Monday, October 9, 2017

"Profiles In Courage (Or Is That Simply the Way It Is Categorized?)"

My titles flow like elegant poetry, don’t they?

You remember that classic joke from Friends.  Chandler says,

“Let’s go get some Chinese food.  Or, as they call it in China… food.

In a similar manner, although considerably less hilarious, I am thinking that to the courageous, “Acts of Courage” are, to themselves, perceived simply as “Acts.”

The single distinction is that all the Chinese consider their food to be “just food”, whereas when it comes to courage, the definition is, at least in some cases, I mean not like in the song “The Ballad of Roger Young”, “It was he who drew the fire of the enemy…”that’s courage to everyone, because the majority of people would not do that.  But sometimes, one person’s “courage” is the person exhibiting that behavior’s “What do you mean?

To them, they just did something.

Two examples of this “floating” phenomenon:

The first story came to mind after being interviewed by a writer from the New Yorker, contracted to pen a biography of Lorne Michaels, and, as a leaf on a branch of the tree that is “Lorne Michaels”, at my older brother’s encouragement – of her, not me; I’ll talk to anyone – I had been contacted to supply some “deep background” concerning “The Early Years.”  (Who knows?  As with the Robert Caro series on Lyndon Johnson, this project could balloon into a massive literary undertaking, “Lorne Michaels – The Early Years” being a mere appetite-whetting “Volume One.”)

I draw your attention to the first sentence of the above paragraph.  “The first story came to mind after – writer’s emphasis – I was interviewed…”, etc, etc.  It did not come to mind during the interview; it came to mind after.  Which is unhelpful to biographer, but, today, useful to myself.  (I could have been unconsciously saving this story.  It’s a funny thing about biographical research.  An interviewee presents the writer with a biographical ”nugget” and the money, credit and adulation for delivering that “nugget” go to the writer.  Truth be told, she did pay for my dinner.  Though I was talking so much I barely ate anything, making me both unheralded and hungry.)

The biographer was looking for quintessential “What made the man “The Man”? stories.  Of which, I believe, this is quintessentially one – a story that explains the seedling attributes presaging Lorne’s ultimate phenomenal success.  (I imagine there are also “Seedling Attribute” stories presaging heinous miscreants, as well.  A childhood acquaintance’s recollection of an eventual ax murderer:  “I remember he liked playing with hatchets.”)

I no longer recall the context of our conversation, nor, I freely acknowledge, all the specifics of the anecdote.  But I remember the story’s message.  And that message is revelatory.

Lorne told me that when he was a teenager in high school, he worked on weekends in the “Sweaters Department” at Eaton’s, a major Toronto department store, now defunct.  Wow!  It just occurred to me.  One of the most memorable lines from The Three Amigos?  (Co-written by Lorne Michaels.)  “It’s a sweater!


Lorne went on to say that at some point while he was working there, the manager of the Eaton’s “Sweaters Department” retired.   As it turned out, none of the regular employees wanted the promotion to the now-available managerial position.  Typically Canadian.  “Who wants to do that, eh?”   Although that could be an unwarranted stereotype.

The point is, everyone shied away from the pressurizing responsibility.  The teenaged Lorne Michaels spoke up and said,

I’ll do it.”

And he did.  (At least, imaginably, on weekends.)

That’s the story of a young man, uniquely unafraid to assume a position of leadership, which was Lorne Michaels from the beginning, and, as he piles up late-night Executive Producerships, seventy-two year-old Lorne Michaels apparently still today.

Willingly taking on big jobs despite their myriad perils and possibility of failure?

That’s courage.

Perceived generally, and even more awe-inspiringly by of people like myself who, when, in what we called “Grade Nine”, I was nominated for Class President, responded reflexively, “Abstain!” because, “Who wants to do that, eh?”  (So maybe it’s not an unwarranted stereotype.)

Story Two:

After living for four months at Los Angeles’s then seedy, (150 dollars a month) now sumptuous (970 dollars a night, higher on weekends) Chateau Marmont Hotel, I decided to move out and find an apartment of my own.  You can only live so long in one room with a small refrigerator in the closet, and when your clothes start smelling like refrigerated “leftover” pastrami, it is time to secure more spacious accommodations.  Not to mention the fact that the perilous “Left Turn” out of the Chateau Marmont parking garage onto Sunset over-tested the abilities of a timid driver, traveling unfamiliar terrain in a rented Pinto.

I found an affordable “One-Bedroom” about a mile from the hotel.  When I announced to a co-worker I was departing the cocooning confines of the “Chateau”, he, in his second year of residency there, seemed genuinely impressed that I had “made the move”, as he himself, he confided, lacked the requisite courage to do so.

That confiding co-worker was Lorne Michaels.

The rewards for “variations of courage” are distributed unequally.  Lorne’s type of courage earned him a show biz empire; mine, my own West Hollywood apartment.  (That would subsequently be raided, as it housed, unbeknownst to me, a ring of high-end “Escorts.”  I thought they were just back-up singers.)

You know, it just came to me.

When a certified brave guy calls a guy doing what he can’t do brave,

Does that then make that other guy braver than the certified brave guy?

Suddenly, I feel retroactively overwhelmingly good about myself.

Though I probably shouldn’t.

I never saw getting my own apartment as “brave.”

It was just something I did.

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