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Location: Stevens Point, Wisconsin, United States

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A funny thing happened...

Col du Courchevel - 26 Aug 2014
...on the way home from the coffee shop today. As usual, I had gone over to read after lunch. There's something comfortably anonymous about public spaces, as people as diverse as Samuel Johnston and Jean-Paul Sartre have attested. Anyway, I was putting my iPad and reading glasses back in my pack to bicycle home when I became aware of the audio in the shop. The twangy soprano of Dolly Parton was covering an Alvin Carter song. The lyric got stuck in my head:

            Oh no, I cannot take your hand
            God never gives us back our youth...

and stayed there all through my swim workout. (Actually, I found iambic hexameter works kinda well for freestyle drills.) So I'm at the bar post-workout, having a beer and some of the free popcorn provided members at the Tucson Racquet and Fitness Club (across the street from our house here) where I swim every day. I'm still thinking about the song, which is in fact an elegy about a long-ago lover's reappearance and the impossibility of renewing old affection. I connect this with an email conversation I've been having with a friend and former colleague about the elegaic mood. This is where it gets funny. Because George Bilgere's clever poem Grecian Temples pops into my head. It's a comic elegy. See if you don't agree:

Because I'm getting pretty gray at the temples,
which negatively impacts my earning potential
and does not necessarily attract vibrant young women
with their perfumed bosoms to dally with me
on the green hillside,
I go out and buy some Grecian Hair Formula.

And after the whole process, which involves
rubber gloves, a tiny chemistry set,
and perfect timing, I look great.
I look very fresh and virile, full of earning potential.
But when I take my fifteen-year-old beagle
out for his evening walk, the contrast is unfortunate.
Next to me he doesn't look all that great,
with his graying snout, his sort of faded,
worn-out-dog look. It makes me feel old,
walking around with a dog like that.

It's not something a potential employer,
much less a vibrant young woman with a perfumed bosom
would necessarily go for. So I go out
and get some more Grecian Hair Formula—
Light Brown, my beagle's original color.
And after all the rigmarole he looks terrific.
I mean, he's not going to win any friskiness contests,
not at fifteen. But there's a definite visual improvement.
The two of us walk virilely around the block.

The next day a striking young woman at the bookstore
happens to ask me about my parents,
who are, in fact, long dead, due to the effects of age.
They were very old, which causes death.
But having dead old parents does not go
with my virile, intensely fresh new look.

So I say to the woman, my parents are fine.
They love their active lifestyle in San Diego.
You know, windsurfing, jai alai, a still-vibrant sex life.
Grecian Temples
And while this does not necessarily cause her
to come dally with me on the green hillside, I can tell
it doesn't hurt my chances.

I can see her imagining dinner
with my sparkly, young-seeming mom and dad
at some beachside restaurant
where we would announce our engagement.

Your son has great earning potential,
she'd say to dad, who would take
a gander at her perfumed bosom
and give me a wink, like he used to do
back when he was alive, and vibrant.

       --George Bilgere, The White Museum [Autumn House, 2010]


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