As I mentioned yesterday, I’m not here. In my place, I present more of me, but at a considerably younger age.
The following is the second in a weeklong series of (slightly shortened versions) of selected columns, written in my mid-twenties for The Toronto Telegram, an at the time major Canadian newspaper, though it is currently defunct.
I hope this is not too self-indulgent. But I could say that about everything I write. My confession is unlikely to immunize me from the accusation; but I make it anyway, a participant in the illusion that I’m off the hook.
Today’s (minisculey unedited) column stems from my lifelong aversion to taking a chance. This “taking a chance” business is important. So important, in fact, that you wonder why little time or effort is spent on preparing us to do it.
Growing up, we get little formal training in “Take a Chance.” School doesn’t help. They’re too busy teaching us, “Give eight causes for 1910 or ten causes for 1912.”
To get us ready for everyday life, school ought to be an obstacle course of Unpredictability. So we can practice it. The more surprises we have to handle, the less doing a new thing will frighten us.
What if you came to school one harmless day, and the teacher sent you to the office for giving the right answer? And then when the principal heard about it, he started to cry and made you type up cafeteria menus?
And suppose every day, every kid got sent home at a different time; one day, you split at 10:30, and the next day, 6:30. And you didn’t know why. Because there was no “why.”
Each time you tried something you thought would get you the early go-home, sometimes it would work, but just as often, it wouldn’t. And then there were those occasional detentions for wearing glasses.
You getting the idea? It’s like a million jack-in-the-boxes popping up at scattered intervals. After a while, they won’t scare you anymore. Exceptions will be the rule. Sometimes.
What if every day, when you left school, your house was on a different street, and you had to find it? And if you were later, your supper was given to the paperboy?
And what if, when you finally got home, the lady who said she was your mother was really your Aunt Gilda from Jersey City, and your mother of yesterday was today ironing the drapes and humming a Latvian cleaning lady song as she shoveled loose change into her apron?
And then the bell rings, and there’s your own daddy at the door, trying to sell you earrings. And the police are coming up the walk, to tell you that your care has just been run over by a dog.
With a world like that, pretty soon, no “what if”, no matter how “iffy” would have the power to scare us out of doing something. Fear would be a thing of the past.
Those precarious days, before the uncertainty of certainty, were indeed crampifying. I remember when I was 13, I called up this girl for a date. Fear of rejection pervaded the atmosphere like some air freshener.
I could barely endure the tension. Would she say “Yes”…or “No”?
Then finally the answer came. She wasn’t home. But did I call her back later? You bet your bones I did. I’m no chicken. I’m not one of those guys who gets knocked down by a minor setback.
Not me, boy! I called that girl right back. And this time, she was home. And so was her husband and their daughter.
Maybe it wasn’t exactly right back.