The Youngs and the Old

I could hardly believe my ears.


Do you hear a banjo?

I was inside a tent on the banks of the St. Croix River. The sun was just starting to come up. My younger daughter, Anna, snored on her side of the tent. My older daughter, Laney, slept in another tent with her girlfriend, Emily. From what seemed to be the other side of the river came three chords played on the banjo. Over and over again.

I thought I heard a dog barking intermittently too. In my half-awake and increasingly enraged state I created a picture. A still-drunk-from-the-night-before hipster perched on a picnic table. A nearly-empty bourbon bottle at his elbow. Poised in his lap, a banjo. His talent and brain power extending to exactly three chords, which he played over and over as the sun came up. And his miserable dog — what creature isn’t a critic? — barking in a failed effort to make this cretin stop.

Who plays banjo at seven in the morning?

Anna stirred. She sat up. I said to her, “Fucking unbelievable! Three chords. That’s all he knows!” I may have gone on a bit longer.

We’re generally on the same wave length. I figured Anna would be equally put out. Instead she laughed.

“A banjo? That’s the alarm on Laney’s phone.”

Sure. Of course. I knew that. Except I didn’t. Because I am an Old and they are the Youngs. When I hear the sound of a banjo I still believe it is probably a banjo. The girls recognize it for what it is. A cell phone.

The girls are big talkers. Big laughers too. Some of that, post-banjo, came at my expense. I can live with that.

We had a great time, floating down the river. The river, if you don’t look too hard, seems to be a timeless place. Trees and water and green stuff in between.

The world changes and it doesn’t. Better that those three chords weren’t played by an actual human being. Better to be ridiculous than angry. Everything, in the words of a transgendered woman of my acquaintance, is exactly as it should be.


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