In the process of finishing up my Christmas cards this year, I thumbed through an old address book to see whether there was anyone I had forgotten. The book is filled with the crossed-out addresses of friends who had been wanderers during the 1980s, plus some folks from New York who had served as stable points of reference during my restless post-college days.
As I went through the pages, all of which had come loose from the binding, I saw the names of a few people who had died in recent years. The bookkeeper in me suggested I run a line through these entries, as those to remind myself that the addresses and phone numbers were no longer good.
Of course, I couldn’t bear to bring that finality to the entry of a man who had been a father figure to me in my 20s or the woman who had stayed with me through a crazy time in my life 35 years ago. I won’t be needing a reminder that they’re gone.
This old address book, with its brown cardboard cover and gold trim, is a reminder of the time when two roads diverged ahead of me, and I chose the more conventional one. Some friends in the book didn’t. We had come out of the ’60s unhinged from the social moorings of the 1950s. The merits of career, marriage and family seemed questionable. I was past 30 before I settled into journalism. Marriage would take another 25 years.
I bought the address book about 1982, shortly after buying my first house. Keeping addresses in my head or on scraps of paper didn’t seem in keeping with mortgage payments, homeowners insurance and magazine subscriptions, none of which I had in the 1970s. As friends kept changing addresses, I wondered when I would uproot myself and get on with my real life. This sojourn in Sacramento might be an interesting introduction to folks who subscribed to stability, family life and pancake breakfasts, but I was meant for a major metropolis, a big-name newspaper, a debut novel.
My transient friends refused to let their dreams die, I told myself, even though they were closing the door to middle-class life. Years of substitute teaching didn’t enhance one friend’s career prospects, but his daily pounding away at the typewriter might produce a play that would make him famous. He would be an artist, while I was tucking 10 percent of my pay into a 401(k) retirement plan and editing largely forgettable news stories. I should be reaching for the stars instead of settling in a town whose claim to fame was being midway between San Francisco and the Lake Tahoe.
Well, here I am at 67, a retired guy living in a middle-class Sacramento neighborhood, happily married, getting a kick out of grandkids even though I didn’t pay any dues as a parent, tending to a garden and playing with words and basketball.
I think I should get rid of this address book.