BY TONY BOUZA
Today I am 90.
No, it’s not my birthday, only one of 365 days. Never thought (like death) it’d happen to me.
And the point?
Only a few ignorant musings.
I am more convinced than ever that I am but a worm on the planet, along with you and you.
Not many learnings—and those are probably mistaken, and, no, I am not given to modesty—mock or otherwise, but I do love the English language.
Money matters. As for love, yes, and hate has to be measured, focused and justified.
If all religions are valid, why do they say they’re the only gatekeepers to salvation? Why do the overwhelming majority of American scientists say they don’t believe in God?
Questions matter. The very best lecture I ever heard on anything, posited the insane notion that we must question everything and struggle to get real answers.
What drove me?
I really gave that one a lot of time. Sure sex, hunger, cold, shelter, thirst and such, but what was central?
This proved a very tough and long inner struggle.
The honors, medals, awards, praise, etc.?
Nice, but, although I welcomed, embraced, appreciated and took them, they weren’t it. In the end they meant something, but not enough.
As I thought back, I landed on failing the test for Brooklyn Tech. I focused on the humiliation of being excluded from a conversation on an opera I knew nothing about.
My ambitions had me, aspiring fascinations, dating upper middle-class women. They were mostly Ivy League and I, almost literally, worshipped them.
Without fail they all dropped me after the second or third date.
Showering and brushing teeth didn’t help.
Ultimately and on reflection (questionings) the answer came.
I had no prospects.
That was it. I wasn’t a lawyer or a doctor, and my future looked dismal. Only Erica saw me as I was.
Job interviews were exercises in humiliation. When I saw “Death of a Salesman,” there I was—Willy Loman (low man). Ugh and double ugh.
Civil Service was my one and only hope and proved a salvation.
And now the end is near.
I see ego as the great enemy, yet there is a negative virtue in its existence. The threat of its diminution (humiliation) can drive us—as it did me—to some measure of success.
Truth matters. Decency’s real. Doing the right thing counts. The people must be served. Democracy is best. Fascism is evil. Heroes must be chosen carefully—not Lindbergh, Calhoun or Lee, but Lincoln, Gandhi or Buddha. Family comes first. Violence can work—as is attested by practically every Western ever filmed.
Voltaire’s “I never heard of a crime of which I did not think myself capable” resonates. I speak to the near-infinite malleability of the human (think Nazis and the things they came to do).
I’ve seen sunsets. I’ve heard Beethoven. Endless museums all over the world have provided pleasure. I’ve watched a ton of great movies—America’s greatest art form—and generally led a privileged cultural life. I even saw Fonteyn and Nureyev and operas at the Met, so what is the greatest exemplar of beauty to me? Sounds crass to say it—perhaps even sexist—but it is the sight of a beautiful woman. Nothing equals it.
I wax between Philistine and Sophist. But it is my fate. Where does pedant fit in all this?
Whatever rewards (mostly unearned and certainly undeserved) followed the simple formula: hard work, hard study—but what a very long time it took me to learn this. I was a very slow learner and a very late developer. My advice to kids is always “Read!” Real simple.
One of these will be my last—hopefully not this one. As you can see, my publisher is a very patient fellow—albeit a Maoist, polymath and pseudo-intellectual.