1928 - Alderson High School - 1968


David B. Shields May 22, 2010

Hereís something you can bank on: the older you get the more disgusted with yourself you become. Some disagreement is inevitable I suppose. So what else is new? Iíve never said anything in my life with which everyone agrees. Who cares? Thatís my story and Iím sticking to it: with age comes a measure of self-loathing.

You canít run as far as you once could. Stamina is diminished. Eyesight fails. Hearing goes. Memory isnít what it used to be. No one likes you as much as they once did. They pretend to, but you know better. You can see it in their eyes. It twinkles there akin to pity. Deep down you want to smack them. But you canít do that. People in white coats will come after you! So you wind up crying in your beer, loathing your circumstances and hating what you have become and filled with anxiety knowing that it will only get worse.

I suppose thatís why you spend so much time thinking about the past, searching for the happy times and good memories. Traveling that road is not always free of speed bumps and pot holes though. Sure you stumble upon a few precious memories and they bring a Mona Lisa smile to your lips, but traipsing around in the pastures of remembrance youíre bound to step in a cow pie or two on the journey. So you have that to live with, too, returning to the here and now with a post-reminiscent odor about you.

I remember, for example, a colorful character in the little town in West Virginia where I grew up. We called him Hat-and-Coat. I donít remember his real name. I should, but I donít. He was old in our eyes and probably, in our eyes, didnít deserve a real name. He wasnít old, of course, but to me and my friends he was. God forbid we should bother to respect him enough to call him by his real name. It was too much fun watching him react to the moniker we had hung on him expressly for the purpose of agitating him.

Hat-and-Coat was not packed up real tight. Could have been psychological trauma suffered from Korea or WWII or worse. I donít know that either. All that I knew at the time and all that I remember now is that he was a bit unbalanced and he wore a heavy thread-barren overcoat and floppy old hat all the time, even on the hottest of days. As I recall he was never attired any other way, ever! And whenever we kids saw him on the streets, which was often, we would, from a safe distance behind him, yell, ďHat-and-Coat!Ē

The poor man would then whirl around toward us, shake and twitch and thrash about with his arms and grunt back at us with a raspy, unintelligible tirade. Sometimes he would move toward us and we would run away laughing and yelling back over our shoulders: ďHat-and-Coat, Hat-and-Coat!Ē And we continued that through the years without ever thinking about what was going through this manís mind or considering what hurt we might be causing him. I never cared until recently. Now the memory of him is haunting.

Maybe thatís because now Iím cold most of the time. Circulation is bad I guess. I stay bundled up pretty well and probably look peculiar in my heavy coat when others around me are in shorts. Itís probably only a matter of time before kids begin running up behind me and yelling hurtful epitaphs.

Sometimes I think I should be in a home, stored away with Alzheimer patients and Nurse Ratchet looking after me. I think Iíll put that off as long as I can though. Besides, I have no money and I doubt the home would want much to do with my kind. Still thatís where I probably belong, mixed in with other wrinkles. But I wonít go if I can help it.

Iím thinking I need a cause. Iím the happiest when Iím fighting windmills. Trouble is no one takes me serious these days. Looking back on it, I know they never did, but I didnít know it then. I thought what I was saying was important and people were listening to me. Now I realize that wasnít the case and I despair over all that wasted time and effort. On top of that there are no worthwhile causes left. If you encounter someone pimping a cause you quickly see it for what it really is: a pompous, self-serving prig extolling the virtues of something more often than not completely unnecessary and of no real value to the public good.

In short, you find yourself loathing the world around you and doing what you can to deny the fact that what youíre really doing is loathing yourself. And it gets worse with age. And then you die. Hat-and-Coat is dead now. I will follow him probably sooner than later. And the world will be better for this, Iím thinking!

Note to those who still think theyíre ageless and bulletproof. Your day is coming. Get ready. And for Godís sake, quit taking yourselves so seriously. Your future is the same as everyone elseís: maggots and oblivion.