Tales From the End of the Bus Line is a long-distance collaboration between daughter/father Megan and Bill Broughton to collect the many adventures of Bill’s young adulthood in Van Nuys, California. Installments (and photos that should or shouldn’t see the light of day, if we’re lucky) are penned by the two of them.
Many years ago, my friend Lew bought me a pony. It was in response to a question he’d asked a month or so before, “What are you doing for your Birthday?” I’d stared into space for a minute, then said, “Nothing, really. Why do you ask?” “It’s one of the big ones,” he replied, “You don’t turn fifty every day, you know.” “Hell,” I’d said, “No big deal, it’s just another year I won’t get a pony.” Some friends make your life well worth the living. He and his wife Vicki drove to our house the weekend before my birthday to take us to lunch, and they brought a large box in from the car. Inside was a hobby horse (a horse head on a stick) with a white blaze on his forehead and a hidden device inside the head that neighed when you pushed a little button. Fifty years old, but there was only one thing to do: I swung my leg over the stick, depressed the button and rode off into the kitchen. That was thirteen years ago, and I still have Ol’ Blaze upstairs in the closet.
This has probably been the most difficult start of a decade so far. I have recently entered my sixties, and for some reason I am now tired most of the time. Nowadays, I don’t buy beer unless it’s from the refrigerated section in the supermarket, just in case I don’t live long enough for it to get chilled in the refrigerator at home (insert profuse apologies here to the guy who wrote the line “I’m so old I don’t buy green bananas”). When I was in my twenties, there was no disconnect from my urges and my actions. It has long been established by science that the male brain does not develop as quickly as the female brain, (really, all they had to do was observe some guy saying “Hold my beer and watch this.”) but this theory is in reality simply a bell curve, and they are merely discussing averages. Still, I think I was doing my utmost to hold down the far end of that curve back in the day. Of course I had help, like the time that I went drinking with Bob and he brought along his black Labrador to the bar. The owners had no problem with putting out a water bowl for “Crash,” so named because he ran into things a lot, so what happened next wasn’t entirely my fault.
Decisions that once seemed extraordinarily easy to me (like pouring a Budweiser into Crash’s water bowl and watching him playfully knock down bar stools and mark his territory on a potted plant) now take planning to accomplish (like getting out of bed, for instance), and for some reason my stomach insists on growing larger, although that may just be all the muscle mass I used to carry in my chest now losing the battle with gravity. I remember when I was twenty, and strong as an ox, now it seems the comparison that fits better is “dumb as one,” although I will truthfully admit I’ve always been clumsy as one. Poor vision, I think, made me clumsy as a child, but for some reason no one put together that the reason I kept walking into things was because I couldn’t see them too well. (Added to that is my wonderful trait of not being able to readily distinguish my left from my right, which made taking directions so difficult that I would often draw arrows on the direction sheet. It got to the point that when I was riding somewhere with Bob I’d say, “Turn right here.” and he would automatically turn to the left, knowing that was what I’d meant to say.) In the first grade I was told to copy onto paper everything I could see on the blackboard and finished up way before everyone else, since it was only three or four letters. I remember Mrs. Parker was not amused. It was only after the third time she sent me back to my seat in the front row to, “Do it right this time, young man!” and she noticed me so intensely squinting, that she sent me home with a note suggesting my parents have my eyes tested.
I was to wear either glasses or contact lenses for half a century, until my actual lenses clouded with cataracts and two operations by an ophthalmologist allowed me to see the world for the first time unaided. Maybe there was a reason that Crash and I got along so well, besides the Budweiser. Now I get to experience something called “secondary cataracts” which means I am typing this with only my right eye open, the left being closed to prevent the world from being bathed in a fog. My mother went through something like this, and wound up in her second life (meaning after she had a heart attack and they revived her from dead) with macular degeneration, which left her mostly blind, only able to see light and color. She loved to read as much as I do, which gives me great fear for my future. Although her attitude about it – “Macular degeneration, well, I didn’t see that coming”- was some consolation. Someone (I’ve forgotten whom, which is something else that’s very annoying about aging) once said, “If I knew I was going to live this long, I’d have taken better care of myself,” but I disagree with him. When you’re born, you don’t know if you are going to die in the next minute, or live a hundred years (yeah, I know, when you’re born you don’t know anything at all, but hey, roll with me here). The idea is to live every moment like it might be your last, and then just not have it be your last.
