6.2011 | A songbook of pop songs for every single moment


If you are traveling in America, you are traveling with old people.

Some younger families, but they are few.

I wonder about those old folks. Where they started and what they had endured. The choices they made that brought them to this juncture with me, the single quiet one sightseeing among them.

They seem innocent: last survivors of the post-war American myth. But that is a mistake. That's just how we think of people we see returning to neoteny, their movements determined and their joy at wonders expressed simply. Still, can you imagine the affairs, the addictions, and the loss?

I tried to match the trajectory of my life against theirs but it didn't map. How different the circumstances of their youth! Cars as wide as the road running on domestic oil. Girls required to wear skirts to school and to work. No Roe v. Wade. A million things that seem to span more than a generation's worth of change.

All limits. (What are mine?)

I watched a woman reapply her make-up on the dusty bus to Denali. She made her husband get her bag down from the overhead so she could pull out an Estee Lauder compact and redraw her mouth.

By golly.

Well, that's not fair. It's not just the generation gap that accounts for all the difference between us, though that is an easy reach. It's something else, too. I already see some of my peers on the path to decades-old hairstyles and baseball caps from vacation destinations. Clothes by Costco. Everything Costco: a deal, a false bounty between theme-park rides.

It reminds me of the old ladies at Myrhe's where I used to go with my grandma. She knew them all and they had worked there for years. They still wore the beehive hairdos and cat-eye glasses. Their hair was gray, as if it had faded in situ. Even as a child I felt sad for them for being so stuck, for identifying an age they thought they were their most beautiful, perhaps capable, and then refusing to grow beyond it. I wished for myself not to be like them.

And later, not to become that other kind: Earth mother with the spiky hair and baggy print pants.

(Just don't get stuck.)

Being with these folks makes me think about family and my lack of one. Neither parents nor children. I long for family, or at least an enduring community. But when I see families and the way they are, I know I don't want that. What I mean is, the disarray, all the trappings, the burden that accumulates around the belly.

How do people arrive at the decision to start and keep a family? How does that first lust transition and stabilize, without eruption, into a decades-long commitment to domestic progress?

I don't know it; I can't imagine it. The drive for solitude and living for the moment is too strong in me.

So I wonder about the secrets, and in the absence of those, the slow going crazy.

Or the simple path.

But let me ask this: Do you choose the simple path, or does it choose you?

I know I've got it all wrong. Stop me now. Tell me how it really is. But don't tell me to follow duty.