The Alumnus Magazine | Turning Geezer
Some years ago, I sent my death notice to the alumni office of the college from which I graduated. I told them that I had caught my head in the mangle, and therefore was no longer among the living to receive news of homecoming weekends, and letters dunning me for donations to each new college fundraising campaign. It didn't work, of course. They saw right through the death notice, and continued to send me those dunning letters, as well as the college alumnus magazine. If I were shipwrecked on an uncharted island in a remote corner of the Banda Sea, the latest issue of the alumnus magazine would no doubt arrive at my treehouse there right on schedule.
The latest issue of the magazine contains a story about another alumnus, and his picture shows a white-bearded patriarch who obviously belongs in an old folk's home. When I cast my eyes on the fine print - - - and for me, these days, all print is fine print - - - I learned that this doddering elder's college class was a full seven years younger than my own. If he has one foot in the grave, then where are both my feet?
Reminders of this sort come all too often. At an AA meeting the other day, the discussion went on and on about the trials of the senior demographic. White-bearded Chris, who has just turned 65, thanked AA for enabling him to reach such a venerable age. Jim, claiming to be a veritable Methuslah at 69, lamented all the troubles of old age. Sharon, in her early 70s, mused that she had lived long enough to do pretty much everything she could have dreamed of.
Pondering these comments, I was momentarily distracted by a clicking sound, until I realized it was just me, knocking my head against the wall. Rousing myself, I managed to volunteer that, at 80, I had already survived beyond the age of early-onset Alzheimer's Disease, and could look forward to enjoying the upcoming experience right on schedule.
When I receive each issue of the alumnus magazine, I always turn to the obituary section, to see whether or not I am in it. Scanning through the latest one by class year, I found that my classmate Tony Bing had died. I dimly remember Tony as a genial soul, although the truth is I don't remember many of my college classmates at all clearly. One of them, Hank Farrell, made a strong impression on me with his account of summer vacation between the junior and senior years. He spent that summer on a shop-lifting tour of the United States, capping it off in San Francisco by shoplifting a canoe from a sporting goods store.With a background like that, one wonders what Hank could possibly have done after graduation? If he was an English major, maybe he attended graduate school, studying Larceny II and doing lab work in common pilfery - - - then going off to shop-lift the entire discipline (which is even larger, in a sense, than a canoe) by inventing post-modernism.
But that would have been later, much later. Our college days were during the legendary period of the 1950s. According to folklore, in those Eisenhower days, we were petrified with fear of nuclear armageddon or of Communists under the rug, and we trudged through life in a grey flannel shroud of universal conformity.
Not like today, with herds of dazzling independent minds who text each other 20 times a day about the doings of the Goo-Goo Dolls, or what they just saw on Facebook or heard on NPR. But at some point in the past, things changed: an asteroid collided with the earth, or something, and the 50s ended; the dinosaurs went extinct, the Beatles released "Yellow Submarine," medical marijuana, Facebook, and cellphones were invented, and the Modern Age arrived.
It was in homage to Hank's example in the arena of crime that I used to shoplift sticks of pepperoni from the Penn Fruit supermarket near the loft I shared with a couple of classmates in the summer of 1957. That was also the summer I adopted the alias of H.M. Fessenden, as part of my scheme to defraud mail-order book and record companies.
These companies offered a raft of free books or records for joining their mail-order clubs, then expected their members to keep on purchasing. As H.M. Fessenden, I accepted all the free offers, and then wrote to them that poor Mr. Fessenden had caught his head in the mangle and was no longer available to continue his membership.
In punishment for this life of crime long ago, today I stagger under the weight of a house filled with far too many books and CDs. Most of the books are so out of date that I cannot even give them away, let alone sell them. I managed to unload most of my LPs, thank God, after the lights went out on that recording technology. In contrast, my cousin Chip, an obsessive music buff and record collector, has a house crammed to the eaves with not only CDs, but LPs and 78s as well. His heirs and assigns will have an even worse job than mine in unloading his warehouse.
By that time, it looks like CDs will have joined LPs and 78s, not to mention casette tapes, in the Hall of Paleontology. There, they will be displayed under glass, along with the slide rule, the polaroid camera, the typewriter, the telephone booth, the telephone directory, and all the other exhibits in the Museum of Prehistory, including Chip himself, and me, and thee.