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Posts Tagged ‘youth’

Arlington

I drove down to Northern Virginia earlier this month to see old friends Richard and Tim. There was a time when we saw each other much more frequently, but distance and family and the circumstances of life separated us. Once we were collaborators in that grand dot-com enterprise called Recipe du Jour that reached many thousands of readers six days a week, but that was then. We are not those people anymore.

We could see the changes in each other – older, not so quick on our feet, though not necessarily any slower of mind. We were there to inter Tim’s mother, Jane, at Arlington National Cemetery, in a piece of ground next to her late husband, Colonel Lee. Tim had brought a vase of her ashes from the lake in North Carolina where he lives. It was a sunny day, on the edge of chill.

A large extended family and we friends walked through the white stones that stretched far off into the distance. A military chaplain of the appropriate faith interwove the facts of Mrs. Lee’s life that must have been provided to him, with thoughts on the military calling and the rewards of heaven. I have been to far colder funerals than this.

It was all handled with military precision as seems appropriate being repeated many times a day amid so many men and women in uniform. The capitol dome was visible in the distance. Tim wore a T-shirt under a new sports coat. I’m not sure he has owned a shirt with a collar since 1995.

Until this visit I had nurtured the unspoken hope that we might renew our collaboration in some new form. But I think that spark has died. We may continue on our individual projects, but we are in another stage of life, one where we look back more than we look ahead. If that sounds too depressing or despondent, it’s only the way all stories end. Hopefully, there were a few good stories –like Richard’s Vietnam vignettes or Tim’s humorous recollections of the many times he maimed himself.

I will remember the way our readers seemed like a large extended family, keeping in touch with cards and emails, birthday wishes, generous comments and contributions. That was why we continued for so many years, and we thanked Richard for the many hours he put in making a place for us to share our stories with the 20,000 strong Recipe du Jour family.

We have been best friends since high school. That’s a long time. Longer than we’ve known our wives, or in Tim’s case, ex-wives. On my drive down from central Pennsylvania to Leesburg, Va., I conjured up memories of some of the best times, moments that I would like to relive for a little while. Like the trip with Tim to New Orleans when we popped the new Stevie Nicks CD in the stereo and watched the gas flares burn off on the oil rigs in the dark. Or driving in Richard’s family station wagon out to Virginia Beach and turning on the radio to hear Richard Harris singing his monumental version of MacArthur Park, everything still unknown and possible.

Did we live up to the promise we saw in each other as teenagers, proud of our brains and creativity and difference from the crowd of high school yahoos? Maybe not. But there are a hundred days and hours I would happily relive again with these guys. Proud to be one of their kind.

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We visited Boston this past week to see my older daughter who is working over the summer between her first and second year of graduate school there. Our younger daughter stayed with her sister, and my wife and I got a hotel room in Brookline, a nice neighborhood within walking distance of the universities and nearby to shops and cafes.

The hotel was in a 19th century brownstone with fewer than a dozen rooms, all high ceilings and big windows looking out onto the street. Below I could see joggers in the rain and young people waiting for the train that stopped up the block.

Everywhere, everyone was young, like in that movie Logan’s Run where everyone dies when they turn 30. I thought constantly of that poem by Yeats, Sailing to Byzantium:

That is no country for old men. The young
In one another’s arms, birds in the trees
—Those dying generations—at their song,
The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.
Caught in that sensual music all neglect
Monuments of unageing intellect.

On Saturday morning we walked through some of the neighborhoods near Brookline, taking stairstep walks down to the streets below. Everywhere the young women carried their yoga mats rolled up and hanging by their hips, coming or going from a class. The young men, sleek and tattooed, filled with attitude and energy, stroked their smart phones on the trains, chatted in line with their dates waiting for a café table.

There are more than 50 colleges and universities in metropolitan Boston. It seemed like we walked past at least a dozen – Boston College and Boston University, Northeastern, Berklee School of Music, schools of technology, the arts, medical schools, small liberal arts schools and campuses that spread for dozens of blocks – my daughter’s college, Simmons, known for its library science and archiving master of science degree, and next door to a beautiful small museum built in the early 1900s for a woman, Isabelle Gardner, who collected art from around the world and brought elegance and culture to Boston’s North End. As we wandered through the rooms of art, looking down on the interior garden, the rains came heavy beyond the windows and we watched pedestrians struggle with their umbrellas in the wind.

