I think it's time to seriously re-think this whole diet and exercise thing. In a week I turn fifty. Fifty. I can scarce type the word without feeling a chill. I can't help but feel, like that series of bad horror movies, the name of which escapes me at the moment, that there's been a serious mistake somewhere. Some great scorekeeper of the clouds has a call in right this very moment to his superior who's office is on the cloud above him..."Got this guy here, slipped through somehow, he's turning fifty. Please advise."
As I sit here pecking away I can think of, with no effort whatsoever, at least ten different occasions when I cheated the scythe. A bit like Captain Kirk in one of the last Star Trek movies. Although I think I've always had better taste in trousers than Kirk. Anyway, I think, like James T. Kirk, I've always been a bit skeptical about getting older. "Bones," I hear myself saying, "I've (searching pause, not in the written dialogue)...I've...cheated death. I've laughed at it. I've (another inexplicable pause)...danced(yet another)...around...it."
In any event, it's an odd feeling, this turning half a century business. When I dream of myself, I'm always about twenty eight or so. I don't know if this is how others dream of themselves. I should ask around, I suppose. But I'm always around that age. Perhaps that's when I felt best about myself. I don't know. Regardless, I never dream of myself as being in my forties.
In many ways I understand completely now when over the years I've heard people say, old codgers, to my way of thinking, 'I don't FEEL fifty.' Well, I don't, despite the complications of diabetes I've recently had to contend with.
Now, I have no interest in getting all philisophical about this right now...I already did that in a blog a couple of weeks ago. No, I'm really just curious about the whole thing. I mean, it's just another day, the day I turn fifty. Right?
I've been reading (in fact, I'm finished now) a published, day-to-day diary/journal kept by Sir Alec Guinness lately. He was eighty three when he wrote it. It was published in 1996 and Guinness had four years to live. Not surprisingly, at eighty three Guinness is obssessed with the idea of dying. Mostly because all of his friends are dying. That's not the case with me, although I've certainly seen my share of death amongst friends I've known over the years.
In my play, From the East to the West, there is a recurring line that each character, at one point or another, says: 'How did I get here?' That's more or less the way I feel. How did I make it this far? How did this oversight escape unnoticed? And it's never a comfort when older people say to me, "Ah, you're a youngster still." A very fine actress, a girl who's name I've long forgotten, once said to me long ago while doing a play together in NYC, "I may have been born yesterday, but I stayed up all night."
The most telling billboard about all this aging business is most readily apparent when I haven't seen someone for many years. It happened to me when I first moved to LA. A friend of mine, at one point in my life a very close friend of mine, had moved here a decade or so before me. The last time I'd seen him was in Louisville, KY, when I was doing a play down that way. I hadn't seen him since. He drove over a few weeks after I'd gotten here. I was visibly stunned at how much he'd aged. And vice versa, obviously, because he immediately said upon seeing me, "Where's Clif? I thought I was supposed to meet Clif here."
Funny. And a bit sad.
There's another of my plays, Bachelor's Graveyard, in which the leading character, in much the same way Terrence McNally does in 'Love, Valour, Compassion,' skips ahead chronologically and tells the audience exactly how and when another character dies. It's a terrible device, really, not because it doesn't work, it does, but because it would be absolutely terrifying to have that information at one's fingertips. It's an old parlour game...if you could know the exact date and fashion of your death, would you want to know? I think not. At least not me.
There's another phrase, often used as a punchline of sorts, that comes to mind: 'How do you make God laugh? Tell Him your plans.' Now THAT has certainly been a truism in my life.
But enough of all this yammering about death. These are the good, old days, as a folk singer once said. One of the interesting things about reaching the startling age of fifty is the single, unexpected fact that I find myself living what Thoreau, sitting stiffly beside his touted pond, called 'a life of the mind.' Or what, a few years earlier, Socrates warned of 'a life unexamined.' I do not fear that old Greek's advice. I've spent the better part of a year now examining the road less traveled. Wow, three dusty allusions in one paragraph. How's that for pretention?
In any event, I have very few regrets. Things I might have done differntly, oh, good God, yes, but regrets? I've had a few, but then again, too few to mention...Stop it. Just stop it. Where was I? Oh, yes. Regrets. I regret being, on occasion, unkind. Tennessee Williams believed the only 'unforgivable sin' was 'deliberate cruelty.' I think he may have been on to something with that. I sincerely regret being unkind.
I suppose, by natural progression, I ought to start thinking about my epitaph. I say this in jest, of course, but epitaphs have always fascinated me. W.C. Fields had written on his gravestone, "All in all, I'd rather be in Philadelphia." Which, upon first hearing, I thought was pretty funny. But thinking about it now, given the root word 'Philadelphia,' I think it may be a bit more thought out.
My favorite is Jack Benny's, a lifelong hypochondriac. Written on his tombstone? "See, I told you I was sick." That still makes me chuckle all these years later.
But I think, upon serious consideration, I'd prefer mine to be almost common. Succinct, really, and what I'd like. I've already told Angie.
I want it to say simply, "A good husband and person who sincerely regrets any unkindness."
My second choice is more ambiguous. It would say, "Pizza, pizza, pizza!" Because then I'd know the movie was about to start.
See you tomorrow.