Thursday, August 03, 2017

ON THE AVENUES: On the importance of being ancient.

ON THE AVENUES: On the importance of being ancient.

A weekly column by Roger A. Baylor.

I pay little attention to birthdays, especially my own, and yet as one obsessed with history, the very idea of “age,” whether of people, objects or events, forever intrigues me.

Seldom has it seemed appropriate (or even remotely interesting) to write about my own birthday. It somehow feels selfish, and contrary to the recognition that my quality of life is far cushier than that endured by so many on this mucked-up planet.

And yet it's the only life I have, at least for the moment, so occasional exceptions are allowable, as in 2010 on the occasion of my 50th. It came in the form of my weekly column in what was then the New Albany Tribune, prior to its merger with the Jeffersonville Evening News.

By the way, it's now six years waiting for the replacement column to be commissioned. No hurry, guys, as I'm only 57.

Rounder numbers seem to play better in human consciousness, although there certainly isn’t much separating 50 from 49 and 51. In retrospect, the current year strikes me as far more auspicious and transitional than 2010. In particular, this paragraph from the seven-year-old column strikes me.


Yet, there is considerable happiness in arriving at 50 in good health, working in a growing business, enjoying the company of my mother, friends and family, and eager to give profuse thanks to my wife, my partner in life, who has been both tenderly loving and unsparingly honest in helping propel me to a new place where the rage seemingly recedes.

Arriving at 57 today, on August 3 in 2017, I can’t help noticing the many recent changes in my life, albeit not without first noting the constants. Diana and I are doing well, and since 2010 – since July of 2017 – she has added official Britishness to her considerable catalog of attributes.

Swirling around this secure core are numerous reminders of what a difference seven years can make. I’m two and a half years removed from my business, still occupying a weird space in professional limbo while waiting for a check that my former business partners seem unwilling (or perhaps unable) to write. Perhaps they’re too busy dismantling the Red Room to notice.

At least this situation can and eventually will be resolved legally (trust me on this). Rather, I’m looking forward to the new pub project, and a return to good old-fashioned beer values, conviviality and all the communal aspects that drew me to public drinking in the first place.

Sadly, the grim reaper has been busy. My mother died in March, a cousin more recently, and one of my best friends, Kevin Richards, last fall. Three of the most influential high school teachers I ever encountered died within a few months of each other in 2016. I understand that the attrition rate is to be expected, chronologically. It doesn’t make it any easier to bear.

My own health seems fine, although I might lose 20 or so pounds, and of course who in my age bracket couldn’t benefit from shedding some baggage? I’m drinking far less beer, having belatedly discovered judicious portions of various whiskies. When it comes to eating my favorite foods, few of which are likely to be recommended by the prevailing dietary sects, portion control has been found wanting.

But I like fried chicken and martinis, and hope to be consuming some of each later tonight.

Admittedly, I’ve been living at least partially in my past. All these wakes and funerals prompt sober reflection, enhanced by going through my mom’s belongings, then finally getting around to digitalizing 30-year-old slides while trying to remember the person I was before the transformational experience of the pub and brewery, which had the disorienting effect at times of simultaneously broadening and restricting my outlook.

Overall, the good times still are. It’s just that they’re tempered by encroaching realities. The only choices are to live through them, get over it and at all times, keep learning. It’s too late to stop now.

Here is the 2010 column, unchanged -- except for the Ancient Rage beer Jared brewed back then.

It is long gone, and may it live forever in my memory.

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To be ancient is to be venerable. Ancient items are very old ones. In historical terms, ancient refers to dates and times long passed. In short, there is nothing novel about being ancient.

However, when considering the very concept of ancient, there are aspects of relativity and nebulousness. In the current era, ancient history generally is taken as describing periods in human civilization prior to the fall of Rome. Will this assumption still be accepted a thousand years from now?

Precisely when will our here and now become the ancient epoch of tomorrow?

It remains that an original Model-T is an ancient automobile, "Justified & Ancient" was a song performed by a defunct band called The KLF, and Ancient Age was and remains a Kentucky bourbon whisky, so called because it supposedly spends more time aging in charred oak barrels than competing brands.

Long ago, during the remote, ancient history of my life, I was infatuated with Ancient Age, although not the specific qualities of the firewater itself. Back then, the merits of bourbon flavor mattered far less than the imperative of masking it with cola and quaffing huge quantities through the inevitable grimacing. In this manner, Ancient Age somewhat ironically became a rite of youthful passage.

