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Walter works and plays at full speed all day long. He watches the whales, plays tennis, flies to Vienna for New Year's. He dances until two a.m., sails in solitude, accepts awards gracefully. He attends boards of directors' meetings, tells jokes and plays endlessly with his computers. He comes back from a trip on the QEII QEII in time for the Super Bowl. in time for the Super Bowl.
If life were fattening, Walter Cronkite would weigh five hundred pounds. He disproves the theory that you can't have your cake and eat it too.
I wish now I hadn't driven in to work this morning and gotten into this whole mess.
The Truth about Lying Lies are a part of life. In spite of the admonitions we get beginning in childhood to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, the most honest people among us don't live by that standard. It's too hard.
The Truth About Lying 133 133 "How does this look?" a woman asks her husband as they're going out the door to a party. If he's lucky, he genuinely likes what it looks like. If he doesn't he's in trouble because either he has to lie or tell the truth and start the whole evening off on the wrong foot. He not only has to lie but has to add to the deceit by lying enthusiastically. "It's okay" is not enough.
It's at least partly the woman's fault for asking the question in the first place. Samuel Johnson put his finger on the problem when he said "n.o.body has the right to put another under such a difficulty that he must either hurt the person by telling the truth or hurt himself by telling what is not true."
Truth has a much better reputation than lying. We propagandize ourselves in favor of it every chance we get. All the wise men have endorsed it: Plato-"Truth will prevail."
H. W. Shaw-"Truth is the edict of G.o.d."
Emerson-"Every violation of truth is a stab at the health of human society."
Woodrow Wilson-"The truth always matches, piece by piece, with other parts of the truth."
Mark Twain-"When in doubt, tell the truth."
In spite of the lip service we pay truth, we spend a lot of time deciding when to lie. It's good that it doesn't come easily or naturally to most of us. We spend even more time trying to determine when we're being lied to and when we're being told the truth.
Advertising puts us to the test and gives us a lot of experience in detecting untruths. We know they lie so how good is this product they're telling us about? And what about politicians? Not many people pick up the newspaper and read a story coming out of Washington without wondering whether they're getting the truth or some altered version of it. The elected official who lies or tells less than the whole truth may, like the husband, believe that it's best for everyone if he doesn't go overboard being honest. He can get himself believing it's best for the American people if they do not know the whole truth. He is not lying for personal gain. This is called "Lying Made Easy."
It is even sadder to consider the possibility that many Americans know it and accept it. They don't want the burden of knowing the truth because they are then confronted with solving some of the problems.
Trying to discern whether we've been lied to or not is complicated when we start considering that maybe we were told part of the truth but not all the truth. Part of the truth is like a lie but worse because it's more devious and more difficult to detect.
As a guest on the Larry King show one night I said some things, in answer to his questions, that I would have been better off lying about or avoiding. My superiors at CBS were angry. It was not that the people who objected to what I said necessarily thought I was wrong. They simply thought I shouldn't have said it. It was, they thought, disloyal to be critical of CBS while I still took a salary from the company.
In my own defense, I told a boss of mine that I thought if all the truth were known by everyone about everything, it would be a better world. He scoffed. I think "scoff " is what he did. I know he rejected the idea.
I've thought about it and in retrospect decided he was right. It was a pompous statement that sounds true but probably isn't. Our lives could not survive all the truth about everything. If my boss asks me about it again though, I'm going to lie and repeat it. I like the sound of it. Maybe I can get my name in Bartlett's Familiar Quotations Familiar Quotations by saying, "It would be a better world if everyone in it knew all the truth about everything." by saying, "It would be a better world if everyone in it knew all the truth about everything."
The Sweet Spot in Time I'm lukewarm on both yesterday and tomorrow. Neither science fiction nor nostalgia interests me as much as today. I am tempted by the promise of all the great things coming up tomorrow, of course, and I do enjoy all the good memories and the graceful, simple and efficient artifacts of yesterday, the antiques, but this moment is the moment I like best.
