Music, comedy and good literature plus a natural curiosity about stuff around and inside me. That was how I answered the neuro psychologist that visited me every day in the hospital.
She wanted to know how I seemed to be coping with all the crap that had happened to my health while still keeping in good spirits. Was it real, or some defensive mechanism.
I remember saying: if it is a defensive mechanism, it’s working. But it takes a lot to really get me down. As an example, when my father died at age 85 or so, I felt a sense of freedom. I saw him in my dreams night after night more often than when he was alive.
Most of our disagreements about life had been resolved. And I thought he was on then path to senility anyway, so I had a matter-of-fact feeling about his death.
I had lived with a chronic disease for 35 years (Crohn’s) and had been close to the end at least twice. In had used the opportunity to look back over my life and figure out what I had missed out on, and what I would do if things turned around for the better. One of those things was photography and I spent 25 years, more or less, doing something I was passionate about.
That, btw, makes all the difference (to paraphrase the Road Not Taken – Frost).
True, from the outside looking in, I had failed at many things. But as anyone who has made it in film will tell you, if they are honest, besides perseverance and talent, there is luck. That ingredient eluded me.
The story I was told by the producer was that the would b star of the film that Andy and I had written, Lee Marvin, had come out of a bar – drunk – and climbed up on the roof of a station wagon. At night, in L.A.
His pal, also sloshed, got into the wagon without seeing Lee on top and took off for the freeway. Lee fell off the speeding wagon and was killed.
Now the thing was, the director – Sam Fuller – (one of the early auteurs) had stipulated that he would only direct the film if Lee Marvin played the lead character: Uncle Lou.
They had worked together in The Big Red One.
Fuller pulled out. That caused a chain reaction of stars pulling out.
And the project, once greenlighted to be a Major Motion Picture was no more.
The producer approached me to rewrite it again, but I was done. It had been in the works for 4 years, and I was sick of hearing it had lost that “Beckerman Touch” which meant a sort of whimsical humor. Sweet and sad.
I told my father that I was getting out of the arts, and was going to Columbia to study computer programming. Like Scarlet O’Hara under the giant tree at the intermission of Gone With the Wind, I would never be hungry again or whatever she said.
My father, always wiser than I gave him credit for looked at me, and said something like: you’ll go back to it. You can’t help yourself.
So off I go to Columbia to study computer languages for a year and a half, every night, while working during the day.
This was in the days when PCs were just being developed.
My final project was a DOS emulator where most DOS commands would appear to be performed but actually were just “emulated.” If for example you deleted all files from the computer, you would get the blinking carat say: all files deleted, whereas nothing had changed.
It was good enough to fool my teacher who was going to give me an F for just programming a DOS prompt until I explained what was going on and showed him thousands of lines of code.
That was enough to get me a job in Princeton, but that’s for another day.
The point, of it all, is looking back, I had had a very full life, and done plenty. Failure was there, many times over, as well as bad luck and other messy stuff that clouded my reasoning.
But this lousy health stuff. Pretty awful. But so long as I can watch or listen to good comedians, and so long as I have a way of expressing myself. I can deal with it.