Saturday, February 1, 2020

Growing Up | Lefsetz Letter

First you’re too young and then you’re too old.

Come on, you remember going to the amusement park and not reaching the line, now you’ve got no desire to go on the rides.

I was always the youngest until my hair started falling out in my early twenties. Then, instantly, I became old. There was no in-between. I waited to be twenty one, even though you could drink and drive at eighteen in Vermont (and I did both simultaneously, this was before Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and if you know Vermont locals, life tends to be short, as a result of misadventure, when was the last time you played “chicken”?), but it seemed I could not relish the change in how I felt and how I was perceived as I reached this landmark age. It’s probably worse now, when everybody starts their career right out of college, but then you turn thirty and re-evaluate and you feel lousy, like you haven’t accomplished much, not knowing when you turn sixty thirty will seem like a baby.

You’re angsting and struggling, especially in your twenties and thirties. Then, you wake up one day and you are who you are, that’s all she wrote, sure Julia Child made it in her old age but most people do not. As for retiring…they tell you in the entertainment business, suddenly the young clients don’t want to be talking to the old person. And then you get to the point where you don’t care, even though you used to care so much.

And hopefully you’ve got enough money to sail into the sunset. Many do not, and you can’t live on social security, no way. And it’s funny, except for the truly rich, it’s like being back in high school, everybody essentially equal, what your job was no longer matters, everybody’s on an equal plane.

I don’t want that, I want to work forever. For the fulfillment if not the money. And I need the money, there’s no way I could retire.

But last night we watched “Annie Hall” and I realized how old I am.

First and foremost, Woody Allen and Diane Keaton look young, and they’re way younger than me. I remember seeing the two on Broadway, in “Play It Again, Sam”, wanting to be living that life too.

So “Annie Hall” is about the struggle. Do you remember the struggle? Trying to find the right person to live with, to marry, to spend the rest of your life with?

There were no shortcuts, no online dating, you had to go out as opposed to staying in, which is the standard today. They’re waiting on line for the movies, and in New York it is “on line,” not “in line,” and I remember this. Movies were a way of life. Television was a second-class citizen, it did not drive the culture. And if you were in New York or L.A. you had to go an hour in advance, just to get in, films did not open in three thousand theatres, they were platformed, and the successful ones played for months! And when they fell off, you went to revival houses to catch up. This was when you could still be an expert, before the tsunami of pictures, when we all became overwhelmed.

So Alvy and Annie are playing tennis and…

She hits on him.

Not exactly, but she’s the one who starts the conversation, she’s the one who asks him if he has a car. Men love this, that’s how we know you’re interested. And I’ve lived this more than once, and it always resulted in a relationship.

But Annie lacks self-confidence, and Alvy is worried about what he says before he finds out who she really is. He wonders what she looks like naked…can you even say that anymore?

It’s a shock watching this film from 1977. The landlines, the lack of smartphones. You’re brought back to that era when we were all not connected, when we were foraging for connection.

But we still had our neuroses.

Alvy can’t go to a movie after it starts. Neither can I, I’m always thinking I’ve missed something. And for me, a movie is not entertainment, but life itself, which is one of the reasons the comic book movies don’t work for me, I’m interested in humanity, real life, insight.

And the seventies were the heyday of film. Starting in the late sixties to be truthful, with “The Graduate” and “Bonnie & Clyde.” The Oscars were important because the stars were really stars and even bigger than those on screen were those behind the camera.

And then came “Jaws” and “Star Wars” and the industry realized how much money could be made, and the change began. Now, movies about everyday people, everyday situations, have been wiped from the cinema.

So Alvy wants to improve Annie and she constantly laments that she’s not smart enough. You don’t realize you can’t do this until you’re fifty or sixty, you’ve got to accept them as they are or they leave you.

Furthermore, Annie broadens her horizons and Alvy then becomes possessive, he doesn’t want her to leave the nest.

So they break up.

And then get back together.

You’re foraging for people and…

It’s not like today, where you’re going on scores of dates, one and done. Occasionally you had one date, but most people were looking for a relationship, not because they needed to settle down, but because they were lonely, they were sick of looking at the four walls.