We walked for miles through the city, through the public gardens and the Boston Commons, along the Freedom Trail, past Paul Revere’s statue and the Old North Church where the lanterns were hung at the Revolution’s dawn. We took trains everywhere we didn’t walk, clanking and grinding on the turns, old but efficient, like me, maybe.

When I last spent any time in Boston, I was 22 years old, on a road trip for a long weekend, and I knew nothing, not like these sophisticated youth with their bright minds and cosmopolitan sheen. I had never set foot in a fitness club or ordered a meal in an Indian restaurant. I thought of tattoos as something sailors got on a drunk on shore leave. You got a hair cut from some barber who could do a crewcut or a trim, and sneered if your hair was longer than his. But even then I liked the city, the first all-science fiction bookstore I had ever seen, the first Irish pub, the same trains, and the feeling that something life-changing could happen around any corner.

I had my youth in another city, San Francisco, though it was long ago. And my life was changed around some corners, on the N-Judah streetcar, out on the foggy streets near the Pacific Ocean, and on Russian Hill on golden afternoons, following the stairsteps down San Francisco hillsides to North Beach, looking out toward the bay. Oh, was I caught in that sensual music…

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There was always a breeze blowing in off the sea and even the hottest days were bearable in the summers of my early teens there in the town of Key West on the Straits of Florida between the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico out where the Gulf Stream begins.

In the cool mornings the rain came for twenty minutes and washed the streets clean.  Down at the docks along Roosevelt Boulevard the houseboats bobbed in the brackish water and boys in cutoff jeans threw themselves off the ends of the piers. I lived a mile away on a man-made island connected by a causeway to the big island of Key West. All around us was water and the tall white cumulus clouds passing overhead like sailing ships going out to sea. The water of our island was clearer than by the piers and you could see down among the rocks where the Florida lobsters hid. I could see their wiry black antennae through twelve feet of clear green water and my friends and I could swim down to them and catch them with our hands.

Most of the summer was spent out of doors, in the water or the ball field or bicycling around the town. There were a few small shops and a barbershop on our island, which was owned by the navy and had many blocks of new, neat concrete duplexes painted shades of beige and laid out in small circles along straight roads.  It was like any suburb and all of the fathers came out and watered their lawns in the evening and trimmed the grass on Saturday afternoon.  It was also like a company town where all the fathers went to work on one of the big naval bases. But the true town was only ten minutes away by bicycle.

Saturday mornings I rode my bike into the town to a neighborhood near the high school to hang out with my friend Carl.  These were streets of older houses, covered in shade and half hidden by thick tropical bushes. It was cool in the mornings here. Carl was a one- sport athlete, a long distance runner.  At thirteen, he was in serious training for the Olympics, skinny and red haired and dedicated. During the week, summer or winter, it was five miles a day.  But on Saturdays, it was twenty miles, and I would ride along beside him until I grew too bored and pedaled home.

Summer was Navy League baseball on the naval base downtown where my father worked.  By this age most of us had been playing for five or six years and had learned the game. These were real contests with head first slides and wicked fast balls. Our star pitcher was an almost six-foot-tall African-American named Harris, who threw so hard my hand stung in my catcher’s mitt.

The armed services had been integrated for a long time but at the Fifth Street Baptist Church they were still discussing what we would do if black people tried to join our congregation. It was a contentious issue, almost as serious as the earlier worries over electing a Catholic president.  The consensus was no to the Catholic and yes to integration, but no black people asked to join our church and when Kennedy visited Key West after the Cuban Missile Crisis and waved to us from his open car, we were all won over.

Those summers I floated through the days with the high clouds over head and my face below the water with a  snorkel in my mouth and bright fish darting around beyond my mask. Next to me were the shadows of my friends, likewise floating on the surface of our days, the sun casting their outlines deep down into the stream.

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