Friday, July 02, 2010

What More Annoying Than A Geezer? A. — A Blog Full O'Geezers!

Today, the inmates take over the geratric asylum. This blog goes from the sublime with Tomothy Egan's elegant ode to gray-haired creativity to John Kelso's jejune catalogue of redneck elder-wiseassisms. If this is (fair & balanced) geezer-veneration, so be it.

[Vannevar Bush Hyperlink — Bracketed NumbersDirectory]
[1] Eags' Favorite Hair-Color Is Gray
[2] A Faux Redneck Tells You "One Damned Thing" (After Another)

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Second-Act Aces
By Timothy Egan

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I used to be a connoisseur of stories about young, doomed geniuses: the F. Scott Fitzgeralds or Vincent van Goghs who died early, broke and crushed, going to their graves before anyone appreciated them. Doomed alcoholic youth were even better, an added edge to their stunted nobility.

A few weeks ago, my colleague Sam Tanenhaus wrote about young writers doomed in another way: those who never lived up to the promise of their early years. Perhaps many young writers now seen as ascendant have actually peaked. He mentioned Herman Melville, delivering Moby-Dick at age 32, and the 27-year-old author of The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway.

But those stories, like the doomed youth parables, no longer hold any inspiration for me. I now look to the late bloomer, somebody who kicks around in frustration and misdirection for decades before going on a brilliant late-innings streak.

When does creativity peak? The second-act aces make a case for middle to late age. Take a look at some of the people who have not simply performed well but done their best work in their later years.

For an athlete who must innovate with age, time is rarely an asset. The 40-year-old Ken Griffey Jr., struggling to keep his batting average above .200 this year just before he retired, was a pathetic sight. And Brett Favre, even with the feat of being the first starting quarterback to win an N.F.L. playoff game at the age of 40, looks time-worn and sluggish when compared to his younger self.But then there is Jamie Moyer, the slow-throwing tosser for the Philadelphia Phillies who at 47 this year became the oldest pitcher ever to beat the Yankees. Almost 20 years ago, Moyer was told he was through — to get out of baseball. That was followed by 10 productive years in Seattle, where I watched the ageless Moyer befuddle the steroid-bulked behemoths of the performance-enhancing-drug age.

His advantages were experience, deception, guile — skills that usually come with added years on the odometer. He could be the athletic prototype for the kind of late-season bloomer that Malcolm Gladwell described in a New Yorker piece on great second acts. For endeavors that require knowledge of craft, and constant experimenting to get it right, age may actually be a benefit, Gladwell said.

You can see that in certain filmmakers. Much as I loved John Huston’s early work — “The Maltese Falcon” and “The Treasure of Sierra Madre” are superb entertainments — the last film of his life, an adaptation of the James Joyce story “The Dead,” is cinematic art of the highest form. At the age of 80, Huston directed the picture from a wheelchair, with oxygen tubes running up his nose.The king of geriatric film genius has to be Clint Eastwood, who turned 80 in May. Starting with “Unforgiven,” when he was 62, Eastwood created at least five masterpieces (my favorite is “Mystic River”), including two that won the Academy Award for Best Picture. And his films are popular, as well. With “Gran Torino” he became at 78 the oldest leading man to reach number one in weekend box office.

In politics, experience often makes for better, more creative leaders. The Hillary Clinton who roams the globe as Secretary of State at 62 is a much better politician, and diplomat, than the policy-making 40-something who had trouble controlling her temper, or getting the results she wanted. Her best work would seem to be ahead of her.

Teddy Kennedy at 70 was a master of the Senate, and light years in legislative creativity ahead of the callow youth who entered the chamber back in 1962. Because the Senate can be a pampered nursing home, many politicians go the other way. Think of John McCain, once the great maverick, becoming ever more cranky, partisan, narrow-minded and petty with every passing day.Writers are a tough call. For every J.D. Salinger, who published The Catcher in the Rye when he was 32, there is a Mark Twain, who brought out The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn at 49. “Huck Finn,” Hemingway said, is the foundation for all modern American fiction, and I agree.

