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Wednesday, Aug. 20, 2014

There are no tomorrows

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Everybody reacts to retirement differently, I believe, some with great joy, immensely happy to at last be able to throw off the harness and indulge in the activities--whether it be spelunking or reading War and Peace a second time--that make them really happy. There are others, however, who reach retirement age without having planned for it, find themselves suddenly adrift, and just gather dust (so to speak) until they're gathered into a nursing home. I've been officially retired now for some three years from teaching English at Cottey College. There were, I admit, some years in the mid-late 70's, when I toyed with the idea of changing careers, but with the arrival of Helen Washburn I decided I wanted to stay, and did so, until I'd taught here for 32 years, happy as a clam. Because I'd been very happy for 28 of those years, I'd not bothered to think about retirement. But, then, I began having severe health problems, and those--well, not nudged, but rather shoved or stampeded, me into retirement. All at once, I discovered I'd used up most of my working life, and what was I going to do now for the years remaining to me? I was watching Charlie Rose, late last night on Public Television, when he re-broadcast snippets from his 14 or 15 interviews with Yale graduate and founder of the Conservative periodical National Review, William F. Buckley Jr. Charlie is most obviously a dyed-in-the-wool Liberal, and the somewhat older Buckley, just as obviously a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative. But as you watch the two of them gently spar with and complement each other, it's just as obvious that the two have enough in common--namely, respect for each other, witty articulateness, genuine affection -- to be dear friends. Buckley may've been dying, even as he spoke, but you could only marvel at the twists and turns his alert mind was taking. Buckley died early this past week.

At the end of the program, last night, Charlie Rose spoke a short, unscripted eulogy I've thought about all day. He said he'd known Buckley since he himself started in television, and that he'd learned more about the medium and its requirements than he could tell. Then, he talked about running across his friend in New York more often than seems possible in such a swirling mass of humanity. Inevitably, they'd bump into each other on a street corner, and one or the other would call out, "I'll phone you tonight!" or, "Let's have lunch next Thursday!" But, since both men, married with children, and at the top of their games, were busy from the moment they got out of bed at 6 a.m. until they dropped back to sleep at 2 a.m., neither remark would ever come to anything. And so, suddenly and, I gather, more or less unexpectedly, Bill Buckley was dead. "There are," Rose concluded, with a noticeable catch in his voice, "no tomorrows."

Late last week, I received the fall issue of The Taft Bulletin, from my Connecticut prep school, where I spent the last three years before going on to college. Together with all my fellow Tafties, I used to feel I was missing out on a major part of life--namely, girls my own age. Until I was 18, I scarcely knew there were such creatures as girls, but if we were there to learn, we did that. And we made life-long friends with some of our male classmates. Michael Edmund Shaheen, Jr., for example, was a fellow theater buff, fellow member of Taft's Masque and Dagger Society, both of us with vague dreams of being a part of Broadway shows when David Merrick, or some other theater big-wig discovered us. Mike had graduated from Yale Law School, abandoned his inchoate Broadway dream, and gone instead to Washington, D.C., where he'd been hired to work for the Department of Justice.

Accidentally, one evening, I'd seen Mike being interviewed by Dan Rather, I think it was, about his current work prosecuting the latest mobsters. Born and bred in the little town of Como, Mississippi, he was now, it seemed, on a par with Elliott Ness. Were there already signs of toughness and criminal savvy back when I knew him, when we were both teenagers? I took out my Taft 1958 Annual, turned to his page (84), and read his inscription, in blue fountain pen ink:. "To one of my real friends, on whom, in one of my rougher moments, I used the trick of bending fingers. I give you not best wishes, but fervent assurances of a future too brilliant as a playwright . . . " "Dad,' asked daughter Jessica, when I told her a good high-school friend of mine had died, "Did you two keep in touch after you graduated?" "No," I admitted, ashamedly. "And, neither did I keep in touch, after graduation from Taft, with my Panamanian friend Louis Martinz, with whom I went to lunch and dinner whenever he came to New York, on his way to or from the University of Pennsylvania, where he went to college. It was Louis who, through thick and thin, urged me to finish writing a play that could be produced by his new friend, the Broadway director whose name I forget. It was Louis, bold as brass, who hopped on his bike one morning and pedaled to the little Connecticut cottage where playwright Arthur Miller was living with his current wife, Marilyn Monroe. After we graduated from college, he returned to Panama and began working for his father to clean up the government left in shambles by the ousted dictator Noriega, while I got married, moved out of New York into Minnesota, and buried myself in class preparation, which stopped only when I retired. I kept in touch by letter, but I never saw him again. He died, quite unexpectedly, one day, when we were in our 50's.

There are no tomorrows.