The following can be described as a “Column from the Future” of sorts, inspired by a persistent question I’ve heard in blogs, on TV and from many of my friends and colleagues of similar age: “What kind of music are we going to be listening to when we’re old?” Below is an expansion on the answer, which takes the form of a transcript of an oral history recording. Thanks for reading!
OUR CHAISES ARE WIRED FOR LAPTOPS
Dispatches from YurtCity, A Gen-X Retirement Community
by Resident #831-935-044-CEC
Yurt #23A, Colony 07
"Hello? Helloooo. Is this goddamn thing on? It’s supposed to be voice-activated…[unintelligible]
…Okay, this is me in the StoryYurt. I only have 30 minutes at a time, so I’ll get right to the point. I’m recording my thoughts not for posterity but for our generation in the past—just in case CalTech or Stanford stumbles upon a time-travel scenario that doesn’t turn people into tiny pyramids of burnt goo. I’ve written some stuff down here on a very valuable piece of Hammermill white bond… [sounds of fumbling, throat clearing] Okay then, here we go:
‘The first thing you’re probably wondering is what we all wondered as we reached our mid-forties: Will the loudspeaker play Muzak or Public Enemy? The second thing you’re probably wondering: How does it feel?
‘On that second thing, it sort of veers between Not As Bad As You Think and As Bad As They Say. You catch a glimpse in a mirror of your furrowed, spotted gnarls of knuckles, raised rivers of blue-sugar veins and purple blood bruises on your hands and wrists—the very same you presented tanned and sweat-beaded at the second Lollapalooza for that long-ago henna tattoo. Then Getting Old comes on, frankly, like a m----------r. The body that once rappelled triumphantly down a rockface during the Summer of ’94 is now a collection of sharp bones pushing their way past papery hairy flesh. The cock that you wielded with such expert, virile aplomb with Tara Whatwashername after the No Blood For Oil march of ’91 is now useless and pliant and your balls are making their way steadily towards the floor like they’re being eased down by elevator cables.
‘Unfortunately, here you’re surrounded by Dorian Grays – pun fully intended – all reflecting your old ass with their own peculiar infirmities that resemble the damaged powers of elderly superheroes. My roommate Binx, for instance. Born in 1967, the year of the James Bond film You Only Live Twice, he now holds onto his memory—faded by a rigorously maintained bong and Ecstasy regimen during the Clinton Years—by remembering what he was doing according to each 007 installment. Yell out, “Binksie! Octopussy!” and he’ll yell back (because he always has his iEars turned down), “Workin’ for the local public-access tapin’ intramural soccer matches!!” Say “The World Is Not Enough!’ and he’ll spell out the letters “D-I-V-O-R-C-E, numero dos!” I love Binx, the jack-of-all-trades, the Harry Smith of YurtCity. I wouldn’t want to watch my feet grow into unsightly, barnacled claws with anyone else but a former weed-dealer. We’ve been Facebook friends since 2005, forty-three years, my oldest one.
'In YurtCity, these things are still the same: Topless golf caps and white hair turned yellow by the sun, skin that looks like cigar wrappings, Play-Doh tires around our waists, endless conversations on the same topics (Medication Side Effects, Unappreciative Offspring, The US of A vs. Everyone Else, What’s That Smell?) that could last for hours, insane weeklong games of iMonopoly, iBoggle and iScrabble (or the XGameYurt for the hardier souls), sun hats and water wings, alcoholism disguised under the banner of Sports Enthusiasm, obsessive diets, litanies of encroaching infirmity, heavy colognes and perfumes.
‘The main difference now is no one goes to Florida. That ended decades ago with those Boomers, who are oh so particular, and with the ratifying of the Facebook Seniorcare Bill of 2035, which President Z. pushed through Congress with the stirring words, “America’s concern for its cherished elders has reached an all-time low, a national embarrassment; we have condemned our valuable heritage to die demented and alone, surrounded not by family and a strong support system, but by cats and piles of mildewed newspaper—and I feel entirely responsible.” That last line pushed it right over the top into Greatness. (Binx and I have the speech framed as a floating hologram.) And we all benefited.
‘Which brings me to our setup: A massive series of interconnected yurt colonies based on the Chinese model just outside of Beijing. You walk into the Yurteria for the morning buffet and there’s all your Friends moving in wrinkled, bent-over formation to the mixmasterings of Chigolo, the ex-club DJ from the Windy City with a giant cauliflower nose who works the deck with a BioProsthetic. So there’s your answer on that first thing: Acid Jazz, Downtempo, orchestral Disco and Chill Out are our version of Muzak. Your ears really can’t handle Death Metal (headaches), Ska (heart palpitations) or certain harsher brands of Hip Hop (headaches, heart palpitations, unlawful grinding)—although some of us who live here haven’t yet admitted that. For my part, I used to do a pretty darn good music blog, and after 75 years of trying to keep current, I am starting to “get” Schubert.