Alan Furst, the literary spy writer who produces atmospheric thrillers every other year or so, is at the top of his game at 69. When he moved to France in 1987 he had yet to make a mark. “I was going to be the best failed novelist in Paris,” he told John Marshall in a Daily Beast piece last year.

Nobody was a better American essayist in the 1970s and 80s than Joan Didion. But the writerly sprint culminating in her late-years memoir The Year of Magical Thinking was breathtaking. She finished the book just days after her 70th birthday.

My favorite septuagenarian inspiration is Norman Maclean, who published the most beautiful, word-perfect novel of the American West, A River Runs Through It, when he was 74. And then he had a second book in him, Young Men and Fire, published after his death at 87. Old, seemingly doomed, and brilliant — a role model for all second-act aces.

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan is the author of four other books, in addition to The Worst Hard TimeThe Good Rain: Across Time and Terrain in the Pacific Northwest, Lasso the Wind: Away to the New West, Breaking Blue, and The Winemaker's Daughter. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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A Wisecracking Old Man Once Said...
By John Kelso

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Wish me a belated happy birthday. On Wednesday, I turned a ripe old 66. Wait, 66 isn't that a road? And at what point does "ripe old" become "turned?"

Still, with age comes pearls of wisdom, or at least clumps of cubic zirconia. So as a public service, I thought I'd share some of my favorite life lessons. No need to take notes, though. None of this stuff will make you chairman of the board:

• Never take investment advice from a guy driving an '84 Tercel.

• Anybody who approaches you in a grocery store parking lot for money so he can buy gas to get back to Friona probably doesn't have a car to put the gas in.

• Don't expect much at a barbecue place that cooks with gas.

• There are two answers to the question, "Where's the best place to put the cat box?" 1. There is no good place to put the cat box. 2. Uzbekistan.

• Remember that if you keep the weeds in your yard mowed short, it almost looks like a lawn.

• No matter how much bigger your paycheck grows, something will come along to eat it up. As soon as your mortgage is paid, your ex will find you and demand child support.

• If somebody sends you an e-mail that says, "This is really hilarious," it's probably not. If somebody sends you an e-mail that says, "You have to read this," you probably don't.

• Despite what they say, just because 18-wheelers are parked out front of a diner doesn't mean the food is good.

• Avoid any motel that brags on its sign about the air conditioning.

• Anybody who uses the abbreviation LOL for "laugh out loud" is probably lying.

• Most of your real friends aren't your so-called friends on Facebook.

• If the doctor says, "This is going to pinch a little," it's going to hurt like hammered carp.

• "This will just take a minute" means this will take at least five.

• Don't get in a bar fight with a guy known as Psycho.

• The best way to get service at a "big box" hardware store is to fake a heart attack.

• Avoid shopping where the "sales team" wears matching T-shirts.

• Never order the chili in Minnesota, Iowa or Ohio.

• Don't bet against a guy in a beer joint who claims he can balance a chicken egg on the end of his nose, or some such thing. He probably makes a living at it, and keeps a laying chicken in the back of his truck.

• Don't start running when the police show up, because they'll chase you.

• It's a waste of time to discuss the Canterbury Tales with a man who answers to Roadhog.

• Don't make major decisions based on fortune cookies.

• Never shoot pool for money with a guy who brought his own cue.

• And, finally, rarely is anything described as "totally awesome" more than mildly amusing. Ω

[Downeaster (Maine-native) John Kelso has worked for the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman as a humor columnist since 1977. Before coming to Austin, Kelso worked at several newspapers: The Manchester (NH) Union-Leader; The Boonville (MO) Daily News; The Palm Beach (FL) Post, and the Racine (WI.) Journal Times. Kelso has been a general assignment reporter, a copy editor, a sports editor, and an outdoor writer. As a pretend-redneck, Kelso is all gimme cap and no double-wide. His redneck-shtik appears thrice weekly: Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays in the Austin Fishwrap.]

Copyright © 2009 Austin American-Statesman

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