The Sweet Spot in Time 135 135 These thoughts inevitably come at Christmas time. It's easy to get sentimental about the memories of Christmases past and years past and the people you spent them with. The advertising for gifts with which to commemorate the season, on the other hand, often emphasizes the new technology. "Buy her a computer, the tool of the future!"
So I feel a certain ambivalence toward both the past and the future. I dislike retyping a piece to correct mistakes or rearrange paragraphs. My son, Brian, said that if I got with it and bought myself a word processor, I wouldn't have to do those things. He said that if I tried one for just a few days, I'd never go back to my ancient Underwood #5.
Well, I did buy a word processor and I've tried it for a year but I still write primarily on my old machine. There are times when it's best for all of us to close our eyes to the future. There's just so much progress we have time for in our lives. Mostly we are too busy doing it the old way to take time to learn a new way. I do close my eyes to progress when it comes to typewriters. This may spring, in part, from a deep feeling I have that it's wrong to try to impose efficiency on a writer.
My antipathy for too much nostalgia can probably be traced to several hundred little antique shops where I have stopped to talk with conniving antiquaries. It seems as though every time people find out there's money in something, they ruin it. The good antique shops are outnumbered by the bad ones.
The revival of the style of the 1920s and 1930s has helped turn me off nostalgia. They call it Art Deco but to me it was the ugliest era that progress ever took us through. It's all phony frou-frou. Its ashtray art and gilded replicas of the Empire State Building put me off. The emphasis was on how it looked and not much on how it worked. Except for being old it has no virtue and it isn't even very old. Being old isn't reason enough to originate a revival of anything anyway. Age is no guarantee of quality in objects or people.
Too many of the revivals in art forms are fads based more on commercial enterprise than artistic worth. Someone stumbles across an obscure style in architecture, painting or furniture practiced by an appropriately unknown artist and they revive that style because they know where they can lay their hands on fifty examples of it and make themselves a quick buck. Art doesn't enter into it and nostalgia works as well for the dealer as fear does for the insurance salesman.
It isn't easy to live in the present. The temptation to sit thinking about the past or dreaming of the future is always there because it's easier than getting up off your tail and doing something today.
I love the electronic gadgets that promise a magic future in which we can do the hardest jobs with the touch of a b.u.t.ton. It's just that experience has taught me that the promise usually precedes the product by so many years that it's better to put off antic.i.p.ating it until it's actually in the store window.
I like old movies, old music, old furniture and old books but if I had to choose between spending the day with dreams of the future or memories of the past or this day I have at hand, I think I'd take pot luck with today.
Life, Long and Short I change my mind a lot about whether life is long or short. Looking back at how quickly a son or daughter grew up or at how many years I've been out of high school, life seems to be pa.s.sing frighteningly fast. Then I look around me at the evidence of the day-to-day things I've done and life seems long. Just looking at the coffee cans I've saved makes life look like practically forever. We only use eight or ten tablespoons of coffee a day. Those cans sure represent a lot of days.
Used coffee cans are the kind of statistics on life that we don't keep. Maybe if we kept them, it would help give a feeling of longevity. Maybe when each of us has his own computer at home, we'll be able to save the kinds of statistics the announcers use during baseball games.
It's always fun, for instance, to try to to remember how many cars you've owned. Think back to your first car, and it makes life seem longer. If remember how many cars you've owned. Think back to your first car, and it makes life seem longer. If Life, Long and Short 137 137 you're fifty years old, you've probably owned so many cars you can't even remember all of them in order. I've also wondered how many miles I've driven. That's a statistic most people could probably make a fair guess at. If you've put roughly seventy-five thousand miles on twenty cars, you've driven a million and a half miles. You've probably spent something like twenty-five thousand dollars on gas.
