I am sitting in a Starbucks in Manchester. Vermont, having just finished my hospice visits for the day. I bought my weekly bag of coffee (we love their coffee) and am sitting here at my table sipping a cup of java, computer out. Relaxing after what has been a hard week.
I like the music they have on. You never know at Starbucks. Eclectic means you’ll love some of it and hate some of it. That’s the nature of the phrase. Today it’s music from the fifties and sixties. Not rock and roll, which was just emerging at that time, but what was more mainstream, the Sinatra, Rat Pack, Peggy Lee big band blues of the day.
I grew up around that music. My dad had a hi-fi system at the house. An ancient thing with tubes that glowed and reflected off the back wall, and a massive mahogany speaker the size of a large suitcase that hung on the wall. (I wish I still had the speaker, to be honest.). He would play his music on the record player (we did not call them turntables back then). Cool jazz he called it.
I got away from that music for a while. I am a product of the late sixties and seventies when it comes to music, and like most young men, I left my father’s music behind as I grew up. I did not rediscover it until I was in my forties.
In my forties, I rediscovered convertibles. I bought one cheap to see if I still liked them, and I did. I traveled for work back then, and so I bought a satellite radio. One of the first in the country. (there’s a long story in that, but that is for another time). And suddenly I could listen to the same radio channel, no matter how far I traveled.
And I rediscovered my father’s music. Sattelite radio has a channel called “Seriously Sinatra” that celebrates that period. It became my favorite channel, and many the days I traveled for hours to customer sites, top down on my old red Lebaron convertible, Sinatra and friends playing.
That was a long time ago. I am closing in on 67 now. I still use satellite radio. And at different times, I will listen to one kind of music or another for days and weeks on end. It’s my form of binge watching, except it’s with music. I would give up TV altogether before I would give up my satellite radio.
I learned something about my father’s music and I. It is music I listen to when my life is good. WHen things are a struggle, or blah, or down, I don’t listen to it. I have no patience for the romance of it, the bubbly undertones of even the lost love songs, the perfect upbeat of the stuff. SInce talking about my own feelings is always a little iffy, clues like that mean something. I will find myself listening to that music of an age just before mine, head bopping like a bad fifties music, and suddenly I will smile, realizing how good life is, and that i should appreciate it.
And so I walk into Starbucks this afternoon, “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” with Dinah Shore and Louis Armstring is on.. I walk up to the counter with my bag of coffee, quietly singing along with it, and plop the bad down right on that last piano note that closes the song out.
The clerk smiles at me. A young girl, or at least young to me. She is probably in her thirties. “You are the coolest customer in the house.” she says.
My surprise must have shown. And then I thought she was mocking me. “No, really. You just always seem at ease. Every week (I come by every Thursday.). You are nice to every one. You know stuff. We talk about it here. We talk about all our customers.”
Cool is a much lower bar than when I was growing up. Sixty seven year old men never got to be cool when I was growing up. You had to be young, tall, handsome, self sure, someone who made an impact when he walked in the room. A babe magnet.
Or maybe it is something else. Maybe we have come to live in a world where more and more of us are way too aware of their flaws (You can count me in that class. I write of my own often.). Maybe it is the time of unease. Pandemic. A country at war with itself about what it wants to be and how it wants to treat people not like themselves. An economy we no longer understand. Wars and their disruptions. An internet-centric life that has robbed some of us of the intimacy of real conversation, a world where faith, once the underpinning of our value, has become politics instead of love. It’s an uncertain time.
In the fifties, America was at the top of the word. World War two was behind us. We were in the midst of an an uncommonly stable period of time. Repubicans and Democrats talked instead of demonized. For all it’s flaws, we felt like we were in a stable, moving forward place.
Most of us don’t feel that way any more. I know. People talk to me about it all the time. I know very few people who are comfortable and confident any more.
I am fortunate. And I realize it. I am not wealthy. but I have enough. A home. The stuff I need. I pay the heat bill each month. I buy groceries. I have people who love me. I get to do work I love. At sixty seven, I am well into a period of time I just get to be myself and the world can take it or leave it. I have faith.
So I can walk into Starbucks and be… cool.
I would have loved to be cool earlier in my life. Which of us wouldn’t have? Now, it amuses me as I look at my wrinkled, baldish head, the bags under my eyes and remember the battering my soul and body has taken the last fifteen or twenty years. Cool? What good is that? Still, when I leave Starbucks later, I will leave to a Sinatra soundtrack. It’s fun to be cool, even if it is just long enough to finish my coffee.
Now, If I had only brought my grey fedora,
Be well. Travel wisely. You’re all pretty cool to me.