I’m always amazed – and highly gratified – when I see a daily newspaper strip that gets things right. My definition of getting things right is – “natch,” as me long gone old mum would say – that the strip reflects something that’s part of my life.
Not because I’m egocentric in the extreme – oh no! – but because the older I get the more intimate situations I encounter that I am in absolutely no way prepared for, so seeing them portrayed in any medium eases my anxiety.
The Dustin strip above calmed me greatly for a while, but then I realized that no one Dustin’s age would be as awkward about creating a blog as Mister Eponymous Hero here. To be that clueless, you need to be an alte cocker like moi.
As an old fart (the proper English translation of alte cocker, yeah?) I shamelessly admit that long ago, during that other website I used to have, (which did pretty darned well) I learned to ignore the visitor counter so I wouldn’t lose heart and give up. I also shamelessly admit that the current visitor count of Larry Brody’s Blog is about one percent (1%) of the former site’s.
Because it turns out that becoming part of the Older Generation and spending time interacting with one’s peers goes even further toward accepting the slings and arrows of moment-to-moment life than Kurt Vonnegut’s always helpful occasionally lifesaving —
This morning when the telephone rang, I heard a familiar voice over the answer machine.
It belonged to the Old Billionaire.
For the last several years, the O.B. has been a very important part of my life. We were each other’s friend, teacher, and student too, minds meshing as though together we were one.
But the last time I’d talked to my friend he was on a dementia-induced rampage, furious at me for reasons no one could understand. So instead of answering right away I stood and listened to the message he was leaving:
“Hey, Larry B, it’s me. I read what you wrote about not knowing if you were living or dead, and it hits ‘way too close to home for me not to chime in.”
When I heard this I smiled. He sounded like the man I’d known before his illness. Quickly, I snatched up the phone.
“O.B., is it really you?”
“‘Really’ me? Talk about a tough question. We can spend hours chewing on that one, don’t you think?”
“You’re back!” I said.
“Maybe,” the Old Billionaire said. “Don’t know for how long. I’ve got these new meds. They don’t do anything for my memory, but they keep me from getting so mad.
“I’ve been in a fury,” he went on, “about stuff that’s real and stuff that’s not. About not knowing which is which. About remembering my kindergarten girlfriend—Ethel, her name was, and she always wore the same polka-dotted dress—but not my sister who died…well, I don’t remember when she died.”
“I’m sorry about that, O.B.—” I stopped. Couldn’t think of what more to say.
“Not as sorry as I am,” the Old Billionaire said. “But sorry’s better than angry. At least, I think it is. Can’t recall.
“But that’s not what I wanted to say. According to this index card in my hand, I wanted to tell you how you’re onto something, wondering whether this life is real or not.
“I wonder about that too. A lot of folks lose their way now and then. Misplace their values, or their ideals. But I’m in a fog all the time. Not just about what I ate for breakfast, how to put on my sock. About everything. Especially the big stuff.
“I’m sure I stood for something in my life,” the Old Billionaire said, “but I don’t have a clue what it was. And if I’m not what I always believed in, then what am I? Who am I?”
“I don’t have an answer for that one, O.B.”
“Nobody does. But I’m working one out. Way I see it, if I’m not who I was, then it doesn’t matter whether this is life or death or heaven or hell. Because if I’m not who I was, then my soul is gone. Kaput! Not part of me anymore. And I might as well be dead.”
He stopped. I heard him take one breath. Another. The breaths were weak but even. He was steady. He began talking again.
“And if that’s the case, wouldn’t I be better off in my ‘How’re You Doing, Mr. President?’ Suit, the one I wore on all my rich person occasions? Yep, that’s it. I should be in my expensive finery right now, lying in my fancy box six feet underground.
“You’re worried about whether the place you’re in—the psychological place, the spiritual place—is heaven or hell?” he went on. “At least you know it’s you doing the worrying. For me that’d be heaven. But this not knowing, this ache I’ve got inside me that keeps crying, ‘Who are you, old man? Are you you? It’s pure and simple, boy—that’s hell.”
The Old Billionaire’s words reminded me of something. “There’s a play by Jean-Paul Sartre where he said ‘Hell is other people.’ O.B., you ever see that?”
“Can’t say. Don’t know. But I beg to differ with your writer pal. Hell’s got nothing to do with other people. Hell’s all about being alone…and not knowing the first thing about the old gomer you’re alone with.”
