A story only an old person could tell

The technician from AT&T arrived at nine this morning to fix some thingy in my internet hook-up. It had something to do with speed (no, not that kind). The apartment complex had AT&T install these two little white plastic boxes in everyone’s apartment about five years ago, and I thought I was hooked up. But what does a 76-year-old musician/retired professor know about hook-ups? This whole Wi-Fi thing is a “holy mystery and ought to remain such,” as my late friend Sr. Mary Charles (OHS) would have said.

First this big burly tech went looking for the cable, or (as he explained) the “fiber” from the little white plastic box by my front door to the little white plastic box down around the corner into my living room, next to the 8’x8’x8’ mechanical-action pipe organ. I rented this place because it has 8-foot ceilings.

He ran his flashlight across the crease of the plaster (the wall) and the woodwork (around the coat closet) and showed me a tiny – barely visible – white shiny line running from the first box to the second, about 10 or 12 feet apart. “What a trip!” I said, dating myself. The fiber cable, or whatever you call it. When he located the fiber, he started to work. I said he was big and burly because it was amazing that this man could reach up to that little box high on the wall and with his over-sized hands trim and manipulate this (tiny, almost invisible) line and get it ready to hook up. He snipped off the end, and I saw a tinier (almost invisible) red light blinking at the end.

“That’s the fiber,” he explained. “It’s about as big as a hair.” Dumbfounded. This holiness got more mysterious by the minute. He spent about five minutes measuring and snipping and cleaning with wood alcohol this tiny glass thing so far above his head (which was pretty far above mine) with a hair inside it. He stuck it into some kind of clip, stuck the clip into the little box and said, “There, it’s ready to go.” He got another plastic thing out of his bag. It looked like my modem, but white. He plugged it into the other little white box, fiddled around a bit, and said, “Let’s see if it works. Where’s your computer?”

We went into the other room, and he immediately disconnected the modem. “Turn it on.” I did, and the screen popped open instantly as it had never done before. “You can throw away that cord from your phone jack to your computer, and I’ll take this modem.” I looked puzzled. “Wi-Fi, you know.” Dumfounded. Do I now know what fiber optics looks like? Why didn’t I have this done when the med students living here demanded the apartment managers install high-speed internet throughout about five years ago? I don’t know.

In 1993 I received my first email. At my college on another professor’s computer. From my partner, working for Hewlett Packard, who was transferred to Dallas. Dumbfounded. My colleague was the first person at the college to be hooked up to email. I’ve been using email since. (I had bought my first computer in 1987 to write my dissertation.) 1993-2021, and I still have no idea how this mystery works.

I tell this story – which is old hat to anyone reading it – because I was dragged (not kicking and screaming) into the 20th/21st centuries having no idea what was going on. I’ve been teaching first-year college students rhetorical writing since then – without understanding much of anything about the life they take absolutely for granted. My grand-nephew was using computers when he was in kindergarten about fifteen years ago. I don’t know if he knows what an algorithm is, but I sure as heck don’t. And probably millions of old folks don’t, either.

Be kind.

(Sometime I’ll tell the story of why this happened today instead of five years ago.)


A T-shirt says

we’re here –
we’re uncomfortable –
and we want to go home –


It’s in one of my disheveled highboy drawers. Late Victorian, oak with maple inlays, six drawers, brass pulls. Handsome. Valuable? Not sure. I bought it in an antique store about fifty years ago. It holds socks in the top drawer, underclothes in the second and third drawers, this and that in the fourth drawer, that and this in the fifth drawer, and workout clothes in the bottom drawer. There. You know more about my personal life than you have any interest in.

Or than I want you to know. (Introvert; uncomfortable.)

Now, look. I’m not one to quote scripture (from any tradition). But this morning in the church where I am organist, a bit of the New Testament, from the Letter of James (perhaps one of Jesus’ Disciples, for those who read other scriptures) was scheduled to be read. James wrote it, “To whom it may concern.” There. Now you also know a bit more about the literature of the New Testament than you have any interest in.

About all I remember from the readings this morning is James saying, “You do not have, because you do not ask [from God, I guess]. You ask and do not receive because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.” I suppose he means pleasures like my t-shirt.  “. . . spend what you get on your pleasures. . .” I asked wrongly at some point for a tuxedo, and I got an “introvert” t-shirt. Well, now, that’s a perfectly ridiculous way to interpret poor old James who isn’t here to defend himself.

A word about introversion. Mine, at any rate. It sucks. Or it doesn’t. Don’t know. Here’s how it works. I’m a pro. Musician, that is. I’ve been playing keyboard instruments for 72 years. Professionally for 61 years. And a college professor for 34 years. Stating facts for a reason. More than you have any interest in. Yesterday I practiced the organ for four – count them – hours. Not unusual. Practice makes perfect, and all that. And in a couple of areas of my life I am a perfectionist. I get furious (or depressed) (or confused) when I make a mistake, and that leads to more mistakes. And I am pretty much terrified that I will make a mistake, and you will notice and think less of me.

