Last weekend I went to a family barbeque, and I wore a hat. That is not a rare occurence for me. As I mentioned in my essay on the male barbershop experience, I have a pretty thick head of hair –I’ve never had a barber who didn’t make a sheep-shearing joke at some point in our relationship– and so hats come naturally to me: It saves me having to bother with a comb or hair gel, or all those other tools that I lack the vanity to make use of on anything more than a special occasion basis.
Anyway, I mention the family barbeque and the hat because, upon doffing my cap for one reason or another, my sister exclaimed, “Are those grey hairs I see?”
I have been aware for some time of a single silver thread somewhere about half an inch behind my hairline, roughly on the centre of my head. I admitted as much, but my sister was on her feet, craning over my crown to examine places I can’t see in my mirror as I brush my teeth. “No, there’s… Seven of them there! Seven!”
I have my father’s hair. Everyone says so. My father didn’t have a grey hair until well into his fifties, so that his lifelong friends muttered among themselves that he must use hair dye to hide the ravages of age. He didn’t, and a few stray shots of salt are now working their way through his mane to prove it. I laughed off my sister with the thought that perhaps I will not follow my father’s hair-based footsteps after all. She changed the subject, suspecting she had embarrassed me. Actually, I’m rather pleased.
From my early teens until my early twenties I was easily mistaken for a fourteen year old. Aside from bars and liquor stores, this has also been an impediment to a great many social interactions, and so I’m quite happy to be leaving that part of my life safely behind me. I have no fear of looking my age, and the idea of having a few silver strands at twenty-seven doesn’t trouble me at all.
My whole life I’ve wanted to be about five years older than I am, and I must admit the prospect of actually aging strikes me as something to look forward to. It holds fewer terrors for men than women, and even less for me, as from my perspective my peers all have several years’ head start on me to begin with.
My mind has since turned to the last time I remember vividly feeling older than my years –proud of my seniority, and ridiculously pleased with myself for something that really isn’t easy to explain– and as it’s an amusing story that literally dozens of you will enjoy in the months to come (my personal anecdotes remain the least visited portion of my blog), I thought I’d share it. It was the night I told off a young whippersnapper who tried to tell me I wasn’t a real Beatles fan.
To set the scene, I was at a house party, but I was a long way from my normal, comfortable element: I was invited to this early summer gathering by a good friend, but it wasn’t his home or his get-together. He wasn’t even there when I arrived. I showed up at this party –three or four friends in tow and a two-four of beer under one arm– to discover it was a house divided up among half a dozen first-year university students. I knew no one I had not arrived with.
Without meaning to, I had become ‘that older guy who showed up at a party with beer.’ I remembered those men from my own university days. There are two ways you can play that: Creepy guy no one knows who moves from circle to circle with an ulterior motive usually involving young women, or good fellow who enjoys a good conversation outside the center of things who people can engage with or not, as they choose. I chose the later and set up base camp on the front porch. Anyone who wanted a beer was welcome to it in exchange for some small talk. My friends ventured inside, but I was content with my position on the verandah. I wouldn’t be alone, and I wouldn’t be intruding. It suited me fine.
I proved a popular stopping point as people circulated throughout the house. Anyone who stepped out for some fresh air was welcome to join the circle of conversation around me, have a brew, and watch the traffic go by. I met probably half the party, and that suited me fine. The talk was usually about their classes –I believe they were finishing up their exams– and I listened with half an ear. I had been out of school for three years at that point, and it’s amazing how quickly the importance of class schedules and final essays and ‘what you need on your final’ dwindle away once you actually work for a living. Still, there was one young man, nineteen years old if memory serves, who I found myself in an engrossing conversation with.
He was going to the University of Toronto for something he didn’t care for. I forget now whether it was Political Science or Philosophy or English. Whatever it was, it wasn’t holding his attention. He found himself at the end of his first year of university adrift, looking for something he could really set his mind and soul towards. I sympathized: I had switched my own major from Computer Science to Journalism in my first year, a decision I have never regretted. I encouraged him to spit ball what he actually enjoyed, hoping he would come up with something that would prove employable in the end. It was a warm night, and I waited for him to confess an interest in chemistry or biology or law or the like without any hurry or great expectations. He surprised me, though.
The young man was clearly passionate about music. He talked about it the way I talk about books, holding his hands in front of him as if trying to grasp his ideas, feeling their invisible weight against his palms, a palpable thing only he could perceive. I gave him another beer and let him talk to his heart’s content, encouraging him that –even if he didn’t take it academically– there are many avenues to study music in a city like Toronto.
When we had discussed his ambitions to join a band or perhaps participate in an open mike session at The Rex Jazz Bar down on Queen we turned to what kind of music he listened to. He confessed –as if it was something to be ashamed of– that he loved The Beatles.
He could not have said something more likely to evoke a positive response from me. I don’t think my enjoyment of the Beatles is any secret. They have appeared on this blog almost as often as my grandfather. I quickly drew him into a discussion on the brilliant website The Beatles Complete on Ukulele, which I have mentioned at ever-increasing length on this blog here, here, and here, and he responded with a great deal of enthusiasm. We talked about The Beatles for easily half an hour, having another beer or two while we did so.
Finally he asked me what instrument I played.
“Oh, I don’t play an instrument,” I confessed. I’ve always had the ambition to learn piano one of these days, but my formal music training stopped at grade eight choir.
The nineteen-year-old’s face took on a look of reproof and mild disgust, as if I was an imposter who had somehow appeared before him in the guise of a trusted friend. He took a long pull on the beer I had given him, as if to wash a sour taste of disappointment out of his mouth. “Then you can’t be a real Beatles fan,” he spat at me.
I had been six or seven when this kid drew his first breath, and at seven years old I knew the words to easily fifty Beatles songs. I was raised on the Oldies. I was in the fourth grade before I even knew Generation X had music of its own. I know Beatles lore better than many men twice my age. The idea that I am unworthy to call myself a Beatles fan because of a lack of formal music education is absolutely laughable, and to hear it from a barely shaving manling as he drank my beer struck me as more than a little absurd.
I leaned forward towards him in my chair and pointed my beer bottle at his face to make sure I had his undivided attention.
“Sonny,” I said. “I’ve been a Beatles fan since before you were born!”
Then my face split into a broad grin, and I tipped my head back and laughed and laughed because it was true: I was having this conversation over a beer with someone. How old was I, to be able to do a thing like that? I felt wonderfully, marvellously, deliciously old with that single sentence.
We changed the subject and I have no further memories of him other than the look of slack-jawed acknowledgment he gave to my statement.
I like those moments when I feel my age. Bring on the grey hairs. Most non-trumpet playing Beatles fans have them. I’m in good company.