Sunday, August 22, 2021

Some thoughts on turning 69 (With Musical Accompaniment by Lyle Lovett)

On this, my 69th birthday, I cannot help recalling William Holden’s line – well, OK, Paddy Chaveysky’s line, but Holden said it – in Network: “All of a sudden, it’s closer to the end than it is to the beginning, and death is suddenly a perceptible thing to me – with definable features.”

In other words, I can no longer consider myself middle-aged. Unless, of course, I plan on making it to 140. To put it another way: I am now 17 years older than Francois Truffaut when he died, 12 years older than Humphrey Bogart when he died, 11 years older than George Harrison when he died, 10 years older than Clark Gable when he died, 6 years older than Lee Marvin when he died – and, not incidentally, 6 years older when William Holden died. 

And yes: 33 years older than my mother when she passed away.

Every time a major holiday rolls around, I find myself thinking: How many more Christmases will I get to see? How many more Thanksgivings?  How many more Independence Days?

And, perhaps more important: How many more film festivals do I get to scam someone, anyone, into picking up my tab so I can attend? (Priorities, people!)    

On the other hand: I have already fought cancer, and cancer lost. And if the SOB wants a rematch, hey, I’m ready, even if my friend Roger Ebert is no longer around to be in my corner. I remain reasonably sentient and, despite arthritic knees, ambulatory. I am still paid to do two things I love to do – writing and teaching – even though it doesn’t look like I’ll ever make the grade as full-time college faculty, and I gave up on winning a Pulitzer Prize way back when The Houston Post shut down. I can’t really think of retiring, because I owe too many people too much money. So I will press on, like those damn boats that F. Scott Fitzgerald describes at the end of The Great Gatsby, and continue to enjoy the ride whenever possible, as much as possible.

Besides: Not only do I still get paid to go to the movies, I get paid to talk about movies (to students, who have to listen). And thanks to my status as senior writer for Cowboys & Indians magazine, I still get to interview notables like Kevin Costner, Diane Lane, Matthew McConaughey and Bruce Dern. Truly, as my immigrant father recognized, this is the land of opportunity.

Looking ahead, I see books yet to write (and/or revise), movies yet to see (and review), students yet to teach, people yet to meet and interview, and places yet to go. (But no friends to mourn – only lives to celebrate.) I once wrote that, if I had any choice in the matter, I would like to shuffle off this mortal coil while in the line of duty – preferably at a film festival, after seeing something absolutely terrific, or at least really, really entertaining. On the other hand, if I wind up being shot by a jealous husband at age 90, well, that wouldn’t be too shabby, either.

There’s another bit of movie dialogue I’m remembering today. From Citizen Kane: “Old age. It's the only disease, Mr. Thompson, that you don't look forward to being cured of.”

I’ll drink to that. And to this. Take it away, Lyle Lovett:

In the darkest hour, in the dead of night, 
As the storm clouds gather, and the lightning strikes,
And the thunder rolls, and the cold rain blows,
The future it holds, what God only knows.

And I will rise up, and I will rise up, 
Though I be a dead man, I said yes and amen. 
And I will stand tall, and I will stand tall, 
Until I meet my end, until I meet my end. 

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