“Blaaaaaat!” The obnoxious sound of the old car horn caused me to jump as I stood and worked behind the counter at the music store. I looked out the front door to the parking lot and my heart sank. The object of my dismay wasn’t so much the battered late-sixties model Mercury that sat there with its motor still running; it was the driver of the old jalopy. Kelly was, as the Lovely Lady’s mother would have put it, “the bane of my existence”. At least, for a period of time, he was. The old fellow loved vintage cars and country music, which meant that he needed someone to keep the ancient stereos in the decrepit vehicles functioning. He had discovered that I had a knack with the tired old tape players, so life for a time was a constant parade of the rusty flivvers and their eight-track players needing attention.
The players weren’t so much of a problem, although I never really enjoyed working on them. The eight-track player was probably one of the worst conceived inventions ever, but I understood the theory of their operation and could usually coax the ones Kelly presented me with back to life, at least enough to spit out a few more hours of what he called music. Whenever I worked on the players, I would always have to shove a jumbled mess of tapes aside…tapes by the likes of George Jones, Lynn Anderson, and Merle Haggard. One day, as I shoved such a pile across the seat, a loaded pistol appeared from underneath the miscellaneous hodge-podge. I jumped out of the car and shouted for Kelly, but he calmly pocketed the gun and told me not to worry about it. I did anyway. I also repaired that player in record time.
The real reason that I wasn’t happy to see Kelly on this day was that I knew he was going to tell me how he was doing. You know–you usually greet folks with a polite “How are you today?” I had long ago abandoned that phrase with Kelly, simply because he assumed that I really wanted to get the full answer–and I do mean full answer! “Well Paul, the doctor had to open up my sinuses the other day and drain them. You never saw such a mess!” He would then proceed to describe the mess, the like of which I never saw and never wanted to see, much less hear described. There was always a different story, each one more fantastic and gory than the one before. I amazed myself with my own brilliance one day and just decided to quit asking him how he was. It worked the first two times. After that, he began responding to my “Hi, Kelly!” with, “Well Paul, The doctor had to cut open my skull last week to relieve the pressure that was building up…” I really began to dread his visits.
It’s been many years since Kelly graced me with his company and I’ve had a while to think about the cause of his behavior and conversation style. It seems to me that it is possible to miss being the center of attention as we age. By all accounts, Kelly was a fireball of a man in his younger days and with his love of fast cars and guns, there was no dearth of attention paid to his exploits. In his old age, he became just another old man, driving his old cars around town and going home to his elderly wife when the day was done. No one gave him a second look anymore. In the absence of admiring compliments, or even any heed given whatsoever to his activities, it seems that he decided to grab the attention once more by shocking the few people who would acknowledge him. It had the opposite effect, instead driving people away that might have become friends, but who were repulsed by the obvious lies and exaggerations.
It’s becoming easier for me to put myself in the old man’s place these days. When we are young, there is no end of the attention paid to our exploits and accomplishments. Just by achieving goals, we inspire comments. “Oh! He’s so talented! And, so young!” As the years pass, the excitement dies down and we get an occasional pat on the back, along with a half-hearted, “I really enjoyed that.” The same activities undertaken in the silver years don’t even seem to move their spirits at all. The attention has turned to new recipients, more energetic and more fresh. Thus, age leads to obscurity. Not all men can abide the unfamiliar lack of attention. Like awkward teenagers, anxious to acquire the regard of others, they become “class clowns”, performing their act for anyone who will acknowledge them. Some, like my friend, don’t know when to stop and so, ostracize the very audience they are attempting to impress.
Well, you’ve waded through the cautionary tale, and worked to decipher my psychobabble in this attempt to explain an old man’s foibles. Will it make any difference to you at all? Maybe not. I’m actually talking to myself mostly, I think. The realization that I could easily become Kelly drives me to consider the actions necessary to prevent this fate. I don’t have to look any further than the words I learned as a child in Sunday School. “Let your conversation be always full of grace…” Words intended to shock are not full of grace. Statements crafted to turn attention to myself are not full of grace. Comments which inflame the passion of the listeners are definitely not full of grace. I really like the phrase that follows the one I quoted above. “…seasoned as with salt…” Conversation that has a generous amount of grace sprinkled throughout will not anger and disgust, nor will it entice illicit emotions. “…so that you will know how to speak to every man.”
So, these days, I’m working on including a copious dusting of grace with the words that come from my mouth. I’m thinking it will be hard to go wrong as long as I keep that goal in sight.
But someday, if I start to talk with you about the procedure the doctor performed on me last week, you might want to jog my memory a bit.
They do say the three primary signs of old age are forgetfulness, and…and…Oh, never mind. Just stop me before I tell the story.
“Speech is oft repented, silence never.”
(Old Danish proverb)
“Let no corrupting (decaying, rotten) talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up…”
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.