The only defense is to go home. Hide. Build up my energy so I can edge out into public again.

I know. Teaching college classes, directing choirs, and playing solo music hardly seem like hiding. Whoa! In those situations, who’s in charge? Or, at least, who can convince himself he is in charge?

So after practicing yesterday I came HOME and immediately cleaned house, wrote some notes I needed to write, and did a zillion other nuisance sorts of things. Went to bed. Slept four hours. Thinking the entire time at home that I had not practiced enough. That I’d mess up. Asking that I not. Please. Did I? I don’t think so, but what do I know? And I rushed HOME. ALONE. No one to criticize me. Bother me. Or, worst of all, tell me they admired, liked, what I did. They liked all those mistakes? ALONE! That’s my kind of introversion. Ask that I not mess up. Convince myself I did.

There are other kinds.


76 – old enough not to give a damn what anyone else thinks of his ideas and expressions of those ideas. That time in 1960 when one of your older brother’s high school friends was pregnant and everyone in town knew it. Dropped out of school. Just before graduation. To have the baby. Never finished high school or went to college.

Punishment for having premarital sex. That’s what I heard at any rate. The real problem wasn’t the baby. It was her immorality. It was that she was a fallen woman at 18. She sinned and fell short of the Glory of God. Back in the dark ages before women (especially popular white girls whose parents were decent upstanding Christians and part of the ruling class of a small farwest Nebraska city) had the right to care for their own bodies and minds. The father probably grew up to be mayor of the city. Never knew who he was. No one knew or cared what a sinner he was. Probably because he was her uncle or cousin or her father’s best friend.

But now in Texas we’re making sure that sort of thing never happens again. Teen pregnancy, that is. We’re rounding up and arresting all the men who have sinned and come short of the Glory of God. That’ll teach them not to fuck before they’re married. Especially if the woman doesn’t want to be fucked.

Time warp. “Ahead to the past.” Shouldn’t that be a movie? Where is Michael J. Fox when we need him? Need him to lead us back to that time when those Mexicans sneaking into our great nation and black folks who were born here and Asian Americans and Muslims and lots of other people were truly second (or third) class citizens. Laws designed to keep them from voting. And laws to terrify 14-year-old boys like me that someone – anyone – would figure out we wanted to fuck boys instead of girls. Or knew that horribly sinful word!!!

Somehow those good Christian white straight Nebraska folks never read what their Apostle Paul wrote. “. . . all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In the third chapter of his 40 or 50 B.C.E. letter to a bunch of his friends in Rome. And then there is the unscientific religious belief that a sperm cell united with an ovum is a human being. A belief intended to subjugate women who think it’s an absurd stretch of the imagination. No way of knowing for sure, but the folks who believe two cells make a human being and must not die are perhaps the same folks who don’t want their kids to wear masks at school so they have a chance to die.

So all of these fragments of ideas are chasing after each other in circles in my brain instead of the great ideas I should be thinking about. You know. How to find my cat’s favorite food. How to get my driver’s license renewed. Where I’ll get my beard trimmed wearing a mask. How to save the last remnants of our democracy. And rid Texas – and soon other states – from bounty hunters. Turning in women and doctors for $10,000 of my tax money. I think we have to go “ahead to the past” pretty far to arrive at the point that bounty hunters were our lawwomen and lawmen.

Enter an old man’s head

That age when not being alone is difficult. Oh yeah? Especially if you are an old gay man with no children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and your family is spread from California to Louisiana to Oregon to anywhere that isn’t close to Texas. As well they might be. I shouldn’t be close to Texas either. A bit of writing for another day. One face to face conversation since Thursday morning. It’s Sunday.  I pay him to come to my apartment. Vet tech to give my Chachi his weekly fluid injection. I almost forgot. A five-minute conversation with a nice young man clerking at BestBuy. O yeah, and two minutes with the nice young woman tellering at the bank. . . there to cash a check for enough to get me through a few more days waiting for the bank to send my new debit card because they cancelled the old one for something they thought was fraudulent. . . a whopping $50.03 to a company in Australia from which I had ordered something online . . . not because I approve of that sort of nonsense but because I figured driving to Sydney would be somewhat time consuming, and I don’t know where the gas stations are in the middle of the Pacific. But I could have finally seen the opera house. Writing this post for this blog – instead of another of my five blogs – to try to dump these old man alone feelings of being alone. It’s my fault, of course. I could invite a friend to lunch. Or a walk. Or a movie. Oh yeah? A movie in the time of the plague? But I’m an introvert. Lifelong. “Introverts of the world unite!. . .  at home alone!” Or an arrogant son-of-a-bitch (sorry, Mom) who is superior to everyone he knows. Or a crybaby. Or an artist so deep in contemplation and creativity that I forget there are other people in the world. Or an old faggot who’s overweight enough so that even twinks looking for a Daddy aren’t interested. See? Whatever the reason, it’s my own damned fault. I could go on and on, but I know I’ve done something to drive all of my friends away and keep my family in California-Louisiana-Oregon. I see I forgot to explain the title here. I’m not really that old (but I do have a head still). Especially in a society that thinks 60 is the new 40 – so I’m only 16 years old. I wonder if anyone who says that knows where the idea came from. Walter B. Pitkin didn’t invent the phrase, but he made it au courant with his book Life Begins at Forty in 1932. I read some of it – the funny parts – in 1954 when my dad turned forty at a huge party in Pioneer Park in Scottsbluff, Nebraska. Maybe I am an old man. And “affected with, characterized by, or causing a depressing feeling of being alone.” (Editor’s note: He’s been taking anti-depressants for thirty years. That feeling he has might be caused by something else.) (Oh yeah?)


