Life on rewind




            Every year I think the same thing when I see my friends, about how old they seem to have become, how much grayer or thinner their hair has become, how many more wrinkles seem to show on their faces.

            This is not the definition of old we thought of when we pictured ourselves in rocking chairs on a porch someday. Frank B who would have turned fifty-one this year, making his official transition into middle age, had painted this moment in our minds years ago, claiming we would still haunt each other with the same old jokes.

            How did this happen? How did we grow old without realizing it? Maybe the others in our little troop missed the clues, but I didn't. I caught the implications of this moment back in 1980 when each of us stumbled over the dreaded age of 30. My friends started acting old (at least in theory), pretending as if they had acquired wisdom. I even caught Rick one day lecturing to one of Pauly's younger nephews and I knew things had taken a negative turn. I remember thinking how foolish that change seemed, how we weren't really much different from the people we were at 29 or 28.

            This impression only grew worse a decade later when we met at Frank & Dawn's house B when they still lived in the Totowa section of Paterson B to celebrate Garrick's turning 40. That was 1989, I had just stumbled out a minor bout of mid-life crisis, and viewed my friends through the eyes of Pauly's nephews, how we had made the transition between that whacky bunch of Pauly's friends to members of their extended family. In that vision, we were to these kids what my uncles had been to me.

            No single moment showed to me more clearly how much we had aged B especially linked to the series of deaths had occurred in the previous few years: Frank's father, Pauly's father, my uncle, Harry.

            In the year 2000, it happened again.

            In 1990 B when Pauly fell over the marker that took him from his 30s to his 40s, he grew nostalgic for those, happier carefree days of our 20s (which were neither happy for the most part nor as carefree as he imagined). Pauly seemed to focus on tapes we made, silly, terrible, musical events we conducted during our more boring moments in time. I remember him giving me a collection of some of the sillier songs, as testimony to a time when we still sang for fun, and didn't much care about how awful we sounded.

            Bolstered by new technology and inspired by another decade passing, Pauly repeated his performance this year, seemingly unaware of his past attempt to resurrect these tapes from the past. Over the telephone, he sang their praise with such intensity I almost believed the songs were better than my memory recalled, and looked forward to his invitation to hear them again on the day after Thanksgiving B when he unveiled this masterpieces for family and friends.

            Over the previous decade, we met less often, our lives seeming to create less and less opportunities for us to gather. Although I saw Pauly more often than I did Garrick, and Rick less than Garrick, we made a point of catching up with each other around the holidays.

            Frank's death in 1995 altered this pattern when we gathered in March to bury him. His dying brought closer to home the concept of our own vulnerabilities, as it was our contemporary passing on, not a member of the previous generation. Hearing his voice again brought back acute visions of those times in our 20s when we still had the luxury to waste time on such endeavors, though I cringed over every bad note struck on the guitar and every failed harmony, and realized how terribly Pauly must have ached in repackaging this collection of junk, each moment Frank's ghost haunting him in the headphones, whispering of visions that could no longer become a reality.

            Perhaps Pauly didn't recall Frank's predictions, of how we would mock each other in our graying days, rocking on the same porch, saying the same sad things we invented in our youth B but I recalled those predictions, and the saddest part of listening to Pauly's sad CD, was thinking how we could not shape such moments as those recorded without Frank.


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