WASHINGTON, D.C., January 5, 2012 — If you have to turn 75, and we all will if fortunate enough to dodge the alternative, I cannot think of a better way to do it. I walked into Cleveland Park’s Cafe Deluxe for dinner with my wife and son.
Not an inkling or suspicion did I have when I followed my son through the general dining room and opened the door of the Private Dining Room. Then I saw the many smiling loved ones gathered there shouting “Happy Birthday!” Although I am not customarily at a loss for words, I stood nonplussed for what seemed like two full choruses of the “Happy Birthday” ditty.
My son, Nick, who had been visiting from Miami, where he teaches creative writing at Florida International University, was the “sneak organizer” in a conspiracy with my wife, Geri, and stepdaughter, Sunny Levitt.
Then I noted the special menu. It was headed “Toast and Roast of Vance Garnett.” Roast: that gave me some idea what was in store.
A lovely dinner was served, as we all bantered, jousted and jested over the huge round table. In the background played an uninterrupted string of my kind of music that Nick had handpicked for the occasion.
And as if the badinage weren’t bad enough, following dessert, Nick made his way to the podium. In a Johnny Carson/Art Fern voice he said, “You may be thinking this is great enough as is, but Nooo.…”
He then performed the dual tasks of Master of Ceremonies and standup comic, toasting and roasting the hide off of me. Later I told him that if the book his literary agent is shopping around for him doesn’t get picked up, he should think about a stint at the Improv.
He hung my foibles out on a line in such good humor that the room rocked with raucous roars. For example, he said that growing up as my son was like having a ten-year-old brother with a driver’s license. He added, that I had become so conservative that when I drive, I no longer make a left turn, but, instead, make three right turns.
After a series of anecdotes, he introduced my wife, Geri, who said she really didn’t want to “roast” me, but it was about the only roast I would be getting from her these days. She presented a mix of lovey-doveys and potshots.
My friend of 36-years, retired DOE agent Irv Chamberlain, presented some tasty tidbits in his inimitable style. He left blanks for me to fill in, such as how the same person, namely me, could by contrast, have been both a nightclub singer and a hospital chaplain.
Esteemed radio talk-show host, Chris Plante, (WMAL) spoke nicely of me, plugged my Washington Times Communities column, and complimented me on being “right” even when I’m wrong.
My genteel step-daughter, Sunny, was so laudatory and warm it was touching, right up to her last line in which she connected me with royalty. This was regarding the kind of pain I sometimes cause to her. Anyway, she had been doing so well up to that point.
Stepson Mark Levitt winged a few remarks, saying some nice things and finished by teasing me about my being a Francophile. He doubted, he claimed, that he could stand to hear another Frank Sinatra song ever. Numerous others speakers were alternately touching and funny.
Later, Nick returned to the dais and announced that he had been able to contact a number of my friends and some had sent email “toasts and roasts.”
My mentor, Dr. George Akers, the man who was both my high school principal and college president, wrote that he thought too highly of me to “roast” me. While, on the other hand, my professional comedian friend, Bobby Lewis, said he thought too little of me to “toast” me; he went on to roll out a litany of roast-worthy barbs.
Crime novelist George Pelecanos sent an email stating that if Damon Runyon were writing about D.C., he might have created a character called “Vance Garnett, a D.C original.” As a Runyon and Pelecanos fan, I accept and appreciate that compliment.
There was so much more, too. The Roast was done well. And, at the end, I was done. Turning 75 is quite a sharp turn and there are no U-turns, either.
However, I can’t help noting the strange contradictions in my thinking. If, on a crowded bus, a group of young people sit playing with their iPods, iPads (it’s all about “i”) without offering this waning 75-year-old a seat, I feel anger at what’s happened to the manners of young ones today. On the other hand, if a sweet young girl offers me a chance to sit down, I am offended and almost do a break-dance to demonstrate my agility.
It’s strange, too, that I feel complimented when someone says I don’t look my age. Yet when they say, “You don’t act your age,” I’m not sure whether that calls for a “thank you” or resentment.
I’m in good septuagenarian company. This year, within the next six months, four iconic Oscar-winning actors will turn 75. They are: Jack Nicholson, Warren Beatty, Dustin Hoffman, and Morgan Freeman. Now, I readily admit I don’t possess a fraction of their fame, fortune or success; but I do share their verve and enjoyment of life. And I’m positive that they cannot have a better collection of family, friends, and acquaintances than I do.
I’ve been published in many newspapers and magazines. And I’ve been told on the radio that I hold the record for the most Letters to the Editor published in The Washington Post. Just this past September, the on-line Communities section of The Washington Times offered me a weekly column. It’s called, “As I See-Saw It,” providing me the opportunity to tell some of my stories which link events and people of the past with those of today.
What I have noticed about growing older and, of course, wiser is that about the only thing that increases its speed in the aging process is the time it takes to forget why you walked into a room. This usually calls for a trip to the refrigerator in search of clues.
Also more of my conversations today include phrases like “nowadays” and “I remember when…” and “You used to be able to…” and “What ever happened to…” and “In my day….” But I look forward with hope to the following: continuing my happy marriage with my artist wife, Geri; enjoying my wonderful family and friends; my continued writing; listening to my music; and getting “that book” published.
Then there are those aforementioned memories I enjoy sharing. You wouldn’t believe the time in Yellowstone National Park when…oh, well, you’re busy. We’ll have to save that for another time. I’ve got to monitor my “anecdotage.” Meanwhile, I’ll see you in The Washington Times “Communities.”
Vance Garnett’s writings have appeared in many newspapers and magazines. They have won the praise of such luminaries as Paul Harvey, William Safire, and Shirley Povich. Vance calls himself “a lover of all things Washington.”
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