleetwood Mac is an old car. The Carpenters? People who build dressers. The Mamas & the Papas? The audience at school recitals. Chicago? A city in Illinois. Duke Ellington? Princess Di’s brother. Bob Marley? The dude in “A Christmas Carol.”
Most of the time, the young people with whom I work have no idea who or what I’m talking about. My references to Kent State, Woodstock, Watergate, Eugene McCarthy, the My Lai Massacre, Gloria Steinem and Abbie Hoffman are met with blank stares. They don’t know the difference between the Manson Family and the Partridge Family because they’ve never heard of either. When I mention Willie Wonka, they think of Depp, not Wilder. When I refer to Iran/Contra, O.J. and Nicole, Three Mile Island or Chernobyl, they smile and respectfully change the subject.
These co-workers greet customers with “Hey, buddy” or “Morning, dude.” When I say, “Good morning, sir,” they snicker and roll their eyes. (You realize you’re getting old when Millenials say, “Thank you, sir” to you.)
You realize you’re getting old when your medicine cabinet – another term that perplexes the youngins – contains Viagra, Metamucil and Kaopectate.
You realize you’re getting old when going to bed at 9:00 p.m. is something you do regularly, not just when you’re sick.
You realize you’re getting old when your 15-year-old suggests you put your peace necklace inside your shirt and your kids tell you to wait in the car when you pick them up at school.
You realize you’re getting old when you mention that you have teenagers and the person you’re talking to replies, “Oh, you waited later in life to have kids.”
You realize you’re getting old when coloring your hair is a necessity to compete in today’s world, not a vain affectation, and perusing your latest issue of AARP Magazine is part of your routine, not a scene in a high school play.
You realize you’re getting old when your co-workers cite Clinton as the president when they were born – and you had already been married, become a father and spent time in jail by the time he was inaugurated.
You realize you’re getting old when you mention that you’re thinking of getting a tattoo or a motorcycle and the person you’re talking to asks, “At your age? Why?”
You realize you’re getting old when your wife suggests you accompany her to the gym and you think, “At my age? Why?”
You realize you’re getting old when you drive through a college campus in the springtime and think the girls should put more clothes on.
You realize you’re getting old when you can remember sneaking into drive-ins in the trunk of a car and when Corvairs and Capris, Datsuns and Pintos, Mavericks and Yugos and Gremlins and Pacers could be spotted on roads and in driveways.
Long gone are the days when Ricardo Montalbán spoke of “fine Corinthian leather” and Clara Peller asked “Where’s the beef?,” when Mikey liked Life cereal and Slinkeys were fun for a girl and a boy, when a bunch of people stood on a hill and sang about teaching the world to sing in perfect harmony and an Indian guy shed a tear because of trash in a river.
Gone are the days when my youthful looks and potential helped me land a job, when my resume was impressive and not excessive, when I still had a fire in my belly – not just a big belly – and the urge to change the world and not just my finances.
Gone are the days when cigarettes were cool, people said “please” and “thank you” and Space Invaders and Pacman were the video games of the day.
Gone are the days when cursive writing was taught in school and politics was thought to be a noble profession.
Gone are the days when phones had curly cords and only winners earned medals and trophies.
Gone are the good ol’ days.
I know I’m supposed to be thankful that I’ve lived this long because it’s a privilege denied to many. I know I’m not the only one who wonders who the gray-haired old guy with wrinkles is who stares back at me in the mirror every morning. I know I should be grateful that I’m still on this side of the grass and don’t need diapers or dentures. I know some people are older than me and they’re fine with their oldness. But I’ve never felt this old before and I don’t like it. I don’t like worrying about my health, my retirement and the garbage to which my kids sing along. I don’t like feeling like an irrelevant prude, like someone whose time has come and gone. And I don’t like feeling like a sissy.
Note: Some readers might have expected a political post in light of all that’s happening in America right now. Let’s just say it’s currently easier for me to write about my own impending death than that of my country.