Not agitation – or worse – contention. Argumentation. Formal presentation of a thesis. Orderly  discussion of evidence supporting the thesis. Rhetoric. Statement of belief/probability. “I believe/think this is true because I know that is true” – or – “The evidence seems to show. . .”

For thirty-six years I taught formal argumentative writing in colleges and universities. I taught the millennia-old process of first gathering evidence and then positing a belief or a fact based on the evidence. Millenia-old? Remember Aristotle’s Rhetoric in 325 B.C.E.? “Rhetoric is useful because things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites” . . . or – the evidence seems to show. . .

In 1985 I was writing my PhD dissertation in musicology and teaching music appreciation part-time at the local state college. The English Department needed someone to teach two classes in first-year writing – rhetoric? – quick. The music chair told the English chair, “He’s writing his dissertation, so he must be able to teach first-year writing.” After a one-hour course in rhetorical writing, I was hired, forming the new music/English department (not to be confused with a department of English music).

After teaching seven years as chair of music at a different college (PhD finished), I uprooted myself and moved to Dallas to begin another PhD – in creative writing – with a graduate assistantship in Rhetoric – at yet another university. And – when I was ABD – I began teaching first-year argumentative writing at yet another university (still ABD at the previous university). You may say I was (am) stable or dedicated or grown up or some such if you want to . . .

Fall classes at my new university began on August 24 in 2001 – my second year of teaching there. I was getting acquainted with the students and finally facing the reality of the need for some stability in my life. On the third Tuesday of the semester I walked from my office to my 9 a.m. class precisely on time. The students were already in the classroom milling around together – agitated in a way that I knew instantly something discomfiting was up. Several were grouped around the desk of a student holding his obligatory transistor radio. They were listening intently – not to music but to a news broadcast – and I couldn’t imagine what was going on.

“Professor, what’s going on?” How would I know? I’ve been working in my office for an hour. “Listen!” I joined the group around the radio. Someone was reporting from New York that airplanes had crashed into the World Trade Center towers. And from Washington that a plane had just crashed into the Pentagon. Pundits were prounouncing it a terrorist attack – that an as-yet-unknown terrorist organization had hijacked at least three planes and launched war against the United States. I knew almost instantly my students’ fear and disbelief.

I remembered the day 34 years before when the chairman of my university’s music department walked into our first-year music theory class and announced that the President had been assassinated. What is an 18-year-old first-year college student supposed to think? To feel?

As the adult in the room – the wise 56-year-old professor – surely I should know what to say to calm these 18-year-olds. I didn’t. I assured them that we were safe and that we should wait until someone discovered what had, in fact, happened before we jumped to conclusions.

Classes throughout the building were ending, and I told my students they could leave, they should keep abreast of the news, and that they should not exaggerate their fears by thinking such things as, “Do you suppose . . . ?”

It was some time (years?) later that I realized Aristotle was right. “. . . things that are true and things that are just have a natural tendency to prevail over their opposites” – right even if in 1967, 2001, and today that is somewhat difficult to believe.

Perhaps it’s too much to expect of ourselves – I don’t even know yet what I want to do when I grow up – but on the anniversary of 9-11-2001 it might be a good plan to construct arguments about our lives together rather than just arguing.

We might discover that we are the adults in the room.


By Harold A. Knight

. . . and that funny little chair in my living room – that is, the living area of my loft apartment – is, I think, about 140 years old. A Windsor chair – not one of those hoity-toity pieces from an elegant dining room or a hotel lobby. Solid working-class, no nonsense chair. Oak, I think. Or some hard wood that grows in Arkansas or San Antonio or San Luis Potosí. It is stained dark brown and varnished – aged to almost black.

