Wednesday, June 13, 2018

June 13: Kenneth Rexroth, "The Bad Old Days," Nostalgia

The Bad Old Days

by:  Kenneth Rexroth

The summer of nineteen eighteen   
I read The Jungle and The
Research Magnificent. That fall   
My father died and my aunt   
Took me to Chicago to live.   
The first thing I did was to take   
A streetcar to the stockyards.   
In the winter afternoon,   
Gritty and fetid, I walked
Through the filthy snow, through the   
Squalid streets, looking shyly   
Into the people’s faces,
Those who were home in the daytime.   
Debauched and exhausted faces,   
Starved and looted brains, faces   
Like the faces in the senile   
And insane wards of charity   
Hospitals. Predatory
Faces of little children.
Then as the soiled twilight darkened,   
Under the green gas lamps, and the   
Sputtering purple arc lamps,   
The faces of the men coming
Home from work, some still alive with   
The last pulse of hope or courage,   
Some sly and bitter, some smart and   
Silly, most of them already   
Broken and empty, no life,   
Only blinding tiredness, worse   
Than any tired animal.   
The sour smells of a thousand   
Suppers of fried potatoes and   
Fried cabbage bled into the street.   
I was giddy and sick, and out   
Of my misery I felt rising   
A terrible anger and out
Of the anger, an absolute vow.   
Today the evil is clean
And prosperous, but it is   
Everywhere, you don’t have to   
Take a streetcar to find it,
And it is the same evil.
And the misery, and the
Anger, and the vow are the same.


Nostalgia can be a very comforting thing.  Thinking of days gone by with a sort of wistful longing.  Marcel Proust wrote several books about the subject.  I've been thinking a lot about my time in high school these last few weeks.  I'm not sure if "wistful" is the correct adjective here. 

I did have a pretty good high school experience.  Lots of friends.  Lots of interests--drama, cross country, English, creative writing, girls.  I wouldn't say I was a popular kid, but there wasn't a whole lot of bullying in my life.  Either that, or I just didn't really pay attention to whoever was trying to bully me.

In reality, I suppose, the good old days probably weren't all that good at times.  I had health struggles.  Between my freshman and sophomore years, I ended up in a diabetic coma for a while.  A few days in intensive care, followed by a week-long hospital stay.  Not fun.  Money was always a worry.  I always put pressure on myself to be the best at everything.  The summer after I graduated from high school, I ended up in a months-long depression due to the death of someone very close to me.

Nostalgia sort of whitewashes all that shit I went through.  That's the unhealthy part of it.

Saint Marty is trying not to be nostalgic tonight.  That means not watching The Breakfast Club or Ferris Bueller's Day Off or Stand By Me.

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