Actually, it was the name itself that always appealed to me. Ancient Age implied experience, dignity and respectability, but eventually I matured just enough to realize that while the words captivated me, the experience of consuming whisky did not. It’s probably been thirty years since I tasted Ancient Age -- although only thirty minutes since my last beer, which is where I stake my personal claim to knowledge.

In this quest for the higher ground, it’s time to revert to the lower case.

Only one additional letter is required to render ancient age into ancient sage, no longer a trademarked bourbon, and well beyond mere chronology, passing into the wider realm of pure wisdom: Sage as practitioner of sagacity, the quality possessed by the impossibly gnarly old man atop the high mountain, greeting exhausted searchers with impenetrable quasi-Delphic instructions for living, commandments regarded as all the more brilliant for being utterly incomprehensible.

One might turn the page, earn a wage or rattle a cage, but take away the “s” from sage and insert instead the consonant coming just before it in the alphabet, and the game changes dramatically, from ancient sage into ancient rage.

Did road rage exist in ancient times? Just ask Ben Hur.

As we commonly use it today, the word rage conjures images of furious anger, passionate intensity, and violent depth of emotional feeling. Rage comes from the same Latin root as rabies, not a condition to be confused with calm and deliberation. Whether enraged or outraged, we are primal.

Rage deriving from far-off places and times might legitimately be termed ancient rage, and for all the reasons listed here, brewer Jared Williamson of the New Albanian Brewing Company created a special edition beer for release on August 3, my 50th birthday: Ancient Rage, a Smoked Baltic Porter.

As a genial and trusting sort, I persist in believing that the half-century mark will prove to be a milestone more than a millstone. Just the same, there is the creeping perception of impending menace as calendar dates slip away and the actuarial tables inexorably turn against me … sadly, against us all.

At 40, there’s a plausible argument to be made that half your lifespan has yet to pass. At 50, that’s no longer the case. Throughout human history, life expectancy has been far shorter than today, and the age of 50 indeed has often qualified as ancient. Some days I feel that way myself, others not so much. Mostly, in a condition embracing both exhaustion and bemusement, I’d like to think of whatever length of time remains as a triumphant sprint to the finish, not a downward spiral.

What does ancient rage have to do with my 50th?

I concede to seldom being an exemplar of peace, love and understanding. Since childhood, prime motivators have been indignation, disgruntlement, exasperation and annoyance; it says something when one’s favorite writer is H. L. Mencken. I’m neither proud nor ashamed by this. It’s my psyche, nothing more, nothing less.

During hormonal days of youth, I often felt consumed by anger to the exclusion of placidity and thoughtfulness. These episodes never manifested in physical violence; rather, my verbal and written abilities evolved in accordance with a compelling need to express previously inexpressible rage.

These outbursts have been directed against stupidity and cupidity, naked power and destructive greed – against fascists and corporations, despoilers of the environment and enslavers of peasants, chain restaurants and nasty light beer, and the sadness, superstition and desperation in life itself – and maybe, on widely scattered occasions, against my own fear, impotence and inability to go a bit further than fulminate against injustice and actually offer something to the wider world in return.

Self-doubt and inner turmoil are pitiless taskmasters, and I suspect they’ll always be unwelcomed companions. Yet, there is considerable happiness in arriving at 50 in good health, working in a growing business, enjoying the company of my mother, friends and family, and eager to give profuse thanks to my wife, my partner in life, who has been both tenderly loving and unsparingly honest in helping propel me to a new place where the rage seemingly recedes.

The principles and motivation haven’t subsided, and will not. There’ll be lapses, but “mad as hell” is a poor recipe for living. I don’t look back in anger at my ancient rage. Today is the best day, and tomorrow better still.

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Recent columns:

July 27: ON THE AVENUES: Irish history with a musical chaser.

July 20: ON THE AVENUES DOUBLEHEADER (2): A book about Bunny Berigan, his life and times.

July 20: ON THE AVENUES DOUBLEHEADER (1): Listening to "Dixieland" jazz, and thinking about drinking a beer.

July 13: ON THE AVENUES: Using Deaf Gahan’s dullest razor, we race straight to the bottom of his hurried NAHA putsch launch.

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