Dealing With Change

It’s impossible not to notice. Things, stuff, the landscape, the society, acquaintances have all changed while I wasn’t looking. Certain life patterns are disrupted. Cars don’t need an oil change every 3,000 miles anymore. Is it possible that someone will deliver milk to your door in glass bottles? I suppose not. And yet one can order the ingredients for a specific dinner recipe; no more, no less. Purple potatoes. The future delivered in a cardboard box.

It’s an interesting time to be an American. Heck, it’s an interesting time to be an Earthling. Questions demand answers. Are the Boy Scouts still OK politically? Do I have to give serious consideration to where I recycle batteries? How elaborate do faucet-attached water filters need to be? What are the ethical considerations when confronted with a panhandler at a busy intersection?

There’s a switch on my Volkswagen’s dashboard that makes a deeply satisfying crunch of a sound when I flip it. But, it doesn’t seem to do anything. I’ve tried it with the engine running. I’ve tried it the ignition turned off. I’ve tried it with the ignition turned on, but without the engine running. And nothing. It must be a Teutonic way of telling me I’m a cheapskate for not buying the top of the line with Wi-Fi and ejection seats.

Sometimes I miss Richard Nixon; paranoid alcoholic, war criminal, president by a landslide and champion party killer. Machiavelli wrote The Prince with him in mind, I’m sure of it. Had he lived a couple centuries earlier, a few strategic beheadings would have allowed him to remain in power. Instead, we were subject to an unctuous spectacle of self-pity dove-tailed to Jerry Ford’s oath of office. No parade; just the denouement of Marine One’s prop wash as it rounded The Washington Monument, banking left into Dick and Pat’s last dash to Andrews Air Force Base, all digitally preserved for the ages. A good historian can capture with words the razor’s edge of Abe Lincoln’s last hours in a bedroom across from Ford’s Theater. But only video could convey the jaw-dropping strangeness of Nixon’s campaign-style grin and double victory hand gesture before ducking into the presidential helicopter that last time. The incongruity of it has only deepened with time.

There are certain things I don’t miss. For example, windows with sash cords; I thought I would never play the guitar again when a cord broke one day and the window fell like a guillotine on my hands. Speaking of hands, I don’t miss typewriters. I used to buy White-Out by the quart. The kids don’t understand; cut and paste literally meant cut and paste. I don’t miss it; just as I don’t miss the Cold War, polio, the draft board, Watergate, math class, schlepping firewood, waiting for the school bus, puberty, Gilligan’s Island and first dates – not necessarily in that order.

I don’t miss most of the jobs I had…, scratch that. I don’t miss any of the jobs I had. All of them were a form of servitude whose sole purpose was to make someone else rich(er). Topping the list of jobs for which I was ill-suited would be a security guard at Belk in Charlotte’s biggest mall. I was in plain clothes, and they gave me a badge to flash that looked like it came from a Crackerjack box. In a period of eighteen months, I nabbed exactly zero shoplifters. I was single. I had the run of the store. There were pretty young women in every department. Yes, I was busy, but not with crime. I don’t do crime.

The 1970s were a bad, yet terrible decade. Clothes were LOUD and ugly. American automobiles were shoddy at best, dangerous at second best. American pop music was trying to fill the vacuum left by the Beatles’ break-up. I was fighting the battle of a lifetime with Crohn’s Disease; taking 100 milligrams of prednisone a day, becoming addicted to pain meds, and attempting to pay the rent with a few hit and miss gigs with my guitar.

One response to all this angst was a re-ordering of my fairly large record collection. It’s something I used to do in response to stress. A friend who was like-minded about such things asked me about the change, “So, at the outset, you filed them chronologically, right?” “Yes,” I said, “Starting with Joaquin des Prez motets and ending with Elliott Carter string quartets.” My friend was looking at the ceiling, “And somewhere along the way, you decided you would try reassembling them in the order in which they were purchased, do I remember that correctly?” “Right,” I answered, “It’s like writing your autobiography without lifting a pen.” His face reflected his admiration for the duality, and its larger meaning.

“So, I don’t get it. Why flirt with disaster? You’re going to change it again? To what?” My friend was close to tears. I hesitated, “Well, actually, I’ve already done it. It took an all-nighter.” His face drained of color. “No, don’t tell me. You didn’t.” “Yeah,” I said. “I admit this new system gives me a warm illusion of security, not to mention a touch of schadenfreude. I’ve made myself more convoluted than I really am.” “How so?” he asked. I said, “I have a couple thousand records, and you’d have to be me – or at least have an advanced degree in Gerryology – to know how to find any of them.”

Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, the Shostakovich opera, I have to remember that I bought it in the Spring of 1983, intending it as a gift for someone; but then deciding I couldn’t part with it. So, it’s ponderous with guilt as only a Lady Macbeth can be. All of which meant that if you wanted to hear something from my collection, you were stuck with asking me to dig it out for you. The pretzel logic of it was its own security.

By the way, I don’t miss OCD either.