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Posts Tagged ‘Montana’

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I am at that point in my life where, I suppose like many people, I begin to contemplate that ineffable question, “Who am I?” — Or perhaps “Why?”— then again maybe not. Who cares?

Lets cut to the chase. I have always thought of myself as… Well, in a quantum world “always” does not exist or matter. So let me instead begin with — As I write this, I think of myself as an ascetic hedonist. That makes no sense you may say. How can one be both ascetic and a hedonist at the same time? (I guess, a person who gets pleasure out of self-flagellation can be described that way. But, that is beyond what I can handle right now.)

Anyway, let me explain the image I have about myself by using an analogy. I picture myself as a hermit living in a remote cave in the middle of a great desert somewhere. Every morning I get up just before sunrise, go out to some miserable rocky place, contort myself into an unpleasant and uncomfortable pose and contemplate or hum or something else all day.

I would contemplate life’s meaning, real meaning like, “Why was I doing this in the first place?” “Am I just a sick human being?” “What happens after this, whatever this is ?”

If I may digress from my digression, let me discuss my problem with what some large groups of people say comes after this, whatever this is?

There are, for example, a large group of people who believe that if you are male and an efficient killer after you die you get to be locked up forever with a bunch of young virgin women who probably will not remain virgins for long. Everyone else, other than other killers locked up like you, gets to sit on the outside doing nothing apparently except wondering what you guys are doing inside. I think I would prefer to be with the outsiders, at least we probably get to shrug our shoulders and roll our eyes now and then.

Another large group seems to believe that if in your life you get to avoid people who disagree with you, or force them to agree with you, or kill them if they don’t or they get too close to you, you then get to spend all eternity staring at some self-important serial killer surrounded by armed hermaphrodite thugs and listening to Gregorian Chant. Those not so lucky get to spend their time boiled in flaming vats of sulfur and oil. Now I have nothing against Gregorian Chant, but I think I prefer being boiled in sulfur and oil if I could not hear something else now and then — even country and western. Well, maybe not that.

Then, there are those that believe if you do nothing but not hard enough or if you do something during life, after you die you return as a maggot. If you’re lucky, you get eaten by a crow before you do anything and if you come back again, say a thousand times, doing nothing you may get to be good enough at doing nothing other than thinking about yourself so that after you die you then get to come back as… well, nothing, forever. What’s the point?

There are also those who believe that, if you spend your life running around killing people and you get to be so good at it that other people make up songs about how efficient you were at mayhem, or they erect statues to you, you then get to spend all eternity with homicidal maniacs like yourself in a sunny place with a lot of grass playing something like football and drinking warm beer. Everyone else gets to live in a cold dreary place weeping and crying forever, except for one or two who get to push rocks up hills or have their liver torn out every day by hawks. Given the choice of eternal football and warm beer or weeping and crying in a cold dreary place, I’ll take the latter. It seems more like life, doesn’t it?

Well, enough of that. Let’s get back on topic, “Who am I?”

On the Hedonist side, I would want my cave to have a nice bed, internet connection, food delivery, maid service, a sauna and of course hot water. Even at a minimum, I could tolerate a well-padded sleeping bag as long as all the other things were included especially hot water preferably in a tub or a pool and in my espresso.

Once a week, I would travel to nearby podunk town, go to a loud crowded bar (if loud and crowded were unavailable any bar would do) order a beer, take it to a table in a far corner or the far edge of the bar and sit quietly nursing my beer and watching everything or if there is no one but an old drunk sitting at the other end of the bar then staring at my beer wishing I were back in my cave tucked warmly in my bed. Later, I would return to my cave and, after a warm bath and a joint, crawl into bed, spend a few moments of what is euphemistically called self-love and then drift off to sleep contemplating the pleasures of crouching on the stony ground pondering “what’s it all about?”

What’s it all about? Well, it’s not existentialism. After all, I think I have meaning even if you don’t. It’s not about, oh,… say solipsism. When you think about it, when you’re deaf dumb and blind crawling face down through a sea of mud and you strike something else, it is not just you alone, is it? There are other isms too, a lot of them, but I think they all end up in more or less the same place— usually not someplace I want to end up. As for a Supreme Being who actually cares for you, I think we’ve disposed of that above.

So what is there? There’s you and there’s me. We may never meet or be the same, but I think that’s the way it should be, don’t you?

And that is who I think I am —then again, maybe not.

 

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I, and I assume others when they reach my age, sometimes think back over our lives and speculate about what may have been or what it is that we really regret. With me there are many things such as the death of loved ones or pain I have caused others that bring me sadness or fill me with remorse. But, in almost all of them, although I wish they never happened, I do not see how avoiding or reversing them would have altered my life all that much. There was, however, one recurring event in my memory that I am convinced may have made a difference.

