One of the by-products of a year's worth of trips to the psychiatrist has been an enhanced curiosity about how I got this way. This is the old nature vs. nurture question, writ small: some characteristics, it is assumed, I was born with; others, I learned later. What's tricky about this, apart from the general difficulty in unpacking memories from sixty years ago, is trying to find a specific encounter to match up with a particular characteristic.

An example: ever since I was three, I've generally preferred to read in bed. I wasn't exactly a good reader at three, I don't think, but I got through the books available to me — repackaged classics, 1940s fiction, Reader's Digest Condensed Books — well enough, and I would almost always take a book to bed. I kept this up until well into my fifties, when it was suggested to me that bedtime activities other than actually sleeping might be contributing to my occasional bouts of insomnia.

Whether this is related to my long-term (and continuing) tendency to read while eating, I'm not sure. It was frowned on at home, and if anyone other than myself happens to be at the table, I will always set the reading material aside. (The advent of the cell phone has added an additional variable; I take no calls during dinner, even if I'm alone, and the only reason I can think of to place an outgoing call at dinner would be to summon 911, something I don't do very often for good and sensible reasons. Apparently not everyone feels similarly constrained:

A woman in Kerrville, TX, called 911 because her husband "did not want to eat his supper." That wasn't the first time area police had been to her house, though; — 30 calls over six months included requests for assistance finding lost clothing and catching her dog. She's been charged twice with abusing the 911 system.

Just twice?

In 1965, the Contours, dismissing other possible points of interest, advised: "First I look at the purse." I was twelve that year, and I suspect most guys, by the time they reach that age, have already figured out where they look: it seems almost certain, for example, that young Anthony Ray liked big butts long before his Sir Mix-A-Lot persona appeared, though I don't think I'd be able to ask him if there was a particular backside by which his anaconda was first sprung.

By twelve, I was already a serious legwatcher. I have joked before that this was the inevitable result of attending Catholic school in an era of highly regulated hemlines, but surely it goes back before that, though I have no pertinent memories from the elementary grades. That leaves the prep years, ages nine through twelve, a period in which generally girls mature faster than boys, and most boys matured faster than I did. And at some point during that period, I was looking at Debby or Brigitte or one of a dozen others, and something inside must have snapped.

(While I was pondering just what it was that had snapped, I ran a search on Brigitte. Still in the old home town, still something of an overachiever, and still beautiful at sixty-seven. It's probably a good thing I forgot about her when I did, to the extent that I actually did.)

I'm really no closer to answering questions like this than I was before. I think just awakening old memories may have a salutary effect, if only to prove to myself that they're still there after all these years. Of course, it's far too late to play What If. But traces of the past always persist into the future. At bedside there's an old Eighties video cabinet that I repurposed as a bookshelf. The stack of hardbacks and magazines thereupon stands about five feet high.

The Vent

  1 July 2018

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