Once, when I was in my early twenties and out walking with a friend, Bernard Fox, a convertible passed with a ravishing girl in it (most girls were ravishing then—though, if truth be told, rarely ravished) and driven by an incredibly aged man.
"Isn't that disgusting?" I asked.
"You'll have to ask me that again when I'm an incredibly aged man," Bernard replied. It was a useful lesson.
Convertibles are part of the scene in Southern California, where I live now, though I have never owned one. Remembering the series of tin cans I used to drive in my youth I feel much more in sympathy with the clanking, overheated, bare-tired wrecks that the impoverished farmers from the Dust Bowl drove through these parts in the 1930s on their way to California's Central Valley.
Although I was infatuated by John Steinbeck's Grapes of Wrath, the book that memorialized this ragged army, I could never picture myself as the hero, Tom Joad, shouldering aside the obstacles of getting the family safely through to the land of milk and honey and grapes. Like many readers, I found him a little too good for the part. After all, he had killed a man with a shovel in a fight although he said it was in self-defense. (They all say that.)
Recently, at a filling station in the Central Valley, however, I caught sight of myself in a full-length mirror and what I did look like was not Tom but the grotesque Grampa Joad. Not exactly like the stereotypical old man of those days, I'll concede. Not with tobacco juice dribbling out of my mouth and down my filthy vest, nor with the flies of my pants open, nor even living out Grampa's dream of scrunching down in a washtub full of grapes.
But the lined old face and the stick-like figure of an incredibly aged man were there alright. And though it wasn't visible in the mirror, I knew the cantankerousness was there too, ready to burst out at any moment.
Bernard departed these shores some years ago and, I hope, somewhere up there he has a red convertible not with a ravishing girl at his side but, much better, his generous-hearted and devoted wife, Audrey.
Keep driving with your usual flare, old friend.
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