column: Now and Then: The best part of being here is where I've been
When I was a kid I had a sort-of girlfriend called Catnip Catie. Her name came from the fact that she always kept her personal supply of Whacky Wonder Weed hidden in her cat’s toys. Mind you, this was back in the olden days, before you could get a Prescription for legal Whacky Wonder Weed to treat your case of Restless Leg Syndrome.
I met Catie working in the hospital, where she was a Licensed Practical Nurse and I was a Certified Bedpan Technologist. She was also an artist, so she painted peace signs and flowers and variations on those cool Keep On Truckin’ cartoon guys on my guitar. She lived in a very colorful little Catie-decorated house trailer parked out in a field behind an old gas station.
Catie didn’t turn out to be a huge part of my life. I knew her for a couple of years, then we drifted our separate ways. But sometimes, 40 years later, I like to just shut my eyes, and drift back, and hang out for a while in Catie’s trailer, inhaling the scent of her patchouli, and her paint, and fresh coffee, and last week’s bacon, all laced with just a hint of Whacky Wonder Weed and kitty litter.
It’s like that for me — I take little trips back in time to visit vacation spots in my memory.
If I like, I can go back and cruise Bonnie Doone’s with my friends in my first car, a 1961 Buick LeSabre. This thing was a rusty behemoth we called the Big Bright Green Pleasure Machine. We regularly used the BBGPM to sneak kids into the drive-in movie, since it had a trunk big enough for four guys — or up to six girls, since girls don’t take up all that much space.
Or I can revisit one of those Saturday night brainstorms with my buddies, toward the end of an evening when we were trying to think of a convincing story we could tell our parents to explain why we are all going to spend the night at Tony’s house. Of course, we were going to stay at Tony’s house because his parents were in Chicago, and we had each polished off enough cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon to make it more or less suicidal to go home.
I can close my eyes and find myself sitting by the fireplace on that first blind date with Nan, playing my guitar and singing her a cheesy John Denver song after a long day of wandering around every possible point of interest in Ann Arbor, amazed that this is what it feels like to find the love of my life, and wondering what spending the next six or seven decades with her is going to be like.
Or I can go back and strut around the streets of downtown Plymouth, Mich. wearing a huge “It’s A Boy” button featuring a picture of a little pink newborn lizard named Patrick, passing out bubble gum cigars and knowing that no man anywhere in the world could ever possibly be as proud and happy as I was at that moment.
I occasionally wish that I could physically go back and actually relive some of those times. It would even be kind of fun to once again wipe that little “surprise fountain” out of my eyes; you know, the one you get when you are just a little too casual or too slow changing your little boy’s diaper. OK well, maybe not so much that.
But if I really think it through, I know that I’m really a lot better off where I am right now. For one thing, in most ways I’m a whole lot smarter than I used to be. Better yet, I just naturally move quite a bit more slowly now, so whenever I turn out to be just as stupid as I ever was, I slide into the inevitable whirlwind of trouble at a much more leisurely pace. This means that I always have plenty of time to duck and minimize the collateral damage.
I think the best way to understand how life really works is to realize that “now” is made up of all the “then” that has come along over the course of all these years that stretch from well, from then to now. In other words, when I add it all up, I’m glad to find myself right here where I am.
After all, the best part about being here is where I’ve been.