Thursday, October 20, 2016

"Soul clap its hands and sing'

                                   That is no country for old men. The young 
                                    In one another's arms, birds in the trees

     Ever since Google maps started listing 'L' stations, I take the train everywhere. Why bother with a cab? Trains are convenient, usually faster, and cost a lot less.  
     Plus the 'L' pulses with life, energy. The middle aged suburbanites on the Metra gaze at their phones in dull silence, like cows in a pen. The city kids tumble on and off the trains, shouting, laughing, practically dancing in place.
      Or such is my romantic view of it.
     So I took the Brown line from the Merchandise Mart to Sedgwick Tuesday to meet a friend for lunch at Kanela's Breakfast Club on Wells Street. Try the barbecue chicken salad. Mmm.
     While I was in the neighborhood, I stopped at the Up Down Cigar Shop to pick up a couple Rocky Patels as a treat. And now I'm taking the train back to the paper. 
    Most people stand by the door, but that gets crowded, makes it hard for others to get in and out. So I step into the center of the train. Considerate. The train is full, there isn't a seat, but that's okay. I can stand for two stops, or 20. I'm a man in motion, moving through the city, on the 'L,' healthy, happy, or as close to happy as I come. 
    A young woman is sitting next to me. I don't notice her until she speaks.
    "Would you like my seat?" she says. I look around, to see who she's talking to. She's talking to me. I look down at her face. About 20. I'd almost guess Navajo, by her cheekbones and her gleaming black hair, but that can't be. Probably Hispanic. A college student maybe.

                                Those dying generations—at their song,
                                The salmon-falls, the mackerel-crowded seas,
                                Fish, flesh, or fowl, commend all summer long
                                Whatever is begotten, born, and dies.

    "No thank you," I say, automatically then, unable to resist, jut out my lower lip and add petulantly, "Nobody has ever offered me a seat before." But she has already looked away, and I do the same. 
     Fifty-six. A bit grey in the beard, yes, but I thought in a dashing, Richard Branson sort of way. Not in a geriatric, young-people-offering-me-a-seat way. I keep my gaze level, watching the apartments roll past. 
     "A person is always startled when he hears himself seriously called an old man for the first time," Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr. wrote in 1858, when he was ...ulp... 49. 
     Then again, Holmes lived to be 85, old enough to see his son, Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., the future Supreme Court Justice, rise to the high court of Massachusetts. Still plenty of time to get used to my role in the universe. 
    Besides, the offer is a good thing, to see the young offering their elders a seat. And kids, really, they aren't able to judge how old people are. Everybody over 30 is ancient. You can't feel bad about that. Though of course I do, a little. No one wants to grow old, though we all do. Most of us, that is. Nothing to do but accept it. Growing old, remember, beats the alternative.  Yeats, as always, points the way out in his "Sailing to Bzyantium."
                                          An aged man is but a paltry thing,
                                          A tattered coat upon a stick, unless 
                                          Soul clap its hands and sing, and louder sing
                                      For every tatter in its mortal dress

     That's a plan. The doors slid open at the Mart stop and, not looking again at my would-be benefactress, I put on my bravest face, not quite clapping and singing, but striding out of the train with all the purpose and dignity and vigor I can muster.


  1. Like at least a half dozen women I know I was molested in Trumpian fashion on the L on two different occasions. Also verbally harassed several times. Never on the " boring" Metra. Sorry but I don't have your romantic views of the L.

  2. I think I was 47 the first time I got the senior discount at White Castle. To make it worse, I had just bicycled 5 miles and strode into White Castle like the well-conditioned athlete I thought myself to be.


  3. Lose the beard, you'll look younger.

  4. My first time was when I was out jogging and a little boy of about 8 jeered at me, "How you doin', old man?"

    I didn't snap at him, "I'm only 59, you little brat." Instead, I challenged him to a footrace. And I didn't let him win.

    Yes, I'm a horrible person. Why do you ask?

