|Jul/Aug 2006 Nonfiction|
A kid's show I wrote in 1977 was being revived. Revamping it meant I would have to reacquaint myself with the person I was at 21. You might say I needed to get in touch with my inner child.
So I invited him over.
The energetic dynamo burst in, his shaggy ultra-blonde mane falling incessantly in his eyes. He stood in my foyer in wonderment before the "vanity wall" of Broadway show posters, fists thrust into the pockets of his too-tight, faded-to-baby-blue bellbottoms, and said, "Faaaar ouuut."
Seeing me, he was considerably less impressed. "You're, like, so fat and bald, dude. Paleozoic. Like your birth certificate's on papyrus. Got any beer?"
He smiled when I offered him an Anchor Steam. Some things don't change. He was oblivious to the fact that beer would contribute to the blimplike bloating.
Knowing he had missed the draft by a couple weeks, I asked if he was politically active.
"Who cares about politics when there's Anchor Steam and Haight-Ashbury and San Francisco dancers who like to do the horizontal bop?"
"Yeah. You dodged a bullet with 'Nam, and you'll dodge another one regarding irresponsible, promiscuous sex. You're a lucky little Stitt. In my world, everything is political. And all politics is local."
"Hey, I went to the polls last week. Cast my vote in the mayoral election, and the board of supes. Voted for George Moscone and Harvey Milk. Moscone's a stiff, but he's got a good head. Milk's a fegeleh, but he's hilarious."
"They would have made things better."
He was puzzled by that remark. He brought his beer back into the foyer. Moving on to the subject that most fascinated him, he asked, "Did you do all these Broadway shows?"
I admitted that I had, clearly not as impressed by the fact as was he. "I've done some cool stuff and met some cool people, but I'd probably have been happier as the assistant manager of a 7-11, with a house in Belmont and 2.5 kids."
"Dude... Broadway is WAY cooler than Suburbia."
"I'll tell you something I wish you had known. Broadway ain't like it is in the movies. It's dirty and phony and cheesy and sleazy and it gets less imaginative by the minute and regular people can't afford to go any more. Creatively, it's dead as the dodo. Broadway is just another gig, kid. Just like everything else, it's SNAFUBAR."
"But hey, if you're fifty, then the baby boomers must be in control, right? We stopped the war and got Nixon to quit, and we're making progress on the No Nukes front, too, so why don't the boomers change things?"
"The Boomers turned out to be wrong about as much of the time as every other generation. Only difference was we couldn't admit that to ourselves until it was too late. We're most of the problem now."
He studied a photo of the New York skyline, with the World Trade Towers in the foreground.
"I hate that bulding," he said. "The Empire State would still be the tallest if it weren't for those two aluminum ice racks."
"You'll miss them when they're gone," I said quietly. "Same with the people you took for granted. You'll have 20/20 hindsight."
He played with Russ the Wonder Dog as if he were a brother. The 14 year old terrier sprang to life, leaping and wagging his tail like a puppy. Russ clearly liked the doppelganger more than his grumpy, oafish master.
"Answer me this," he asked, rubbing Russ's belly. "If you've done so much cool stuff, how'd you wind up so depressed, cynical, and angry?"
I pondered the question.
"A cynic is a disillusioned idealist. I've seen two presidents shot. I've seen another president disgrace America in the eyes of the world. Still another resigned. I've seen nations that we empowered turn on us with our own weaponry. Most of my friends are dead; the gay friends died from indiscriminate sex, and others were done in by drugs and booze. If I'm an old grouch, it's because I've seen much of the human condition, and it is a frightening sight to behold. Ayn Rand said that intelligent life commenced when man first frowned. You ask why I'm cynical, you trippy little hippie? I'll tell you why. It's because I know too much. More than I wanted to know. Wisdom isn't cheap. It comes at a price."
"If you were so smart, you'd just be happy like me."
"Oh, yeah?" I said, "Well... what do YOU know?"
After he'd left, I was straightening out a bookshelf, and my 1978 journal fell out. I found the following entry for the same date, 29 years earlier:
"Had a visit with the person I'll be in 2006 today. What a drag. Note to self: stay young, happy, and stupid."