Tuesday, June 7, 2011
My wife and I, ever the careful and vigilant shoppers, are still searching dilligently for the 'perfect' set of bookshelves for our front room. It's become an obsession, really. It fills our thoughts and daydreams daily. It has become the source of endless conversation, this quest for the holy bookshelves. Well, we may have found some. We saw them in a store yesterday afternoon, circled them warily, eying them with apprehension, occasionally darting in to pat them or run our hands quickly over the grain of the wood. We don't want to rush into anything yet at the same time we don't want to appear cautious should we decide to make them our own, assert our dominance over them. This morning we're going back to them to give them another once-over.
The thing is I would never have thought in a million years I could be so absorbed by such domesticity. Many years ago when I bought a vacuum cleaner for my first apartment alone in New York, I found myself sort of depressed for days because it seemed to herald a new era of adult behavior on my part. An unwelcome era, at that. Back then, anything remotely resembling something my parents might do saddened me no end. I fancied myself a rebel, a renegade, a man without a country, a loose cannon who sneered at the idea of a vacuum cleaner in his apartment.
I hid the vacuum cleaner from sight, tucked it away in a hall closet behind a plastic bag of empty beer cans, denied its existence. It became a symbol of encroaching adulthood that I found myself ill-equipped to accept. I bought it a few blocks from my second story walk-up in Astoria, Queens, and carried it, shame-faced and disgruntled, back to my bachelor's pad where I quickly used it to vacuum the rug and then hid it just as quickly in the musty closet and tried, unsuccessfully, to forget it.
I was thinkng about that long-ago, discarded vacuum cleaner yesterday as we sized up the new bookshelves. I'm not sure when or how it happens, this sudden recognition of one's surrender to the mundane, the acceptance of living comfortably, the pardigm shift that occurs in the brain when one is no longer satisfied with furniture left on the curb but rather begins to embrace the idea of buying furniture that is part of one's life. This is not a literary exaggeration; for years I furnished apartments through late-night scavenger hunting for old couches and chairs and kitchen tables left on the street. Back in the day, that was considered quite noble, in fact. It was a source of boasting.
"Cool couch, Man."
"Yeah, found that on 44th and Lex a few nights ago at four in the morning. Took me an hour to drag it home."
Well, those halcyon furniture days are gone now.
It's all part of aging gracefully, I suppose; learning to surrender the glory of youth and accepting the sturdiness of middle age. Old Thomas Wolfe was onto something when he famously insisted you can't go home again. It's true. You can't. Oh, you can visit sometimes, a night out with the boys, an irresponsible evening of slovenly behavior, a stubborn, unhealthy night of ignoring consequences. But that, too, is really a mirage, a few hours of denial. No, the truth is, eventually the vacuum cleaners and the bookshelves become the reality and the smoky, smirk-filled nights of tequila shots and psuedo wisdom become the dream. Man cannot live on presumption alone.
And, really, I don't mind it at all. Now, granted, I've lived a life of hedonism for the most part. 'Twas a badge of honor for nigh on two decades. But things happen, people slow down, arrogance subsides, children are born.
A few of my old friends and I are planning a two-week getaway in the fall. To the battleground site of Gettysburg, in fact. Not Mardi Gras, not the beaches of Miami, not rafting on the Colorado river, but a walking tour of a chapter in our high school history book. And what's more, we're all terribly excited about it. In fact, of the four of us going, three of us don't even drink any more. In the midst of setting up this Burmuda shorts-laden trip, I asked another buddy of mine to go, too. Called him on the phone. I outlined our plan. He said simply, "I have babies." And for a very brief moment I felt every day of my fifty years on the earth.
Growing up is not so bad. Even for scofflaw, ne'er-do-wells like myself. It just takes some adjusting to. It just takes minor shifts in one's thinking. The knee-jerk response to life wavers almost imperceptably from 'fuck you' to a heavy sigh. Acceptance is the key. As my wife can tell you, I doggedly hang on to many things adolescent. But I'd like to think they're the small things in life. And now, in complete reversal, the things of my youth, the attitudes and disdain of an orderly world, are tucked away mostly, hidden in a closet behind a plastic bag of empty Dr. Pepper cans. The bookshelves and vacuume cleaners of my life are right out front now, worked for and paid for, a part of my carefully matched living room furniture, color co-ordinated with my hardwood floor, as solid and comfortable as my marriage.
No, Thomas, you can't go home again. But you can make a new one. A better one. One of your choosing. One that matters.
See you tomorrow.