One of the more debilitating things about writing a newspaper column--or anything for publication, for that matter--is the fear, even the certainty sometimes, that no one ever sees it except the editor who is required to read it. Thus, writing becomes almost a private act to the writer, a cycle that involves typewriter (I haven't yet been weaned to a computer), editor, print, the accounting department and oblivion. The writer's defenses almost require that he see it this way; otherwise, post-print silence is difficult to endure.
The only way this cycle can be broken is by hearing from people who actually read the column. Not only read it, but respond to it. The response doesn't have to be affirmative, although that's better, because most writers are desperately insecure and need approval. But in a vacuum, any kind of response can be startling because it takes the writer's point of view and runs with it to an entirely different place. That happened with two recent pieces of mine.
In December, I wrote a column about the evocative effect of music on my generation and my unending search for pianists who can play "Autumn Nocturn" and thus allow me to bathe in some mellow World War II memories. Comes a letter from Ken Blakebrough of Mission Viejo to tell me that music doesn't always evoke positive memories.
"During THE war, I was a B-17 pilot in England. We had a navigator from Chicago named Shel Robbin who had been a cocktail bar piano player before the war and self-admittedly had a weak left hand on the keyboard. Every chance he could get to practice, he sat down at the available piano and started playing 'Sweet Lorraine,' which he claimed was good for building up the left hand. Believe me, I sure got sick of hearing that song, and I still think of him when I hear it played.
"So if you're ever in a bar where there's a piano player with a weak left hand playing 'Sweet Lorraine,' walk over and tell him his old . . . crew wants him to come to the next 457th Bomb Group reunion in Southern California in 1989. The rest of us have never been able to find him."
So Shel, wherever you are, all is forgiven. You can even play "Sweet Lorraine" at the reunion.
The second letter writer to take off in an unexpected direction was a 35-year-old Laguna Beach woman who was responding to a column suggesting that, by our 60s, our macho days are long behind us and we should proceed cautiously in a hostile situation, knowing that the quick moves are no longer there. Baloney, wrote this lady, who said she had just been sorely bruised after confronting a totally different "aspect of senior citizenry" with a "charming older man." She went on:
"I was getting back on my feet after a debilitating marriage and divorce when I met this (artist). He was visibly feeling displaced and lonely. I immediately sympathized, and we quickly became intimate friends. Inside of two weeks we were living together.
"I fell deeply in love with him. For one year, he was the focal point of my life. I paid our rent, his telephone bills, all of our social expenses and was chronically exhausted from handling his personal affairs while doing the household chores and holding a demanding full-time job. He never worked a day that we were together and did not complete a single painting. He played tennis four times a week and was always asleep when I left the house for work.
"I was often resentful of the overload, but when I expressed my dissatisfaction, he charmingly convinced me that I was being unreasonable. I had reached a point of mesmerized submission. I no longer had a clear view of reality. . . . I did not know one day of security during our relationship, and yet he professed his love to me on a daily basis . . . (until) one morning I went shopping for his birthday present and returned to find that he had left me. There was no note.
"I spent 1987 in the most severe depression of my life. It was a survival battle I hope I won't ever face again. . . . I had to tell you that I was struck by your belief that older adults are generally disrespected. You're probably right (although I love my 'senior' parents as dearly as I do my child), but I also believe that there is a certain percentage of the male senior population that insidiously disrespects a woman of my circumstances. They are well aware that single men in my age group are scarce, and women like me are easy pickings.
"I resent older men who, without conscience, use their image as 'wise and kindly humans in a world of tough guys' to take advantage of disillusioned younger women, for the sake of their egos and support. Sorry to be harsh, but clearly this element of deception exists among men of your age group."
I guess the moral of all this--if there is one--is that age is no guarantee of virtue. Just age. I only hope that the senior citizen who treated this lady so badly didn't play "Sweet Lorraine" with a weak left hand.