My dad remembered being a little boy, lying on the floor of the dining room, looking up at the dinner table, the chandelier, the pictures on the wall, the china in the cabinet—and worrying to his little self, "How am I going to get all this stuff?"
I'm turning 50 today. I have gotten all the stuff, and the house to hold it in.
The house whose heavy wooden front door I push open every Sunday morning to collect The New York Times and to look around my leafy old Chicago street and to marvel, mindfully and nearly prayerfully, in my boxer shorts—
—one more week, here.
My wife—my college sweetheart, can you believe that?—isn't awake yet. My teenage daughter is sleeping in, too. My friends and often indistinguishable colleagues, many more and infinitely better than I could ever have prepared for—they are also quiet.
So I settle into my dad's old armchair, and I open the paper.
Sports. Business. Arts and Entertainment. Travel. It's as if it was organized around my life.
And the obituaries, where I contemplate not just how short life is but how long! and how much might be achieved! early, middle and late! and how one might graciously spend the years in between. And the survivors. Whether or not any information on them is known, there are always survivors.
Then I finish my coffee and pour a big screwdriver, to help make the opinions seem interesting after all these years.
I find myself reading the last paragraph of the column first, and only if that's interesting do I go to the beginning to see how the writer got there. I don't have time for wild goose chases.
And I don't need more opinions.
I need fewer.
(Fewer words, too: Are we really more articulate for all these words we're all using like nouveau riche linguistics perfessers—"fake news," "micro-aggressions," "tropes" and "privilege"? Or would we be better off using the old words more truly? For instance, I have the same set of golf clubs that I bought in 1994. The other day, with one of those old mallets, I hit this shot from the island in the distance, into a 30-mph crosswind, over the trees to your right. Why am I telling you this? Young men try to keep track. Old men ramble, and boast.)
[Fewer everything, actually.]
My dad's best friend Carl Ally—a legendary New York adman—said late in his life that you spend the first half of your adulthood acquiring things, and the second half of it disposing of them. So that at the end all you have is all you need: an empty room, with a toilet in the middle of it.
There must be more farewells ahead than hellos. And it's hard saying goodbye.
To things: I once had a 1964 International Harvester Scout that I looked handsome as hell in, that is now hopelessly rusted in a driveway in Cleveland. God damn it.
My 85-year-old father, on his deathbed, sensing my disappointment at how un-gently he was going into that good night, explained: "You only have to say goodbye to me. I have to say goodbye to all of you."
A survivors’ guilt trip.
What am I trying to say?
I love you. I’ll miss you, whether you go first or I do.
Let’s enjoy the hell out of each other in the finite meantime.