Friday, February 18, 2022

Wisdom Is A Two Edged Sword

With age, comes, I don't want to say wisdom, but something that is very much like wisdom. Mostly, what comes is the clear understanding of every stupid thing that you've ever done, and, low and behold, most of what you've done has been stupid. Every reader who is already intricately familiar with the machinery of Medicare and all of the Senior Discounts will recognize that I have nailed this one. As for my younger readers, just take my word for it. You're probably doing something stupid right now.

Stupid little things, and stupid big things. Sometimes the stupid is obvious from the git-go. Other stupid sneaks up on you. Wow! That was pretty stupid! You see things more clearly with one foot in the grave.

It was a totally stupid idea for me to go to law school. It was a “change of life” thing for me. I was lulled into a false sense of security by my ability to do all of the required tasks easily and well. I was always a quick thinker and a fast talker. I was a good writer, and a close and observant reader. I had a high tolerance for ambiguity, enhanced by a long-time fascination with European and Japanese cinema. I aced the LSAT; was accepted at every school that I applied to, including two scholarship offers (partial); my grades were comfortably good in law school; I passed the California Bar on my first try. I was on my way!

The point that I missed was that I comprehensively lacked the temperament that being a lawyer requires. How did I miss something so obvious? Even the Titanic saw the iceberg before they hit it. These are the stupid things that you can get up to when you spend your life consciously trying to distract yourself and avoid reality at all costs.

There was, however, a powerful benefit to those years that I spent tormenting myself by working court cases of various kinds. It qualified me for teaching law! Then, by that special providence that fate reserves for people like me, I stumbled into a great job teaching law while I was not even looking for one. (“People like me:” people who are basically good but essentially clueless and ill equipped to take care of themselves.)

Another disastrously bad decision was marrying my first wife. That one I could see coming a mile away, but I talked myself into going through with it. We had been going out for four years, and it had been a wild ride, full of twists and turns, ups and downs. I could see that she had deep seated anger issues, but it was also clear that I did seem to relax her and make her, if not genuinely happy, apparently substantially happier.

She was also very pretty, with a cute little figure, and she also really liked the rock and roll part of going out with me. That was also the source of the biggest red-flag: she was regularly throwing in on other guys while we were going out together. Friends of mine; guys she met around town. Attractive girls' lives are full of opportunities to fool around. Sometimes I found out by my own resources, and sometimes she made sure that I found out. It was a sure fire way to get back at me for some real or imagined slight. Looking back, that really should have been a deal breaker.

To paraphrase something that Stephen Colbert said today, when they do that, just get up and leave the restaurant. Don't look back; don't go back for your coat. You can buy another coat. Just get out of there. But not me. Again, I chose the iceberg. Stupid, yes, I know it now, but there you go.

A couple of years later we got married. My ex and I had both attended Catholic grammar school and high school, and that is enough to sour any sensible person on the Catholic Church. Being more than sour about our Catholic years, we set up a date at St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan, where I was on good terms with the minister. That's Episcopalians, whom I consider to be among the most reasonable bunch of Christians around. Our parents raised holy hell at that idea, and we figured, fuck it, who cares, we'll get married in a Catholic church if it will make them shut up.

We tried to keep the whole thing from getting too far out of hand. No tuxedos; no long dresses; no limousines; no elaborate reception; no professional photographer. There was a war on, and hundreds of American boys were dying every week, not to mention the many thousands of Vietnamese combatants or the unknown thousands of innocent Vietnamese civilians. Keep it simple! It seemed disrespectful to make it all too fancy.

We had a small wedding party, and I tried my best to keep it all very low-key. I didn't want to offend anybody. For my best man, I chose a good friend of mine who was kind of an outlier among our friends. Everybody knew him, but he was not from this group, or that group. Plus, he had just gotten married himself, and he already had the black suit, frilly shirt, and big red Western style bow tie. He looked like Johnny Cash at Christmas. Perfect.

For the ushers, I chose the only two friends that I had who owned suits. They would also be behind us at the alter, to mirror the two bride's maids. This also turned out to be problematic.

My bachelor party was epic, without being typical in any way. Led Zeppelin played in the old World's Fair grounds on the night before the wedding, at the New York State Pavilion. That's the one from the first Men in Black movie, the one with the two large pillars topped by what looks like flying saucers. Inside was a big open area, and that's where the concert was. We had no tickets, so we just lazed around on the grass outside, enjoying several of the things that we liked and drinking a bit. I'm sure that it was just as loud, and the sound mix was great outside. That part worked out.

We had had a rehearsal the day before the wedding, and it went off without a hitch. I slept late on Sunday, the day of the wedding, but my ex agreed to go to church with all four of our parents. There was trouble, with a capital “T.” My mother, a well known hysteric, and a trouble-maker in general, objected to one of my ushers being on the alter. (I keep wanting to say, “the stage.”) He looked great, tall and handsome, in his well-cut and very dignified Brooks Brothers' business suit, single breasted, no vest, all very quiet and sharp. He was also black, and gay, and that double-whammy almost put my mother in the hospital. The one where they have the padded rooms.

My mother was still hyperventilating and yelling after a sleepless night in a tiff over it, and after mass she made the mistake of trying to give an order to my young bride-to-be. Nobody gives my ex orders. NOBODY. I was at home, blissfully asleep at almost noon, so I missed it. Too bad there were no smart phones back then. The explosion would have been viral on TikTok by lunch time.

I was awoken by the sound of someone unlocking the front door and stomping up the stairs. “Hi!” I said cheerfully, placing a hand behind my head to raise it slightly on the pillow. It was my bride-to-be, wearing sun glasses with tears still streaming down her face, screaming at me about how if the friend can't come on the stage with us, she won't be there either, and my mother can go straight to hell, etc. I said nothing, adopting a serious expression, still with my head on the pillow. After another few minutes of what was really an Oscar worthy performance, she turned and stomped back down the stairs, slamming the door on her way out.

I took at least ten minutes giving serious thought to packing it all in at that point. Just fuck it. Pack a small duffle bag, bus, subway, Port Authority, bus, Ohio, here I come! That would have been the smart thing to do, but no, I sailed yet again into the iceberg.

As always, it pays to consider the role of providence, and look at the big picture. My ex and I were married for a long time. We managed a successful move to California, and we both completed impressive educations. We birthed and raised two healthy children, and they grew up to be fine men. I could have done worse. We were together for almost forty years, and it was eighteen or twenty of the best years of my life.

Beware, pilgrims, the blessings and the curses of wisdom! Don't dwell on the past. If you happen to also be a geezer like me, don't dwell on the future either. No good can come of either dwelling. Better to simply get the laundry and the dishes done, read good books, do what the doctors tell you, and try not to do anything stupid. Just a suggestion.

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