Rip Van Backwords







Last week I walked into this apartment building where I used to live. I hadn’t been inside the building for many, many years. So it was like walking back into a dream.

As I walked down the hall to my apartment I half expected the building manager and his wife — this little old couple that lived next door to me — to pop their heads out of their door and say hi to me. Like they had done so many times before. But of course they didn’t. They’ve been long dead.

I walked into my apartment. My living room. And it was like walking back onto a stage where I had enacted thousands of dramas. I could almost hear the voices and see the faces of all those ghosts from dramas past.

I opened the door to the big walk-in closet where I had been storing hundreds of boxes of my stuff for the last 23 years. I had moved out of my apartment in 1995 and had hastily stashed all my stuff in the closet. And now here it was before me, like an artificially preserved time capsule of Ace Backwords 1995.







When I had moved into the building in 1982 I was 26. And still a boy really. Most of the people that lived there when I moved in were elderly. And now they’re all long dead. When I looked at the list of all the tenants on the front door I noticed only one person who had lived there when I was there was still there. This one guy who had been in his 30s when I first moved in. He was in his 70s now, with gray hair and walked with a cane. And now I was an old man, too.

As I walked out of the front door of the apartment building and walked down the street I suddenly felt like Rip Van Winkle. I had went to sleep as a young man. And had woken up as an old man. And all my friends were gone. And the town I had been living in had completely disappeared. In a blink of an eye.



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I was thinking how significant one’s age is.  For example, when they mention somebody’s name in the newspaper one of the first things they usually mention is the person’s age.  “So-and-so, 48” or “So-and-so, 27.”  So I guess it’s one of the defining characteristics, maybe even moreso than race or sex.

One phrase that always annoyed me:  “It’s just a number.”  While I can appreciate the sentiments (“You’re only as old as you feel”) one’s age is a LOT more than “just” a number.  Your age not only reflects your geriatric situation, it also reflects the generation that you came of age with.

I distinctly remember the heavy symbolism every time my age hit a new decade.  My 20th birthday party when a friend said:  “No more teenage wasteland.”  And all the ramifications of that.  I remember writing an editorial when I turned 30, oddly titled “Turning 30.”  Speculating on all the significance of that.  It was like the warm-up period of my 20s was over and now it was time to get serious.

Now, at age 57, I’m actually looking forward to turning 60.  Just so I can get it over with.  “OK, I’m 60.  I’m officially old.”  Rather than still be on the fence at 57.  When I turned 50, I was still in vigorous health and I didn’t feel  much different than in my 30s.  But at 57 I notice a significant difference.  The inevitable signs of “old man” syndrome.  After a relatively light physical work-out I’ll feel exhausted; aching muscles, the whole bit.  I’ll lie down and then when I stand up I’m not sure if my legs are gonna buckle underneath me.   Along with the realization:  “It’s no longer about getting into BETTER shape.  But just slowing the rate in which my health degenerates.”

I remember when I first jumped deeply into the Punk Rock scene in 1982, at age 25.   Most of the punkers on the scene at the time were high school age, 17, 18 to early 20s.  So, at 25 I remember feeling for the first time being on the other side of the generation gap, re Youth Culture.  Five or six years can make a big difference at that age.  One of the reasons I was so fascinated with the Punk Scene was because I was madly in love with this woman, age 26 who had recently “gone punk” and was going out with this high school punk kid, age 16.  So that was a minor scandal at the time.  (And in a related aside, regarding the “underage” thing, the “It’s-just-a-number” defense holds zero weight with a judge in a court of law).

I remember there was this guy on the scene at the time, Tim Yohannon, age 35, who was one of the self-appointed “leaders” of the Punk Scene back then.  I remember it was a regular topic of discussion:   “What’s with this creepy old guy who wants to hang out with high school kids all the time?”  Oddly, Yohannon ended up dying at age 52 in 1998. But now when I look back at it from my perspective at age 57, 52 seems amazingly young!   So I guess I’m the creepy old guy now.  Its all relative, I guess.  Age.  Relative to a lot of different things.