Sunday, September 18, 2005
Oh, Look How Young He Is
When I was a child, I used to watch in amazement at my mother's reaction whenever she saw an actor she liked in an old an movie.
"Oh," she'd say in disbelief, "look how young he is!"
To my kid's mind, this made no sense. Someone like Henry Fonda or Jimmy Stewart looked like they always looked. I didn't see any age in their appearance--they were all adults anyway, which automatically made them old in my eyes. What did it mean for someone to look young?
All right, I'm older now, probably close to my mother's age when we were watching TV in the livingroom on the old Motorola. Now I watch DVD's on my computer (Jesus, this was all Flash Gordon stuff when I was a kid. And if you don't know who that is go change your diaper)
The other night I watched "Taxi Driver" on my computer. That movie--brace yourself--came out in 1976, the year of the bicentennial. It'll be 30 flipping years old in a few months. And I looked at Robert DeNiro as Travis Bickle applying for a job as a cab driver and I knew finally what my mother was talking about.
"Oh," I said, "look how young he is!"
You have to understand. This wasn't the jowly caricature who's being grinding out a series of forgettable movies for the last 10 years. This man was young, wiry, filled with dangerous energy. The city he inhabited was crumbling and violent, no Starbucks, no Barnes & Nobles, no Disney Store--only bodegas, whore houses and the Belmore Cafeteria.
Aging is something you can't understand until you go through it. I remember the leading men of my youth, the young studs who had starring roles in all the big movies, and now they play the old guy on sitcoms, named some variation of Pops, and usually serve as clueless dinosaurs begging to be mocked by some young upstart.
I was out with some friends the other night, all of whom are younger than I am, and we were talking about this movie we had seen, "Hollywood Outlaws," which featured interviews with many comedians, including George Carlin.
Carlin (oh, look how old he is!) made his career as the hippy dippy weatherman and other counter culture creations, but he talked about his early career, when he wore a tie and did straight stand-up comedy.
I told my friends later that I remembered that time of Carlin's career, that I had vague memories of Carlin appearing on either Jackie Gleason or Ed Sullivan's show doing his "Indian Sargeant" routine. Then I noticed one of my companions smirking.
"Showing your age, Rob," he said.
Yeah, I guess so. I certainly don't know how to hide it and I'm not going to try. And what the hell did that have to do with my comments? I would have hit the little weasel with my cane but the arthritis was giving my grief.
It kills me when I walk by a business and see a sign that says something like "Serving the Public Since 1982." Since 1982? What was that the Bronze Age? I remember 1982, pal, I was just a few years out of school and ready to make great movies and write great novels. I was all set to show the world a thing or two, turn heads and shock the system into a frenzy.
And then I do the math. And I realize, holy crap, that was over 20 years ago. What the hell happened to all that time? And why have I got so little to show for it?
Moping about the passage of time doesn't slow it down any. You just wind up wasting even more time. I found my old college ID card the other day and took a look at my mug from 27 years ago.
Full head of hair, sideburns, smooth skin and this rather confused on my face. Most of that has changed, of course, except for the look. If anything, I'm even more confused.
I suppose I could get depressed, look at myself in disbelief and cry out, Oh, look young I am.
Or maybe I should thank God for the good times I've had and try to make these times a little better. Hell, I've been serving the public since 1957. That's got to count for something.