A friend of mine from work was recently caught in a layoff, something we’ve been lucky not to have where I work for 12 years. He was there, as I was, for that previous layoff and wound up the only person in the IT department that kept their job. They never hired anyone else, and by himself he was the electronic guardian of our company for more than a decade. Then there was a merger, and my friend lost his job. I kept mine back then, and so far have kept mine now. Mike asked me to write a letter of recommendation for him, and I was happy to do so. I hope it helps him to find employment, he is the most talented IT person I know. But like most people, you don’t see things coming until they are right up on top of you. When the decision is entirely in the hands of someone else, sometimes all you can do is hope it will come out alright. When the decision is in your hands, you owe it to yourself to give it every bit of seriousness it deserves. Gary, a Salesperson at Color West, one of my many second jobs, had a sign on his wall that I think said it best: “This day will cost me one day of my life. What I think today, what I say today, what I do today, make it worthwhile today, because the price is terribly high.” I think that helping Mike made this day worthwhile. Good luck, my friend.
Dad wrote this story in early 2020, so you can imagine how times have changed when it comes to that last paragraph. Like most families this year, unemployment settled in for an extended stay and made itself uncomfortable. My furlough aside, my sister and dad also lost their jobs. After too many twists and turns to detail, dad wound up back at his original company by the winter and in charge of shutting down the operation by the end of the year. Considering dad’s sentimentality for all things print, there were plenty of opportunities for graciousness and ungraciousness as presses were sold, the bindery shut down, and paper stock reallocated. All in all, not the most thrilling way to spend your 63rd year on earth, but with his new job he has the shortest commute in decades and is now home for each sunrise, which he texts me a photo of. All in all, not a bad set up for turning 64 in February.
The sunrise photos are mirroring my own casual photo series of a scene in my backyard. Two trees and an old wisteria vine frame a sort of oval patch of sky. I started regularly photographing this several months before the pandemic, but it’s since taken on a special significance and way of marking the passing of time. I’ve viewed the seasons changing through this lens more intimately than I would have had I been preoccupied working. The photos from the summer are thick with vegetation and blooming Angel’s Trumpet flowers, with thin peeks of clear skies. At the height of summer, the sky was barely visible through the trees. In the winter photos, the trees look like haphazard papel picado with expansive muted skies behind. Dad’s sunrises are also between two trees, the sun over the western end of the San Gabriel Mountains, but his view of the sky is wider. Today’s sunrise was a perfect gradient from lavender to peach to bright corona white.
Time and aging are hard to think about in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s also been a struggle to write. Dad sent his last two stories in May of 2020, none since, and for my part, here I am joining his party eight months later. Something they don’t tell you about being furloughed is that it’s tricky to keep track of time, each day feels the same and you keep putting things off. Then sometimes, that whole paradigm shifts and you’re manically active. Things have been great. The few times I’ve seen dad in person in the past year have been laced with ungraciousness (me shrieking in near unpardonable juvenile annoyance while signing up for unemployment, a drugged mouth full of blood but four less wisdom teeth, all that comes with cleaning out a dead relative’s condo), and besides that it’s hard to be far away from family right now. Even with robust virtual socialization and visiting, it can feel like lost time. Personally, I have decided I’m just going to keep turning 30 until something better happens.
I may not have gotten any dogs drunk this year (or any year), and can remember with disturbing nostalgic clarity the last time I went to a bar, but good things have happened. Though, usually, the grace is a direct result of the ungraciousness. Dad goes on two walks a day now thanks to a cutback work schedule, I’m enjoying uninterrupted days in the studio because I’m not teaching, and I don’t remember the last time I hemorrhaged gas money into my car. I’ve enjoyed many quality FaceTime calls with my mom since I live alone and I need attention. Dad and my sister bake together now, which I’m intensely jealous of but think is precious.
Without planning it, I’m returning to this story on Lew’s birthday, January 18th. As far as I know Lew wasn’t gifted a pony this year, but his daughter is having her first baby soon which is infinitely more exciting.