by Joe Dobrow, ©1992
Each semester at the Yale School of Management, there is a Coffeehouse performance — in which students, families and faculty members are invited to show off their non-classroom skills. I loved being up on stage, and did everything from a video to an Athleticism Challenge (wherein I dared anyone to come up on stage and attempt to catch both a football thrown with my left hand and a Frisbee thrown with my right). But for my last Coffeehouse performance, on March 28, 1992, I became reflective and delivered this Soliloquy.
(dark stage; glow-in-the-dark yo-yo bobs a couple of times; lights up)
Growing up isn’t easy. For half your life you’re a little kid, and all you ever want is to be older; then the years come and go, you pass some magical point, and you want is to be young again. Problem is, there isn’t any sort of halftime show to let you know when you’ve reached that point.
Oh God, when I was a boy of about 9 or 10, the world was so much simpler. There were no hard decisions to make, nothing to worry about.
The days began early, but there was no need for an alarm clock – Mom usually came in to wake me, her soft voice about the sweetest way a day could begin. “Honey… time to get up.” And I’d slowly wipe the sleep out of my eyes, crawl out of my PJs, and rise & shine. By this time the smell of coffee had already wafted upstairs to my room, and the breakfast table was set with a glass of orange juice and a vitamin pill neatly laid out. Every morning. Without fail.
A shower and a bowl of Fruit Loops later, I’d grab by bus pass and my little house key-on-the-white-string, and dash off to catch the big orange bus. Oh, but first I come bursting back inside, running through the kitchen and up to my room; I forgot my little happy face button. Everyone is wearing them.
My days were filled with a wide-eyed curiosity, since I didn’t know enough yet to be cynical. It began out on the playground before class. Oh hey, there’s Jon! Jonny, Jonny, look! The fifth series of Topps is out! Check it out. I got Bobby Tolan, Boog Powell, Sam McDowell, Richie Allen…. There wasn’t anything better than ripping open a new pack of baseball cards and slowly sifting through them, your fingertips caressing them, these beautiful, new cards that smelled of hard, pink gum. You’d hold them tight in your hand, revealing only enough of the next card – just the corner, just the tip – to see whether it might be a hard-to-find superstar, or just another Ed Spiezio dub. And you had to hold them tight to your body; otherwise, someone like Philip Donakanian might come by and knock them all free and yell, “SCRAMBLE!” And you’d lose them all. That was the way it was. That was the law of the playground.
Man, the things we used to do!
And the things we used to eat! Candy wasn’t always around, but when it was…. Remember “Sugar Daddies”? Why, you’d suck on that thing and it would stretch out about a foot-and-a-half before you BIT it off. And then you’d have Sugar Daddy on your teeth for the rest of the day.
At the end of the afternoon, when the light turned a deep blue and it got a little cool, Mom would call out for me and make me put on a jacket. “Dad’ll be home at 7,” she’d say, which meant that dinner wasn’t that far off; I shouldn’t go anywhere. And I’d just lay down on the cool grass and stare up at the sky, as the clouds drifted overhead, thinking 10-year-old thoughts. The next day, the future? They didn’t even exist.
Of course, nights weren’t all that bad, especially if they were Friday nights. My brother and sister and I would rush through dinner in anticipation of the wonderful night to come. At 7:30, the Brady Bunch. Nanny & the Professor at 8, followed by the Partridge Family and That Girl. All on ABC. And if we were lucky, Mom and Dad would let us stay up for Love American Style at 9:30, though they knew it was a bit racy.
Slowly, inexorably, the months came and went like this. It rained, it was sunny, it was cold, it was hot, you scraped your knee, it healed; you grew. And now it was the end of June and you had half-days of school, and then – boom! – the school year was over.
Summers, back in those days, were precious times that seemed to last half the year long… but never long enough.
In July, the mornings were always cool, and the dew on the grass made it too slippery to play. But by August it got hot early, and you’d wake up and listen to the birds outside, and you could hear the sunshine, and you knew it was hot. So you’d put on a pair of shorts and fly out the door and…play, instantly.
Sometimes I’d go off on errands with Mom; after all, I needed to make sure she got the right kind of cereal with the right kind of prize inside. Didn’t want her getting any of those Corn Flakes or Apple Jacks or anything. We might go to the cheese store, where I’d stand by her side while the man behind the counter sliced off samples for me to taste, and I’d say, “Mmmmm, that’s good!” Or we would get what they called “shoe leather” – genuine rolled apricot, a deep, dark, orangey color that you ripped off the cellophane, piece by piece.
And when it came time to buy shoes, well… there was only one place to go, the Keds store, where Mr. Dobbs presided. For some reason, it was important in those days which salesman you got when you went to the store – Mr. Dobbs, or one of his assistants. Mr. Dobbs, small and bald, but always smiling, was the best: he’d sold you every pair of shoes you ever owned, and he’d watched you grow up. He knew what you wanted.
Of course, those beautiful, white Keds wouldn’t stay beautiful for too long… they’d probably have a grass stain by the end of the day, and as soon as one of your friends saw you in them, well, they had to step on them and dirty them up. Had to. That was what kids did.
Summer afternoon…. They were great. When I got hot I’d put on my bathing suit and run through the sprinkler. Then I’d stay barefoot all day and the grass would stick to my toes. There were Kool Pops in the freezer – the blue ones were the best – lawn mowers humming in the distance, baseball on the radio; and starting after noon, that entrancing, numbing, buzz of the cicadas. Where were they, anyway? They must have been everywhere.
Those were marvelous days, and it seemed like they might never end.
Well, the crocuses are up, and it’s staying light into the evening now. Another school year – the last school year – is almost over.
My 30th birthday nears, just beyond the bend. It is calling to me, beckoning me, summoning me to a precipice I do not want t reach. I have been picking up its faint signal for a couple of years now, but it is growing stronger and clearer every day.
I guess many of the teachers I had in elementary school and junior high must have been around 30, and some even younger; but somehow that didn’t count. They were always teachers, frozen in time as being older and wiser.
The funny thing about growing older is that you never feel like it is happening. In your mind, in your heart, you are still a kid. You still read the comics, and you still long for a Ring Ding every now and then. You still understand TV shows about kids and teenagers better than anything else. And you never do admit, deep down, that your dream of making the major leagues – if somehow you could drop everything and devote your life to it – is never going to come true.
But I wear glasses, now, because I cannot see but a few feet in front of me without the fog setting in. I count my days as good ones when the hair doesn’t accumulate in the shower drain. And on those rare occasions when I summon the energy to go and play, I pay the price for the next several days.
When did we stop being kids? Was it on a Thursday, was it in August?
Being grown-up? It isn’t what I thought it would be. I just wish…. Nah.