Every vacation we play the license plate game, and we do pretty well. We've never spotted the plates from all fifty states, but we've come close---forty-five was our best tally, plus DC. Some states are consistently elusive, and those don't include Alaska or Hawaii, as you might expect. We get one or the other every year and often both. Wyoming's tough. Oklahoma. West Virginia. Mississippi but not Alabama---we've seen three Alabamas so far this week. The states we never get are the Dakotas and Idaho. Montana and Nevada are iffy and Nebraska has had to be left off the list more than a few trips, even though Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Colorado are annual locks. There are just too many Californians in the world to let them all stay at home at once and I think a set number have to be spread out across the other 49 states accordring to quotas established by Congress in 1955. You might think the other West Coast states might be harder to spot this far east but Oregon and Washington are more common than Kentucky and Tennessee. New Mexico and Arizona aren't quite as common but we still find them every year.
Utah (or Utah!), though, has never been a problem.
There's a family from Utah that owns a house down here and they have three or four cars with Utah! plates.
Oddly, they've been invisible this year. Now I know why.
The family's in Germany.
Now, I don't really know that the family from Utah is the Redfords. It's just local gossip I picked up a long time ago. Supposedly, Robert Redford bought or leased the house when he was out this way scouting locations for a movie he wound up not making and he and his children and lately their children have been spending the summers here ever since. I've never seen him, though. And I've been looking.
I was looking, at any rate. I realized this morning, reading the news that Redford had remarried, that I gave it up. Can't say exactly when. It's been a while though.
But every summer for years and years I kept my eye open. This wasn't an ordinary case of celebrity worship. It was something both more realistic and more delusional.
I was expecting to bump into my old pal Bob.
I was expecting it and looking forward to it with the same sort and level of anticipation as I was looking forward to and expecting to bump into my old high school girlfriend, the one who looked like Scarlett Johansson, who for some reason I've always believed vacations down here, and a former student whose family owns a place in town, and the way I'm going to be looking out from now on for a blogging pal whose mother I just found out lives here, and by the way, Bruce, you're right, a trip to the Chatham dump is a real treat. I've been expecting to run into Redford the way I'd run into an old friend.
This is how I believed it would go. I'd be hiking around the Mill Pond, pausing on a bike ride at a spot overlooking the beach, browsing in a bookstore, sitting in the stands at the ball park, and Redford would just come along, minding his business, and we'd nod hello, exchange a few pleasantries about the weather or the view or whatever, and then fall into an easy conversation about this or that, without either one of us acknowledging that he was him. Then one or the other of us would say, How 'bout a cup of coffee? And at the diner or the coffee shop we'd really get talking, about serious stuff, art, movies, politics, and still neither one of us would bring up the movie star business.
Of course, I know how it would have gone. Either I'd have gone all over star-struck and made a stammering, yammering fool of myself trying to impress upon him what a fan I was or I'd have played it way too cool and not let on that I'd recognized him at all, except for maybe a knowing look at the end that told him how cool I was with the fact that I was talking to Robert Redford.
But in my little daydream, talking with Bob Redford was as easy and natural as talking to myself...because it was a case of talking to myself. And I don't mean that in the sense that I was having these fantasized conversations with a figment of my imagination.
I mean that for a long time Robert Redford was my alternative self.
Put the phone down. You don't need to call the padded wagon. I'm not saying that I imagined that I was him or even that I lived vicariously through him. I'm saying that when I was a kid I decided that Robert Redford was the kind of man I wanted to grow up to be like and after I came to that decision identifying with Redford was really a way of identifying with the grown-up Mannion I was trying to become. He wasn't the only adult I identified with in this way. Alan Alda. Garry Trudeau. Kurt Vonnegut. I didn't want to be these guys, particularly, or have their careers, specifically. To me, they represented a way to be intellectual, artistic, literary, without being pretentiously or preciously bohemian and without going too far in the other direction, over-compensating like Hemingway and Mailer. Basically, I liked their style, laid-back, self-questioning. They took their work seriously but not themselves. So I would try on their personas---naive, not too keenly observed, and therefore awkward approximations of their personas---and stomp around in them for a while to feel how they fit.
With Redford there was an extra point of identification. We were both blond, blue-eyed, freckled, and Irish, and maybe, just maybe, I convinced myself that if I put my mind to it I could will my jumble of Redfordesque coincidences into a deliberate Redfordesque effect.
The result of this was that by time I was twenty or so I was on pretty friendly terms in my head with these alternative future Lance Mannions. I could, and did, talk about them with over-familiarity, probably hoping that the people I talked about my "friends" with (Ok, girls) would confuse me with my fantasy me of the moment or at least think that in order to have "friends" like Alan Mannion, Garry Mannion, Kurt Mannion,and Bob Mannion, I must be like those other Mannions.
These friendly feelings persisted even after reality had forced me to face the truth. The grown-up I'd become wasn't anything like those guys, he was just me, and I was stuck with him.
Redford's seventy-two now. Alda's seventy-three. Vonnegut's dead.
Garry Trudeau's turning a mere sixty-one this coming Tuesday. But senior citizenship's on the horizon.
I don't need their examples to follow to figure out how to be an old man. I'm managing that on my own. I'm kind of a natural at it, in fact.
What I may need from them, though, is a friendly reminder.
Lately, I've caught myself doing something far more ridiculous and embarrassing than being a teenager strutting around as if he thinks he's a grown-up movie star---being a middle-aged man strutting around as if he thinks he's a grown-up movie star way younger than he is.
Or a baseball player.
Or a television journalist.
I think it's a good thing as you get older to keep a spring in your step and a twinkle in your eye, but not if the spring and the twinkle actually belong to the likes of Ryan Reynolds, Albert Pujols, or Rachel Maddow.
There's a line in Fred Busch's novel Invisible Mending that goes something like "the ballpark in the Bronx where the Yankees were young on my father's behalf." I read that when I was in grad school and thought it was one of the saddest and truest things ever written and I swore that it would never be true about me. I would never make the mistake of letting other men be young on my behalf. I thought it was a sure way to make an old fool of myself, and I put the emphasis on old as much as on fool. I thought the sooner you gave up the work of being young on your own behalf the sooner you'd be old. And in the years since I've seen that happen to plenty of men who were not yet old by the calendar.
(I also thought that a general habit of letting others be young on your behalf explained how so many old men could blithely send young men off to die in ridiculous wars. I still think so.)
So I haven't liked it much when I've caught myself identifying with Reynolds and Pujols and Maddow---and I'm secure enough in my masculinity that I can identify with a woman as an alternative me, although it's probably telling that that woman's a lesbian---as if I might grow up (grow down?) to be like them.
Foolish, foolish, foolish.
What I need is for my old pals Alan and Garry and Bob to come along and tell me to snap out of it and act their age.
What about you? Who was or is your alternative model you?______________
Last night, on the way to the ballpark, I heard a voice I thought I recognized in the crowd on the sidewalk.
"That sounds just like Harry Connick Jr ," I said to myself.
And then I walked right into him.
Connick owns a house in town. He was with a group of friends and they were discussing Bruno on their way into a restaurant. I played it cool, of course. No star struck yammering. I gave him a knowing look that he pretended not to see and walked on.
Anyway, he's just a punk kid of forty-two.