Tuesday, April 16, 2019


The British novelist L. P. Hartley is remembered chiefly for the novel and movie version of “The Go-Between,” beginning with “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” True enough, as we old-timers gaze back into our memories. We may dimly recognize ourselves in them, but tend to be surprised by what we discover, either pleasantly or unpleasantly, most likely as in a foreign country.

So we can view retrospect either nostalgically or shamefacedly, perhaps recalling Jonathan Swift’s comment upon viewing some of his early works: “What genius I had then!” We may never have had genius, but surely greater mobility, flexibility, enterprise, and relationships. In short, what did “old” mean in contemplation of it, and what does it in experience of it.

I was, as a boy, enormously fond of the novels of the German author Karl May, and owned a good many of his numerous volumes in the original German. The stories took place either in the American Wild West or in the no less wild Arab North Africa. A prison term for some kind of fraud clouded May’s name, with the work, however, remaining irresistible to young adult readers, though, more damaging yet, his books were favorites of Adolf Hitler, who even instituted an outdoor theater for dramatizations of it.

The plots attested to remarkable imagination, what with tremendous seeming authenticity coming from one who did not leave Germany. The characters, mostly trappers or hunters we assume, are called things like Old Firehand, Old Surehand, and, greatest of all, Old Shatterhand (which I, having little English at the time, blithely mispronounced). Shatterhand, May’s alter ego, was of course really German, and blood brother to the noblest of Indians, the Apache chief Winetu (to be pronounced Win-Net-Too). Together, they civilized the West.

The last-named principals owned fabulous horses and superb shotguns, all in the service of justice. I tried to emulate them, owning a great, German-fabricated realistic toy handgun, called the MG, as well as lesser weapons to proudly brandish. This earned me the sobriquet “the boy with the pistols,” from Sinka Nikich, Crown Prince Peter’s beautiful and polyglot girlfriend, particularly amused to hear me refer to myself in English as a “poetist,” and none of it making me, as I hoped, look or be older.

The ages of May’s characters were not specified, but they surely weren’t old, the term being one of affection and admiration. Admiration because old imputed wisdom gleaned from long and varied experience and staying power, as in the phrase “good old so and so,” a kind of verbal smile of approbation. Renaissance images of philosophers invariably showed them as bearded and thus old, and the rare depictions of God always featured a full and well tended white beard on a seemingly ageless being, old if you like.

Then, too, things like wine and manuscripts do indeed profit from extended survival, so that old easily became some sort of honorific, like gallant or noble. Triumphant warriors, too, were often portrayed bearded, but that managed to look like suggesting rather than having endured old age, a good kind of oldness. The very word, however, may nowadays be shunned. Thus TV commentators on tennis almost never refer to a player as so many years old, but always “of age,” as in, say, ““thirty-seven years of age,” apparently meant to extend their youthfulness  by avoiding the word “old.”

“Old,” the term, has many uses, so let us consider them. Historicity (Old English) geography (Old Lyme, Old Dominion), religion (Old Testament), sociology (old families), familiarity (old friends), old masters (art), publishing (old type), charm (old English sheepdogs), natural wonders (Old Faithful), commercialism (old, tried products), legends (myths of various civilizations). experience (old hands), fashion (old costumes), patriotism (Old Glory, Old Ironside) and literature, selectively (Old Mortality, Old Wives’ Tale, Old Fortunatus, Old Man and the Sea, Old Curiosity Shop, Old Familiar Faces, Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats), etc. etc. Sometimes also in putdowns: Old Hat, Old Crow, Old Jokes, Old Fool, Old Stories, etc.

But never mind the nomenclature; what does being old these days really entail? Or, specifically, how am I doing as I approach my 94th year? As I have mentioned already often, the one nearly surefire positive thing is that, seeing my cane, many bus or subway riders yield me their seat, women more often than men. Still, getting around with the help of a cane isn’t wonderful—I would have preferred an Abel (or able, please note the pun).
Then the obvious disadvantages. Long walks can be painful, and even short ones are essentially slower than a rapid walker such as my wife appreciates. There are problems with blurred sight at a distance, and decreased hearing at, say, the theater, a problem for a drama critic. Even assisted hearing devices are ultimately unhelpful, as they merely increase volume but not comprehensibility.

One is supposed to have a good long-term memory, but not so much of a short-term one. Let me enlighten you: one forgets old things too. The short range obliviousness may be more troubling, as one forgets why one has gone into the next room, or even what is or isn’t in the fridge. It is both frustrating and humiliating how much one struggles with forgotten things, some of which one eventually recalls, others not at all. In rereading my published doctoral thesis. I came across an impressive-sounding word whose meaning I could not puzzle out. (If you ask me what it was, I’m afraid I can’t remember.)

Recently I could not come up with the formerly cherished word for a thousand-year span; I had to call my linguist friend Bryan Garner, who promptly supplied “chiliad.” This relieved me from a prolonged agitation and sleeplessness. I can find little quite as exhausting as fruitless cogitation.