‘Back in the old days they called us “Slackers” or “Generation X,” the latest variation on The Lost Generation. Now, they call us the “Copelanders,” a cloying term we despise. I even got into it with a lady in the breakfast line this morning with a bandage taped over her right eye and a dyed-blue-and-pink punker wig she was failing to pull off. “I’m so X that I bought Douglas Copeland’s Generation X book when it first came out!” she said, all high hat-like; I retorted with, “Yeah? I’m so X that I bought Generation X when it first came out and I still haven’t read it.” My posse liked that.
‘Most of us prefer “X” or just merely “Transitionals,” named after a bestselling iLecture on the topic by a 100-year-old Tom Brokaw, now deftly claiming the chair long vacated by Studs Terkel. Brokaw (or, probably his research assistants) described our ranks as the generation “with one foot in the past and one in the future,” “who wasn’t supposed to grow old” or, my personal favorite, “the shock troops for the current technological advancement of mankind.” Hell to the yeah! Scholars (mainly, oral historians) and the media are fascinated with our wide-ranging responses to the digital bleatings of El Mundo Nuevo: How many of us embraced it; how many more of us, frustrated at things that became obsolete the second we learned they existed, withdrew into permanent off-the-grid status (now called “DeZo”) or cocooned ourselves in pop culture mementos (let’s face it, pop culture was always what we ran to for comfort, more than our own parents) that halted around 2005.
‘Personally, the thing I feel almost desperate to import is that pining for our youth is less important than you’d think. Getting up in years, you discover things about yourself—besides the things that started going wrong or shutting down on your body—decades after you figured everything on the inside had been accounted for. A few months ago, Binx, who is in a hydraulic wheelchair that walks for him, chided me to go down to the MediaYurt to check out a mammoth sea epic released at the turn of the (last) century. He and I, along with Shel Swiderski and Tim Delacroix—the latter ex-Google and the former an ex-CFO of a company specializing in Earthquake Kits, both relatively sedate and unobtrusive acquaintances from Colony 08—were not so much surprised at how good the miniseries was but fascinated by our own reactions to it. I had never liked seafaring epics—never! Yet by the third chapter, we were like drooling, excitable teenage boys in the froth of a particularly long Terminator or Jenna Jameson marathon.
‘By the last two episodes, our viewing party threatened to become a wrinkled, snow-haired riot, the four of us crowded in the MediaYurt’s iTheatre, hopping up out of our chairs (save for Binx, of course) and sofas to clench a fist at the latest unexpected plot twist, bellowing like sidelined halfbacks, laughing and shaking our furrowed heads, even employing high-fives that left some with numb arms and sore elbows, stomping our slippered feet (again, save for Binx) in a raucous unhinged display of geezers being belligerent for no reason. After the series finale, Delacroix even thought he was having chest pains and a MediPing was attempted but recalled when he breathlessly admitted it was pure overexcitement. He made the rest of us cackle like parrots when he suggested, gulping down the proffered cone of cold Water™, that the four of us steal the YurtTrans and go and find some young ‘uns to beat the hell’s bells out of.
‘But now, old Tim is gone—a burst aorta in his sleep last week—and Shel carted off to the HospiceYurt to contend with the finals stages of pancreatic cancer. (Yes, we still have “the emperor of all maladies” and he’s still a greedy d-----bag that continues to pound the snot out of the human race.) Suddenly, it was just me and Binx. I knew better than to suggest we re-rent the DVDs and bring in Dingo, the retired art professor and Ornette Coleman fanatic, and Bubs, the ex-BBQ Pitmaster. In fact, both of us rarely spoke of those clubby and ticklish afternoons until some of the batwitches from the Ladies’ Colony lodged a formal complaint at what they whined was “the mess” that we made of the iTheatre. One of them marched right into our yurt without knocking and started wagging her finger at my Binx, speaking in a metallic purr provided by the DigiVoice in her neck. Imagine how hilarious this looks: a woman with no trachea trying to talk to a man who’s hard of hearing.
‘Binx, God love him, had no idea what she was talking about. When she said “Do you think that room is for you guys only?” he exulted loudly in her face, “For Your Eyes Only? I was flippin’ burgers at the Big 10 Subshop!” [recording shuts off]