I don't know when the basic personality of the average human-being stops developing from its putty-like infantile malleability to finally become hard as concrete. Whatever the age, I suspect that at 68+, my own is about as set as 3-year-old Jello.
The ancient Greek who said, "The unexamined life is not worth living" sure got it right, I think. And although my nameless, faceless, locationless ill-mannered correspondent, who wrote recently to scold me for the Democratic waywardness of this newspaper column, may not think so, I think I know myself pretty well, warts and all. I know, for instance, that I've got a broad streak of plain orneriness (the term "curmudgeon," I'm told, belongs exclusively to friend Pat Brophy), that I enjoy pouring abuse on the heads of self-satisfied political conservatives.
That's why I ordered, and have received, a bunch of brightly-colored bumper stickers from Northern Sun Merchandising, in Minneapolis, that traditional den of radical--political thought. Some examples that you can expect to assault your eyes from my back bumper:
1. The ever-popular but increasingly useless "IMPEACH BUSH" and the related truth, "IT'S A SCIENTIFIC FACT: SCUM ALWAYS RISES TO THE TOP," 2. "IF WE DON'T PROTECT FREEDOM OF SPEECH, HOW WILL WE KNOW WHO THE EXPLETIVE DELETED ARE?" (Watch the paper expurgate this one!)
3. "THE TRULY EDUCATED NEVER GRADUATE." 4. "SOMEWHERE IN TEXAS THERE'S A VILLAGE MISSING AN IDIOT."
5. "HUMANS AREN'T THE ONLY SPECIES ON EARTH -- WE JUST ACT LIKE IT." 6. "DOING MY PART TO PISS OFF THE RELIGIOUS RIGHT." (This one, too!)
7. Ginny's choice: "GOD IS COMING . . . AND IS SHE PISSED!" (Number 3?)
8. And, finally, my favorite: "FRIENDS DON'T LET FRIENDS VOTE REPUBLICAN."
Let's face it: except in extraordinary cases, as when a person's clinical parsimoniousness almost causes her to die, but instead leads her to the blindingly bright revelation that it's right and just to give her employees a substantial yearly raise (you know, Scrooge-like), people don't really change over time. Their basic personality just becomes more of the same with each passing year, regardless of what Mr. Dickens writes.
I used to fantasize that my household was like that of Veronica, Betty, Jughead, and Henry Aldridge, Reggie Van Somethingorother, and their crowd. The teens seemed to rule the roost in that neighborhood. They floated from house to house, like members of one big family, without anyone having to ring the bell before opening the door and entering. No one scolded you if you answered the phone by chirping, "Okay, shoot; it's your dime!" It was all so free and easy. I wished I could live in a home like that, where good-hearted trickery and nonsense always seemed to prevail.
But in my house, if I answered our phone that way, my father'd probably make me mow the front and back yards with the old push-mower all summer without paying me a nickel.
When my father came home from a long day at AMOCO in New York, he just wanted to relax by reading the paper, and then, because he never developed a taste for the time-wasting habit of TV (and my mother did), he seemed to spend whole evenings reading novels, histories, and whatever was at hand.
So I, too, got into the pleasurable habit of reading . . . until, at a point of which I'm not even aware, it got to be an obsession. I'd be at a boring party somewhere, and suddenly find myself thinking, "Gosh, I wish I were home with a fresh pack of Gauloises and an ice-cold Coke seeing how R is for Revenge turns out." The urge to get home as soon as I could, and return to reading was a slow mind-set to develop, but it arrived one day and, I'm afraid, has never left me.
No, we are forever what we were as a late-teenager or young adult. Do you wonder why I don't bother to write out New Year's resolutions. I'd keep them no longer than it would take me to write them out longhand.