The middle-aged grunt
Sounds of the 50s and 60s, plus my weekly shareables: the HOME TOWN stars, David Grann's newest, and John Mulaney returns
I have rarely felt as seen—well, heard—as I did when I read the recent New York Times story on the middle-aged grunt.
Every morning, when I wake up, I sit on the edge of the bed and go through a status check not unlike an aging airliner. I roll and shrug my shoulders—unnnnh. I reach around my back and stretch—aggggghhhhh. I stand up and push against my hamstrings—eeeeeeooooohhhhhh.
Ready for takeoff. Which in my case, at my age, means out to the hall and into the bathroom.
These grunts and moans are a common thing when you get older. I remember working with my dad when we had a house project going. He would grunt every time he bent down to pick up a tool or got up off the floor. He had a whole symphony of noises. My favorite was the one he used to tease my mom. She used to drive an old Volkswagen Beetle, which ran forever but rode like a wagon on the Oregon Trail. When we came to a railroad track, no matter how carefully she crawled the Beetle over it, there was always at least one little bump. And when it happened, my dad would let out a single, pained unnh!
This drove my mom insane. From my spot in the back seat I could see the steam rising off her scalp. And I could see my dad on the passenger side, quietly shaking with laughter.
According to the Times story, nobody has spent much time studying the middle-aged groan. Here’s my theory: It’s a little song to ourselves. We’re expressing how we feel in the moment, same as if we started whistling on a lovely spring morning. Maybe there’s a bit of performance in it, especially if somebody’s nearby and we want them to notice. But mostly we’re just humming The Song of Aches and Pains—a tune most everybody comes to know.
When I’m feeling a little too sorry for myself, I find it helps to think of the old tune from HEE HAW:
10 things I wanted to share this week:
The pride(s) of Laurel, Mississippi—Ben and Erin Napier—were my guests on the SOUTHBOUND podcast. We talked about how they’ve changed Laurel with their hit show HOME TOWN, and how the show has changed them. They crack jokes, finish each other’s sentences … as a friend messaged me after listening, “relationship goals.”
My weekly for WFAE was a message to the book-banners, via Judy Blume.
A new Substack to check out: My friend Kimmery Martin—a doctor turned successful novelist—has started a newsletter called THIS WEEK’S EMERGENCY. Kimmery is funny and perceptive and smart as hell. Jump in and subscribe.
DOG NEWS: While I work on my book, I’m devoting this slot to dog stories. This week: Secrets of dogsitting for the rich and famous.
I like to think of the funniest person in America at any given time as being the heavyweight champion of comedy. John Mulaney held the belt for two or three years before getting so hooked on cocaine and pills that his friends had an intervention and sent him to rehab. His new Netflix special, BABY J, touches on all that. He doesn’t go quite as deep as Richard Pryor did on his own drug problem, but it’s plenty deep, and still very funny. It’s impossible to see Mulaney quite the same way again, and I guess that’s the point.
Another new book that’s right in my wheelhouse: Claire Dederer’s MONSTERS, about how to process great works of art made by terrible human beings.
RIP Emily Meggett, the brilliant Gullah Geechee cook who published a best-selling cookbook on the cuisine of her culture a year ago—when she was 89.
Track #1 for the weekend: The beautifully chill “FaceTime” by rapper billy woods, featuring producer Kenny Segal and vocals from Samuel T. Herring of Future Islands.
Track #2 for the weekend: Jason Isbell’s new single “Cast Iron Skillet,” another in his long list of songs that cut down to the bone.
See y’all next week, everybody.
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