The chair spent its first life in those disparate places and others. In its second life it wandered from Kansas City to Wyoming to Nebraska to California. Its home is in Dallas now. My home. It has been in my home for about 20 years.

The chair’s nomadic life resulted from its being in the care and service of Minot Huntley (1860-1937) – my paternal grandmother’s father. He worked as a land agent for the Missouri Pacific Railroad – in those places and others. (My grandmother spent some of her teenage years in San Luis Potosí.) Boringly detailed description for an ordinary old chair. But it has a distinguishing characteristic – the shortness of its back legs, cut off so my great-grandfather – 6’4” in his stocking feet – could be comfortable in whatever city his desk happened to be.

I’m not sure how or when my dad took possession of it, but it has been in the home of one or another member of my immediate family my entire life. I don’t remember exactly when or how it wandered to my home. It may have been in a shipping box on an airplane.

History lesson based on original research finished. I didn’t find one detail on Google. All of the factual information I didn’t remember is in my father’s book on the history of his mother’s family.

You might guess – if you’ve been paying attention – that the chair is a cherished possession. I am the conservator of a tiny – tiny – tiny – piece of history.

A piece that has held great sorrow for my family.

Minot Huntley died in an automobile accident driving from Mountain Home, Arkansas, to my parents’ wedding in Kansas City, Kansas. He was the age I am now.

The age I am now. Old, but not that old. Old enough to be astounded – mystified – by tidbits of coincidence or . . .   I’m the age my great-grandfather was when he died. I sit in his chair nearly every day. A cousin called a couple of days ago – sorting photos from an old family album and wanting my help in remembering who the people are in our grandparents’ wedding pictures –  “Standing next to Great Grandfather Huntley . . .”

Time for some good old fashioned Romantic poetry. Bill Wordsworth will do.

                          The world is too much with us; late and soon,

                          Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;—

                          Little we see in Nature that is ours;

                          We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!

We have given our hearts away, indeed! Away and away and away. To work. To pleasure. To fucking politics. To making and having too much money. The world is too much. Period. With us or not. Seventy-six and alone. No, I’m not alone. I have my great-grandfather’s chair. A connection – I never met the man, of course. I knew my great-grandmother. She died when I was thirteen. A connection deeper than with people I know and love today. I have known/ thought/ assumed my entire life that I don’t belong. Anywhere. I’ll tell you about that after my next therapy session. And I – out as gay since before Stonewall – will have no great grandchildren to mourn my passing. But connected in spite of not belonging, and that funny little chair in my living room . . .

Welcome back, Old Man

I think you’ve been gone long enough.

There’s a bug in my garden. I don’t know what kind of bug. Probably a slug. A snail without a shell. A mollusk gone wrong. I guess it would be slimy and brown if I could see it. But it’s slithering around virtually in my computer. “Updating failed. You are probably offline.” So what? I’ve been offline most of my life, and no muculent little creature will stop me from this writing. Or any writing. Prose? Poetry? Prose poetry. Of course the world has changed since I was last here (could I be more clichéd?) – a year ago. Ted Cruz is no longer my man, nor is John Cornyn. Covid has derailed almost everything. My sense of humor has gotten more and more indecipherable. My living alone at this age is beginning to be problematic. But, then, my living alone has always been problematic.

And the whole country is being torn apart – jettisoned, really – well, no, the country isn’t being jettisoned. I’m still here, and if you’re reading this nonsense, you’re still here. I guess. But the country is without a rudder, with bizarre notions of fact and fiction, with people saying they’ve researched something – anything – when what they’ve done is googled a bunch of nonsense and watched Fox News until their brains are fried – there, now you know which side of intelligent life I’m trying to be on – and found or heard something that corresponds with what passes for “thought” in their brain. Oh, I shouldn’t be so sarcastic, should I? I should be kind and try to reason with – gently, nicely, compassionately – all of those folks, friends and foes alike, who believe that horse dewormer is good for fighting viruses.

Wait! I do have compassion for all those poor folks who’ve been hoodwinked into – – – oh, forget it. Let them eat cake. But I am deeply concerned (not being sarcastic here, in case you need me to explain what I think is funny) – this is not a joke – concerned that so many people believe that having a death wish is a good way to get what they want. I personally feel that a death wish is not a good thing no matter which side of intelligent life you choose. The Texas Lieutenant Governor said a few months ago that old farts like me should be willing to die for their country. Now he’s convinced about half the population that it would be a good thing to die for their country, so they should not wear protective masks or be vaccinated.

So – in case you haven’t figured it out yet – I’m a tad frightened, angry, lonely, and tired. And that loneliness is a bit like the slug in my garden or computer – take your pick. It’s insidious, going about its business no matter what I think of it. Eating anything organic it can find – not much in my computer – and glissading around leaving its slime everywhere it goes. The loneliness is the fertile soil for the roots of – you know –