Like Sinatra I have my regrets and I certainly did not have the talents of Old Blue Eyes. Superstars are born and live in a world unto themselves.
And there’s the rub. In America we say that a free, enterprising person can be whatever he or she wants to be. The key is wanting the right thing for ourselves. While Americans are teased hourly with the star-studded, bright joys of celebrity and mega bucks, America does not promise super stardom to all; and yet who does not imagine what it might be like to have talent on the scale of Sinatra, Magic Johnson, or Elizabeth Taylor.
The trick, and its hardest for the dreamer, is to know one’s niche in the meritocracy. That’s why smart parents expose their children to as many experiences as possible. When I was a kid, my parents rented for me a twelve-bass accordion which I played fitfully. When the band director told them, I needed a 120-bass instrument, they said definitely, “NO! The kid doesn’t practice on the one he has. Besides he can’t carry a tune.” Later on I went through three or four harmonicas before I myself finally concluded that I can’t carry a tune. I am a listener, not a player. However, at OCS I could march the hell out of “Anchors Aweigh.” Knowing early on that one sings flatly or walks like a duck is very important. Duck walkers don’t win track meets. Acceptance of truth is another matter. Knowing what one really wants, especially for the average person who has many interests, remains a tough decision.
The gifted tend to open their presents early in life. They play well and practice diligently. A potential novelist will show early talent for inventing stories. The future scientist will wear out his chemistry set. In my case I spent hours pushing toy trucks and road graders around in a dirt pile. I built a kiln twice and tended them like Vulcan — burned my fingers and came back for more. I loved to tear things apart. Typically I wasn’t as good putting them back together as when I totally dismantled a four-cycle lawn mower engine. The parts sat in a box for years until I pitched the thing, pondering whither had fled aptitude. And much later, patience began to show. And I learned early to solder and splice wires. I was far more mechanically-minded than I realized. I did not get the message nor patience for trial and error. Knowing what one is good at and what he has no business doing are the sine qua non of career choice. Kids, of course, are not good at self-observation and realistically accepting one’s weaknesses comes hard. But parents should be constructive critics.
I received good marks in English and wrote pretty well while I was not so good in math — although almost as good. Despite impatience with solving physics problems, I did well. Optics in particular held my curious attention. My father, the brilliant electrical engineer did not encourage me in these directions, primarily, I believe, because I wasn’t a chip off his old genius. And, of course, he was coming at the issue as an electrical engineer — in those days the equivalent of nuclear engineers. Civil engineers only build roads and bridges. In the end it was my choice to make and mine alone. And speaking of the tortoise, in math and physics I always got to the same finish line as the adulated kids. It just took me longer. But I was better than some and definitely more interested in composition than most of my friends. My high school English teacher liked my stuff; ergo, decision essentially made — the liberal arts for me. Knowing what one wants is the mystery, the hope and the bane.
So, Old Blue Eyes, croon away. I did what I had to do and truthfully, I saw it through. Other paths? Sure, lots of them.
Steadfast and cautious,