Tuesday, August 28, 2007

The Necessary Facade

While visiting in Winnipeg, I took my wife to see one of the libraries I grew up in. It was late at night and we'd just finished a long, private dinner. We talked about the future, tried to figure out what choices we were facing and what plans we should make. Our daughters are edging into adolescence while my wife and I are sliding into middle-age, so these discussions can get a bit intense. Large emotions and expectations are compressed into a relatively short discussion, and a bit of breathing space and perspective is needed as a nightcap. My old neighborhood seemed like a good evening destination.

The library hadn't changed a bit. There it stood, next to the arena: one little box sharing a parking lot with a much larger box. I felt compelled to at least try to take some comfort in this — if the exterior was any indication, the interior might be unaltered as well. I remembered the bright florescent lights, the stacks devoted to 70s pop culture, vinyl cushioned chairs that made a kid so comfortable he lost track of time and had to be gently informed by the librarian that his mother had called to say supper was ready.

Of course, the interior has changed; so has the content and technology (card file and microfiche, say hello to the Internet). I knew this. It is a very different library from the one I spent my days in, so it peeved me to face an exterior that was unchanged. I didn't want to feel nostalgic toward this building. I wanted to see progress — add content, open up the space a bit, make it more inviting to the public. I wanted to face an aesthetic smirk, something that in effect said, “We've moved on, you geezer. What about you?” But I was facing a smirk of a different order.

The nearly immaculate preservation of an old library strikes me as a strange thing for me to get tetchy about, but there it is. Coincidentally, I've been playing a bit with my own appearance. When I finally recovered enough from my pneumonia to walk around town and visit with people, I received numerous compliments about how young I was looking. Losing 15 pounds will do that, but I'd also let my hair grow: my traditional buzz-cut was shaggy and some of my curl was back. At first, when told I looked “10 years younger,” I was tempted to reach for the clippers and combs, following a cussed impulse to look my age, dammit. I asked my wife for some insight, and she agreed that I didn't look as gray with longer hair, but more to the point, I also didn't look as severe (or probably grumpy, mopey and obsessed with mid-lifey things) as I do with a buzz.

The barber's chair still beckons, and I'm still tempted — especially when some photos look suspiciously like a guy who's trying to camouflage his receding hairline (one of my grandfathers had a notorious comb-over). But I've got enough hair to play with, so why not play? It's not about “looking younger,” it's about exploring possibilities and potential that in fact are there.

Next: a few Winnipeg photos.

9 comments:

Rob In Victoria said...

Suffice it to say, I'm the last person to comment on appropriate hair length. My author photo, au courant on publication day, is now about 8 inches of growth out of date.

And then there's the "book beard" thing that sometime hits me. If you see me this fall and I look something like "Grizzly Adams discovers weed!", you'll know why.

Trent Reimer said...

Dude ^H^H^H^H oops I mean Sir, as long as your wife likes it you are probably in the clear.

Now if you get the urge to die it blond...

DarkoV said...

That "Buzz" thing explains why so many of the younger men in the office/plant look so grumpy/'rhoidy. I couldn't put my finger on it, so thanks WP.

Trying for tail length (pony, not backside)?

Whisky Prajer said...

Growing a tail? Hm. That wasn't the "plan" (such as it is). I had one, once upon a time, and I remember how relieved I felt when I finally cut it. Mind you, I was "tailed" on the day of my wedding. I'll have to get back to you on that!

Peter said...

I'd say that as a general rule, a buzz cut or shaved head makes a man look older than his true age until he's in his mid-40's, and afterwards makes him look younger. The partially bald, George Costanza look makes a man look older at any age, and a comb-over is even worse in this respect.

Whisky Prajer said...

Male coifs do seem to reach a point of no return, don't they? You could almost tweak the Serenity Prayer to invoke Divine assistance re: "the wisdom to discern" the difference between "do"-able, and not do-able. How many comb-overs could be avoided if only that wisdom was parceled out proportionately?

Whisky Prajer said...

RIV - "8 inches" - in what direction? Surely we aren't talking about your beard?!

prairie mary said...

My father and his sibs had many fond memories of Winnipeg, which is where they spent their college years in the late 1920's. Big square buildings out in the middle of acres and acres of flat fields, far from the actual town. I think you've seen the photos.

My own memory of Winnipeg was a UU ministers' meeting -- I THINK. It was winter, slushy and dark, and somehow I didn't get supper and knew I couldn't sleep on an empty stomach, so stopped in a little diner somehow tucked in under something -- is there an elevated railway? The owner, one other customer and I had a long philosophical talk about something or other that I don't remember now. It was cozy, but one was aware of vicious weather just outside. I don't even remember the content of the conference, but I remember that I was impressed that the minister was so consciously wicked -- brave talk about sex, defying convention, being an artist and so on. I think maybe he was rescuing abused women. Very much more the style in Canada at that time (late Eighties) than in the States where everyone seemed a bit weary: "been there, done that, got the t-shirt -- it's lookin' a little ragged."

Still, what has stuck with me most was the sort of Edward Hopper/film noir of bacon and eggs in a diner just before closing. Bound to turn up in a story some day.

Prairie Mary

Whisky Prajer said...

There are a couple of greasy spoon joints on Main Street by the railroad. I suspect that conversation you started could be picked up exactly where you left off.