Here’s a random one: can we be nostalgic for a time that we never knew?
I would argue that this is a completely possible scenario, one that I am guilty of engaging in from time to time. I have enough books on steam locomotives to warrant engagement of the Dewey decimal system; one of the post-firefighter scenarios playing out in my mind involves moving to Scranton, Pennsylvania in order to work at Steamtown and hang out with dudes that are like, 50 years older than me. Like every other obsession that’s possessed my psyche from time to time (wanna be a firefighter? Sounds AWESOME!), I am sure that the reality would lose it’s luster after a relatively short period of time. Case in point? Said fixation on becoming a career firefighter morphing into the phenomenon known as “The Grind“. Sure, riding the rigs is great, and I love the lifestyle, but the reality is, it truly is just a job, one that demands the same kind of sacrifices as any other. Maybe it would be best to leave the steam fascination just that: a quest for something I never truly will realize, because the truth will inevitably be annoying as sand in the shorts. As I read in a selection from my own loco-nerd library: “The only people nostalgic for steam engines are those who never had to operate one for a living”. Well put, disgruntled railroad guy. Doesn’t mean I can’t still wonder, though.
That train of thought led to my next sub-question: if I am nostalgic about a time I never lived in, is this just a function of getting older? My conversations with The Dirtbag as of late center on career choices we’ve made, and I hear him often lamenting aspects of his former career as The Dark Overlord of The Night Shift at a poultry processing plant. Apparently, screaming at minimum wage chicken pluckers in the wee hours of the morning brought him a Zen-like sense of inner peace. In truth, I think he misses the financial security more than the cigarette-in-each-hand, five-pots-of-coffee, never-see-the-sun lifestyle. But it would be a close race either way. RoJo speaks often of his summers running a laser leveling tractor on his family’s tomato farm, as though whiling away his nights in the cab of a John Deere on the Sacramento Delta was much preferable to issuing moving violations to California drivers. I knew him then, though, and our actions were looked upon as a means to getting somewhere “better”. It’s as though we’re never satisfied: when younger, we’re dreaming of our future; when older, we’re longing for the adventures of our youth.
Here’s where I gotta give the Lyrical Jackass credit. He is one of the few people I know who has been able to live in the moment, every moment. This equates to someone grabbing life by the cajones and savoring each slice of life like your it was your last. Of course, the downside of this is that he has little past anywhere. He’s constantly on the run from one psychotic girlfriend to the next, switches jobs at intervals normally reserved for oil changes, and hardly slows down long enough for the dust to hit the furniture. He claims to WANT to “settle down”, but I think that the pandelerium dictating his life is as unpredictable and unrelenting as the tide; he’ll go wherever the next woman chases him. The chaos is what binds us, I guess, but I just happen to be a mite less unpredictable (The Wife makes sure of this).
Truth is, I’ll never play in the NHL, I’ll never fly an F-14 Tomcat off of a carrier, and I doubt that the Drive By Truckers are going to give me the call to play bass on their next tour. It’s best to focus on the myriad other things that are going on in the here and now. Little things, like, say, parenting The Heathens. Making a good pot of coffee. Being a husband that The Wife is a little less embarassed to be seen with in public. Being a friend worth having. That sort of thing. And, in the late hours, when no one else is looking, I’ll keep looking for steam engineer jobs. It never hurts to live in the past a little.