No, I’ve never been cool. I’ve always known that, as did, I suppose, everyone around me. I can be sarcastic, heaven knows, and deadpan is my humor of choice, but cynicism just isn’t in me. Nor is cool. Oh, there were times in the ’70s when my roommate Al and I would strut into Old Town in our mod gear and long hair. I was bedecked in a fringed vest, and shod with suede and leather Cuban heeled boots. An enormous belt buckle topped my wide bell bottomed trousers with portholes, and about my neck were beads and a paisley tie. At that moment, such was what passed for cool. Perhaps I did as well. It felt good to be smiled at, but inside, I knew it was just a costume and I was just me.
The knowledge that I was terminally, or at least chronically, unhip didn’t bother me. I had other things to be and was comfortable being them. I did like to think, however, that I was at least open to appreciate the cool of others, especially in the arts. A current movie has me questioning even that.
In 1967, I was dismayed that a picture as conventional as In the Heat of the Night won out at the Oscars over its edgy and innovative competitors, Bonnie and Clyde and The Graduate. More recently, I cheered when Parasite beat the field. This year though, I was chagrined, if not surprised, that Everything, Everywhere, All at Once swept the awards. This was a film I couldn’t get through. I found it sloppy, self indulgent, and tiresome. It defeated me and made me feel a million years old for being defeated. Judging by the ecstatic reviews, I was now the walking antonym of cool. I couldn’t appreciate this beacon for the future of movies. Hmmm.
All I had wanted was just a smackerel of love for the endearing and lovingly crafted Banshees of Inishirin. None of this should bother me. I realize how ridiculous that is. But, unlike my practical friend, Ann, I’ve never been very good at shrugging things off and saying, “So what?” Instead, I nurse them for a bit, like a tongue probing a sore tooth.
It will pass. I take comfort in the fact that, indeed, there have been those who thought of me as cool. There still are: children. I talk to them as I yearned to be talked to as a kid. I listen as though I think they have something to say worth hearing. I don’t dismiss their fantasies. I enjoy pretending along with them, matter-of-factly, when I can.
My current acolyte is the nine year old son of my cleaning lady. He talks to me at length, and loves to climb up into the laundry chute. As he and his mother were leaving this week, Kamil said, “Do we have to go to the stinky lady?”
His mother enlightened me. “She’s a big smoker. Her house always smells of stale cigarette smoke. He has nicknames for all my customers.”
“Dare I ask what mine is?”
“Kamil, what do you call Mr. Kingsmill?”
“The great old man.”
I’ll take it.