6 Unburned Pieces of The Mind
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Tying age to the tail of a dog

"What shall I do with the absurdity—
O heart, O troubled heart—this caricature,
Decrepit with age that has been tied to me
As to a dog’s tail." -- Yeats, The Tower

Wednesdays used to be my long day of the week, and often I wouldn’t get home until 6 pm. To have a twelve hour day in the middle of the week sometimes felt much longer than necessary, especially during the winter months of December and January. Since a recent change in schedule to accommodate an earlier time for staff meetings, I now get home around 4 pm.

Having a couple extra hours does make a difference, especially now that the days are getting longer. Weather wise, this past week has been perfectly scripted: cold mornings and mild sunny days with temperatures in the low forties. Although tomorrow that may change with the prediction of one to two inches of snow. As I’ve been saying quite a bit these past few days, when it looks like spring with only a couple more weeks of winter to go, you may as well as take advantage of it before it gets all mixed up again.

As soon as I got home today, I took off my shoes, put my boots on and headed right back out the door for a walk about town. The sun at this time of day is especially bright and is beginning to set more directly to the west. As I amble on down Waldo Ave, I spot a nickel on the sidewalk. Not thinking much of it, I put it in my pocket and continue on.

As I step off the curb to cross Main St. to the Post Office, I find another coin. This time, a dime. I know I’ve prayed to receive good fortune on my birthday before, but I don’t think this is quite what I had in mind. Fifteen cents these days won’t buy much of anything except maybe a couple of Fireballs from Belfast Variety.

The last time 15 cents meant something was when I was twelve years old. I was a paperboy for the Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, MA. After I finished my route of delivering papers around the neighborhood of Center and West Housatonic, I would stop in Hashim’s Grocery on my way home and buy a Drake’s Devil Dog and a ten once bottle of Coke. Back then Devil Dogs came in a single serving package for a nickel, but now they come in a package of two and cost around 89 cents. It was the perfect snack, that is, if you like devils food with a crème center. I would sit on the bridge over the Housatonic River, and take my time eating my snack cake. When I finished, I’d wash it down with the bottle of Coke. For 15 cents, it was a simple pleasure for a simple price.

Not much for mail today, mostly junk, and yet another invitational letter from the AARP. I think they’re trying to tell me something.

I continue on with my walk and head down toward Front Street to see what’s new with the construction going on at Stinson’s and the new foot bridge built across the Passy. Bought up a few years back, the old Stinson’s Cannery has been under development to become a retail shopping complex with condominiums.

Stripped down to its frame, workers during the last few months have been slowly fashioning what will become the new building. It's a fascinating process, but one that leaves you guessing as to how they're ever going to succeed in making what they have now look like the building that’s been rendered on the drawing posted on a sign that describes the complex that’s been dubbed: Wakeag Landing.

Getting back to my place, I notice I have a message on my answering machine:
“Hey, Dad. Just me calling to wish you a Happy Birthday.”

I reach into my pocket and dig out the nickel and dime I had found, and drop the coins into my change jar. I’m not sure what it is about birthdays. Yet again, I’ve managed to live another year, and considering I’m 52 now, I’m lucky, I suppose, that my only physical ailment in life thus far was a gall bladder that went south a few years back.

Even minus a gallbladder, I don’t feel any differently than I did when I was that twelve year old boy sitting on a bridge eating a Devil Dog. Though as I look at myself in the mirror, it’s quite obvious that something remarkable has happened over the years.

Nevertheless, all mirrors aside, I can no more distinguish how I feel now than I could from when I was 12 to 13, or 17 to 18, or 30 to 40. After 40, though, individual milestones seemed to matter less, especially now that I’ve begun marking in earnest the milestones of my son and daughter.

However, when I was young, birthdays were always anticipated as welcoming recognitions of growing up and becoming an adult. My yearnings were pronounced in simple proclamations to the world: my first bike, my first day at school, my first dance and kiss with Debbie Burns, my first car and license to drive, and, finally, becoming a Marine.

Time seemed like forever, but as I got older, the days and months became shorter. The last few years in particular have gone by in a blur, and before I know it, I find that one day of reckoning when I stand in front of the mirror and see reflecting back at me a marvel of bewilderment, a “caricature” that’s hardly recognizable as the face I’ve so long identified with.

I go into the kitchen and open a can of Friskies for my cat, who’s just recently celebrated his 11th birthday. Unlike me, he doesn’t seem to be the least concerned about his age. But then he never seems to be the least concerned about anything, and appears content with always being in the moment. When he eats, he eats; when he plays, he plays; when he sleeps; he sleeps.

No matter the day, month or season, he’s always one-mindfully in the moment of whatever it is that he’s doing. And so rather than have “age” tied to me like the tail of a dog--always trying to catch up with everyday demands--perhaps I should take a lesson from my cat and do a long stretch like he does, and with one big yawn, simply slow down and just be 52.

By S. L. Cunningham
Village Soup Citizen, 3/14/06: 25