ON THE AVENUES: Running over the same old ground.


Islands in the stream of consciousness …

For those first ten years after college, my life was relatively simple. Armed with my handy, all-purpose degree in philosophy, I’d stand behind a counter selling something, sit behind a desk pretending to teach something, go to Europe for a while and do many varied somethings, come back completely busted, and start the process of “somethinging” anew.

My liver managed to survive frequent punishment, and so another decade commenced. The routine was changed up just a bit. The counter morphed into a bar, for serving and teaching alike. The trips to Europe got shorter and occurred more often. Bicycling was added to the short list of obsessions. I became a radical beer revolutionary, and we actually won the war, although eventually the revolution devoured its own just like it always does.

But this hardly counts as news, and the analysis can be deferred until another time.

As with any other human, there were highs and lows, joy and pain, periods in which I thought life made sense, and other times when it didn’t come anywhere close. Through it all, the only constant was lingering self-doubt.

I never felt as if I knew ENOUGH, and whatever role I happened to be playing at the time, it invariably seemed transitory, just a bit part perpetually up for audition. Had I bothered to notice that role-playing was a way of hiding, maybe I’d have had a better idea of who I really was.

“Can you see the real me, can you – can you?”

Those are the words of Jimmy, Quadrophenia’s teenaged protagonist, as written by Pete Townshend for The Who’s 1973 rock opera. Townshend’s songs began speaking directly to me six years later, when I was at a low ebb.

Small wonder that I still listen to Quadrophenia regularly. The music addresses, if not resolves, feelings of melancholy, uncertainty and confusion. These feelings are not as intense as before, but they never entirely go away.

My guess is these emotions are to be expected when we’re young, although I’d have hoped to given them the slip by now. Still, by the time a pirate looks at forty or more, the urgency of these functions has lessened, thankfully.

It seems nature requires of us only a handful of preordained outcomes, including birth, sustaining life long enough to reproduce, and then death. We’ve managed to subvert the original intent, which is for procreation to take place early — and then die as you please.

At the age of 21, you needn’t know who you are or where you’re going in order to make babies. One merely must grasp certain how-to basics from the procedures manual. The chapter on all-purpose troubleshooting becomes available (if not readily comprehensible) only later, when we’re well past our sell-by dates. After all, throughout much of human history our moments of expiration came around the age of fifty, if not sooner.

“Thanks so much for your service to the species, and now your children will care for you – or otherwise. If your marbles remain roughly in place, there is time at last to ponder the imponderables. Congratulations, and goodbye. NEXT.”

It remains that to be male and childless, whether by choice or circumstance, thrusts one into the realm of the avuncular. That’s fine by me, so listen to Uncle Roger, because the paybacks are coming due.

By which I mean that so often during my 25 years behind the bar, folks offered to buy me a beer, which I politely refused on the basis that my company’s profits already were being consumed quite handily by its chief officers.

Instead I asked that you hold on to your kind thought, deposit the money, draw some interest, and buy both of us tall, cellar-temperature treats — but only when I gave the signal.

(By the way, it you’re intent on describing beer with a word like “frosty” or a term like “ice-cold”, I hope you’re also referring to the top-shelf bourbon as “rotgut” and Robert Parker’s fave Wine Down Wednesday recommendation as “plonk.” I hate seeing beer degraded, even degraded mass market swill. Questions? Good, because the topic is tiresome).

Please be informed that I’ll be 60 years of age come August. The time for those beers draws ever nearer, albeit not to be redeemed all at once, please.

Thank you for your consideration.

My wife has family in Plymouth, England, where her mother was born and raised. Twice during the past decade we’ve spent time in Plymouth for visits with her extended family.

Famous for its nearly perfect natural port, and for being the centuries-long home of the Royal Navy (supposedly Sir Francis Drake engaged in the serenity of lawn bowling as the Spanish Armada approached), Plymouth also was a launching point for disgruntled Old World escapes bound for America.

The city lies on the left bank of the River Tamar in the county of Devon, with Cornwall beginning on the opposite bank. In its wider expanse the English counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Somerset are referred to as the West Country.

The reason I’m explaining all this is because I’ve taken to following the fortunes of Plymouth’s football club, Argyle. You needn’t be bored with the details, as Argyle competes in League 2, which actually is the fourth league (of four) in terms of rank, or “Single A” for those of you who know baseball.

As with other sports, I devote little precious time to watching games and matches, but I read about the results and keep an eye on the league table (the standings). Plymouth won its match last Saturday, and so I visited the Plymouth Herald web site to catch up.

And down the rabbit hole I went a-plunging.

It took a few minutes to read the account, then an hour to glance at other articles while feeling my imagination start running rampant.

Recalling our previous stays, I began looking at maps of the West Country, while in my mind tasting Cornish pasties and pints of cask-conditioned ale, imagining an entire summer to do nothing except wander these territories by foot, bicycle, bus and train — anything but a car, because they’re the problem, not the solution, damn it.

The phone rang and the bubble burst. Back in New Agony, the ache of unrequited longing enveloped me. Granted, it’s easy enough to view traveling as synonymous with escape, to leave behind the humdrum of everyday life and see other sides and different places. In addition it’s probably true that for the most part, they’re just as humdrum as we are.

However, a boy can dream. So can an adult.

All things being equal, and lottery winnings in pocket, I’d be perfectly content to spend the remainder of my life wandering the West Country, then Bavaria, and Italy — maybe Chile or Canada’s eastern seaboard.

Maybe escape really is the real me, after all.

Recent columns:

January 16: ON THE AVENUES: I won’t belong to any Dry January that would have me as a member.

January 9: ON THE AVENUES: Elusive sounds of silence.

January 2: ON THE AVENUES: On patience, grieving, puzzles and a necessary sabbatical.

December 26: ON THE AVENUES: Four more years? Heaven help us all, but there are five reasons to be optimistic.