  5. As a young woman I was harassed on the 'L' a few times, and as an older woman I've been robbed once and been the victim of an attempted robbery a second time. But that doesn't begin to dampen the joy I feel riding it. I grew up in a small town and moved to Chicago from Detroit, which of course lives (and as it turns out, dies) by the car. When I came to Chicago for my job interview I asked at the end what the best way of getting back to the airport was. They sent me downstairs to the 'L' and I was hooked. How wonderful to be racing past all those backed-up cars on the Kennedy. What fascinating people. And the fun of any train ride.

    The standard response to an offer of a seat, by the way, is to say "I'm fine, but that's so nice of you to offer." Let them have the warm glow of their good deed.

    1. Ann -- I'm glad you posted this, as a counterbalance to the first comment. Life serves everybody troubles, and it unwise to sour on life because of it. You're absolutely correct about the proper response -- surprise made me inelegant. I assume I will have many more chances to hone my reply.

  6. My old man moment was at a store with my son and it took a moment to understand the cashier's comment, but I realized that she thought I was my son's grandfather.

  7. Sailing to Byzantium is a lovely poem. Full of Irish music.

    Your response to the young lady's offer was churlish, but understandable. With time and age you will, no doubt, come to accept such gestures merely as kindnesses to be cherished rather than intimations of mortality. As Leigh Hunt famously did when he wrote:

    "Jenny kissed me when we met
    Jumping from the chair she sat in
    Time, you thief, who love to get
    Sweets into your list, put that in!
    Say I'm weary, say I'm sad.
    Say that health and wealth have missed me
    Say I'm growing old, but add.
    Jenny kissed me."

    Tom Evans

  8. Why would you say that I had 'soured on life" That was truly a poorly thought out comment. Saying that my view of the L is not a romantic one , given the fact that I was physically assaulted during my rides (and this is not a unique experience among women I know), is hardly an indication that I have 'soured" on life. I am a huge fan of yours generally and disappointed by the lack of thought you gave to that response.

  9. I wasn't speaking of you, particularly. How would I know what your view on life is? What I was trying to do was shift into the general, precisely so as not to risk saying anything hurtful about your remark, since you seemed, from how you were presenting yourself in that email, someone who had some bad experiences packed in your baggage. Look at it from my point of view. I post something sort of soft and whimsical and poetic about a place -- the L, a neighborhood, a park, whatever, doesn't matter the locale. The very first comment is someone rearing up and saying, "I had a horrible experience there! I hate it!" Rather than the lack of thought you suppose, I was trying to be delicate. Which I will continue to do. I'm glad you like the blog, and being a victim gives one a certain power and sense of entitlement. But it isn't all about you. If you're a fan of me, perhaps you'll give my opinion some consideration.

  10. No this isn't about " doesn't matter the locate" I think what you are missing is that harassment on public transportation...that specific location... is a huge problem for women. This wasn't about my personal one random bad experience. Studies done by Washington Metro indicated that a third of women faced harassment and started ad campaigns to stop it. France found a big problem with their public transportation in this regard. It's a universal problem on unmonitored public transport ( unlike metra with conducters heavily present) . Your " hey why would anyone want that boring Metra over the much cooler L" attitude was one that I thought could use a little informing.

    1. I'm not missing it, I'm writing about something else. In other places, I've written about the separate cars they have for women on the Tokyo subway. I will point out that I didn't say "hey why would anyone want that boring Metra" -- I just say I prefer one over the other, and immediately point out it is a romantic view. And I am not a woman. I deleted a judgmental comment here on you because I felt it was harsh, but again, a writer is entitled to choose a subject, and the fact that this social ill exists doesn't mean that raising it in the way you did isn't odd. If you actually care about this situation, you might want to consider being a less rebarbative advocate for your cause.

  11. Sigh. Looking up "rebartative". Or rather, Ooooh, looking up "rebartative"!


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