Still, I am thankful for being basically in good health, suffering from none of the lethal ailments I read about in the Times obituaries, nowadays part of my regular matutinal perusal. Interesting how many of the deceased made it to the advanced nineties, and some even into the hundreds, leaving me to wonder how much I have yet coming to me, and if so, whether without pain. That is one of the worst things about growing old: one’s provision of hope becomes daily more sparse, my mnemonics faultier, and some of these blog spots perhaps less reliable. But I carry on, faithfully, I hope, to the end.


  1. I'm delighted you continue to write. I enjoy so much revisiting the many film reviews compiled in two of your collections. And I hope you still enjoy the theater and the cinema.

  2. "If you're on a tightrope, when you first set off you don't know how much play there is in the rope. But when you get into the middle between the ages of 20 and 40, the thing rocks like mad and it's too late to go back, even to look back.

    "But if you go on as carefully as you can, you see the other platform; and then you just make a dash for it, not bothering with what the audience thinks, or waving your arms, or looking dangerous and difficult and prodigious.

    "What you seize hold of when you get to the other side is in fact the edge of your coffin. And you get into it and you lie down, and you think, 'my cuffs are frayed', 'I haven't written to my mother' and all those other things, and then you think 'it doesn't matter because I'm dead'.

    "And this is a message of hope. It will come to an end. It will come, we cannot be blamed for it, and we shall be free."
    --Quentin Crisp


  3. One of the worst things about getting old is that I'm pretty sure I'll never be with a really hot chick ever again. That's a hard one to swallow. I've had bunches of them between the ages of 20 and 40, but now it's all over. I would never go to a prostitute. Not my style, even though this would be a way to get a hot chick. It's not the same with a whore. You know they don't want to be there, and that ruins for me. I'm married, anyway. My wife is cute (20 years younger than me) but she isn't "hot."

    My wife is hotter than I am, though. I just turned 60 and my penis is disappearing. I got no hotness left. I used to turn heads in the groshery store, but now ---nothing. I work out (treadmill, weights) because it helps my mind, but it isn't doing much for my once hot body. Women used to comment on my nice figure. These days I have an over-flap belly, balding, and bad legs. My butt has gotten lumpy and large. Going to the pool is out of the question.

    Luckily, I'm not as vain as I used to be. I can amuse myself with my guitar or films or reading or music, and it will pass the time. At night, I drink my wine and beer, and every once in a while, when I can find it, I smoke a little herb. About once a week I'll jack-off in the shower. I get by.

    1. You sound like a prince of a guy, Pop.

    2. Much obliged, Miss Cake.

  4. Age is provident because the less future we have the more we fear it.

    Ambrose Bierce

  5. I wish Mr. Simon’s books of criticism were available in Kindle or other e-book format to be more widely available to a new generation and also for easy reference. I have not always shared his tastes or judgments about particular films, directors or writers. But I have always enjoyed reading him. Many of the reviews and quips have stayed in my mind after decades although I no longer have copies around. I want my daughters, now in college, to read some of them. Some of the books seem to be out of print such as the amusing Paradigms Lost. Perhaps some enterprising publisher will take this up.

    1. Many of John's books are available on Amazon. Here are a few links.






    2. One more >>>


    3. Sure, many of these books are listed on Amazon but none of them, unless I’m mistaken, are available in the Kindle format. And many of those listed, are in fact out of print and available through Amazon’s network of used book dealers. It seems amazing to me when so much inferior junk is in print that John Simon’s writings are not easily available. I would ask Simon’s literary agent, if he has one, to approach a publisher or University press to put out a complete collected writings, available in all formats. Something like the Library of America edition of Philip Roth:. Reading his entire body of reviews from the early 60s to the present day would be a fascinating document in American cultural history.

    4. I agree, except who cares about Kindle? No one uses Kindle. Books are better.

    5. Yes, we could see how a superannuated old bore (and boor) was finally relegated to irrelevance where he belonged.

  6. Simonamongus

    The Old Paradigmatician,
    Towards Big Silence nearing;
    Yet still I hew to the position,
    To be unwithin his hearing!

  7. Two things:

    1) I'm wondering if Simon has seen the new documentary about Pauline Kael, "What She Said: The Art of Pauline Kael." The film received 100% on Rotten Tomatoes. I'd love a peek into Simon's brain after seeing it.

    2) Just started watching "Lady from Shanghai." Believe it or not, never seen it. What a wonderful, wacky, and odd movie. I've only watched half of it, so don't tell me the ending. I had to do some parent stuff. Crazy characters. The set-ups are fantastic. I'll finish it tomorrow. I love Welles.

    1. Okay, "Shanghai" was interesting. The third act got a little confusing, but I enjoyed the movie.

      I didn't like Welles' Irish accent, and in fact, I thought it was a fairly half-assed performance. I usually like Welles' acting. Also, I could do without Rita Hayworth. She was awful.

      Sloan and Anders were great, and I loved Welles' mise en scene. I don't know the photographer, but he did a great job.