It was during the early Nineties. I was visiting Rome and it was as hot as it gets in that town at the end of Summer. I was standing in line with my then wife Denise to buy tickets to enter the ruins of the ancient Roman Forum. There was only one group ahead of us, a family made up of man and a women with three or four strikingly blond pre-adolescent children in tow. The woman was about six feet tall, blond and movie star attractive. The man was even taller, sandy-haired and athletic looking. Suddenly I recognized him. It was Joe Montana, the legendary American football quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. I guess you can say I was gobsmacked to see him there in Rome and standing so close to me.


In addition to the victories and the statistical records that most sports use to judge excellence and without which all else is almost irrelevant, what I admired most about Montana was his preternatural grace and his gamblers instincts. I recall once watching him play in one of the Superbowls, he had just thrown a pass that the receiver eventually caught for a touchdown. Nevertheless, it was the fluidity with which Joe leapt into the air and threw the ball that enthralled me. He was every bit as graceful as a ballet dancer; not tutus and en pointe ballet graceful but something more masculine and forceful.

I used to attend performance of the New York City Ballet when I lived in the Big Apple. The principle male dancer at that time was, Jacques d’Amboise. When he stood on the stage he looked a lot like a champion body builder who had just put down his barbels. When, however, he moved it was as smooth, graceful and beautiful as drops or water slowly dancing in the sunlight. Balanchine, the choreographer for the Company then, believed that the role of the male ballet dancer was little more than a mobile post upon which the ballerina was displayed. Nevertheless, when d’Ambiose lifted his partner up and carried her across the stage everything else on that stage disappeared except the image of his power and grace. So it was for me with Montana on that pass. It was as though I had achieved satori. Everything else on the field disappeared but Joe when, as though in slow motion, he pushed off with one leg, rose into the air and in perfect synchronicity arced his arm across his body as he released the ball.

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His gamblers instincts were not those of a risk-taker but of someone who knew the probabilities and above all the psychology of whatever game he was playing. At one time during an interview, I recall him describing a drive, probably in one or another of the Superbowls. He said something like, “I was driving them crazy, dinking and dunking (throwing short passes for 3 or 4 yards) them here and there, until they couldn’t see straight and began to lean forward and inch in, and then I threw it over their heads for a touchdown.”

“He possessed an almost mystical calmness in the midst of chaos, especially with the game on the line in the fourth quarter. While others saw turmoil and danger after the snap, Montana saw order and opportunity. He was Joe Cool, the unflappable king of the comeback.”
Larry Schwartz, ESPN

So there he was, in Rome, that day, standing about a foot away from me. One part of me in my excitement screamed at me to say something, something like “Joe! Joe Montana, what are you doing here in Rome?” while another part terrorized me into silence at the realization of how stupid that sounded and how embarrassed I would feel after saying it – especially if he ignored me.

I thought about mentioning to Denise that Joe Montana was in the line in front of us. Denise was a woman of legendary assertiveness and a tongue as sharp as the edge of a Samurai’s sword. She would not have known Joe Montana from Bozo the Clown, but she was much more likely than me to strike up a conversation, lacking the shyness that comes with awe and idol worship. Alas, I could see that she was already annoyed at how long it was taking them to buy their tickets and well on her way to flinging some insult at them as only she could. So, I hesitated fearing that she would offend them and I would lose the opportunity to become friends with Joe.

They eventually got their tickets and passed through the gate into the Forum. We got ours and followed. Right behind the gate we came upon them again. The children were sprawled on various broken bits of Roman History complaining bitterly, as children often do, about the heat and whining about why they had to be here and not back in the hotel at the pool. I could see that Joe Cool was at the edge of losing the legendary calmness that allowed him to bring Notre Dame from 22 points back in the fourth quarter to win in the Cotton Bowl. He snapped back at them, probably a lot like like any other parent in a similar situation would when being harassed by whining children “You can’t. You have to learn about culture. There is a lot of culture here.”

I knew that I could step in and help out. Over the years I virtually haunted the Forum. I knew more about it than any guide. I knew the history, the gossip, even what was traded in the market that was set up in the swamp between the hill on which the future rulers of the world lived in somewhat upgraded caves and the larger hill on which the more respectable Sabines lived and from which their wives and daughters were to be carried away by the Romans in the dead of night. Upon the fecundity of those wives and daughters an empire was built. I had crawled into places few are allowed to go or for that matter ever went or even would want to go. I knew which toilets were the cleanest. I knew where to find shade and the location of the coolest water. I knew I could keep the children entertained and enthralled and that Joe and his wife would like that and we would become friends.

I imagined that since I had lived in Rome for a few years and knew interesting places to go and appealing places to eat that Joe and his wife would never otherwise know about or go to, we could go out some evening and have dinner together. I knew that Denise with her bottomless reservoir of humor and behavioral oddities would amuse them and we would become friends.

But I did not do any of these things. I just stood there. Then Denise irritably called out, “Hurry up, it’s hot.” and I went on. For a while, as we made our way through the rubble of an empire, I would see them prowling through other parts of the ruins. Then they were gone.

Since that day, every now and then, I think about what could have been. Even as I write this now, I am convinced that if Joe Montana had become my friend, my life might somehow have been better, happier even. Some of my other friends might even have become jealous. I would have liked that.

 

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