GO SEE CAL … Y’KNOW, WHILE YOU STILL CAN … THAT IS, BEFORE HE DIESBy Greggory Moore
Growing up in the Orange County of the 1970s and ’80s, I could not help but be acquainted with Cal Worthington. His commercials featuring various iterations of his dog, Spot—an elephant, a bear, a llama, I think—and that theme song urging everybody to “Go see Cal” were street furniture on my childhood drive through time. I knew the address of his car lot— ”2950 Bellflower Blvd., Long Beach”—almost as well as I knew my own.
It is my familiarity with Cal’s visage from those TV spots of yesteryear that set me up for shock when I started seeing him again in Worthington Ford commercials. Whether Cal (or the commercials themselves) took a multiyear hiatus or I’ve just gotten better at filtering out ads during the comparatively little TV-watching I do here in the neighborhood of middle age, I don’t know. All I know is that one day last fall I saw him, and I was shocked.
Cal was not a young man when I was a young boy, so perhaps I shouldn’t have been so surprised by the face I saw beneath the white cowboy hat. But the gauntness, the obviously skeletal frame beneath his suit jacket, the dragging of his palate as he enunciated his sales pitch. There was no denying it:
Cal Worthington is dying.
I don’t lay claim to any knowledge about Cal’s medical condition. And the man is 90 years old, so what do I expect: Justin Bieber?[i] But one look at Cal in a commercial today and all of that repressed repining about mortality comes rushing to the surface. Quite clearly, Cal Worthington is going to die.
And sooner or later, so are we.
Remember Pope John Paul II? He was born the same year as Cal. You didn’t have to be Catholic to know pretty much the moment he died. His death vigil had been getting ’round-the-clock coverage on all the major networks near the end. This was 2005. I happened to be watching the moment Pope John Paul II made the last-ever public appearance of this life. Everybody knew the end was nigh, and suddenly there was the dying Pope, gazing out his apartment window overlooking St. Peter’s Square and the tens of thousands of people gathered there. He was all dressed up in his Pope finery and looking, to be honest, like a dying man. He tried to bless the crowd with the sign of the cross but really couldn’t manage more than a spasmodic lifting of an arm. They seemed to hustle him away pretty quickly after that. I found the whole thing rather bizarre and could not fathom why they had put him out there, poor guy.
A few days later he was dead, and I was listening to some Vatican commentator (as the crowd exulted in a soccer-fan-like chant—Giovanni Paolo San-to [clap clap clap-clap-clap]!—which seemed uplifting and not at all in bad taste) talk about that appearance at the window, saying, basically, that the Pope had been the kind of guy who would want to share his dying with the people, to show them death as a natural part of life, to demystify it a bit. “He was showing us how to die,” the commentator said, somehow making the phrase neither offensively pedagogic nor holier-than-thou. And I gotta tell you: I was touched. I hadn’t seen the whole business in that light, but I really did now.
I don’t have any idea what Cal Worthington is doing in these commercials. Other than trying to sell some cars. Which is his business.
It’s a business I presume he rather enjoys (please, Lord, tell me Cal is not such a poor bastard that he hates doing these commercials but at 90 has no choice if he wants to make ends meet), and so I say: Man, do your thing. There’s no reason to hide yourself away, to be less active or out in the world. If you’re digging it, my friend, do your thing forever, for all I care.
But it can’t last forever. Nothing does. Not even Cal Worthington. In the words of the Brian Jonestown Massacre: “You better love me before I am gone.”
We’re all singing that song, each in our own way. You better love me before I am gone. So long.
[i] I can’t stand that I know this kid’s name.