Way Down an Old Road (tf)

I wish I could remember who said this to me. Probably some guy in a bar. Barfly’s have always been life’s great nameless philosophers.

“Change always makes me sad.”

I pondered that then. And I said, “me too”.

I ponder that now. And I say, “me too”.

Of course change isn’t always bad (It’s good that mullets are out of style, for instance). It’s just that we don’t pay attention all that well to the details….and change leaves us feeling we’ve been blindsided when we reach the cash-register, or when we show up at a party wearing something not seen since the days of American Bandstand. I used to be able to get a 16 oz bottle of Pepsi for 25 cents, and return the bottle for a dime. I bought one the other day and it cost me $2 out of a machine. And it’s a plastic bottle that I’m urged to recycle (no more dimes..but if I recycle why isn’t it cheaper the second time around?). When did soda start costing $2 a bottle?

I used to buy my 25 cent Pepsi’s at Pagnotti’s drug store, a short walk from where I grew up. It’s where I really learned to say “please” because Mrs. Pagnotti refused to even acknowledge your presence if you didn’t say please. Mr. Pagnotti was the pharmacist and if you needed him off hours you just called him and he’d open the store for you (he lived in the apartment upstairs). If you couldn’t pay he’d give you credit, and if you couldn’t pay that he’d usually lose the paperwork that said you owed him anything. If you had questions about medication he’d answer them and if you had a quarter and put 35 penny candy’s on the counter he’d pretend not to notice. Every night my father would walk down there to get a newspaper after work, even though my father wrote for the newspaper and could have taken one home for free. Those were different days I tell you.

Pagnotti’s is gone now. Too many of the big chain stores moved into the area so he decided to retire. He  and his wife moved out of the apartment upstairs and it was promptly taken over by a rotating cast of college co-eds (prime location, as a bar was next door). The store itself eventually became a photography studio. I had to get my Pepsi’s elsewhere. They cost more. I never had to say please or thank you. The person behind the counter never knew my name and I never knew theirs. And if I put 35 penny candy’s on the counter I got charged 35 cents. My Dad now stopped somewhere on the way home from work and picked up his paper. I never asked him where. Life pretty much went on like before, except it was a little less fun. Such things add up and the next thing you know you’re working for a living.

Today you don’t have to play hard to get holes in your jeans. You can buy them with the holes already there. Consider this for a moment if you’re sober. First somebody had to come up with the idea of selling a pair of pants with holes in them. Then somebody further up the chain of command had to say, “yes, this is a good idea.” Then marketing people had to meet and discuss where the rips should be, and what dimensions they should encompass (can you imagine the focus groups used for this?). Then the design is sent out and girls making 20 cents an hour in Bangladesh are wondering what kind of blockheads they are toiling for. Of course none of this would take place if kids weren’t willing to spend double the amount of Dad’s money buying jeans with holes in them as opposed to the boring kind with no vents. I don’t wish to sound crotchety. I own a pair of jeans that look like somebody took a machete to them. But they got that way naturally. I wore them daily, rarely washed them, and fell down a lot. Plus they’re older than my kids.

Yes. To me the fact that Pagnotti’s drug store is gone and that kids buy jeans with holes in them is related. Both are ominous because they make me feel nostalgic. And anybody who still listens to the Sex Pistols at ear quivering volume becomes nostalgic at his own risk. My 12 year old calls it “being creepy”.

I like old roads because I know where they go. But I’m no Luddite. Anything that helps me either find these roads or entertain me while I’m searching for them I welcome with open arms (which is why to me the 2 greatest inventions since fire and the wheel are the GPS and the Ipod). I like things that are familiar. I like knowing the guy’s name behind the counter (without needing the name-tag). I like it when he knows mine (without seeing it on my credit card). I like a neighborhood that doesn’t get done over by thugs or yuppies. I like downtowns that aren’t boarded up and defiled with for-sale signs and broken windows and out-of-date billboards and gang graffiti. I like seeing a store put the newspaper outside on a stand trusting me to go inside and pay for it. I like bookstore’s where the owner talks to you while you’re browsing and boxes of books not yet put away take up half the floor. I like being in a music shop where they let you touch stuff, and not act as though your plan is to seize the Strat on the wall and pulverize it while standing on top of the baby grand piano wearing a hidden pair of vintage Ty Cobb spikes. I like the way we used to either get along or pretend to. I like when folks are more worried about their own morality than mine. I like when porches were for sitting and we cooked with charcoal and we could play whiffle ball in the street and thought didn’t equate with worry.

I like looking back because I know I survived….at the very least. And maybe nostalgia misses out if my generation is denied walking way down that old road too (walking uphill both ways in blinding snow etc..). I’ve surely earned my flecks of gray….or so my body tells me.

Maybe change doesn’t make me sad. Just a bit scared.

–Tom Flannery

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~ by admin on December 13, 2010.

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