TODAY IS THE 18th OF JULY in the year of our counting such things a certain way, 2007; and today is my birthday. I'm sixty-nine years old. I've lived all these years, and I've never been in jail nor have I been institutionalized for a mental condition. Those facts I believe qualify me, at my age, as wise. Nor am I a drunk; two glasses of wine per day. Full glasses of red wine, mind you; but that's it. Occasionally, on Friday night I'll have two and one-half glasses; but I always feel a little off the next day and continue to promise myself that I'll stop at two glasses on Friday night with no more furtive trips to the kitchen when Cathy is out of the room. I didn't say that I was perfect; I said that I was wise. It's a wise man who knows that he’s not perfect.
So, never in jail, never institutionalized, take no mind-altering drugs, prescribed or otherwise, and not a drunk. And I define a drunk as someone who has more than one hangover per week.
You might be thinking, Yes, but does that qualify you as a wise person, those criteria you just mentioned? And my answer is, Yes, it does; and I'd appreciate your accepting it. And not just because it's my birthday. I am sixty-nine, and I'm wise; let's not argue. Observe my white hair and wrinkles, my serious countenance.
But if you find fault in that approach, we could handle it this way. I will offer some proof of my wisdom by making several aphoristic statements that I claim to be wise. You will examine those statements and make your judgment as to my claims.
I should tell you before we begin that I believe that wisdom is evidenced more in the daily choices of ordinary people than in those lofty generalizations uttered by so-called holy men or prophets while sitting under a tree or in a cave, secluded from the real world. In a loin cloth or saffron robe. So don't expect statements like "A soft answer turneth away wrath" or anything that begins, "It is a foolish man who..." Again, it is my belief that wisdom lies in living life in a practical, thoughtful, yea, even self-critical way. Out of which can come self-knowledge. In other words, if I understand why I make everyday choices I will understand my soul. Which I think of as the goal of life—self-knowledge. So let us begin. (Another goal of life might be finding a really good red wine for seven dollars a bottle, but let's not worry that now. No screw-top either, no matter how good or the price; I've already done the thing with screw-top, and it is over.) So let us begin. The observations of a wise man:
It’s very important to carefully check menu prices when you go to a fancy restaurant. A few nights ago Cathy and I went to a Thai establishment in Studio City, California to dine with a luminous person, a person of some fame, and when we got home and looked at the itemized tab, we realized that we had paid twenty dollars for a dish that consisted of four shrimp. Twenty dollars; four shrimp—no matter that they were called tiger prawns. So that was a mistake, not something that we could afford. Yes, even in the presence of this luminous person I should have forgotten my pride and checked the menu more carefully or even asked the serving person, "How much do you get for shrimp?" There's no shame in that for god's sake. Twenty dollars, four shrimp. So that was a mistake from which I have learned. There's wisdom in learning from your mistakes. And, yes, I would call myself even wiser out of that experience, if that is possible.
We continue now and this is something that you might never have considered: There's no reason to pair socks after doing a wash. There was a time when I would stand over a bed where I had dumped my clean, dry wash and pair my socks and roll them up, put them neatly in a drawer. I no longer do that. I now find that it's much easier to just dump all my unsorted socks in my top drawer and to pair them as I need them, before I put them on my feet, making sure the socks match, so I won't embarrass Cathy when we go out to an overpriced Thai restaurant in Studio City for example. If we ever go there again. Of course the obvious corollary here is that as socks are used between washings, over the course of one or two weeks, the loose socks will have begun to pair themselves, to effect a proximal migration, merely because there are fewer socks in the drawer. A light gray here and ah, the other one right there, nearby, with very few socks in between, you see. Very easy to spot. By the way, when I was in military school and in the army, socks had to be rolled a certain way. So that's another thing about not pairing and rolling socks. I try to not do things that I had to do in the army or military school. I won't push a tray, any tray, down a line in order to obtain food, for example. So in Vegas I never do buffets. Is that a wise choice? Of course it is. And that's because military school and the army were not wise choices. I'm sure that you follow my logic.
I see that my time is almost up, but let's continue in our remaining few moments and consider other items of clothing and their relation to practical wisdom. My assertion here is that it makes no sense to hang up freshly laundered shirts or walking shorts or to put them in a drawer as long as they're going to be worn in a week or two. So I put my clean shirts and walking shorts on a bedroom chair. Parenthetically, I will also tell you that I loathe coat hangers, out of their well known tendency to entangle themselves with each other and with the plastic coverings that dry cleaners place over cleaned clothes. So I avoid the use of dry cleaners and don't hang my clothes on coat hangers. My life is much simpler that way. Leave clean clothes on the chair; don't use dry cleaners. No coat hanger entanglements. Very wise.
I like to wear items of clothing for as long as I possibly can; I like to wear clothes until they disintegrate. See this watchband? Very old. It takes a long time to fasten it in the morning; some of its parts no longer work properly. I don't know watchband nomenclature, but when I have put the floppy end through the buckle end and secured it in place with that little catch that goes in the hole, I have a hard time getting the floppy end to fit under the little metal loop without having the previously secured portion pop out. To reiterate, the strap is through the buckle, the catch is in the hole, but when I place the floppy end under the metal loop the catch removes itself from the hole, and I have to start over. But while doing all that, and this is very wise, I take deep breaths and try to remind myself that life is like that. Life can't be secured; life is like the floppy end of a watch strap. Deep breaths; stay calm. Very wise. By the way, I don't think that yoga is very wise; I don't like yoga. Once I hurt my back with a yoga move—the cobra. My spinal stenosis did not like the cobra, and I don’t like the yoga.
Finally, I think that smelling good is very wise. I received some pleasantly scented soaps and shaving material for my birthday. No matter that shirts and shorts I wear aren't ironed or that my socks don't always match or that my watch strap flops; I always smell nice, and it's good to smell nice. For me and for people around me. I like to be nice to people and that's because I want people to be nice to me. And, yes, I know that so-called holy and wise men have said similar things; but many holy men don't smell nice. And I do; I smell very nice. Very wise to smell nice. So, yes, I'm very wise.
I'm sure that you now agree.###
20 July 2007