It seems as if it were only yesterday that I was a youngster. Now that I have all sorts of Facebook friends from as far back as my days in Jackson Heights, even before my teens, I’m constantly reminded that even my very earliest days seem quite recent in my memory. I also spend quite a lot of time with my niece and nephews. Bridget recently turned seventeen, Sam recently turned twenty one and Michael will be twenty six next month. That strikes me as quite an eye opener. It seems as if it were only yesterday that I was that young. I don’t really mind the passage of time and can even get used to the kids’ constantly rubbing it in. Perhaps you could say I tend passively to ignore how old I really am. A few years ago I told my parents that I could understand that twenty years was a long time, but that I couldn’t understand that the 1990’s were a long time ago, even though we were living in the 1990’s twenty years ago. Thanks to my lifelong obsession with the humanities. I understand well that time is divided into both objective time and subjective duration. Man has to deal, in one way or another, with units of time ranging from Grateful Dead time to the New York minute, depending upon his circumstances. I still think of myself as being young, though I realize quite well that it’s now a crock. All I have to do is to meet a former classmate or teacher of mine, or anyone else I knew a significantly long time ago. My appearance has changed, though I’m still recognizably the same as I was in days of yore. I sort of live in the past in certain ways. I should like to think that I shall soon be quite a very interesting old timer, the kind who knows how to tell legitimate stories about the past, and to compare and to contrast then and now, but not in a creepy way. It’s all a question of facing up to the inevitable. I’ve never liked that as-young-as-you-feel crap. I’ve also never been able to stand when characters such as Willard Scott refer to fans of his as a hundred and four years young, or anything like that. When someone pretends that old people can be young in some way he denies the legitimate goodness, beauty and worthiness of both age and youth. When that happens no one wins and everyone loses.
Although I’ve always so thoroughly enjoyed music, and can play the guitar, I’ve also, for as long as I can remember, been quite smitten with writing and public speaking, especially as an adult. One of the most significant things people find out about me after having gotten to know me for even only a very short time is my absolutely insatiable need to be as articulate as possible. Absolute clarity of speech and of thought, at all times, is of the utmost urgency. As a kid I was always quite a compulsive bookworm, constantly reading everything from dictionaries and encyclopedias to cereal boxes. The Beatles, and other singers and musicians of their era, have always been my favorites. The music of the 1960’s, to quite a great degree, was about story telling. In many was it was kind of like the Norton Anthology of Literature set to musical accompaniment. As my taste in music inspired me to learn to play the guitar, my taste in literature, combined with my musical interests, inspired me to write. Great literature uses imagery in order to tell a story and to make a point. Who can possibly avoid being intrigued by Robert Browning’s “My Last Duchess” or Emily Dickinson’s “Because I Could Not Stop For Death”? There’s another poem of Dickinson’s that opens with the line, “Tell all the truth but tell it slant”. That’s what great fiction is about. Most people generally like to receive a message or lesson in narrative rather than didactic form. Another means of expression I’ve always thoroughly enjoyed is a good debate. Although I was never on a debate team in school I always got quite enthused, especially as an adult student, with all kinds of debates about the culture war in this country. Over the course of my adult lifetime, theology and philosophy have always obsessed me but I also made sure I took a wide enough variety of other classes in the humanities and social sciences that would allow me to have a real understanding of all that’s going on in the world. I’ve always been quite a staunch conservative and my interest in expressing myself, from specifically that point of view, is quite a trademark of all my efforts at speaking and writing. Although things can get a bit polemical at times when I’m up against someone with liberal ideas, I think I do a relatively good job of avoiding trouble. For approximately the past twenty years I’ve been a lector at the churches where I’ve been a parishioner. I tend to feel very much more comfortable reading from a prepared text than with impromptu or extemporaneous speech. That’s why I’ve always especially enjoyed writing because I can have a lot more time to think something over by way of a rough draft before it’s officially ready. I’ve always enjoyed combining my interest in writing fiction with my interest in debating about things like theology and philosophy. Many of western culture’s greatest writers, from Shakespeare and Milton to Tolkien and Lewis have dealt with life’s biggest questions by means of prose and poetry. Although, unfortunately, I’ve never officially published anything I’ve written, It’s a good way to keep my mind active and continuously to raise people’s eyebrows.
Over the course of my educational lifetime two subjects I could never even handle the least bit well were math and science. That’s not even counting college. College is the time in an individual’s life when he’s introduced to an even wider variety of subjects that are entirely too difficult for him. My two most significant reminders of how difficult math and science always were for me were the time in the ninth grade at St. John the Baptist when Mr. Richard Morabito, my biology teacher, kept calling my mother and reminding her that I was such an intelligent kid, and such a perfect gentleman in the classroom, that he could never understand why I couldn’t do well in his class; and Mrs. Joan McGrath, my twelfth grade probability and statistics teacher, who asked me, on my last day of school, to give her my solemn promise never even to think of majoring in math. In my freshman year at S.U.N.Y. Farmingdale, I was enrolled during my first semester in a probability and statistics class. After a very short time my professor forced me to leave because he knew I couldn’t handle it. My late cousin Karen, from western New York, was a math teacher. She once told me that she had no idea how anyone could possibly have a hard time with math. She said it struck her as so logical. Maybe that’s my entire problem with math and the hard sciences. The reason they are so difficult for me may be the fact that I’ve never been the king of the logically consistent. With the exception of a cultural anthropology class I once presumed to take at Adelphi University, where Dr. Ludomir Lozny was inevitably forced to resign himself to my incompetence, I’ve always done quite well at the social sciences. I’ve always been quite interested in, and done quite well at anything in the humanities department too. During my fairly early adult years I got smitten with an insatiable interest in both Catholicism and the culture war from a specifically intellectual point of view. I then took a few more classes at S.U.N.Y. Farmingdale and some classes at Adelphi. Conveniently I avoided the dreaded math and science departments. When I first went back to Farmingdale, the first two classes I took were micro-economics with Professor Robert Reganse and philosophy, specifically ethics, with Dr. Marlene San Miguel Groner. I had already taken philosophy and economics classes there immediately after high school, and I only got average grades. This time, though, because of my having gotten so entirely enthused about all of life’s big questions, I was quite notorious for my class participation and my grades were exceptional. The reason I’ve always found the soft sciences and humanities so much more interesting and easier than math and the hard sciences may lie entirely in the fact that math and the hard sciences have always struck me as overly laden with dry, boring facts, figures and symbols. In the social sciences and humanities, though, there are all sorts of references to the entire history, and the very point, of man’s existence. For a very long time, people have said that I give the distinct impression that I’m a theology and philosophy major. I majored in literature though. As far as I’m concerned the social sciences and humanities provide the most interesting explanations of the way the world is put together, and the manner in which people have always interacted with each other. Like the very best songs of the 1960’s they provide a lot of especially good story telling. By my standards, it’s a perfect combination of the didactic and narrative sides of life. My imagination has always been quite notoriously hyperactive and a lot can happen in humanities and social sciences classrooms that appeal to my creative side. Although math and science are most certainly quite exceptionally important, I’ve always found them so unbearably boring and difficult. All I’ve ever seen in those disciplines has been a succession of unbearably painful burdens to be borne with a sense of resignation. Unlike Penny’s friends on “The Big Bang Theory”, I should consider life in a world of math and science to be a prison sentence.