I was born in 1942, a year that hasn’t been recent for a long time and now I’m strolling toward 80, an age when I can stop feeling bad that I never finished reading Moby-Dick. I got to page 20 and Melville hadn’t even gotten them on the boat yet. At 80 I put the idea of self-improvement behind me once and for all. I have considered cosmetic surgery, a muscle implant around my mouth so that I can grin, but once you start corrective surgery, you may go on to have a chest lift or butt reduction and your belly button winds up in your armpit and your butt comes out lopsided so you’ll need to wear orthopedic pants. So I accept myself as is.
As for IQ, it’s in trouble. I was a columnist for the Washington Post back in the fall of 2016 when I realized that H.L. Mencken had done it so much better when he wrote, “A national political campaign is better than the best circus ever heard of, with a mass baptism and a couple of hangings thrown in. The men the American people admire most are the most daring liars; the men they detest most are those who try to tell them the truth. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will get their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.” That day arrived, so I got out of journalism and resumed having fun.
A journalist is someone who believes that any closet may contain a minister who is canoodling with the organist. I don’t feel that way. I am not good with harsh reality. I put the tenderloin in the frying pan and see the red juice, I don’t think “blood,” I think juice. I don’t think, “This is the raw flesh of a living creature,” I think it’s steak. Call it escapism, call it eschatology, call it the escalator at Macy’s, it’s how I operate. I believe the sun will shine and she’ll be mine till the end of time and I’ll never be lonely any more, and if I am, I just need to sing the song again. We are all better off for the fact I am not now, nor have I ever been, your president. I know this and now you do too.
People can be deferential to an old man, there’s always the threat of a lifetime achievement award or a copper plate with your name on it screwed to a pew at church. But you resist this. I’m a Christian but not a good one and I focus on the easy stuff, the Good Shepherd, Jesus healing the lunatic, sunbeams bursting through storm clouds, and I skip the hard parts. I wouldn’t read the Book of Revelation if you put a pistol to my head. “Love your neighbor as yourself” is easy if you live in a nice neighborhood but love your enemies? Those who persecute you? Not a problem for me since I avoided persecution by keeping my mouth shut. Meekness has been my salvation, so to speak. Jesus said the meek shall inherit the earth, and so far all we’ve gotten is Minnesota and parts of North Dakota, but that’s enough.
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At my alma mater, the inscription on the auditorium said that men are ennobled by understanding, but smart people do dumb things all the time. Some people with a Ph.D. in nutrition are helpless when they see golden arches ahead and put on dark glasses and pull up to the drive-up window and order seven Big Macs and go to a dim cul-de-sac and stuff their mouths.
Some morning I’ll get out of bed with an awful aching in my head and can’t find my shoes and I’ll say, “Good morning, blues,” but not this morning, I made coffee, it tasted fine, not at all like turpentine, and my good woman hasn’t left me, she’s right here, and as Solomon said, “The race is not to the swift nor the battle to the strong,” so do your best to be lucky. Say what you will, life is good. Newspapers don’t report this, just as they don’t report that the sun comes up in the east and H and C stand for Hot and Cold — you’re supposed to know these things. And you do. I know you do.