I don’t usually do this.
I’m a cranky old guy, I guess. I don’t feel cranky most of the time, but I tend to be a loner, happy within my own thoughts. I like people, but most of the time I’d rather they leave me alone. As a result, people think I’m cranky, and they avoid me. Which, don’t get me wrong, is fine with me. I just wish I had a … warmer public image.
So here I go.
I’ve got a crummy job that I hate, that doesn’t pay very well or engage my mind. My coworkers, with a few exceptions, are dolts I wouldn’t associate with under any other circumstances. But I’ve been there so long — and I work so cheap — that I’ve been able to hold onto the gig through three rounds of layoffs and a whole lot of insubordination. And those few exceptions mentioned above are such special people that I sometimes wonder how I would get through my day there without a chat with one of them.
I’ve never bought a house, or anything bigger than a car. There was a time, just a few years ago, when this made me look like a pathetic dumbass. Almost everybody I knew bought a fixer-upper when they were twenty, and traded up every few years until they were living in beautiful, expensive homes in good neighborhoods. But I didn’t think there was any good reason to “own” a piece of this planet, so I have always lived in apartments or rented houses. I mean, the earth was here for a long time before I was, and it will be around long after I’m gone, so how is it that I get to claim any part of it as “mine”? My friends told me I was throwing my money away, making the landlord rich, and building no equity for myself. I won’t belabor this, but I’ve still got most of my money and pretty cheap rent, despite the horrendous (and unfair) reversal in the real estate market.
When I was in high school I finally talked my mother into buying me a guitar. It shouldn’t have taken so long. My parents should have seen my interest in music and encouraged me from a young age to explore the field. But they were in over their heads with five kids and one big drinking problem (my dad’s), which made them preoccupied and broke, so it took me about five years to convince my mom to take a chance and spring for an instrument. It was from Sears, not the cheapest one, but close, and I played it every single day for at least two years. I started my first band during the first year. That guitar led to another — electric — guitar, then another, and so on into a world of songs and gear and gigs. I rode a crazy rock’n’rolller coaster for decades, and eventually gave up trying to make a living at it. But I taught myself the language of sounds and rhythm and rhyme and harmony, and I made music with some of the best people in the world, and — against all odds if I do say so myself — I’m still rockin’, and there is no better therapy for me.
I grew up in California when the first Governor Brown was in office. A lot of politicians claim they want to be “the education President” or “the education Governor,” but Edmund G. “Pat” Brown, once he was in office, seemed to be trying to build enough colleges in the state so that everyone would have one within walking distance. I was a bright kid, but my parents didn’t have a clue, and my home life was so chaotic that I didn’t get around to applying to college until it was too late to get into a four-year school. So I started at a community college, transferred to a state college (San Francisco State, if you must know) and finished with a bachelor’s degree in semantics. All together I probably spent less than $3,000 of my own money.Â I had a scholarship, a couple of grants and a small loan. It’s only a BA from a state college. It won’t get me a seat on the Supreme Court, but I learned how to think, how to tell truth from baloney, and how to set goals and make them happen. Kids today don’t have as much chance at this as I did, and the way things are looking, soon education will be an unattainable luxury for all but the wealthiest and the luckiest.
Marriage, according to a recent survey, is becoming obsolete. When I was just eighteen, full of worldly wisdom, I not only predicted this, I embraced it. Who needs marriage, I would say. It’s an unnatural state, a way for society and religion to control the people, a vestigial custom held over from the days of subsistence farming. Even when I was a teenager we knew that half of all marriages ended in divorce. Did we need more reason to skip the whole archaic thing? In my thirties, though, I had a friend, a smart, funny, beautiful girl, and one day I realized that I just didn’t want to live without her. Occasionally these days we debate how it happened, and whose idea it was, but after more than 30 years of marriage I guess we are allowed a little gentle disagreement.
So thanks. Thank you, HugeCorp (my evil employer). Thanks Pat Brown and San Francisco State. Thanks for the cool guitar, Mom, and the lifetime of music. And thank you, Sweetheart, for the love and magic you still bring me.
I’m a lucky guy, after all.