Getting older sucks. It sucks in all the expected ways. Your body starts to fail. Even if your body never succeeded. Things get fuzzy around the edges. Hair gives no fucks and just shows up anywhere it wants uninvited. You catch your wife with the pool boy despite the fact that you don’t have a pool.
But it sucks in unexpected ways too. That’s what gives life its flavor.
I remember reading The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition when I was 18. I remember reading it because my mom bought it for me as a high school graduation gift. And since my post-high school plans didn’t include building a future, I had all the time in the world to read it.
The Stand was my favorite book at the time. I read the circumcised version a few years before and I was stoked to see what Stephen King could really do without the MAN on his back, without being limited to an insulting 800 pages.
If you’re unfamiliar with The Stand, it’s about a superflu that wipes out 99% of humanity. The remaining 1% engage in a final stand of good vs. evil. It’s a great story for those who prefer absolutes to shades of grey. Like Democrats and Republicans.
I studied every new word in this uncut edition. I reveled at the expanded Trashcan Man storyline. The new sections burrowed into my brain like parasitic worms. Wait, that’s awful. The story gained depth and dimension that I didn’t realize was missing.
By adding the 400 original pages back into the novel, King was able to illustrate the reverberating impact of a worldwide pandemic. He could show us how a global disaster unfolds. For example, those who die directly from the superflu are just the first wave. Among the immune, there are aftershocks. Other diseases spread from the contamination and rot that comes with fat stacks of bodies. Fires happen with no fire department to put them out. You can see how it plays out. But if you still don’t see it, don’t worry–King straight up kills a five year-old boy to help you understand.
This five year-old boy was among the lucky 1% of immune folks on the planet. Everyone else in his small, rural home town wasn’t. Everyone else died. “Everyone else” includes anyone who could feed and care for a five year-old. So the boy did what little boys do when their entire family sneezes to death–he rode his big wheel around while he waited for them to reanimate. Happy story, right? Not so fast! He fell into a well. It took him a few days to die of dehydration and exposure down at the bottom of that well. No one came for him. He died alone. Probably begging for his mom as the last of his body’s water leaked from his eyes in sobs.
The first time I read that I was 18ish and I thought “Damn, that sucks. But what an incredible brain up there floating about 8 inches above King’s shoulders! I never considered the fallout!”
I read it again after my son was five. And I wanted to know: Why, Mr. King? Why in the ever loving-est of FUCKS did you have to kill a GODDAMNED FIVE YEAR-OLD? YOU SON OF A BITCH! I’LL PUT YOU IN A FUCKING WELL AND THEN JUST STAND THERE SAYING “OH WELL! OH WELL! OH WELL!” OVER AND OVER AND OVER UNTIL YOU DIE! AND THEN I’LL FILL THE WELL WITH UNREAD COPIES OF THE STAND: COMPLETE AND UNCUT EDITION AND THEN POUR CONCRETE OVER THAT AND THEN WRITE “HERE LIES THE KING OF THE FLEA-DOGS” IN THE WET CEMENT AND THEN I’LL SHIT ON TOP OF THE CONCRETE!
I finished rereading the book because it’s THE STAND and let’s not be crazy. But I can’t take any book/movie/play/poem/TV show/news story that involves a hurt child. That’s what getting old does to you–it makes you soft and terrified. I only read Dr. Seuss books now. Except for that Cat in the Hat bullshit. I think he’s a demon.
The way aging changes how you feel about your favorite memories is much worse than actually forgetting them. Somehow, forgetting them preserves them. Maybe the feelings attached to the forgotten memories remain and you can look back and say “I have good feelings about my past” without knowing exactly why.
Instead, tweaking the perception of fond memories makes you look back and say “What the fuck was wrong with me for liking that?!” And then you don’t trust yourself. And you begin to realize you’re just the center of a grand experiment and the whole world was constructed around you to taunt you and drive you completely insane. And there are people in lab coats behind two-way mirrors watching you. Just you. And every mirror you’ve ever been in front of is a two-way mirror. And your family is in on it! And everything you once loved is tainted with taint.
Enter Motley Crue. I wasn’t the biggest Crue fan in the world, but there are a handful of songs that I would play at high volume with low shame. Their songs were mostly the soundtrack to summer nights and events that involved minimal thinking. Like the hours I spent in pool halls. Who didn’t love Kickstart My Heart? Other than their catchy melodies and driving rhythms, I never really examined their music. It didn’t require a deeper examination. I definitely didn’t waste much time analyzing their lyrics. Because I was young.
Recently, I went to my very first Crue concert. I went because they promised that it would be the very last Crue concert in Chicagoland. I went with friends I friended long before Facebook forced people to friend each other.
We bought tickets via Groupon because that’s what old fucks do now. We had a hard time getting in because old fucks + smartphones = not getting in. Brian didn’t print out the tickets from Groupon so the guy at the door scanning people in had no way to confirm that we paid for 8 tickets. After yelling a lot and taking a long walk, the guy let us in because why the fuck not?
Once in, I had no way to prove that I had a claim on any seat in the house. And beers were $12. And suddenly, 6 of the people I was with disappeared into the arena. They just grabbed seats anywhere. Sprouting up like unwanted hair. At one point, they were sitting fifth row center. The seats that we actually paid for were in the very last row on the upper level. I had to duck down under some banners to see the stage. So fuck that. I made my way down to section 111. It was close enough to the stage and open enough so that no one would force me out. I stayed there once Crue came on.
They opened with Girls, Girls, Girls. And I think that’s when my oldness kicked in.
Vince Neil sang:
Yankee girls ya just can’t beat
But they’re the best when they’re off their feet
And I looked around at all the 40-50 year-old women singing along. There were many.
I’m such a good good boy
I just need a new toy
I tell ya what, girl
Dance for me, I’ll keep you overemployed
And the women still sang. They were happy to be objectified. They were happy to be whore “toys.” The flesh equivalent of blow-up dolls. Ok. Fine. They grew up listening to this. It’s just brainless. Harmless.
At no point did I question what was wrong with me for thinking this shit.
Then they played Same Old Situation (S.O.S.) with lyrics such as:
All around the world,
Girls will be girls!
Well, really, the only offense there is generalizing and painting women with a broad brush [pun TOTALLY intended]. Not good, but pretty tame. And in fact, it actually combats racism and xenophobia since it draws no cultural distinction–effectively saying that people are people and we all are one. Kinda beautiful, actually.
Until they elaborate:
It’s the same old, same old situation.
The same old ball and chain.
Oh. So women are all bitches.
And still the women sang along. They were practically whooping. Whatever whooping is.
Song after song. Every lyric fell into one of two categories:
- women are the best because they’re young and hot and they participate in sex with us
- women are some nagging ass bitches
Which is fine if you’re just a teenager washing your dad’s Midlife Crisis Limited Edition Camaro in the driveway. But it takes a different turn when you have a daughter to raise. Or want to be with a woman you respect.
And need I remind you: all of this from a band who began their careers dressed like women. So is it misogyny or self-loathing?
Anyway, I really do hate myself for giving Motley Crue lyrics the close read that no one asked for. I’m going to hate myself more and more every time I read this post. It’s the only way I’ll learn.
I’d rather just go back to the days when I did more than think.
Sure, there are benefits to aging. But my point is–there are no benefits to aging. None. We’re all fucked.