      My main problem with the film was that I never believed Rita Hayworth would fall for Orsen Welles. Now, it turns out she didn't fall for him (tried to kill him), and that they were married in real life. Go figure. Still, I think the film needed a better looking lead man to make it believable.

      I didn't proofread a damn thing on this thing. Good luck!

    2. I have now started watching Welles' "The Trial" I'm not done. I keep giving up on it, and then the next night I try again.

      Quick takeaways (so far):

      Psycho ruined any other role for Anthony Perkins. He's always Norman Bates for me.

      The film meanders too much. It's exasperating to watch.

      The usual good mise en scene from welles. The sets must have cost plenty.

      I'll need to read the novel. Maybe this will help.

    3. Pop, have you seen "The Other Side of the Wind" on Netflix? Only a genius could be so bad. The thing with Welles, you have to watch his movies so you can enjoy listening to him and other people talk about them, in this case, so you can enjoy "They'll Love Me When I'm Dead," also on Netflix.

      So I forced myself to finish "TOSOTW." Took me several days, but it paid off, not just for being over, but for some amazing visuals at the end. And that's what Welles is all about: the visuals.

    4. I love Welles, even his failures have good qualities about them. No one was doing the kind of stuff he was doing. No one had the balls to do movies like that. Not in America, anyway. My top 5 Welles:

      5) Shanghai
      4) The Stranger
      3) Othello
      2) Kane
      1) Touch of Evil

    5. Typing on my phone. This should be interesting.

      Watched the Nick Ray film Rebel Without a Cause last night. Started out hating it, but it grew on me. James Dean was really good in that film. Good character too. You can't look away when he's on screen. He was such a nice kid. Why did the hooligans always have to fuck him over. I hated those bad kids. How is there so many criminal kids in a suburban high school. Knife fights?

      This was one of those frustrating films where you ask , why doesn't he just go to the police (or principal)and tell them the bad kids are messing with him. More later, kids. This phone scrap is terrible.

    6. Okay, just to wrap up Rebel. Natalie Wood was just average here. She looked nothing like the "bad girl" she was supposed to be. Nice figure, though. Always helps the cause.

      I wanted to strangle that wussy father of Dean's. In fact, on several occasions, I wanted to jump on screen and help Jim Stark beat some kids up.

      I saw a very young Dennis Hopper that didn't have much to do.

      Personally, I don't see what all the fuss is about Nicholas Ray. I know the auteurs loved him, but why? Good storyteller, but very little visual sense of bravura.

      James Dean carried "Rebel," not the direction.

      "Johnny Guitar" was Ray's best film, or maybe "They Live by Night."

      If the cast of "Rebel" were to play the characters on Gilligan's Island:

      Sal Mineo-Gilligan
      James Dean-The Skipper
      Natalie Wood-Mary Ann
      Dennis Hopper-The Professor

      I just can't figure out who would play Mr. Thurston Howell III. Jim Backus, maybe? No, he would be right for the role.

    7. Just watched "The Gold Rush." Needless to say, great film. I've seen parts of it, but never the whole thing. I was shocked that the movie had a happy ending. I thought The Little Tramp movies always ended sadly, or at least, bittersweet. Dude got the girl and the money. It even dawned on me that maybe Hollywood got ahold of it and changed the ending without Chaplin knowing.

      I left my wife a note for the groshery store today. Please pick up: "all-purpose FLOWER." Yes, I spelled it FLOWER. I'm fucking serious. My wife says I have "olds-heimers." That's the way she pronounces it. "Olds-heimers." We're a real pair.

    8. I can see Burl Ives as Mr. Howell. If I had to cast Father, Son and Holy Ghost, it would be Burl Ives as the Father, Quentin Crisp as the Son, and Domina Claire Hex as the Holy Ghost. Here's a nice pic of Domina Claire Hex:

    9. When I think of Burl Ives I'll always think of the two guitar solos in "Holly Jolly Christmas" most probably done by Hank Garland. Capo on the second fret with the guitar tuned down a whole step. Pretty tasty solo.


    10. I just found another take on these solos. This guy demonstrates and then explains how to get the sound on specially tuned 12 string guitar. Not an easy task!


  8. Pop, of course you've read 'My Lunches with Orson' by Henry Jaglom? If so, please forgive my bringing coal to your Newcastle, USA home.

    1. I watched "Chimes at Midnight" the other night. Couldn't understand a damn word. Pretty good flick, though. Welles visuals, blocking, camera placements, etc., are wonderful. Nice acting by everyone. Another Orson I'd never seen.

  9. Pop, do you know Ween's album '12 Golden Country Greats'? The "12 great" refers to the Nashville session men Ween used (there are only 10 songs on the album). Here's a link to the classic track "Piss Up a Rope":


    1. I've read Jaglom's book. Very entertaining. Must reread it now that The Other Side of the Wind is out.

  10. As Art Linkletter once said,”getting old isn’t for sissies.” Gosh, I’m only 62 and not too infrequently find myself wondering why am I in this room? John Simon’s way ahead of the game at 94. We love you, John!