I made a new friend in Paris – a journalist who had dinner with me New Years’ Eve before we went to our separate celebrations. He was fun to talk to, though, and we’ve stayed in touch in the month since, through email and the occasional Skype chat, where I struggle to speak in as much French as I can muster from my three years of high school training (despite the fact that his English is way better than my French; I’m stubborn enough to try). The other night he Skyped me from his hotel room in the Dentelles de Montmirail, where he was on assignment – and insisted that I pull up Google and have a look at the mountains there, great jagged knives of granite towering over the Provence countryside. He used to do a lot of mountain climbing there, he said.
“Do you still do that?” I asked. He shook his head. “Porquoi pas?” I asked – why not?
His answer, delivered with a shrug, cracked me up – “eh, these days I am more interested in enjoying wine and good beef.”
I’ve caught myself giving the same kind of shrug about other things recently, and I’ve caught it in my friends as we talk about how we’ve gotten too old for one thing or another. I used to swear by youth hostels when traveling, sharing dorm rooms with strangers in exchange for dirt-cheap digs. I had some great conversations, and some crazy stories of inter-room warfare (one of these days I’ll have to write about how an entire trio of Spanish girls stole my bed from me), but then a couple years ago I splurged on a private room in one hostel – and had an entire closet, bed, desk, and table to myself and the light got turned off when I wanted it to and the window was open just the way I wanted it and hey, why was I suffering with the dorm rooms again?….and ever since I’ve used AirBnB instead.
And when I was younger, I also joined a team of friends on a twice-yearly pilgrimage to Williamstown to compete in the college radio station’s trivia contest – a manic all-night affair which ran from midnight to 8 am, featuring pop-culture trivia, costumed skits, occasional singing, and the ability to break into one of the campus rooms and hotwire a phone to the school’s network. We kept ourselves awake through adrenaline, copious bottles of Mountain Dew and the sheer force of will, and through praying someone else in the car would lose the coin toss to decide who’d have to stay awake and drive us all home the next morning. Most of us have dropped away in recent years, though – with only our ringleader, a humor magazine writer who keeps oddball hours still faithfully playing online out of his living room. But recently he persuaded the band to get back together, and a small knot of us gathered to join him. And it was fun for a few hours, feeling that same thrill when you manage to figure out something completely obscure and having all your friends marvel at you. But – at about 3 am, I started to feel my thinking going fuzzy; and instead of trying to grab a catnap in a side room, the way I used to, I thought about how my bed was only a subway ride away and I announced that “sorry, guys, I think I’m gonna go home.” I got some teasing, but….I also got some sleep.
I’m older than I was, and that has something to do with how I’ve changed. But age hasn’t taken away my strength, is the thing. I could probably still have summoned the will to stay and keep playing trivia, and my friend could probably still climb the Dentelles, and suchlike. But – we just don’t want to. What I’m finding is that age isn’t bringing a lack of strength at all – what it’s bringing is a lack of nonsense. I could still stay up late and put up with dorm rooms – but why on earth would I want to, when I can also do something much more comfortable? Climbing a mountain is awesome, but so is a great steak, isn’t it? Loud raucous dancing and concerts are awesome, but – so is a quieter concert where you can sit down and actually make a comment to your friends and have them hear you. Or just watching the whole thing from your couch on pay-per-view. The movie that people line up for on opening night is still the same movie you can see a week later when the crowds are gone and you have your choice of seats.
Realizing this makes me sound old – but it makes me feel smart.
There’s a song I’ve fallen in love with recently, by the folkie Greg Brown – “Who Woulda Thunk It”. The lyrics are about this exact kind of amused reflection over how you’ve changed with age – “we used to say we could eat a horse, but it’s not true/we can’t eat a horse, because we don’t want to.” But the last verse is my favorite – Greg talks about how he used to say he’d have a short and brilliant life and die young like James Dean, but that now “it’s too late to die young”. But then he talks about he and his friends sitting together at the table, sharing wine after supper, all of them marveling over how they’ve aged and singing “who woulda thunk it?” He’s not the only one aging – his friends are all aging with him, and they’re all just as amused at how they’re all changing together.
I’m sending a link to my friend in Paris, and translating the lyrics as well (I think the title would translate to “Qui Aurait Cru”…).