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My Guilt Trip Into The Past
by Andy Cowan
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Andy Cowan, an award-winning writer, whose credits include Cheers and Seinfeld, regularly contributes humor pieces to the Los Angeles Times and the CBS Jack FM Radio Network.

I just returned from my annual trip on a time machine. Don't let those old episodes of Star Trek fool you. Time-travel is shocking to the system, which is why I generally limit it to once a year. However long my journey, I've discovered that I need the same number of days back in the present to fully recover from it. It's a bit traumatic. But it never fails to shed new insight on where I've come from – the house in which, at least, I thought I'd grown up.

As I exit the USAir time machine cabin in Philadelphia, three-thousand geographical miles from my home in Southern California, I've figuratively traveled well over ten-thousand days into my past. I'm a kid again, waiting for my folks to pick me up. Upon seeing them, I relive the feeling that I'm still growing. It might be because they're shrinking. When I reenter the kitchen of my youth, it might also involve the size of my hands compared to the size of their diminutive dishes. When I ask for a bowl that's deep enough to house my cereal, my folks scoff. I now feel guilty about ingesting an inordinate amount of fiber.

Aging parents tend to evolve a lot less than their kids do, so any habits that I've developed on my own, however well-researched and time-tested, still seem strange to them. And that's where my feeling guilty mechanism kicks in all over again. "Now, what's wrong," they mutter. "Nothing," as I try to covertly scan the ingredients of yet another processed food of theirs that contains something "partially hydrogenated." This kind of fat is a heart attack waiting to happen. I mentioned it to them years ago. They didn't listen. The stress of feeling guilty about inspecting their food in the hopes it doesn't aggravate them will probably kill me before the partially hydrogenated stuff does. After all, partially hydrogenated stuff hasn't killed them.

Nor has their meat-centric diet. To them, a vegetable is a comatose person who sits around all day, which is what I become during our visits, never far from an overpowering TV. My folks seemingly wake up to the tube. There's a loud one in their bedroom, another one in the kitchen, another one in the den, another one in the other bedroom. Wherever you go, there's a room with "The View." I now remember why I grew up addicted to TV. If there's a TV 12-Step Program they could watch, I'm setting their TiVo to it.

Our phone rings. "Get it, it's for you," they grunt. I now feel guilty about interrupting Joy Behar. But wait a minute. Why is it for me? It's their house. It's not like the kids down the street are calling me. A) They're no longer kids. B) They're no longer down the street.

It's for my folks. Another friend or relative with a kid who's making a killing in whatever line of work I can't begin to understand, let alone figure out how to make a killing in. Aren't I tired of not knowing where my next dollar is coming from, they later ask? Not as tired of being asked if I'm tired of not knowing where my next dollar is coming from. If only my creative streak created security. Even dead creative people make more money than I do. Shakespeare. Elvis. Rick James. I can't compete with them. I'd kill myself, but I'd make even less of a killing.

"Who put a knife in the dishwasher?" I did. I now feel guilty about putting a knife in the dishwasher. I now feel guilty about not knowing why I should feel guilty about putting a knife in the dishwasher.
My niece stops by, another flash to the past when I was her age. My folks dote on her. I'm starting to feel like they've traded me in for a younger model, the thought of which makes me feel – you guessed it – guilty.

My dad and I open up the Scrabble board – the original, un-fancy, un-computerized version that's always been there. Its wooden tiles evoke comfort somehow. We've saved and dated the tally sheets from most of our matches over the years, but I avoid them now, preferring not to be reminded of how much time has passed. My father balks at my insistence that "Oy" is a word, but allows me the points anyway. I guiltily accept. Nothing's changed. I think I like it that way.

As the end of my journey approaches, I'm starting to enjoy myself. This too is like a blast to the past, when I experienced my first "sorry when it ends" syndrome. In the beginning, I hated summer camp. Hated archery. Hated calling counselors who weren't related to me "Uncle." The sad part was – it took me half the summer to realize I was really happy, but by then it was too late. I had to go home. I always like what's about to end more than what's about to begin. What if it's that way with my life? Choke, sputter, gag. Hey… this was a great life! Too late.

I'm starting to like this article. Too late. Oy.

ANDY COWAN is an award-winning writer/producer/host, and veteran writer on Cheers, 3rd Rock From the Sun, Seinfeld. His website is

Published: Jul 14,2008 14:41
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