I don’t know if there’s an ideal number of people for a conversation, debate or any other form of interpersonal communication. For me the deciding factor in a perfect conversation is the subject matter. Only a very short time ago I was involved in an exceptionally interesting conversation with my sister and three friends of hers, that involved topics ranging from literature to history. We ended up referring to people like Jane Austen, and presidential assassins Booth, Guiteau, Czolgosz and Oswald. That’s the kind of conversation that can really keep my undivided attention, whether it’s only in a small group, or in a classroom with more than three dozen people. Perhaps it wouldn’t be a very good idea to have an overwhelmingly large group because it would be too difficult to keep track of all that’s going on and to give everyone present a fair chance to participate. As long as all present are interested in the topic or topics of conversation, the number can vary. Of course I quite often enjoy a good interior monologue too. The cast of characters who populate my imagination can keep me company especially well.
If I were to wake up tomorrow morning and to find out that I have somehow aged a decade from out of nowhere, I should have to start making some very significant changes to my approach to health care. The older someone gets the more careful he has to be about all matters relating his diet and exercise. The grey hair and wrinkles will force me into quite a major adjustment too. I shall also have to take a closer look at the reality of death because the more time that passes by the closer the ultimate moment of truth inevitably gets. Assuming this odd stroke of fate will have happened to me, I should be forced to make up quite an interesting story to explain it all to my contemporaries. Maybe I could even start wearing old-man clothes and affecting old-man speech patterns, habits and mannerisms. Since no real time will have lapsed, I shall have missed out on an entire decade’s worth of stories to tell and experiences to capitalize on. Knowing my imagination, with its tendency to go into all sorts of offbeat directions, I shall have quite a time pondering all the wild twists and turns that I shall be subjected to. Since, throughout my lifetime, I’ve always been so knowledgeable about the 1960’s I could take advantage of the twist of fate by blending in with people who are a decade older than I. It would be quite an interesting experience to be able to see who notices that there is something awfully wrong with my particular circumstances. Because of my advanced years I could feel quite free to make inappropriate remarks, to engage in inappropriate behavior and to flirt with really pretty young girls. So far I still get into quite an awful lot of trouble for things like that, but since I’ll be so old everyone will be happy to humor the harmless old guy.
If I could have my choice of three works of fiction in which I should be able to participate, I should most certainly have to pick the late 1960’s movie, “Hello Dolly”, with Walter Matthau, Barbra Streisand and Michael Crawford, as one of them. Ever since I was a kid in St. Gabriel’s, where the De La Salle Christian Brothers, in the glee club, kept us singing show tunes, I’ve always enjoyed this classic musical. It’s about the adventures of Dolly Levi, a middle aged matchmaking widow in turn of the twentieth century New York CIty. Besides Dolly’s romance with Horace Vandergelder, there are several other dalliances that transpire within the story. The last time I watched it I was quite especially favorably impressed with all the costumes and music. The distinctive suits, hats, dresses and parasols, were perfect. I’ve always really wanted to see what that kind of spectacle must be like in person. The clothing, speech and customs of that era, as depicted in the movie, are enough to catch anyone’s attention. Another story in which I should really like to partake is “Don Quijote (The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quijote of La Mancha)”, the picaresque novel by Miguel de Cervantes y Saavedra. It’s from Spain’s Golden Age in the early seventeenth century. In the book, a middle aged hidalgo, Alonso Quijano, after having read too many chivalric novels, thereby distorting his perception of reality, sets out to reinstate the era of chivalry. Throughout the story he and his sidekick Sancho Panza, a simple farmer, get into a series of misadventures stemming from the benighted Don’s inability to distinguish between fantasy and reality. Aldonza Lorenzo, a local homely farm girl, is his lady love. She’s somewhat reminiscent of Petrarch’s Laura and Dante’s Beatrice. The tale is filled with all sorts of insights into theology, philosophy, literature and history. I should really like to get involved in it because of all the offbeat adventures of the Don and Sancho and because of all the things I could learn about life during one of mankind’s most interesting historical epochs. I should get quite a kick out of watching our protagonist constantly confusing the most ordinary everyday people, places and occurrences with profoundly significant realities. The story is a major lesson about reality and mankind’s relationship to his world and surroundings. Another story I should like to visit would be Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass”. I’ve always really enjoyed the tales of life in a distorted world where animals, plants and inanimate objects are personified, logic is incessantly convoluted and imagination reigns supreme at all times. I could have a chance to meet the Mad Hatter, the Walrus, Tweedle Dee and Tweedle Dum, the Cheshire Cat and all the other characters that make Wonderland such a distinctive environment. Life in Wonderland shares with Don Quijote the fact that nothing ever matches up to what anyone would normally expect based on an even somewhat legitimate standard of logical consistency.
