There are any number of recognized ways to gauge our personal marches of time. For some it’s when the priests, cops and doctors begin to look like teen-agers. For others it’s the image in the mirror looking back through crow-footed eyes, grayed and thinning hair, wrinkles and liver spots.
Until recently I have refused to acknowledge these harbingers of maturity, preferring to believe I retained my youth. I indulged this defiance because I believed that I “thought” young and had retained an extraordinary ability to communicate with young people. I could speak their language; we had a lot in common. Until recently.
I fancy myself a jazz enthusiast. I don’t read music or really know much about it, but I know what I like and know it when I hear it. My office stereo is always on, tuned either to a jazz station or playing a jazz CD. My favorite is Louis Armstrong, the legendary New Orleans trumpeter who died in 1971. It’s Armstrong’s CD’s I listen to most.
Last year I hired a new paralegal, a 22 year-old recent college graduate. Patty is good, energetic and industrious, but she is only 22. Soon after she came on Patty was in my office. Louis Armstrong was playing “West End Blues” or some other classic in the background. I was enjoying it. Patty wasn’t paying attention.
“Patty,” I said, “You know who Louis Armstrong is, don’t you?”
She didn’t even pause. “Sure. He’s the guy who walked on the moon.”
Boom! A blow to the solar plexus of my ego. “ Walked on the moon!??? Walked on the moon! I’ll give you walked on the moon!” It went downhill from there.
For a second I thought maybe I should look at those priests, doctors and cops more closely. Maybe the mirror could use further examination.
No, not so. This was an anomaly. Patty was an exception, just out of synch. I was as young as ever and she just didn’t get it.
About six months after Patty’s rabbit punch I suffered a second mishap. I was walking back from court with Tim, a man in his young twenties. Tim was a musician, played in a band, mostly rock, but liked jazz too.
“Well,” said I, about to confirm my ability to communicate with the younger generation and re-establish my agelessness, “You know who Louis Armstrong is, don’t you?”
“Oh, sure,” replied my link to America’s future, “He’s the guy who walked on the moon.”
Not again. I couldn’t be that out of it, that far removed from where things were at. Not me. Just because this rocket scientist--- an alleged musician who claimed he knew and liked jazz-- didn’t know who Louis Armstrong was, I was still not convinced. I was still as young as ever. I could still communicate with my kids and their friends. I could talk to young people on juries gaining their trust and confidence by referring to cultural common denominators.
I just was not as old as Tim tried to make me feel. Like Patty he, too, was an anomaly.
I took these two experiences pretty much in stride. Well, actually, I would occasionally joke about them, more a commentary on the ignorance of these youngsters than an acknowledgment of the aging process.
My most recent Louis Armstrong experience, though, was the clincher. Last month I drove to the Meriden court with my secretary’s brother, a young man in his late twenties. On the way there we spoke about his case, how we were going to work it out, how there was nothing to be really nervous about.
I was right. His case was minor. Things worked out well. Michael was appreciative. He wanted to pay me for what amounted to a favor. I insisted that wasn’t necessary. We headed for the car and back to the office.
I popped in a Louis Armstrong tape, “The Best of Louis Armstrong,” a collection of vocals with “What a Wonderful World”, “A Kiss to Build a Dream On” and others. A great recording.
Halfway into the first song Michael lit up. “Hey. Louis Armstrong. He’s great.”
I was thrilled. While I told Michael how much I loved Armstrong, I was mentally puffing out my chest because Michael, with that brief observation, had re-established my youth. Walked on the moon indeed. Those two other kids Patty and Tim--- two unschooled juveniles, really--- were indeed anomalies. I wasn’t getting old; they were just unsophisticated. And Michael here just proved that. I was just as young as I’d ever been.
Young, that is, until the next morning. As I walked to my desk my secretary followed. Michael was grateful, she said, for all the help I’d given him and he really wanted to pay me. When I declined a fee, though, he had decided to give me a gift. As soon as he got home last night, she said, he telephoned the Oakdale Musical Theater. He had tried to order me two tickets for the next Louis Armstrong concert.
That was the last straw. The priests, the cops, the doctors, the reflection in the mirror and now Louis Armstrong’s ghost. All right. I concede. I have gotten a little older. I’m willing to accept that -- up to a point -- but nobody better try to identify Joe Di Maggio for me as the guy who used to be in the Mr. Coffee commercials.