Running to school


Back to school, kids!



My walk to work takes me past the University’s day-care center, around the time when parents are dropping their children off in the morning: lots of noisy kids, parents driving, parents walking. I like the walking parents and children best; they’re almost always holding hands, which is very sweet.



A few years ago, I saw a father and daughter walking hand in hand toward the center, when all at once the little girl saw someone she knew – some friends, maybe – and let go of her father’s hand, and started running toward the school, excited to join the fun.



How long has it been since you were excited enough about something to run toward it?



Ah well, ho hum. It’s part of the magic of childhood.



We outgrow it.



(Sadly enough.)



Senior discount


The other evening, after one of my old-ladyish treadmill workouts at the Boston Sports Club, I went over to the Eastside Marketplace next door to buy  a rotisserie chicken and a couple of tomatoes. I was still glowing with perspiration from my quasi-workout, and I thought I looked terribly buff and macho.



Imagine my surprise when the checkout girl gave me the senior discount without even asking me for my ID!



This was one of those landmark occasions. Remember the first time you didn’t get carded in a bar? Remember your 21st birthday, or your 30th, or your 40th? This was kind of like that, but slightly more funereal.



Evidently I look old. I employ a lot of college students, and I have come to accept that I am usually older than their parents. (I have also come to accept that I have been working at the university longer than my student employees have been alive. I get a kind of perverse kick out of it, and I think so do they.)



But “senior discount.” Just think about that.



And the cashier didn’t even ask me



To be fair: it was Tuesday, which is “senior discount night” at Eastside Marketplace. The old trout behind me in line had to be at least a hundred and fifty years old. The checker (who looked maybe twenty) made the simple assumption that we were both there to take advantage of the “senior discount.”



And who doesn’t love a discount?



So, on the upside: I saved fifty cents on my rotisserie chicken and hothouse tomatoes.



On the other hand: people look at me and think “He’s old.”



Oh dear dear dear.



Stuffed animals and senile dementia


I have always loved stuffed animals: they are goofy and cute and soft and they make comfortable pillows.  I still have my childhood teddy bear, which (after so many decades) is now completely hideous; it sits high up on a shelf in my bedroom, in comfortable retirement, surveying everything.  It saw a lot of hard work back in the 1950s and 1960s, and it needs its rest.



What (or whom) do we have now?  A shark, from Ikea, three feet long.  A little scruffy dog, presumably a Golden Retriever puppy, ten years old (not a puppy anymore!), going a little bald now.  A mangy fat polar bear we won at Dave and Buster’s (he didn’t have good eyes, so I glued google eyes on him, which are a tremendous improvement). A disreputable purple platypus who tries to sting the other animals.  A lion from FAO Schwarz in New York City, who thinks he’s better than everyone else.  A black rat, also from Ikea, with buck teeth and a long hairless tail.  A small moose from Clark’s Animal Farm in New Hampshire, the baby of the family. 



And many more. 



They talk.  (Well, we make them talk.)  They say outrageous things.  They fight with one another.  Sometimes they get married.  The polar bear likes to ride the shark.  The dog and the polar bear are rivals.  What can I tell you?  I’m a child.  I love my stuffed animals, and I still play with them, and I don’t care what you think of me, so nyah.



Not long ago, while walking to work, I found a very small stuffed lizard on the sidewalk.  It’s about three inches long, all done in bright colors; I think it was probably a keychain item, or maybe a backpack tag.   I carry it in my pocket every day now; I bring it out at opportune moments, and it insults people.  Just the other day I brought it out and it told my work friend Cathleen to shut up.  She was completely bemused.  “You know,” she said, “it’s amazing.  You’re in your fifties, and you’re still playing with stuffed animals.”



“This is nothing,” I said.  “If there’s a program on TV about polar bears, the polar bear has to come and sit on the bed and watch it with us.  And comment on it.”



Cathleen groaned.  “When you finally get senile dementia,” she said, “it will be spectacular.  I can just picture the nursing-home staff coming into your room, and you telling them to talk to the polar bear, because he’s not very comfortable.”



“If the polar bear lives that long,” I said.  “He’s not looking so great these days.”



She groaned again.  “You’re losing it, kiddo,” she said.  “Very, very quickly.”



Probably she’s right.



I’ll have to talk to the polar bear about it.



The passing of Captain Beefheart


A brief note in the Times on Friday evening: Don Van Vliet, aka Captain Beefheart, has died at the age of 69, from complications of multiple sclerosis.



The Captain was slightly too far out for me back in the 60s and 70s. I thought his friend Zappa was a lot of fun, and I always found Zappa pretty accessible. Captain Beefheart, on the other hand, was usually obscure and frequently creepy.



But Zappa and the Captain made a live album together – “Bongo Fury” – that I still have on the shelf, and that really holds up. Who but a genius could have written and performed a song/poem called “Sam With The Showing Scalp Flat Top”?



But that album encapsulates the whole problem both men had with – ahem – “comedy music.” Zappa frequently did funny stuff on purpose; to me, “Billy The Mountain” is mostly a 30-minute comedy routine with some (pretty good) tunes stuck in it here and there. But Zappa was a serious musician who wrote complex scores, and who took some of his early inspiration from the avant-garde composer Edgard Varese. The conflict shows in the music; he clowns defiantly, and he’s very funny, but he’s also definitely angry about not being taken as seriously as he deserves.



So now look at the Captain. Can you do an album called “Trout Mask Replica” (see cover art above) and expect everyone to understand, or take you seriously? Some people will laugh, thinking it’s a joke; others will mock. But some people will look underneath and see the originality, and the complexity, and the raw talent.


God bless ’em both, though, and send them to rock-and-roll heaven, if there is such a place.




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