It's more difficult to estimate the number of miles you've walked. Is there any chance you've walked as far as you've driven in a car? I'm not sure. You don't go out on a weekend and walk four hundred miles the way you'd drive a car. On the other hand, every time you cross a street or walk across the room, you're adding to the steps you've taken. All those little walks every day must add up to a lot of miles, even if you aren't a hiker.
And how much have you climbed? I must have lifted myself ten thousand miles straight up with all the stairs I've negotiated in my life. There are seventeen nine-inch steps in our front hallway and I often climb them twenty times a day, so I've lifted my two hundred pounds two hundred and fifty feet on the stairs in the house in one day alone. That doesn't include the day I climbed the Washington Monument with the kids or the time my uncle took me up the Statue of Liberty.
And how many pairs of shoes have I worn out walking and climbing all that distance? I'm always looking for the perfect pair of shoes and I've never found them yet, so I buy more shoes than I wear. There must be six old pairs of sneaks of mine in closets around the house. All in all, I'll bet I've had two hundred fifty pairs of shoes in my life. Easy, two hundred fifty.
How long would your hair be if you'd never cut it? Everyone has wondered about that at some time. What length would my beard be if I hadn't shaved every morning? And, it's a repulsive thought, but I suppose my fingernails would be several feet long if I hadn't hacked them off about every ten days. I don't know. Does hair stop growing once it gets a few feet long? I don't ever recall seeing anyone with hair ten feet long. My hair must grow at least an inch a month. That's a foot a year. I've certainly never seen anyone my age with hair sixty feet long.
This is the kind of thinking that helps make life seem longer to me. When I think of how many times I've been to the barber or even to the dentist, life seems to stretch back practically forever.
The one statistic I hate to think about is how many pounds of food I've consumed. Pounds would be an unmanageably large number. I'd have to estimate it in tons. I must have eaten ten tons of ice cream alone in my lifetime.
It makes life seem long and lovely just thinking about every bite of it.
The Glories of Maturity I don't do as many things I don't like to do as I had to when I was young. Except that you have more years ahead of you, youth isn't necessarily a better time of life than any other. When I was young, I was always having to do things I hated.
School was harder than work has ever been. I enjoy working and I never enjoyed studying. I liked learning but found the process of education tedious. There are still nights I dream I'm back in school with an exam the next morning. The scenario is always the same. I haven't read any of the books and I skipped cla.s.s most of the time so I'm totally unprepared for the exam.
Staying up all night to study for an exam was a terrible experience, and I did it a lot in college. My parents and all the teachers said cramming didn't work but they were wrong. It may be the wrong way to learn but cramming is a good way to pa.s.s an exam. It just hurts a lot while you're doing it.
I no longer stay up all night for anything. If I have something I should have written and haven't, I go to bed and try to get it done the next morning. If I don't get it done? Sue me.
There is no single thing in my adult life so regularly unpleasant and burdensome as homework was in my youth. If I bring work home from The Glories of Maturity 139 139 [image]A young Andy outside his home in Albany, New York the office now, it's because the work interests me. It is not drudgery and if I don't feel like doing it, I put it off.
There are still things that come up in my life for which I'm unprepared but they don't bother me the way they did when I was a teenager. They no longer seem like life-or-death situations. If my income-tax stuff isn't all together when I go to my accountant, so what?
Love is more pleasant once you get out of your twenties. It doesn't hurt all the time. I no longer fall in and out of love. I have my love.
As a grown-up, I don't eat things that are good for me if I don't like them. My mother was always insisting that something was good for me and I had to eat it. Now the most I do is try to avoid things that are bad for me. I'm not doing much for the carrot farmers.
Shoveling snow is my idea of hard fun so I shovel snow in the winter, but I've always hated cutting the gra.s.s so in the summer I pay someone to do that.
On Sat.u.r.days, I always had to stop playing with the other kids and have lunch at twelve o'clock. I still play a lot on Sat.u.r.days but I quit playing and come in for lunch when I feel like it. I don't care what time it is.
