I pulled the ripcord on Social Security the other day, applied for the monthly payments, shunning the nominal boost I’d have gotten if I waited a few more years.
As it is, life requires too much waiting around. You wait for the right job, the right moment, the right relationship. You wait for stoplights, for coffee, for a table at the weird new restaurant everyone likes.
You wait for a break, a bus, a driver’s license, the doctor, a flight to Vegas.
Listen, my jackpot was never a jackpot. My jackpot was steady work for 43 years. Never once did I not have a job. I’d quit a job, take two weeks to move, then begin the new job – new school, new dentist, new friends. That’s no life. But it sure beats a lot of the alternatives.
Now, at 66, I’m a little worn out. Some days, it hurts just to pull a sweater over my head. And the other morning, I put my shoes on before my pants.
Fortunately, my mind is as nimble as it ever was (not very). I’m still pretty good at “Jeopardy” but it comes and it goes. Increasingly, names slip away during cocktail conversations.
That South Africa guy…won the Peace Prize…Nelson…Nelson…………………………………………….
Still, my mind remains my merry-go-round … all sorts of ideas about almost everything.
I spend far too much time categorizing the things I love from the things I don’t.
I love road trips
I hate zoos.
I love cinnamon on my cereal.
I hate lime in my beers.
I love the way my granddaughter says goodnight.
I hate the way drivers glide through stop signs almost crushing me.
I love regional rivalries.
I hate transfer portals.
I love climbing on the roof.
I hate crawling under sinks.
I love the way bacon sings to me. Like birdsong. Like Brahms.
Plus, I love the way you can improve a stranger’s mood – and even his mental health — just by being a little kind.
Old guys with canes, for instance. Those are some great guys. They just want someone to listen to them, maybe share a laugh, to talk about the old days…Korea…Vietnam…Peggy Sue.
It must take a special courage to grow old gracefully, to laugh over the modern inconveniences, the QR menus and the self-help kiosks… the validation requests …the passwords on top of passwords.
As a young man, you’re mostly faking it – swagger, bravura, impertinence, triumph. Before you know it, you’re a middle-aged dad with a plastic dog bag dangling out your back pocket, walking down the boulevard and wondering where your hair went.
Hey, if you’re lucky, right? The best people I’ve known went away far too soon.
I hope I can one day become an old guy with a cane, and that some punk in his mid-60s pauses for a conversation, or to gripe about the Dodgers, or to marvel over the way the clover grips that hill over there.
You don’t have to be a poet to live life poetically, to pick some wildflowers, to help someone fix a flat.
Mental health is a carnival ride. When you help another person, you help yourself. You climb aboard their merry-go-round.
Sorry if that sounds a little hokey. If being nice is not for you, fine. Live your life. You be yewwwww. Be grumpy. I admire grumps. Grumps are authentic, they tell it like it is. But I’m not so sure they’re happy enough.
Isn’t that an obtainable goal? To be happy enough?
Gimme an optimist anytime – a rogue, a raconteur. Give me someone who appreciates the way firelight burnishes a beer glass, the crack of the bat, or the way California glows after it rains — as if it’s just been kissed.
I hit the jackpot in California, we all have. It’s not the Eden some insist. I mean, any definition of Eden has to include restaurants open past 9 pm, right?
And the way motorcycles sneak past you on the freeway, inches from your elbow? That’s no Utopia either. Or those noisy, flatulent Italian cars.
But it is more Eden than most. In this Mother of all Marches, thank your lucky charms you are here, where the setting sun backlights the surf and colors the weeds along the freeway.
Can I gush a little? On spring days in LA, I feel like I’ve married one of Shakespeare’s dreams (to borrow from the great Ogden Nash).
Like Shakespeare, Nash was a poet with a swashbuckler’s sneer.
I’ll bet he used a cane. I’ll bet he ordered bacon.
Need a hike? A glass of gin? A funny story? Stay tuned for info on an upcoming hike, on a Saturday afternoon in the not-so-distant future, to admire the way the glover grips the hills. Or I grip a beer glass. Meanwhile, for books, old columns and really cool hiking gear, please visit ChrisErskineLA.com