They put a pole in my hands and the years fill up with photos. My mother with her fishing pole. My father with his fishing pole, a pipe in his lips. All eyes on the water.
These old drug store pictures I remember, but I hardly take pictures anymore. Where did the magic go? The old mojo? Today the cameras are idiot simple, take sharper pictures than the finest Leica M3 or Hasselblad ever did, but have no romance. They make no demands and express no desire to be touched, offer no intimacy of delicate gears, knurled knobs, fine glass viewers, numbers, conversations of distance and depth of field demanding knowledge. Where is the companionship of a familiar and well used possession? These are modern machines, designed not to need respect or even understanding and we do not love them in return. When they fail us we throw them away without sentiment and replace them cheaply.
Relationships too when they fail are easily replaced with an app and an application. Apply online to Match.com, when your first relationship fails we take the next in line.
In the mall here, watching the girl ringing up the customer in the China Wok concession I wonder who she is. These girls, Asian or Mexican are rarely pretty. I look at her plain and honest face long and long and wonder where she comes from. Probably some small town in China, maybe the mainland with any one of hundreds of dialects. Is she in school? Is she homesick? No doubt, but her face shows no hint of defeat. And does she have a photo album where loved people hold fishing poles?
I haven’t looked at my own photos in any serious way in years. Once they meant the world to me, they still do theoretically, but I don't commune with the ghosts like I used to, as with dragging years I get closer to becoming a ghost myself.
These days I prepare myself for death. Not meanly, or impatiently. More like one choosing clothes for the suitcase. Death is not a young man's game. But goals and ambition are not always an older man's game. Things change. You reach a point in your life where you feel the big adventures are over and you want to make sense of what has happened. To pull it into a line and tug it tight and try to comprehend it in a single glance.
"Vanity of vanities," says the Preacher, "Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What advantage does man have in all his work which he does under the sun? All is vanity and the chasing after wind." You know you're getting closer to the grave when your favorite book in the Bible is Ecclesiastes. But there is something to be said for that. All the great projects of my professional life and youth, the things which seemed so fearfully important at the time. They're gone. Time has washed them away. Everything passes away. Even the people we love eventually exit the stage of our life, pass downstream and over a waterfall somewhere off.
In one of my stories Father Delmar writes to Nixie "When I was your age I wanted to be a saint." That's me speaking too. That's me. My first and most ambitious goal in my green years was to be no less than perfect, to reach enlightenment. I was asking the wrong question, I should have been asking - why? What would it look like if you did? What would it matter?
And there is vanity blooming in me as I grow older,as a friend gently pointed out to me recently. It shows. I fear for my hair color. The size of my belly. The wobble of my gait. The dead reek of my breath. The slouch of my standing. What do the ladies think of me? What do they think of me now, these ladies? What will they think of me tomorrow evening? Ladies? Think of me? Why don't you think? Ladies? Laugh at me? Secretly? Mermaids - sing to me. Please please sing.
I try to comprehend the past like a man lost looking blinkingly at a trail map trying to match up the compass and the trees. Holding up my hand to forestall the very moment. The Chinese girl goes on ringing up customers. She is in the moment like a Buddha. If she's homesick she isn't aware of it, moving in the endless fugue of Now the way animals and babies do.
Fixed on her face like a star, I want to feel the voice and heartbeat of each person in the crowd. I want to feel the larger activity buzzing in the hive of shops. The tiny dramas taking place. A man by the Orange Julius holding his cell phone to one ear, a finger in the other, his face looking as though he is, at this very instant, hearing something that will change his life.