They can write about the glories of youth but there are advantages to maturity, too. I don't read anything I don't want to read, I don't go places I don't want to go, I don't spend a lot of time talking to people I don't feel like talking to.
I feel no need to wear what the other fellows are wearing, listen to the music other people listen to or go to movies I don't want to see.
Every other Sunday my father and mother would put everyone in the car and drive to Troy to see some relatives. I liked the relatives but I hated ruining Sunday to go see them. I sat on the floor and looked at books while the adults talked. I'm glad I don't have to go to Troy anymore.
When I was drafted into the Army, I detested the discipline. When First Sergeant Hardy M. Harrell ordered me to get rid of the books I kept under my bunk at Fort Bragg, I made the mistake of telling him he didn't like books because he couldn't read. This turned out to be the wrong thing for a private to tell a first sergeant and I spent the next thirty days doing a great many things I didn't like doing.
Now there are books under my bed again.
I'm happy not doing all the things I had to do in the Army.
I offer all this to young people who are wondering about life. Don't think things keep getting worse. Youth can be a terrible time of life just because of all the things you hate to do, but have to do anyway.
Trust 141 141
Plain-Spoken Wisdom Trust Last night I was driving from Harrisburg to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, a distance of about eighty miles. It was late, I was late and if anyone asked me how fast I was driving, I'd have to plead the Fifth Amendment to avoid self-incrimination. Several times I got stuck behind a slow-moving truck on a narrow road with a solid white line on my left, and I was clinching my fists with impatience.
At one point along an open highway, I came to a crossroads with a traffic light. I was alone on the road by now, but as I approached the light, it turned red and I braked to a halt. I looked left, right and behind me. Nothing. Not a car, no suggestion of headlights, but there I sat, waiting for the light to change, the only human being for at least a mile in any direction.
I started wondering why I refused to run the light. I was not afraid of being arrested, because there was obviously no cop anywhere around, and there certainly would have been no danger in going through it.
Much later that night, after I'd met with a group in Lewisburg and had climbed into bed near midnight, the question of why I'd stopped for that light came back to me. I think I stopped because it's part of a contract we all have with each other. It's not only the law, but it's an agreement we have, and we trust each other to honor it: we don't go through red lights. Like most of us, I'm more apt to be restrained from doing something bad by the social convention that disapproves of it than by any law against it.
It's amazing that we ever trust each other to do the right thing, isn't it? And we do, too. Trust is our first inclination. We have to make a deliberate decision to mistrust someone or to be suspicious or skeptical. Those att.i.tudes don't come naturally to us.
It's a d.a.m.n good thing too, because the whole structure of our society depends on mutual trust, not distrust. This whole thing; we have going for us would fall apart if we didn't trust each other most of the time. In Italy, they have an awful time getting any money for the government, because many people just plain don't pay their income tax. Here the Internal Revenue Service makes some gestures toward enforcing the law, but mostly they just have to trust that we'll pay what we owe. There has often been talk of a tax revolt in this country, most recently among unemployed auto workers in Michigan, and our government pretty much admits if there was a widespread tax revolt here, they wouldn't be able to do anything about it.
We do what we say we'll do; we show up when we say we'll show up; we deliver when we say we'll deliver; and we pay when we say we'll pay. We trust each other in these matters, and when we don't do what we've promised, it's a deviation from the normal. It happens often that we don't act in good faith and in a trustworthy manner, but we still consider it unusual, and we're angry or disappointed with the person or organization that violates the trust we have in them. (I'm looking for something good to say about mankind today.) I hate to see a story about a bank swindler who has jiggered the books to his own advantage, because I trust banks. I don't like like them, but I trust them. I don't go in and demand that they show me my money all the time just to make sure they still have it. them, but I trust them. I don't go in and demand that they show me my money all the time just to make sure they still have it.
It's the same buying a can of coffee or a quart of milk. You don't take the coffee home and weigh it to make sure it's a pound. There isn't time in life to distrust every person you meet or every company you do business with. I hated the company that started selling beer in eleven-ounce bottles years ago. One of the million things we take on trust is that a beer bottle contains twelve ounces.
