I hope never to know it.
Last week, I drove over to an office building near me to pick up my last will and testament. No, there’s nothing you ought to be informed of, it’s just that the law firm that was holding it is moving, and I found myself wondering why they were holding it in the first place.
As they were in the end-stages of the move, I called ahead to ensure someone would be able to meet me and bring along the will. The fellow that came to the front desk introduced himself, and he immediately gave off an air of “I’ve got a few minutes to kill off the clock” so we had a little chat.
He was in his early seventies, and had done his lawyering out of that office since he graduated from law school in the late 70’s. We talked a great deal about our little town and how it had changed over the years. The office he worked in was stood up by my inamorata’s uncle, and her father practiced there too. This fellow knew them both and was full of stories about them. I got to know Catherine’s uncle before he died a few years ago, but her father died about a year before I came on the scene, and so I’ve only come to know him through the remembrances of others. One of the things I have heard—several times—is that he (Catherine’s dad, John) “was good at everything he did”. The fellow I was talking to used those exact words, and the quality of the men I have heard this from leads me to believe this is not puffery.
We have a beautiful painting of a black Labrador retriever hanging in our foyer, and John painted it. There is real genius in the painting, as it is a dark rendering of a black dog in shadow—but the way he used light to sculpt out the dog from the shadow leaves no doubt as to the subject matter and its realism. This dog is perfect. John was also an expert woodworker, and according to my new friend at the law firm, he was a great lawyer.
He told me about a time when John had left the practice and moved out to hang his own shingle, and they were on opposite sides of a bankruptcy case. John’s office was a couple of hundred yards into the center of town, so he walked over one day to talk with opposing counsel as I imagine lawyers do. He said that he walked in, and on an easel was “a masterpiece” of a painting; a portrait of a waterman/sea captain with a oyster in one hand and a knife in the other just about to gain access to the salty treasure. He talked about how perfectly captured the man’s face was. John apparently told him that it wasn’t finished. I was thinking to myself that I couldn’t wait to get home and tell Cat about this, and ask if there were any way that we could find out where it was.
He then continued with the story. He said that he returned a couple of weeks later, and on easel was a painting, but a different one than when he was last there. It was the same canvas, with the same man/man’s face…but he was now portrayed as some kind of circus performer. I was crushed. I wanted the other painting.
Well then, what does any of this have to do with boredom? Well, I’m getting to it.
I was standing in the entrance hall of a law firm that was moving its office across town (downsizing) with a 70-something year old man who had practiced law in that office since I was 14 years old, and it was clear from our chat that he was moving along with the firm to the new digs. As he talked a bit about some of the logistics, I stopped him—and assuming a familiarity to which I was clearly unentitled—I asked him why he was moving? Why not use this as an opportunity to walk away? One of the reasons I asked is that I remember the last few years of Catherine’s uncle’s life—wondering the same thing about him—why he continued to work when he clearly didn’t need the money anymore.
My new friend said, “I’m afraid I’d get bored.” I think this is why Catherine’s uncle kept working—right up until he got sick and passed on.
I thought about that—the concept of getting bored. Oh, I remember being a kid in the summer-time, when it was too early to go outside (my Mom had a 10AM rule—I’ve never really understood why, but that was the rule) and play with my friends—feeling some kind of boredom. But as an adult, I’m not sure I can ever remember being bored. In fact, I generally tend to crave the conditions that I understand lead others to feel it. When I was single, I would sometimes wake up and have coffee on a Saturday morning, and pick up a book. Fourteen or fifteen hours later (after biological breaks and snacking), I’d put it down and go to bed without ever feeling the least hint of boredom. I’ve traveled extensively to other countries all by myself—and filled every waking hour gloriously. Even now—when the girls are off at school and Catherine is traveling somewhere, and I’m left on my own (well, with two dogs and three cats), I don’t get bored. There are too many books to read. There are too many movies to watch. I have too much accumulated fat on my waistline. My balance needs improvement.
I think a lot about retirement, and I probably talk too much about it. People who know me, and people who think they know me, often say things like, “you’re gonna miss what you do; you need to find something to replace it or you will get BORED.” My new friend obviously believes that’s exactly what would happen to him.
I don’t think that is my lot. Too many great books remain to be read, too many interesting places remain to be visited. I look now and then at the cultural and academic opportunities around me—even way out here on Maryland’s Eastern Shore—and I get a little mad about not being able to partake because I’m still chasing that filthy lucre.
