I used to know an old man named Bill, he was my neighbor. I think he was in his late 80s when I knew him, but I don’t remember now. He was soft spoken, he sort of reminded me of Jimmy Sterwart.
He loved caramel-flavored coffee from a gas station up the road. It came from a fancy machine and was sweet enough to rot your jaw. Sometimes we would drink this stuff together. The coffee was so sugary I could hardly choke it down.
I remember one day, he and I were sharing one such coffee in his kitchen while his grandchildren were playing Pictionary. Thus, between the words of our heartfelt conversation, kids were shouting: “A CAT!” “A DRAWBRIDGE!” “LEONARDO DICAPRIO!” “SHUT UP!”
During that conversation, Bill said to me something I will never forget. He said: “I think the key to being happy is having something to look forward to.”
Sometimes words hit me just right and make perfect sense. This was one of those instances.
Anyway, I have always been very interested in what elderly people believe the key to happiness is. I’m always asking old people questions about happiness because we young people sure as Shinola don’t know a thing about it.
Just yesterday I was walking through my neighborhood. I passed a youngish woman who was jogging while having an animated cell phone conversation. Here is a verbatim quote from the conversation:
“I’m sick of working for a cheap firm, I want my freaking BMW.”
That’s the problem with young persons. They think BMWs will make them happy. But when you ask an old person what makes them happy, they usually point to a photograph of their children, then ask you to refill their glass of Metamucil.
Bill said he was in his 60s when he discovered this trick of finding things to look forward to. His discovery came during a vacation to Hawaii.
He and his wife had spent a week on the beach, sipping giant comical drinks with names like the Lava Flow Martini, each drink garnished with four exotic fruits and a live parrot. And on his last night in Hawaii, he was starting to get depressed.
His trip was ending and he was realizing that he was about to go back home to a desk job, with a boss whose greatest life ambition was probably to drive a BMW 6 Series 635CSi. There was nothing exciting on the horizon now that Hawaii was over.
So Bill made an important life-changing decision, right then and there, to order another Lava Flow Martini. Then he made another important life decision and planned ANOTHER vacation, one that he could look forward to. It wasn’t anything fancy. A cheap camping trip in a state park, or a fishing trip on the river. He said his blues immediately disappeared.
“My wife and I just needed something new to look forward to,” he said.
And I have always remembered that.
I am especially remembering his advice today because right now I am going crazy with this quarantine. I have been at home for 60 days. The only fun things I have to look forward to are cellphone bills, and picking up things my dogs excrete in public places.
It’s a very weird world we’re living in right now. Yellowstone and Yosemite are closed. Major League Baseball might not play a season. I am still wearing the same pajama pants I was wearing back in March.
Even Hawaii is not serving many fruity drinks, but is making tourists quarantine for 14 days after stepping off a plane.
There isn’t much to look forward to. When I was a kid, I naturally found things to get excited about. Like picking strawberries, a mail-ordered toy from the Sears catalog, or a camping trip with the Little League team.
Our Little League team used to take lots of camping trips. Before bedtime, coaches would tell horrific ghost stories around the campfire while they sipped Miller High Life. These were stories about one-armed bandits hacking people to pieces with machetes.
One such night, I remember my buddy, Daniel, was too afraid to leave our tent to go pee in the woods. So he opened the tent flap and tried to aim outside. The tent flap interfered with his stream of consciousness.
I won’t go into detail about what happened next, except to say that lots of splattering took place, and every boy in that tent was seeking the death penalty.
So these were the kinds of things I looked forward to as a kid. Not the splattering, the camping. I looked forward to being “it” during a good game of tag. I looked forward to “Action Comics” and seeing what Clark Kent was up to. I looked forward to watching “Wheel of Fortune” with my mother. Little things. But many of those little things have disappeared for the moment.
Today, I had a phone conversation with an old friend who lost his father to cancer. He can’t even plan the funeral right now because nobody can come. It will be a four-person service and he’s heartbroken.
That’s what reminded me of old Bill. There were, for instance, about a million people at Bill’s funeral. I was there. When I looked into his casket, I tucked a note into his jacket pocket and promised him I would try to follow his advice. Lately, I’m not doing a very good job. But I’m trying.
Which is why I’m drinking this flavored coffee.