And if you made the connection within a year you were living together, even though your parents thought you should get married. Sometimes even our significant other wanted to get married. But, once again, we saw life as a continuum, a big game, and we didn’t want to retire so soon. That’s one of the reasons I never had kids, I never wanted to put myself in the back seat, never mind pay for them, even though I now know that we’re just animals, here to reproduce, and no one will be remembered, and you should have kids, not that I have any regrets.

So, this person knows you better than anybody else in the world. And then you’re disconnected? There was no ghosting, endings were never clean. You usually had to break up multiple times before it was truly over, and then it never really was, you still thought about them.

And you missed the sex. With someone you loved.

But then you had to go forward.

Eventually you settled down. You were worried that you were gonna miss your chance, and women have a biological clock, at least before egg-freezing and implantation and they couldn’t wait while you deliberated.

But it didn’t work out.

Baby boomers…the younger you got married, the sooner you got divorced. People who raised kids, who seemed part of the firmament, suddenly they broke apart. Some left for other people, some never found other people. And if you’ve never lived with somebody, never been married, people avoid you.

So Paul Simon, who was once young, you can see it here, tries to steal Annie.

How do you keep a woman?

Sure, there’s all this talk about keeping a man. And some of them do have affairs, but if your significant other or wife works outside the home and talks about their male coworkers you’re always wondering…are they gonna trade up? Even the rich and powerful have to worry about this, can you say Lauren Sanchez? How does Patrick Whitesell put one foot in front of another these days, when a good friend stole his wife. And there’s always someone richer, or more attractive, or less neurotic… Most men are insecure, despite media portraying them otherwise. They don’t want to be at the bar watching sports with their buddies and coming home to an empty apartment, no way.

So my whole life passed and I didn’t even realize it!

Things are good now on every front, work and relationship, but for so long they were not. And if work is not good, it hurts the relationship, money changes everything, especially when you haven’t got it.

And Alvy and Annie are always going out. Sure, they’re in New York City, but the truth is the older you get the less you go out. And you can never drop in on anyone, that’s anathema.

And the film is littered with conversation. And if you grew up on the east coast you instantly want to go back, to feel that pulse. But it comes with a lot of b.s. and everybody in this film wants to move to L.A. Then again, this was before the days of cheap air travel, most people had never been to Los Angeles, they had no idea what they were missing.

And today Woody Allen is a pariah. Whether he should or shouldn’t be. Funny how things change.

Just like the winners of yore, so many are done today. They’ve been pushed out of the corporation, a new regime has taken over, their work was their identity and suddenly there’s no work and they don’t know who they are.

I remember when my mother used to call people in their forties young and I winced. Now I can remember what happened forty years ago, and just like my mother couldn’t believe a pastrami sandwich was $3.95, I can’t believe it’s now twenty bucks! As for the price of concert tickets… Even worse, I’ve lost my money sense, I remember when a millionaire was a millionaire, but today the median income in America is $61,937 and you’re struggling on that. Then again, after running out of money I sacrificed, I’m still sacrificing, but nobody is anymore, they’re driving German iron and flying not only for vacations, but shows.

I’ve lost my reference points. I used to have them, but I lived too long, I’ve seen too much.

I’m trying to make sense of it, but then I watch “Annie Hall” and recognize my youth, my twenties and thirties, which are far from yesterday, and it seems my bedrock identity is back there.

We used to have time to dream, set our minds free. Today, everything is in-your-face, active, not passive. We don’t reminisce and plan so much as do. But without reflection, the direction you pursue is hobbled.

And on one hand I have the oldsters with their malarkey, yearning to go back to the past, and on the other the youngsters, who can’t believe we lived in an era without flat screens, without streaming media, without social networks. I often asked my mother what it was like living before television. Now I know, I lived before the internet. Seems quaint, don’t you think?

And to tell you the truth, today’s era is much better. There’s none of that boredom, none of that wasted time in the clubs, there’s stimulation at your fingertips.

But with every step forward something is lost.

But it’s minor. Ask kids today if they miss vent windows. They may not even have a car, never mind one without a/c.

Oh yeah, a/c was a novelty not only in cars, but homes. We shvitzed.

But that era is now gone.

And soon we will be too. With all our stories, all our memories.

It’s the way of the world.

But we thought we were different, that the rules didn’t apply to us.

We were wrong.


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