Hell, maybe I’ll take some art lessons.
Were We Tougher?
Life handed me a real delight recently when I joined two high school classmates for dinner. Judy and Jeanne were hobnobbing about in nearby St. Michaels, and had arranged for me to join them for dinner in Easton. I had duly entered the dinner in my online schedule when made, only to forget about it until I received the meeting notice 10 minutes before the event. As I had just taken a beautiful ribeye off the grill, sliced it perfectly, and was dancing around on the porch pre-dinner with the lovely and talented Catherine to “The Day the Music Died”, I said “oh shit—I forgot about this”. Catherine had already agreed to join us, but since she was in her PJ’s (love that girl), she suggested I go on without her while she wrapped up dinner for future consumption.
I hurried off and was only a few minutes late. My classmates were seated and lovely, and for the next two hours we reminisced and shared tales of the last forty years. Both are enthusiastic reunion goers, so I have had quinquennial conversations with both, and since Jeanne lives 25 miles away or so, I’ve run into her in both Easton and St. Michaels serendipitously.
Discussions of children these days inevitably lead to the difficulties and social anxieties this generation has faced/is facing, and seemingly, to old crotcheties like myself (not Jeanne and Judy—they are lovely, as we’ve discussed) putting forth the proposition that maybe—just maybe—they aren’t as tough as we were, and that decades of fetishizing life experiences into mental health issues (imagined and unimagined) has in fact, had a downside. Add to the mix, the out-of-control accelerant of social media, and we are where we are.
Now—I am open to the suggestion that I am in fact, a curmudgeon, and that I am engaging in what is REALLY our national past-time, which is intergenerational sniping. So don’t take my word for it that this generation really IS different—take someone who knows. Go over to Jonathan Haidt’s “After Babel” Substack site and read about some of the work that he’s done. Something really HAS changed; for him, a good bit of it comes down to social media, and he’s got the data to support his contentions. In general, I think he gives the mental health industry a bit of a pass—in that there is big money in the performatizing (perhaps that’s not a word) of teen angst, but I’ll leave that one alone for a bit.
I come back to this question of toughness because in conversation with Judy and Jeanne—both were able to tell me of classmates and friends from way-back-when who were REALLY DEALING WITH SOME SERIOUS SHIT, most of which I had no knowledge of. I had no knowledge of it both because I was living a gigantically self-centered life AND because we didn’t have instantaneous means of broadcasting our pathologies for the approval/sympathy of our peers. For one thing, we had to actually TALK with them, mostly in person, but sometimes on the phone, which was connected to the wall and was (in a house with six children) often occupied by another resident. Teens in the 80’s had the time and space to SIT with their problems; there was no speed of light means for networking yourself into an online pity-party—as there is today. Just as nefarious, there was no means to network oneself into an online preen-fest perfect for amplifying the banality of one’s existence.
I guess what I’m getting at is that we were probably a little tougher than this lot, and that the rise of Mental Health Inc. (under our watch!) has helped make it this way. But I don’t think any of us oldsters has the slightest clue what growing up in this “digital Clockwork Orange of a world” that is teen-agery is like.
UVA lost to Duke (I hate Duke with the heat of 10,000 suns) on Saturday night, and it was a classic UVA loss. By that I mean, we may have been beaten by a better team, but we did not play well in the loss. Let’s face it—when UVA loses, it loses ugly (we also tend to win ugly, but that’s different). We couldn’t hit the broad side of a barn, and our guards were terrible. Our shooting woes are incredibly frustrating. But Duke is good, and it shows the value of having first-rate players, even if they are mostly freshmen. After a long season—their (more) talented players are playing well together.
Later today, the field will be announced and we’ll be on to the NCAA Tournament. I have created a Conservative Wahoo Bracket Challenge and you can join in the fun here. The password is: Wahoowa
First prize in the challenge will be an attaboy/girl shoutout from me here at The Conservative Wahoo.
If you’re wondering what second place is, you haven’t been reading the Conservative Wahoo long enough.
"First prize, brand new Cadillac. Second prize, set of steak knives. Third prize, you're fired."
I agree, Bryan, I don't think I will ever get bored. With reading, writing, walking, doing, seeing, wondering.
Beautiful essay, as always.
Don't know if you have access to the Atlantic but you might find this interesting.