A picture worth 900 words | Chuck's World
I have affection for lessons learned the hard way, a benefit of having a few years under my belt. And over my belt. Really, just pick a preposition and include a belt. The joke writes itself.
It’s easier, in other words, to look back at mistakes and find them amusing and nostalgic, mellowed as they seem by a couple of intervening decades.
I once watched a teenager give a heartfelt speech about his life – this was in a church – and mention that his darkest moment came when he failed to come to a complete stop at a corner and got a traffic ticket.
The audience roared with laughter, and then unroared quickly when we all saw the stricken look on his face. Perspective will help, eventually.
You should always come to a complete stop, of course. I’m only suggesting that it’s not necessarily tragic to get a traffic citation, but try telling that to a 16 year old.
And while at my age, any number of youthful indiscretions can still linger on in the form of interest rates, dry rot or scary chest X-rays, what I share with younger generations is that moments of bad judgment can often be preserved forever in a single photograph.
It wasn’t always forever. A person under the age of, say, 20 (maybe older), might be forgiven for being baffled by talk of “negatives.”
Once upon a time, if you wanted to destroy a photograph, you just needed to destroy the negative, something that now sounds philosophical or spiritual, not practical.
In this non-negative world, a photo can live forever, and probably will. Particularly if it’s humiliating for someone. Or it has cats. Cat pictures appear to be indestructible.
And while it’s easy for me to shrug off embarrassing pictures from my past, time healing most wounds, I was reminded last week that wisdom and age are not synonyms.
A few months ago, I apparently agreed to help raise some money for a project I believed in.
It was someone’s brilliant idea that a group of us pose for pictures to create one of those calendars. You know the calendars. There are millions of them, and millions of bad decisions perpetuated by time and photography.
They are satirical calendars, mocking themselves and you for buying them. These started legitimately, pin-ups of pretty women for the boys in battle or the guys at the gas station, and then moved on to the “Men of Fire District #9” and so on.
Eventually all sorts of non-pretty people got in on the act, raising money for good causes by posing in various stages of undress: Church ladies, senior citizens, soccer teams, soccer moms, soccer fans.
They’re always described as “tasteful,” which only means they have large props. They are not tasteful.
But they’re successful, apparently, enough that I somehow agreed to show up at a photo studio, my wife in tow so I wouldn’t do something I’d regret.
And while part of the joke is that the models for this calendar are all perfectly normal people, with perfectly normal bodies, all of them shared a similar demographic, by which I mean they were men right around the age of 27.
I am not 27. Of course. Another joke. This is a joke calendar.
So they wrapped me up in a blanket and I struck a pose, and barring some wardrobe malfunction that my wife missed, it’s sort of a funny picture. The other guys are wearing fewer clothes, but again: They have props.
I saw the proofs of this calendar last week, so now I understand. I understand that whatever I’ve done in the past, and whatever I do in the future, a search for my name will probably result in this picture.
My grandchildren could see it, along with people I went to high school with, old girlfriends, former teachers, various law enforcement people, Nobel Prize judges, my mother… there is no negative, you understand, unless we’re talking along the lines of self-esteem.
If I were a conscientious newspaper columnist, I’d take this opportunity to explain, once again, to younger people how the Internet has changed our lives, how caution is always a virtue when it comes to personal behavior, how bad decisions can follow us in the form of embarrassing pictures that future employers will see, etc.
But I won’t. First of all, younger people know all this, because they’re not stupid and older people have been saying it forever, anyway.
And also because this is about my shame. Get your own.
Again, there’s nothing naughty about the picture. I look like myself, and in fact I look remarkably similar to how I’d appear if someone banged on my front door at 5 a.m. and I decided to figure out why. The picture is fine.
But it’s fine because I’m covered up, and I’m covered up because there are few things more distracting than the aging male body. Gravity may be the weak sister in the world of physics, but it’s a powerful force when applied to a 50-something guy who errs on the side of ice cream.
So this was a hard lesson, and it’s learned. I can’t erase the past, but I can temper the damage and wear more clothes. Exercise more. Stay away from cameras, even for a good cause.
And appreciate that life has stages, and I really wouldn’t want to be 27 again. Even for better abs.
Also? If there are Nobel Prize judges reading this, I only ask that you look at the big picture. Not that one.