BY JIM RAFTUS
I’m always pleased when I see Roger Angell listed as a contributor in The New Yorker. I subscribe to The New Yorker because it keeps me on my toes, although I only get about half of the cartoons, and some of the fiction pieces leave me perplexed and, frankly, annoyed.
Angell’s work, however, is usually brimming with charm, intelligence and compassion. He has been a less frequent presence lately, but he can be forgiven. He is 93.
Fortunately, he was in the Feb. 17 and 24 edition. The New Yorker always includes a list of contributors: For example: “Jeffrey Toobin has written six books including ‘The Oath. The Obama White House and the Supreme Court.’”
Angell’s terse profile states: “Roger Angell first contributed to the magazine in March, 1944.”
That is two years before I was born — and I’m now undeniably into the senior, retired, fixed-income phase of my life! Angell was published in The New Yorker before the end of World War II. They’ve been accepting his work through 12 presidencies. In this modern era of instant fame and disposable careers, Angell sits proudly amid a pantheon of greats who have lived long and well.
Pablo Picasso created long enough to have, at least, five periods; Cubism, Rose, Africa, Modern and Blue. His initial work to receive notice was “The First Communion,” painted in 1896, and he unveiled the “Chicago Picasso” sculpture in 1967.
Jack Buck Sr. first broadcast a St. Louis Cardinals baseball game on KMOX radio in 1954 and he continued until 2001. He charmed the Midwest from Stan Musial’s fluid swing to Mark McGwire’s tainted 61-home-run season.
Leonard Bernstein studied as a youth at Tanglewood in 1940 and conducted his last performance at Tanglewood in 1990. The composer of “West Side Story” led the New York Philharmonic for two decades.
Helen Thomas was a White House correspondent covering presidents from John Kennedy to Barack Obama. She was a true pioneer for females in a traditionally all-male club, and press conferences were not done until she intoned, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
Angell’s article in the Feb. 17 and 24 New Yorker was titled, “This Old Man.” It is a poignant piece deliberately weighted with the winnowing of so many of his friends and family that comes with the passage of so many decades. It also, briefly and heart wrenchingly, describes the sense of invisibility that even someone as urbane and sharp as he feels when one seems merely tolerated during conversations.
Still, Angell’s humor and undampened spark for life shine through as he discusses the sexual yearnings of a 90-year-old or the joy of blogging. Here’s a writer who probably spent the first 50 years of his career changing ribbons on his Remington typewriter, rhapsodizing about the freedom of blogging. There’s a life lesson in all of this if we would just take the time to listen.
John Prine, singer/songwriter, who is in the fifth decade of his career, wrote a song called, “Hello In There.” It features this chorus:
You know that old trees just grow stronger
And old rivers grow wilder every day.
Old people just grow lonesome
Waiting for someone to say, “Hello in there, hello.”
Well, all I can say is, “Write on, Roger, write on.”
Jim Raftus (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a retired marketing director who lives in Cumberland.