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Pickett Fences
Beyond Ripe
But Hanging in There!

By Jim Pickett

May/June 2009

Jim Pickett

As is my custom these days, I have been in full-tilt-boogie procrastination mode on this column. I have already received a week extension, and I am -- at 11 pm on the Monday when it was/is/was due -- just now firing up the 'puter to tippy tap this thing out.

It's like I am still in college. I'm behaving in the exact same manner that led me to drop out after three and a half years, seven majors, and a lot of time lying on dorm room floors in caffeine-induced crazes, laughing and smoking (Salem Lights and pot, thanks) and cranking "Purple Rain" at 2 am instead of writing that term paper on "Shoah." Or Cliff Noting more than one word of "Henry VI." Or perusing twelve geology chapters for the final in the morning.

Why the hell did I take that class? Perhaps I still have time to drop? Maybe the lecture hall will be on fire tomorrow.

You'd think the past 22 years since my last college course, when I was at Marquette University majoring in, um, theater, would have taught me a few things. Given me, uh, wisdom through experience. But you'd be wrong on a number of counts.

I haven't grown up in so many ways.

I look in the mirror and think, "Yeah, young and fresh."

The words moist, slacks, salve, butter, whiskers, slender, beaver and beige continue to make me laugh. Go ahead. Whisper "whiskers" to me at a funeral and see what happens. It'll be your fault. You, in those crushed velvet bell-bottom slacks and that poly blouse.

I still love 80's music -- dammit, it's my defining decade. I remember going to Papagallo for New Wave Thursdays and to Park Avenue for Gay Sundays and shimmying in my shoulder pads, spiked hair, and many, many rubber bracelets to the Thompson Twins, INXS, Duran Duran, Bananarama, Adam Ant, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, The Cure, Depeche Mode, Flock, Tina, Cyndi, Michael Jackson before the troubles, and on and on? And I only realize how old that actually makes me when I realize I can't name more than two current bands, or when some booger-nosed brat underscores how she was crapping her pants when Madonna was banging Sean Penn, a historical fact of which she is clueless.

"I don't feel like eighty. I guess you never think you're the age you are, and, as long as you don't look in the mirror, you aren't," Frank Gehry, of Pritzker Pavillion fame, recently told The New Yorker, remarking on his 80th birthday.

While I never think I am the age I am, I'm different than Frank. First of all, while I am indeed more than halfway there, I ain't 80. Second, I look in the mirror and think, "Yeah, young and fresh." It's only when I see pictures of myself -- contemporary or vintage, bloated or wisp-o-the-will -- that I'm startled into awareness. "Oh, heavens," I say. Hand me the goggles.

The Middle Ages. Yes, I have become one of those people who says, squinting through his bifocals and strategically aligning candles, "It is so dark in here, I can't read the menu."

Yes, I am now someone who just wants to be able to sit. Who wishes it weren't so loud, "so we could at least have a decent conversation." Who nods off before the end of the ten o'clock storm center update on a Saturday night. Who declares, "They don't make sitcoms like they used to."

Yep.

"And in the end, it's not the years in your life that count," said Abe Lincoln. "It's the life in your years."

All my kvetching aside, I am happy I made it to 43. Fourteen years ago, when I found out I was HIV-positive, the drama queen in me had me burned up in a vase before 40. I truly didn't think I would have this time, or if I did, I would be three feet in at this point. And never mind HIV, some of the stunts I pulled as a wild child should have either killed me, maimed innocents, or landed me in prison. I squeezed a lotta life out of those earlier decades.

I would not go back a decade, one year or one day. It is a delight to be 43, verging on permanent crank, in a sort of Alzheimer's-lite fog much of the time (better for not remembering) with crampy legs and random aches. Really, I love it. As long as I can crawl out of my crypt every morning, there is still a lot for me to do in my sensible shoes. And I intend to get on with it.

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