A few years ago my cousins Gary and Mark, and I, were talking one day. I presumed to attempt to make a contribution to a certain topic of conversation, when Mark claimed that because I’m a theology and philosophy major-I’m not. I majored in literature- he wondered how could I possibly have had any idea of what I was talking about. A while after that I got into a debate with one of Mary Anne’s three kids, my nephew Michael. When I provided a rebuttal for something he said, he complained that it sounded as if it were something I’d mooched from a philosophy lecture and that for as far back as he could remember my approach to life has always boiled down, as far as he could recognize, to philosophy, theology and the Beatles.
Ever since my middle twenties I’ve always been quite smitten with theology and philosophy. Unlike other academic disciplines, as far as I’m concerned, those are the only two that an individual can, by necessity, count on having a need for over the course of his entire everyday life outside the classroom, one hundred per cent of the time. They’re all about human nature. The Beatles have been my very favorites literally throughout my entire lifetime. Their decade, the infamous legendary 1960’s, provide my sense of style and imagery. I’ve always always had quite an exceptionally intense sense of humor, and a hyperactive imagination, that can be referred to as a bit on the lopsided side. If my last name were ever to be used as an eponymous adjective, it would refer to a world where the things that must be taken very seriously would always undeniably be understood from an entirely conservative point of view. I very long ago recognized that liberalism is the custodian of all things evil and destructive. The left, in both secular and religious sources, dating back to the days of the Old Testament as well as Virgil and Homer, has always been associated with the forces of evil. Of course, in order to add an unavoidably necessary touch of levity to things, that would have to be combined with all my hippie flower power imagery and quite a nice wholesome dose of silliness. My lifelong infatuation with the past is most certainly not restricted to the 1960’s. Life in my world could send someone to places ranging from Regency England to ancient Macedonia.
To refer to something as Trasciatti.esque would be to evoke a world that somehow combines the intellectual and serious with the silly and lopsided, a world where everyone can be pretty much counted upon to behave reasonably well, but in which everything ends in suffixes ranging from -in to -agogo.
I’ve always been exceptionally interested in philosophy. Epistemology is the study of knowledge, including memory. No two people remember the same circumstances in the same way and no one remembers something in the same way each successive time. Throughout the course of my lifetime, I’ve always been quite smitten with memories of very long ago. I seem to have quite a utopian, Garden-of-Eden ish relationship with the long ago past. A good example of this is in a conversation I had a few years ago with my cousin Gary’s daughter Tina. Gary grew up in Queens and his wife Maria is from Brooklyn. Their kids, Joseph and Tina, lived in Brooklyn until they were twelve and ten years old. Tina told me they were so crazy about Brooklyn because they were from there. I’ve always said the same thing about Queens, having lived there until my twelfth birthday. The more I’ve thought it over since then, though, the more I’ve recognized that it wouldn’t have been the same if I could have been lucky enough to have lived there throughout my entire lifetime. The everyday practical realities of life there would have made it impossible to recognize significantly the good things. The present tense is filled with boring, ordinary chores and habits. What is fr
esh, by definition, will inevitably become stale with time. That’s why each of us always complains about his being taken for granted. Nothing and no one ever truly satisfies. The faraway past, though, precisely because it’s no longer available, can be quite intoxicating. Pop culture is yet another example of how I tend to see the distant past. Ever since I was a kid I’ve always thought of the 1960’s as the most interesting time frame of all, and that’s only possible precisely because of their never having been available to me in the present tense. I was born in 1959. Besides that, the older I get the more easily I’m able to recognize all the interesting things that were going on during my youth. Recent vivid memories can be especially nice but they lack the property of availability to the imagination. Memories from a bygone era are literally representative of another world entirely. It’s like everything I’ve ever heard and read about good literature. A good literary work should tell a sufficient amount of the story, yet at the same time it should leave enough available in order that the reader may put himself into the story and imagine more than the author provides. The distant past, unlike the recent past, makes that possible too. I’m a bookworm for the same reason I enjoy the distant past. It allows my imagination to wander into a world that’s otherwise entirely unavailable.
