"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Baby, Let The Good Times Roll–While You Can Still Enjoy Them And Before You Forget What They Are

Blanton Payne knew that he was having trouble remembering things.  At first, misplaced keys and glasses were a nuisance, but after too many wrong turns in his familiar neighborhood, he realized that he was losing grip on what is or what should be.

His hold on the past was still good, his memories still clear and sharp. He never transposed Usha for Berthe nor confused their flats in Copenhagen and Dhaka.  The taste of Baltic herring and aquavit was as sharp as that of barra kabob and fried dal. 

Image result for images dhanmondi dhaka

As long as he had his distant memories, he could dispense with the rest.  Eventually, despite wrong turns everywhere, he eventually found the bathroom, Alton Place, and the Giant.  His close-in memory synapses were misfiring, that was all, and if he was patient, his brain waves would find a way around any bad circuitry and guide him in the right direction.

Nabokov was right, he thought, when he said that the past was the only bit of time which meant anything.  The present was a brief illusion, and the future only a possibility; but the past – and in his case over 75 years of it – was more real than any doubtful, fictitious present or improbable future.

Image result for images nabokov

Payne often wondered what had become of Usha.  Married certainly, twice even, divorced not widowed when he met her in Rishikesh, and still not separated after five years of their intermittent relationship conditioned by World Bank missions and her duties at the family’s properties in Nainital and Rishikesh.  They had never intended anything more than a casual relationship, but despite their  intermittent visits and resolve to limit emotional exposure, they became more than lovers.  In fact, after five years they admitted that they had become a couple although they both were married and had no intention of changing lanes.

Image result for images nainital 19th century

Like most men, he tried to find her even after decades of separation.  Google, Facebook, and Twitter were no help; and besides, there were apparently more Usha Parekhs than even the Internet could sift, sort, and offer.  He would give anything, he thought, to see her again – well, not exactly, of course – but in her mind’s eye age could not have changed her that much.  Her features were too fine, her hair too full, her body too lithe for any serious decline; and if he were ever to discover her, he would never hide from what she had become so confident was he of her permanence.

The same was true of Berthe, although there were almost as many Jensens in Copenhagen as there were Parekhs in Ahmedabad, and he only made a desultory search every ten years or so.  Besides, she, like him, had been a United Nations Group expert, and the last he had heard she had moved with her husband to Eritrea.

The point is that Blanton Payne, despite his increasingly sketchy short-term memory and as long as it didn’t become totally disorienting, was not unhappy.  He was resigned to a life without good times, and he considered himself lucky to remember the ones he had had.

Only once in his later years did the two – the old good times and surprising new ones – coincide.
He met Laura Rhodes on a consulting assignment when he was still in his sixties – in the bar at the Mille Collines in Kigali to be exact.  How could he forget the view over the city from the hilltop hotel to the Bujumbura Mountains and Lake Tanganyika beyond?

Image result for images kigali mountains

The transient expatriate life is unique, for although no one is looking for company, the credibility of a common profession encourages conversation, eliminates risk, and defers responsibility.  It is easy to meet people.

Matty was only 32 and Blanton 65 when they first met.  She was old enough to have had enough disappointments in her love life to open her door more widely than she might have done years earlier.  He had all but given up hope of any new sexual adventures; but the classic combination of attractive maturity and youthful sensuousness was again irresistible. 

Like that with Usha, their relationship was intermittent and equally conditioned by business trips, stopovers, and correspondance. For Blanton, it was an early Christmas present – unexpected, delightful, unmerited, but wonderful.  He couldn’t believe his luck.  Matty thought – although Blanton had never deceived her about his intentions – that they might have some kind of a life together, but he aged more than either of them ever thought in a short few years, and they agreed to part.

Blanton’s relationship with Matty was no different than those with Usha and Berthe, for those women were 32 when they first met; and all three were sexually eager, physically confident, and emotional.  When Blanton looked at Matty, he saw them; and the temporal synapses in his brain crackled and popped, and created a crazy here-now, there-now, sexual double helix.

Now what? he asked himself .  What will I do when the September-May affairs are over and when, despite good tensile strength, cell walls go flaccid and distant memories begin to wobble?

This was the crisis of old age.  Not only do vitality, energy, and physical ability decline to near zero, but the memories of a vigorous, vital, and energetic past do to.  One is left with nothing.
Many people, faced with this dilemma and its ironic, but common twist of fate, turn to religion.
This both indemnifies the failing individual against hopelessness, and animates and validates the future like never before.

Nabokov said that the future is only possibility, and therefore not worth our mind; but a devout Christian dismisses this cynicism.  If one believes in the divinity of the risen Christ and his promise of salvation and eternal life, then the future is not something possible or hoped for, but a state of being more real than any which has preceded it.

Image result for images salvador dali christ in the cross

Blanton Payne was not a believer, and while he never discounted the possibility of a religious epiphany, he doubted very much that the rest of his life would be so interrupted.  No, he would have to deal with past, present, and future in his own way, far from nimble to be sure, but able.

The good times can roll for a long, long time.  First on Bourbon Street, then in vivid memories of Bourbon Street, then in fill-in, supposed memories of New Orleans, the Mississippi, beignets, and coffee which may or may not reflect the real thing; but as time goes on such accuracy matters less and less.

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