"To be too certain of anything is the beginning of bigotry." -- Novelist Abdulrazak Gurnah

Saturday, May 20, 2023

Last Lines

     We've all read about the last words of some famous people. For example, drummer Buddy Rich died after surgery in 1987.  As he was being prepped for the operation a nurse asked him, "Is there anything you can't take?" And he responded, "Yeah, country music."

     Or the composer Gustav Mahler who died in bed. He reportedly was conducting an imaginary orchestra. His last word was: "Mozart!"

     Basketball great "Pistol" Pete Maravich collapsed during a pickup basketball game. His last words were: "I feel fine."

     John Wayne who died in L.A. at age 72 turned to his wife and said, "Of course I know who you are. You're my girl. I love you."

     Joe DiMaggio reportedly said, "I finally get to see Marilyn."

     Then there's my favorite, from Steve Jobs. According to his sister Mona, the Apple founder's last words were, "Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow!"

     But famous endings go beyond last words. My favorite ending to a TV show is from The Sopranos, when the screen just goes black.

     You probably remember Mary Tyler Moore who was laid off along with her TV family, saying goodbye, then turning out the lights in the studio and walking away.

     Or Ted Danson, aka Sam Malone, turning away a customer at Cheers and saying, "Sorry, we're closed."

     My favorite last line from the movies is from the coming-of-age drama Stand By Me. The story is told as a flashback, and at the end Richard Dreyfuss, now an adult, sits at his desk and slowly types: "I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was 12. Jesus, does anyone?"

     There are a lot of other famous last lines, like Humphrey Bogart in Casablanca, at the airport telling Louis, "I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship."

     Or the classics. Judy Garland in The Wizard of Oz says, "There's no place like home."

     From King Kong: "Oh no. It wasn't the airplanes. It was beauty killed the beast."

     Scarlett O'Hara in both the movie and the book Gone with the Wind says, "After all, tomorrow is another day."

     Another famous last line of a novel comes from the unforgettable Catcher in the Rye when Holden Caulfield says, "Don't ever tell anybody anything. If you do, you start missing everybody."

     Or how about this one from The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen: "She was seventy five and she was going to make some changes in her life."

     But my favorite last line in a novel is from The Great Gatsby, which I read again last winter. F. Scott Fitzgerald concludes: "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past."

Sunday, May 7, 2023

What I'm Learning These Days

     They say that we older people need to keep our minds active, keep learning things. We're supposed to learn a foreign language, or do crossword puzzles, or practice the piano.

     I've always resisted learning things just because I'm "supposed" to; hence, my less-than-stellar career in algebra and my brief fling with calculus. (I learned enough to pass the final; then immediately forgot it all.)

     Something has to interest me. Otherwise I lose motivation, and my attention drifts off. I admit, this happened to me with photography. I got a camera, purchased photoshop, attended a class. But it seemed that everyone had already taken so many photos, why would the world need any more from me? Besides, I couldn't appreciate the difference between a really special photo and one that was ho-hum. So now I just take pictures of my family.

     One thing I have learned recently is how to play pickleball. Honestly, it's a pretty easy game to pick up. It might be hard to get really good. But I don't aspire to that. I just want to have fun with a group of people at my local pickleball club.

     The same could be said of my golf game . . . except I'm not learning anything new. I've played golf, off and on, for many years, and my ambition now is simply to have fun and not get any worse.


     I've also learned about foreign policy in the past few years, because my wife and I have been doing a program called "Great Decisions in Foreign Policy" from the Foreign Policy Association. We just finished this year's eight-week program that covered China, Latin America, Iran, Global Famine and other topics.

     Sometimes I think I'm learning enough medical information to become a doctor. Ten years ago I knew nothing about medicine. Now I've been to the heart doctor and have been schooled about drugs like Metoprolol. I've spent hours discussing Cortisone, Prednisone, knee surgery, hip surgery and other orthopedic issues with doctors, nurses, physician assistants, friends and family.

     My guess is, by now you know a thing or two about medicine as well. Or are you learning something entirely different?

     I'm now learning about the history of the 1960s. I've agreed to do a program for our senior learning center on the subject. It's interesting to me because I lived through the era, but I was in junior high and high school and going into college at the time, and I was only interested in my own little world, not the wider world.

     I had no interest then in what was going on in Selma, Alabama, or Jackson, Mississippi. Of course I'd heard of Cuba. And I read about Watts. And the specter of Vietnam hung over all of us. But my mind was focused on whether Kathy liked Bobby better than she liked me (it turned out, she did), and whether I'd make the baseball team (I did, but mostly as a benchwarmer), and how I'd do on my SATs (good enough to get into my second-choice college, but not my first).

     But now I find the world we grew up in holds a lot of interest to me. What was going on behind the scenes in the Kennedy White House? What was going on in Lyndon Johnson's mind as he wrestled with the problem of Vietnam? How did the Civil Rights movement achieve so much, only to self-destruct in hate and violence?

     Besides all that, some of my friends are trying to get me interested in ChatGPT. I'm resisting, however, since I like my relationships to be human, and I already have a love/hate relationship with our google assistant.

     Finally, I know I still have a few things to learn about marriage, and children. But those are topics for another post. Right now I've got enough to keep my mind awake and alert.