Old men striving to be 20 again

By ART CULLEN

Every blue moon or so the old college roommates — four of us — gather in the Twin Cities to be 20 again. When we were 20 they would not let us near the dugouts, but thanks to Kempf Paper we enjoyed box seats within shouting distance of first-base coach Butch Davis.

It was hot. Yet 23,000 fans showed up to watch the hapless Twins get hammered 15-4 by David Ortiz and the Boston Red Sox. About half the stadium was filled with ladies young and old, black and white wearing next to nothing so the game was not a total washout. When a friend lost his phone in the toilet and then recovered it we decided it was time to leave in the eighth inning. We heard angst-filled music offered by the tragically hip who seem to have taken command of entire blocks of territory.

We found the place four decades ago through the College of St. Thomas. We were all white kids from comfortable and stable homes in Iowa, Duluth, Faribault and suburban Chicago.

Turns out we’ve been through more than appearances would suggest.

Our families have coped with deep depression and attempted suicide, profound autism, cancer, children who wander astray and other challenges that can shake you to your foundation.

One buddy was a manufacturer’s rep who got wiped out by the Great Recession when his discretionary product met up with no discretionary income. Now he’s back to working the same job that got him through college as an orderly in a psych ward. He says he is happier than ever.

Another is a clinical psychologist who listens to neurotic people all day. He is probably the most balanced among us. He just smiles when we talk because he’s heard it all for a fee.

The third is a litigator who represents insurance companies in personal injury cases. He works 60 hours a week and rides the train 45 minutes in and 45 minutes out every day. He worries about how his son will be cared for someday.

We always pick up right where we left off. That indicates a real friendship, I think.

It struck me, then, how much we are still who we are after what we have traversed.

It makes me suppose that we’re all that way.

You think someone has it easy because they have a new car and a big house. But you don’t know the load they’re bearing. Even with these guys, you really don’t know because they would rather have you cracking your ribs laughing.

We go to work almost every day. We are all still married, better for us and worse for the wives. And we think they don’t need all those fancy damned dorms like they have nowadays, frump frump. Pretty common stuff.

Some of us have talked a wife down from suicide or saved a daughter. That takes real courage that I did not realize any of us had. The crustiest soul of the crowd gives his heart every day to a 28-year-old autistic son. The ladies man of our youth, who could have been a home-wrecker, tries to save marriages in his dayjob.

And they’re still the guys I once knew. The one who introduced me as a young man to the country swing band Asleep at the Wheel as an old man introduced me to Preparation H. But he remains a pain there.

Those are the things I thought about once I got out of the concrete jungle, out near Windom where you can think again and realize that you belong where you are.

And boy, are the Twins ever terrible. The last time they were close to this bad was with Bombo Rivera in 1980. We were there. The ladies were not, at least nowhere near us.