Thursday, February 19, 2015

Use-by Dates, Enjoy-by Dates, and The Inner Geezer

Not too long ago during this late afternoon, you were either working at a high level of concentration and intensity or procrastinating at an equal level of procrastination.  Either way, your mind was filled with the clamor of a dinner table, where small, considerate portions of succulent and hearty foods await your pleasure, and the conversation ranges from one intrigue to another.

This is a perfect time for the rituals of making and sipping coffee.  In the kitchen, you bring forth and prepare the octagonal stove-top espresso maker, fill the basket with your favorite Espresso Forte blend from Peet's.  Now, all you need is the milk to heat and froth for your vision of a proper latte.

Then you see the printed notice on the milk carton.  "Enjoy by Feb 23 15."  You don't need to be urged to enjoy that milk before Feb 23 15. In fact, you are close to resenting the stamped sign in the same way you've come to resent advertising.  No way you'd have bought that milk in the first place if you hadn't planned to take enjoyment from its use.

Bad news for a carton of milk to throw you off your game and irritate you in a consumerism equivalent of road rage.  But.  You are also aware that "Enjoy by Whatever date" is a euphemism for "Use by Date."  Why can't we say what we mean?  The freaking milk will spoil if not used by the use-by date?  Probably not. Probably someone alert to the need not to irritate the inner geezer.  

Have you become the Inner Geezer, who lurks inside of you with a host of other personality types you are at some pains to manage because, after all, they are the primary source for the armature about which you wrap strands and coils of character trait?  Such thoughts causes you to spend a few moments thinking out the reasons for the euphemism in the first place.  In fact, causes you to consider the need for any euphemism.

Use-by carries a connotation with it of a thing losing its powers, its freshness, its relevance.  Use the thing by this date or you won't be getting the maximum benefit from it.  Use by imposes a life span of one sort or another, which makes you think of the discovery you made today of the splendid writer of neuropsychological themes, Oliver Sacks, and his announcement that the fuse has been lit; he has an irreversible cancer of the liver.  

Sacks has not used the term Use by, but he is aware of realistic limitations on what at one time seemed as limitless as a human use by date can be seen as limitless.  He is even, in his brief announcement of his condition, aware of the gifts he has received by existing until his eighty-first year.

This takes you back to the days of Christopher Hitchens, dead in 2011 at sixty-two, whom you'd met and were able to hang out with the one time, somewhere in late 09 or early 20.  You watched the grace with which this fiery polemicist comported himself during the imposition of his use-by time.  An ardent atheist, Hitchens was firm about not turning to religion, as he put it, "no matter how frightened I may become."

The second anniversary of the use-by date of your great pal, Barnaby Conrad, has recently passed (February 12), making it small wonder you would take a moment or two to wonder if there are any traces of your own use-by date in sight.  There are none you can see, but as you learned from your own Discovery Tour with cancer, there is more directive than euphemism in the admonition "Enjoy by--" You can only hope to address with dignity your own discovery or your use-by date.

Meanwhile, you cannot help thinking of some of the books you read that should have had "enjoy-by" tags.  In particular, you arrive at the works of Thomas Wolfe, thankful you got through him at age eighteen because, when you tried to have another go at him at twenty-five, you could not, in ironic tribute to one of his titles, go home again.  Ditto for The Fountainhead, which fit so well into your twenty-year-old visions of individuality and integrity that you might, had you become frozen into that emotional Ice Age, have become a Libertarian.

A splendid metaphor emerges from you consideration of books you came to later in life.  Let's get Twain out of the way here by saying that you found him at the exact right time to the point where, if you were ever tempted to say you were fated to do something, you could say you were fated to meet him when you did.  

The biggest surprise with him was the way you found so much to grow on in Life on the Mississippi.  You got your approach to narrative from Roughing It, and your approach to humor from The Innocents Abroad.  Huck Finn opened your ear to voice, the sound of it resonating across the years as a hand-hold to hearing your own.

The other titles, the ones that have remained and insisted on being reread and reread came later, much later, when you were able to see beyond "Best Used by" and "Use by," and into the prospects of "Enjoy by."  

You take heed from the admonition to enjoy anything by.  Keeps the Inner Geezer at bay, it does.

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