Saturday, November 1, 2014

Tempus Fugit

That's how this last week of my month (the one I was born in, that ends with my last name) started, with a coded message from a crossword puzzle constructor who embedded it among all the numbered x's from the past week's six daily puzzles:


It was even more clever than that, with a different riff on the theme of time in each puzzle, but the final message was timely enough: time flies. And to hammer the point home, I could apply it immediately to my annual visit with my birthday on Monday, good old October 27.

Not just mine, of course. Most years, I spare a passing thought to some of my birthday-mates, like John Cleese and H.R. Haldeman. But this year I was proud to let one of them hog the limelight. Dylan Thomas was celebrating—or we were—his centennial. October 27, 1914 in Swansea, Wales.

Tempus, tempt us! On Sunday at 3:00 p.m., I connected to a live-streamed broadcast of DT's then just-written radio play Under Milkwood from the 92d St. YMHA, where it was first performed back in 1953. The following day I carried a copy of his collected stories, none of which I read, but it was good to have him around. I like to tell myself that we have certain things in common: love of language; self-absorption. ("Among other things, he knew himself very well," says Leslie Norris in the Foreword, citing all his brilliant letters of apology as evidence that he knew his own faults very well.  Uncanny—I'm always apologizing!)

Anyway, I visited my birthday on Monday. I only had a day to spend with it; that's the way these things work. When you're very young, it's a very long day, and I spent a long anticipatory month of days getting ready for it. But by the time you've called on that day 66 times, it doesn't feel much different from most days. Still, it is your day. You're entitled to one by tradition and personal history. If you let someone know, even a stranger, he or she is practically obligated to wish you a Happy Birthday, and pass along a mental image of balloons, cake, people in conical party hats around a table. Only a practiced cynic, after years of diligent study, can pull off the observation that bumping into the day you were born is hardly reason for a big whoop-de-doo.

People take it seriously. Tempus fugit or tempus fuggedaboudit. Which brings me to my sister's birthday card. That is, Dotch, who's four years older than me and whose birthday is 25 days after mine. We had this little ritual as kids. We'd ask each other on the day, like a couple of novice interviewers, "So how do you feel? Are you sad? Glad? Mad? Bad?" And  because it was a kid's thumbnail way of taking stock, the other person would sometimes take it seriously. And because we are so used to the tradition, we refer to it as adults, too.

She wrote: "I would really like to be in your mind to know how you're looking at life these days. Are you mad, sad, glad, scared, accepting, curious?" In large part, I know she's talking about this disease I'm carrying around with me. It's just humble old Parkinson's, diagnosed five years plus ago. And I think she's probably also talking about our mutual health issue—old age.

When I first wrote down my answer, on my birthday, I was sitting outside the Kickstand Cafe (formerly Jam 'n Java) with a hot cider and an open notebook (and a ship to steer her by) and the day was warmish for late October, so I wrote: Glad. The day has cooperated and a day can define a life, temporarily, but time doesn't know it's temporary.                              

Then I thought about the other days. I needed some new designations. Like Vlad. As in Vlad the (self) Impaler, when I'm mean to myself. And I can be Dad, which is mostly a form of Glad, seasoned with Bad and a little Vlad. On rare occasions I am Strad, the perfect instrument, apt to be left on the back seat of a taxi, but usually found and returned. Too often I am Chad, as in Hanging Chad, half-in and half-out, half hole, half paper, half negative and half positive. There I am trying to dismount my bike, unable to swing my leg, either leg, over the bar. Fortunately I'm in the backyard, so if I fall, it will be on grass and earth. Finally I recognize what I need to do: rest the bike on its side and step out. Easy. 

But I am also optimistic despite evidence to the contrary. For want of a better term, let's call that Plaid, a pattern to be on good terms with, adaptable, mood-suiting, Black Watch tartan flannel, which I am lately apt to misbutton, have to start over, and my fingers are not as effortlessly deft as they were for decades. And tucking the shirt in and cinching the belt is laborious, too, But if it's a shirt you like, then it's worth it.

To sum up, I am Glad, Vlad, Dad, Strad, Chad, and Plaid. And Bashful.

Wow, November already? Tempus fugit, dude! 


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