It's interesting to look around and at people and compare their faith or lack of faith in other people with their success or lack of success in life. The patsies, the suckers, the people who always a.s.sume everyone else is as honest as they are, make out better in the long run than the Intelligence 143 143 people who distrust everyone-and they're a lot happier even if they get taken once in a while.
I was so proud of myself for stopping for that red light, and inasmuch as no one would ever have known what a good person I was on the road from Harrisburg to Lewisburg, I had to tell someone.
Intelligence I f you are not the smartest person in the world, you usually find some way to be satisfied most of the time with the brain you've got. I was thinking about all this in bed last night because I made a dumb mistake yesterday and I was looking for some way to excuse myself for it so I could go to sleep.
The thing that saves most of us from feeling terrible about our limited intellect is some small part of our personality or character that makes us different. Being uniquely ourselves makes us feel better about not being smart. It's those little differences we have that keep us from committing suicide when we realize, early in life, that a lot of people have more brains than we have.
There are two kinds of intelligence, too. One can be measured in numbers from tests but the other and better kind of intelligence is something no one has ever been able to measure. The second kind is a sort of understanding of life that some of the people with the most intelligence of the first type, don't have any of. They may have scored 145 in the I.Q. tests they took in school but they're idiots out in the real world. This is also a great consolation to those of us who did not not score 145 in our I.Q. tests. score 145 in our I.Q. tests.
It almost seems as though the second type of intelligence comes from somewhere other than the brain. A poet would say it comes from the heart. I'm not a poet and I wouldn't say that but it does appear as though some of the best decisions we make spring spontaneously to our minds from somewhere else in our bodies.
Enjoying a good laugh with Lesley Stahl, Art Buchwald, and Mike Wallace (hands clasped); note reads: Andy-Straighten up, dammit! Thanks-Mike How do you otherwise account for love, tears or the quickened heartbeat that comes with fear? All these things strike us independently of any real thought process. We don't think things through and decide to fall in love or decide to cry or have our heart beat faster.
There is so much evidence that there's more than one kind of intelligence that we can relax, believing that we have a lot of the less obvious kind. I prefer to ignore the possibility that someone with a higher I.Q. than mine might also have more of the second kind of intelligence. One person should not be so lucky as to have intelligence of both the brain and the heart.
I wish there was some way to decide who the five smartest people are in the world because I've always wanted to ask them the five hardest questions. I haven't decided who the five smartest people are and I haven't settled on all five questions, either.
Directions 145 145 One question I've considered for my list is this: "Are people smarter than they were a thousand years ago?" It's a hard one. Athletes are running faster, jumping farther and lifting heavier weights. This suggests our brains must also be performing better.
On the other hand, are our eyes and ears any better than the eyes and ears of the Romans who watched the lions eat the Christians in the year 200 a.d.? Probably not. My guess would be that our eyes and our ears haven't changed for better or for worse except as we abuse them through misuse.
If our eyes and ears haven't changed in size or improved in performance, the chances are our brains haven't either. I forget when they invented the wheel but did it take any less intelligence to invent the wheel centuries ago than it took this century to invent the windshield wiper, the ballpoint pen or the toaster oven?
It must have been 2:30 before I finally fell asleep.
Directions E arly next year I'm going to take a week off and read the directions for all the things I've bought that came with the warning read directions carefully before operating.
There's no sense reading directions to something before you understand a little bit about it, because they don't mean anything to you. You have to know enough about something to be confused before directions help. Once I've pressed some wrong b.u.t.tons or tried to open something by pressing on it when I should have been pulling on it or sliding it sideways, then I can understand the directions.
I have a whole box of directions I've never read. Many of them are still in their plastic wrappers. When Christmas comes again, I'll probably be getting more. Last Christmas my kids gave me a new camera. I've shot ten rolls of film with it and I've made about all the mistakes there are to be made. It will be fun now to see if the directions have any good suggestions.
