I recently ran across a long-forgotten meme called “Random Facts About Yourself That May Surprise People” that I never got around to finishing or posting. I don’t know how surprising you’ll find the answers, much less amusing, but the questions amused me enough to finish answering them:
• Do you make your bed? More often than not, and almost always when I’m sleeping in my Manhattan bedroom, which doubles as my workroom (and also contains a fair amount of art, including my Max Beerbohm caricature of Percy Grainger). For some inexplicable reason, I find it hard to write in the same room as an unmade bed.
• What’s your favorite number? Why on earth would I have a favorite number? What’s that about?
• What’s your dream job? I’ve got it, though I’d love to spend a few years doing nothing but directing plays.
• If you could, would you go back to school? Not for any amount of money, however fantastic—except as a teacher, in which case I’d jump at the chance.
• Can you parallel-park? In Missouri, you can’t get a driver’s license without being able to do so (or at least you couldn’t when I got mine a half-century ago).
• A job you had at which people would be surprised? I used to repair musical instruments. Ineptly, you understand, but I did my best.
• Do you think aliens are real? I suppose it depends on what you mean by “aliens.” I think it’s perfectly possible that there’s some kind of life elsewhere in the universe, but I don’t believe that we’ve had any first-hand evidence of its existence.
• Can you drive a stick shift? I tried to learn when Mrs. T had a car with a manual transmission, but I was too old to master so alien a skill. She thinks I could have done so if I’d tried harder, and she’s probably right, but I think part of the problem was that I was embarrassed by the fact that I found it so difficult.
• What’s your guilty pleasure? I don’t belive in guilty pleasures. If you like something, don’t be ashamed to admit it.
• Tattoos? God, no. I am too old for such foolishness, though Mrs. T would doubtless love it if I got one, as would a number of my millennial friends. They’d probably cheer me to the echo.
• Favorite color? I like lots and lots of colors, all the time. I once described Duncan Phillips, the man whose art collection is now the core of Washington’s Phillips Collection, America’s first museum of modern art, as “the purest of sensualists, drunk on color and perpetually suspicious of what he took to be the excessive intellectualizing of the cubists.” Me, too.
• Things people do that drive you crazy? Jeepers, where to start? Talking in the quiet car unglues me pretty extensively, though.
• Phobias? I spent a few years gradually becoming afraid to fly, but I nipped this fulminating phobia in the bud by spending a year undergoing intensive cognitive psychotherapy. Other than that, the only one I can remember is that I was afraid of dogs as a child. Nowadays I don’t especially care for dogs—I’m a cat man from way back—but I’m not afraid of them.
• Favorite childhood game? I’ve never been one for games, then or now. I can’t see the point of engaging in an arbitrary activity whose objective is to perfect a meaningless skill, if you know what I mean. I’d much rather be doing something productive (like writing a piece) or engaging in an act of aesthetic contemplation (like looking at a painting).
While we’re on the subject, here’s Parker on gambling:
So the question is, why not gamble? Parker’d never thought about it, he just knew it was pointless and uninteresting. He said, “Turn myself over to random events? Why? The point is to control events, and they’ll still get away from you anyway. Why make things worse? Jump out a window, see if a mattress truck goes by. Why? Only if the room’s on fire.”
• Do you talk to yourself? When I’m alone in a car, I do so constantly, and always have. (This is, I suspect, the reason why I speak so fluently on radio, podcasts, and in post-lecture Q-&-A periods.) Otherwise, not very often.
• Do you like doing puzzles? As Nero Wolfe once said, “I like using words, not playing with them.”
• Favorite kind of music? I like some of just about every kind of music except for hip-hop, which to my ear (to borrow Louis Armstrong’s phrase) doesn’t have enough ingredients. If I were forced to listen to only one kind of music for the rest of my life, I’d probably pick classical music, but no day would go by without my bitterly regretting not being able to hear jazz as well.
• What story do you adore? I’m not entirely sure I get this question. If what is meant, however, is a “story” that reflects some key aspect of my sense of identity—or, to put it another way, a story that for me has an element of personal myth—then I’d probably have to choose John P. Marquand’s Point of No Return, a 1949 novel about a small-town boy from Massachusetts who became ambitious as a result of falling in love with a girl from a well-to-do family, left home when his life was disrupted by a family tragedy, moved to New York, transformed himself by stages into a polished executive, and came to realize as he approached middle age that he wasn’t quite sure he’d done the right thing with his life. (In 1951 Paul Osborn turned it into a Broadway play starring Henry Fonda that had a successful run but was never revived and is now forgotten.)
Needless to say, that’s not what happened to me, but Point of No Return still resonates with me for a variety of reasons.
• Tea or coffee? Tea, if necessary. I don’t drink coffee and never have, though I do love the way it smells. All things being equal, I tend not to care for hot beverages.
• The first thing you remember you wanted to be? A fireman. It was the pole, naturally.