Now his words reminded me of something else. “O.B.,” I said, “I don’t know if this’ll mean anything to you, but everything you’re saying, everything you’re wondering–it’s what you’ve always said and wondered. It’s the real you.”
The Old Billionaire’s voice caught. He stammered. Then: “Knew I could count on you, Larry B. Have yourself a great day!” and he hung up with a whoop.
And so here I am, having a great day indeed. My best friend is back.
I ask these questions because in the past few weeks I’ve read or started to read at least a dozen Kindle books in which things were described as being in some degree “unique,” and it’s been driving me crazy because I was taught very early in my writing career that using any qualifying word along with “unique” was the sign that the writer was “an illiterate jerk whose work doesn’t deserve to be read by any reasonably educated human being.”
That’s not a made-up quote, by the way. It’s something the publisher of a group of what back in the day were called “men’s magazines” said when he read the first article I wrote for him. He followed his words by throwing a well-thumbed old dictionary across the desk at me and staring stonily as I looked up the word in contention and learned that:
Unique means the only one of its kind
This experience engraved the “unique” meaning directly into my writing brain, heart, and soul, and I admit to being a major enforcer of “Men’s Magazine Publisher’s Fist Law of the English Language ever since. From my stint as an editor of several of his magazines to my time as writer, story editor, producer, and creator of various TV shows while writing my own books, and finally to teaching others the ins and outs of becoming the kind of writers whose work does deserve to be read by human beings, I’ve held the line.
As a result of reading this recent batch of books I’ve gone from being annoyed about the misusage of “unique” in what I’ve been reading to being exasperated, and then angry. And then – wonder of wonders! I must finally be growing up! – to become self-doubting.
Could it be that I’m wrong? Could all these different writers, whose work I’ve otherwise been enjoying, be correct? Have literary, societal, and cultural changes transformed the old “unique” into a new form “rare?”
There was only one way to find out. I hied my way to Google’s version of the Oxford English Dictionary, looked up the definition, and found:
Unique means being the only one of its kind
Holy shit! Yeppers, kids, what these illiterate morons are doing is still wrong!
So, loving writers and readers everywhere as I do, I’m passing this information on and alerting you to the fact that from now on, if and when I encounter a unique that isn’t really, I will promptly stop reading its source, for the simple reason that I am, after all, a “reasonably educated human being” who–
What I am is a reasonably educated human being who was about to suggest that everyone who reads this follow my example and boycott otherwise terrific writers, thereby missing out on what could be a hell of a lot of fine reading time, as will I. Damn, that’s crazy. As crazy as I’ve been for hanging onto a precept put out by a publisher who, due to the very nature of his product, has shown himself to be, if not an illiterate jerk, certainly a jerk nevertheless.
Life moves forward. Thing change. And I’m going to change as well. I accept the inevitable and look forward to the time when the Oxford English Dictionary and all the other dictionaries, acknowledge the somewhat very uniqueness of this fact.
Last week I posted that, to me, the most intriguing phrase in the English language is:
“And then everything changed.”
For those who’ve asked why I made that particular post, it boils down to the fact that even though I’ve had a previous cryosurgery for prostate cancer (a shade under three years ago), the do-over of that procedure (a shade over three weeks ago) has been more traumatic.
Not because of the result re cancer, which is that (again) it looks like it’s all gone, but because of the unexpected difficulty I’ve been having in recovering from the procedure itself. If there’s one thing I’m learning, it’s that I am indeed not the man I used to be such a short time before.
“It’s all about moving along, yeah?”
Throughout my life and career, moving along has been my catch phrase. I love the feeling of being in an ever-changing present.
That’s more difficult now, due to the fact that my ever-changing present currently is pretty damn full of various annoyances, aches, and pains so powerful that the only way to keep loving what’s happening is concentrate, concentrate, concentrate on the instants when the current annoyance, ache, or pain morphs into the next one.
In those instants I play the Hope Game, as in hoping that next feeling simply won’t show up.
I love Bowie’s Changes and always considered them mine as well. But I haven’t been able to find a Bowie Moving Along song to give me the smile I need in the instant I need it. I have, however, found this by Wes Montgomery, and, regardless of any other circumstances, as soon as I can feel somewhat comfortable sitting at my drums, I’ll very happily be playing along:
(Via YouTube, after much travail) Click image to play)