It is always surprising to me to see how many issues divide our population almost in half. For example, I think it's safe to say that we are about evenly divided between people who read directions before operating, as they're warned to do under threat of death, and people who don't ever read the directions. The same people who don't read the maps in the glove compartments of their cars are the ones who don't pore over the instructions for operating their new washing machine or video ca.s.sette player.
My wife drives a Saab and during the three years we've had it, I've used it a dozen times. For the life of me I can't figure out how the heater works. I almost froze last winter driving into the city one day. This summer I drove in with it on a hot day and fussed with the controls the whole hour trying to get the air conditioning to work. That night I complained to my wife about how complicated the controls were. I said I was going to read the directions about how to work the air conditioning.
"Forget it," she said. "It doesn't have air conditioning."
In spite of some bad experiences, I'm a firm believer in the trial and error method of learning. If I were asked to take the s.p.a.ce shuttle into outer s.p.a.ce, I'd first want to climb on board and start fooling with the controls before I read anything about it. If I do read the directions about something before I know a single thing about it, I get so discouraged I give up. If, on the other hand, I b.u.mble along making mistakes, confident that I can always look at the directions if I have to, then I usually find out how to do it the hard way.
Direction writers have improved over the years. Even the directions that come with a piece of j.a.panese electronic equipment are written in better English than they used to be.
You'd think it might be dangerous to ignore written directions but usually those little red tags say something like danger: under no circ.u.mstances should this be put in a bathtub full of water!
They warn you against some very obvious things. Most of us know by now that you don't put a toaster in the dishwasher and that you shouldn't drop the television set when you're bringing it in the house.
The Quality of Mercy 147 147 On the other hand, it has been my experience that fragile this side up can usually be ignored with no ill effects. Unless you've bought a cutgla.s.s crystal pitcher that comes filled with champagne, there aren't many things you can't carry upside down.
I'm going to look through my box of directions for the ones about my camera but usually if I really want the directions for one specific piece of equipment, those are the directions I threw out.
The Quality of Mercy When a man came and knocked on our back door and asked for something to eat, my mother always fried him two eggs and made him toast and coffee but, no matter how cold it was, she made him eat it outside. Her quality of mercy was tempered with caution.
This was during the Depression in the late 1930s when I was growing up in Albany, New York. There was seldom any question that the man was anything but hungry. He was not looking for money with which to buy whiskey. All the man ever wanted was food. I remember asking Mother why no women ever came begging for food. She didn't know.
All this came flooding back to me last evening when I was standing in line at Grand Central Station to buy a train ticket. There were five or six people in front of me and the line was moving slowly. I contemplated switching to another line, but experience has taught me this is usually a mistake so I started reading my newspaper.
In the middle of a paragraph, I sensed someone standing next to me. I looked up and into the eyes of a small young woman wearing a belted trench coat that wasn't very clean. She had straggly, dark blond hair and, while she was not unattractive, she appeared to be no cleaner than her coat.
"Could you spare a quarter?" she asked.
She said it perfunctorily, in a manner that suggested she'd said it thousands of times before. "No," I said, without malice. I looked into her eyes but didn't get any feeling I was seeing her. There was a curtain behind the cornea so I turned back to my newspaper. I wasn't reading it anymore, though.
"No" had not been exactly the right answer, I thought to myself. Of course, I could have spared a quarter. I must have had nearly fifty dollars in my pocket, three of them in change.
Why hadn't I given this poor soul something? Or is she a poor soul? Where did she come from? I wondered. What are her parents like? What did her cla.s.smates in school think of her? Does she have friends? When did she eat last? Where did she sleep?
If it was peace of mind I was looking for, it would have been easier to give her the quarter. I can't get her out of my mind and yet the people who drop change in cups and hats anger me. It seems like cheap gratification that does more for the psyche of the giver than the receiver. I don't like their smug a.s.sumption that they are compa.s.sionate people.