The first decade of my lifetime was virtually precisely coeval with the 196o’s. I was born in 1959 so I’m entirely too young to remember the era of flower power, mods, rockers and hippies. Somehow,though, at an extremely early age I became smitten with all the people, places, things and circumstances that were prominent then. That sort of qualifies me as a victim of the Golden Age Syndrome. By the time I turned thirteen years old, the grooviest decade of all had already been over for about the past two years. The Beatles, my favorite band, were already broken up since the first half of April, 1970. The first few years of the 1970’s seemed to have shown great promise. Singers and bands such as Carole King, Joni Mitchell, Crosby Stills Nash and Young, and Led Zeppelin were always on the radio. They were throwbacks to the 1960’s anyway though. Eventually their successors started coming into prominence. Disco was especially conspicuous during that time frame, followed by new wave and punk. I, of course, still stuck to my obsessive interest in the further adventures of John, Paul, George and Ringo. Much of the music of the middle and late 1970’s was exceptionally good, but I could never let go of my hippie fantasy. The fact that all four Beatles were then still living made it at least theoretically possible to believe that somehow their era would make a kind of comeback. The Grateful Dead, Who, Rolling Stones, and Jefferson Airplane (with a slight name change), among other bands from the 1960’s, were all still together. Bob Dylan and Joan Baez could still be counted on to show up every once in a while. I gained quite a reputation among all my friends, classmates, teachers and people in general, for being such a fan of both the entire 1960’s as a whole and particularly of the Fab Four. As far as I’m concerned the Beatles and their world have always provided quite an infinitely fertile ground for someone with a hyperactive imagination and an interest in keeping things colorful. Unfortunately, as good as the solo Beatles’ music, and that of their contemporaries may have been throughout the course of the 1970’s I, always having been so obsessively infatuated with the 1960’s, could never bring myself to admit that anything since then was as good as it was during that time. Having set up an entirely intrinsically impossible standard of comparison, I ended up in the seriously weird position of getting the distinct impression that the 1970’s versions of the Beatles and their contemporaries were somehow not as good as their slightly earlier personae simply because of the mere passage of time. As far as I was concerned the 1960’s were a time of merry go rounds, kaleidoscopes, tangerines and marmalade, and the Beatles, as they then existed, were the ultimate personification of imagination and creativity. Throughout my entire adolescence I read every book, and newspaper and magazine article, that had ever been written about the Beatles, and their lives and times. Their speech patterns, quirks and mannerisms became part of my world. Thanks to my insatiable curiosity about them and their era, I became quite exceptionally knowledgeable about all things pertaining to the Fab Four and the 1960’s. Besides the songs and albums of their Beatle years I kept track of albums like John Lennon’s “Walls And Bridges”, Paul McCartney’s “Band On the Run”, George Harrison’s “Dark Horse”, and Ringo Starr’s “Ringo”, among all their other solo adventures. I was quite conversant in all things Beatle and could occasionally be counted on even to go overboard with my interest in them. Even now that I’m a middle aged man I still consider all the music of the 1960’s, and especially that of the Lads from Liverpool, to be entirely without equal. Perhaps some of my youthful obsession with it all has been tempered to the point of its being a bit more subtle but it’s still always with me. In a much more important sense it was quite a nightmarishly ugly poisonous environment, but for a kid with a hyperactive imagination and a flair for the colorful it could never possibly be topped or even matched.
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.