A chill flashes over me as I realize that I am subconsciously humming along to the insipid lyrics of a Journey power ballad that has somehow cycled on onto a hastily selected iTunes radio station. My carefully cultivated Brian Eno-themed station is on the fritz so somehow I had ended up on "Classic Rock," which was neither. It was one of Journey's many interchangeable ditties, proclaiming the specialness of being young, wild, and running free. It drove home the fact that I am no longer young, being closer to 100 than I am to being freshly hatched out of the egg.
Lately I have been taken by fits of nostalgia, spurred by the notion that my essential spirit is now trapped in the rather pudgy vessel of an aging bald man who regularly peers back at me from the mirror. He seems as confused and discomforted as I am by our staring matches but he's always there to give it a go. I'm not really looking at him as much as I am starting through him to reflect back on places and times that my memory is trying to convince me were some of the most wonderful moments of my life. They were not. Still, the trips down memory lane are overwhelming and all-encompassing - almost hallucinogenic in their intensity. It's like being Billy Pilgrim, replaying my life out of sequence but with a feel-good plot.
John Lydon was yammering about something on TV and I was sucked into one of these memory wormholes, landing in late 1970s small town Oklahoma. I am going through a punk phase, having immersed myself in the movement as well as one could through magazines and sporadic media coverage. An idealized slowmo walking-shot of the rail-thin teen version of me in straight-leg jeans, workboots, a ripped leopard print T-shirt and spikey hair is set to Dead Boys' Sonic Reducer and it plays on repeat through my mental cinema. I have to practically stab myself to remember the accompanying insults and random punches from the sort of Neanderthals that a small town 1970s Oklahoma educational system was so adept at cranking out. Granted I was a rather pathetic mail-order punk, but I gave it up well before punk faded due to the torrent of abuse it drew. The few people I know from high school still snicker about it.
Later, as I was frowning at the paunch that the fat man in the mirror was sporting around his middle, I was suddenly once again a newly minted divorced guy in my 30s. Out every night, in great shape, the outward picture of success in the late 1990's. Lying brain tries to convince me I was a better version of Trent from Swingers than Vince Vaughn was. Martinis for everyone. Airbrushed out is the soul-crushing loneliness and the high-functioning alcoholism that drove my existence. Somehow my brain is trying to put my lost years on the highlight reel. Why those memories? I'm lucky I lived through them at all.
While other people may count sheep before they go to sleep, I replay a mental movie of everything I've ever done wrong - every bad choice and missed opportunity – until I'm exhausted enough to go to sleep. I think perhaps my brain is tired of me being such a miserable fuck and is just forcibly re-editing things in order to get some well-deserved rest. Perhaps my brain has just found a new way to torture me: throw something out there that I know is wrong, causing me to actually to recall the awful memory in more vivid detail than ever.
Of course I have plenty of good memories and happenings in my life - many more than the bad. They're in there, but they never get dressed up and go on parade. Perhaps the good memories are the confident, well adjusted kids going about their business, and the bad memories are the neurotic screamers, doing anything to get attention. They're probably the ones that cause bad anthropomorphism.
My wife saw me staring catatonically in the mirror a couple of days ago and had to tap me on the head to get my attention. I told her that my brain is lying to me. After a short pause, and in a not too-patronizing voice she said maybe it's just another part of the aging process. Sort of like how old people steadfastly think their generation was the best, why the previous generation was a bunch of doddering old farts, and why kids today don't appreciate how good they have it. She made a great point that maybe my nearly AARP-eligible brain is just trying to find value in bad situations. What's better to remember, getting curb-stomped by rednecks or being an Okie version of Stiv Bators for a little while? Then she tells me to just shut up and enjoy my head movies. It's not like I have a choice.
The good old days are apparently the ones you're not in anymore. And they're getting better on their own.