Friday, October 14, 2016

The end of something and a 1951 Plymouth.

I came across this 29-minute movie on "The New York Times'" site this evening, and I have to admit, it made me even more morose than usual. Lugubrious even.

You can see the movie here, and I suggest you do. It's called ‘Farewell, Etaoin Shrdlu,’ named for the hodgepodge of letters typesetters would set to indicate the end of a line. You can find some lore about the nonsense words here.

It's a very moving documentary on the last day hot type was used at the Times. It's a look at men (they were virtually all men) and their trade. Men with ink on their hands and sweat stains under their arms. Men who worked hard their whole lives. And then saw their trade, before their eyes, disappear.

This, of course, is happening to all of us, all the time. New technologies sweep in like a California wild-fire, and things we've done our whole life, well, they're suddenly done by robots, or computers, or cheaper foreign workers.

I feel it sometimes at work. 

Not that I don't know how to use a Mac or don't understand the vagaries of digital communications. It's not that.

It's not even that I feel obsolete, because I don't.

It's just maybe that I feel a little sad watching, every day, the passing of eras, the passing of time, the passing of the old ways and how they're kicked to the curb like an old tin can.

I feel this way some times in New York, the city I have lived in my whole life.

I walk down a street I have walked down one-hundred times before, but while I know the street, and have always known the street, the street is completely new. 

The people I knew on the street are gone and replaced by people who seem so different from the faces and the deportments of the people I knew, it's as if they are from a different planet.

I think about a little bookstore that was in the basement apartment of this tenement that had used paperbacks for 50-cents--a student's budget. The fatty corned beef sandwich I still crave that I'd get at a deli that is now a nail salon. Or the 32-cent cuppa I would get at a place that now sells expensive clothing.

You start thinking more and more often of the things that used to be there rather than the things that are there. You start thinking about the things you miss more than the things you have.

Maybe this is part of getting older. Maybe it's that Black Dog again--the one always nipping at my ankles.

The other evening I was in a car heading home, crossing town on West 86th Street. Between Amsterdam and Columbus, mid-block, I saw a car parked. A beat up old car, a really old car. A 1951 Plymouth, painted in splotches of grey like it was camouflaged for a black and white movie.

My driver was a 30-year-old Haitian man.

"Didja see that?" I asked him. 

He slowed and took in the Plymouth.

"When I was growing up, my mother had that car. That's the car I grew up in. Green."

"No, man. You not dat ol'."

"My mother bought two of them," I said. "She bought one for herself, one for her sister. My mother--she knew how to save money."

"How much dey cos?"

"I dunno. Maybe $2500 for the two of them."

"That a lot of money back den?"

I changed the subject.

"One day, me and my father were driving somewhere. I was maybe four or five. I was in the front seat of course."

"Dere were no laws in dose days," he laughed.

"No seatbelt, no automatic door locks. In the front seat. My father driving like he was on his way to a fire."

He laughed again.

"My old man rounded a curve, he was going maybe 40 miles per hour. I dunno, I was four. And my door swung wide open."

"You fell out, man?"

"No. My father stuck his arm across me, slowed down and shut the door. Everything was ok."

He laughed again. And we drove the rest of the way to my apartment, kibitzing. We shook hands when I got out.

But this is what happens when you're old.

You remember things.

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