Ernest Hemingway said, “As you get older it is harder to have heroes but it is sort of necessary.” Do you think having heroes is just “sort of necessary” like Papa, and is having heroes something we outgrow like hopscotch and playing marbles. I don’t know. But while you ponder that, I want to remind you that Forest Gump said, “Sometimes, I guess there just aren't enough rocks.”
Got this hero thing figured out? Me neither. I did find someone that said, “If most of us, as Thoreau said, live lives of quiet desperation, it is because our horizons of possibility are too cramped. Heroes can help us lift our eyes a little higher.” I’ve always known that my horizons of possibilities (whatever they are) were way too cramped (cramped seems like a funny word, but what do I know).
Anyway, I’ve been thinking a lot about my lack of heroes and my seriously cramped (I’m beginning to like this word) horizons. Sure, we all admire the crew of the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster, the heroic passengers on Untied Airlines Flight 93, the 58,286 heroes on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, the poor souls that went down with the World Trade Center, Mother Teresa, Nelson Mandela, Oskar Schindler, Christa McAuliffe, Pat Tillman, etc, etc. But somehow these aren’t personal heroes, they’re everybody’s heroes. We all need our own personal heroes to “help us lift our eyes a little higher.”
It’s been a long time since I had a real hero or anyone that you’d think of as a hero, but I have written tributes to and profiles of a few exceptional people. How did I pick these few out of the six or seven billon that I had to choose from is a mystery to me. Let’s take a look at my list and see if it tells us anything about what it takes to lift my eyes a little higher.
Back in 2009 I wrote a small rant where I painted Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker as the poster people for everything I loathe about religion in the U.S. today. Although I went on and on about these pseudo religious swindlers, I don’t suppose you’d call them my heroes. Okay I buy that, but in the same piece I went in search of the biggest divas and general pains-in-the-asses that our celebrity-crazed society has created. I put together an impressive list of really difficult people including ladies like Jennifer Lopez, Cher, Demi (Gimme) Moore, and Diana Ross but everyone was unanimous in their pick of Sharon Stone as diva numero uno. Do you think these folks qualify as heroes? Maybe antiheroes? I think I’m beginning to see the problem.
Do fictional heroes count? How about all of those enormously popular superheroes like Iron Man, Hulk, Wolverine and Wonder Woman. These characters are fiction for sure and they’re heroes to a lot of folks. Anyway, with that settled, I wrote a piece about some of my fictional heroes. My heroes are mostly on paper but sometimes they show up on screens. Folks like: Spenser, Stephanie Plum, Archy McNally, Jim Chee, Kinsey Millhone, Jesse Stone, Alex Cross, Lucas Davenport, Easy Rawlins, and Harry Bosch. These are the imaginary people I spend my late evenings and early mornings with. Do you think that these fictional cops, PIs, and a bounty hunter qualify as honest-to-god heroes? No. Fantasy heroes? No.
I later wrote a piece where I asked a bunch of questions about a lot of people you know. See if we learn anything from: Where is O.J. now and has he confessed to killing Nicole and Ron yet? Who is Monica Lewinski blowing now and do you think he’s denying it like Bill did? How come we haven’t seen Donald Trump’s birth certificate yet? How do you think infidelity or his lack thereof has affected Tiger Woods’ golf game? Does Newt Gingrich really believe that we will elect him to anything, let alone the presidency? Do you wonder if Arnold Schwarzenegger was bonking the maid while Maria was asleep in the other room? I’ve been wondering, what ever happened to the American Idol winners Fantasia and Ruben Studdard. How soon will Oprah reach 200 pounds now that she’s off the air? How does that red-haired prick on CSI Miami stay on the air? Does anyone really care that Playboy gave Lindsay Lohan the Marilyn Monroe treatment in their recent pictorial spread. And finally, does Bill Cosby actually like jello? What’s this tell you? Not much, but we now know where O.J. is hangin’ out, and thank God, CBS finally cancelled CSI Miami taking that red-haired prick out of our lives. Are you sure there isn’t a hero in there somewhere?
I was searching for unusual people when I came across Winona Ryder, the daughter of some serious hippies. She grew up in a commune with Timothy Leary for a godfather and Allen Ginsberg as her babysitter. But the thing that impressed me most about Winona is that she has a Hollywood memorabilia collection that includes Sandra Dee's bikini from the “Tammy movies.” Wow! How cool is that. I think that makes her a genuine hero. What do you think? No, not even close, you say. Shit!
Then how about Mae West? She’s a superhero for sure. She created those memorable double entendres like, “Is that a gun in your pocket or are you just glad to see me?” to get around the movie censors way back in the thirties. How groundbreaking was that? I know I know I’d love any women that would say, “A hard man is good to find,” but does that make her a hero? No again.
Okay okay, before you give up on me; consider the touching tribute I wrote to Oscar Wilde. I tried to make the point that although humor seldom survives the passing of time Oscar’s has. Think about that. Here’s a guy that died in 113 years ago and his witty epigrams still make us giggle and scratch our heads in awe. How can you not love someone that could pen, “Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.” Love, admire, respect surely, but is he truly hero material, you say reminding me of Oscar’s notorious trials and imprisonment.
Enough of your homophobic babble. How about Mike Mansfield. Mike is a real hero. A hero to us Marines for sure. Mike didn’t boast about being America’s ambassador to Japan, a US Representative, a US Senator, our longest serving senate majority leader, or the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The senator wanted only to be remembered as a Marine. His headstone at Arlington National Cemetery reads: Michael Joseph Mansfield, Pvt, US Marine Corps. We’re getting closer.
Don’t get me started on Marine heroes; they’ve got books full of ’em. I can go on and on about Chesty Puller, Smedley Butler (he won two, count ’em, two Medals of Honor), Lou Diamond, Dan Daly (he won two too), John Basilone…
Enough, enough, you cry. There are far too many Marine heroes to list here. Can’t you just lump them all altogether in one bucket? Okay, but only if you include Pappy Boyington.
I wrote a brief tribute to my Hollywood sweetheart, Natalie Wood. Natalie was the girl I fantasized about during that rough stretch of adolescence we call puberty. I fell in love with her when she played Judy in Rebel Without a Cause. Natalie was an older woman of sixteen when I was a mere thirteen. Thirteen with cowlicks, raging hormones, and zits. I’ve loved her ever since. Can she be my hero? No. Won’t you let me chalk her up as one. No again. So far I’ve got a gay humorist and a bunch of dead marines. That’s it.
How about William Claude Dukenfield? Who’s that, you ask. W. C. Fields and he has to be considered a hero. He had a juggling act on the famous pier in Atlantic City when he was only thirteen. And at nineteen he had a stand-up comedy routine with the Ziegfeld Follies. Is that not impressive or what? Again you are confusing respect and admiration for heroism, you say. Yeah but I like him. No! No! No! Why not, I mumble to myself. This listing heroes stuff is really hard.
If you don’t buy W. C. Fields you’re not going to even consider my next candidate, Yogi Berra. Before you say no, listen. Yogi was not only one of the greatest catchers of all time he created a whole new way of saying things. We call them Yogiisms. He said and probably still says things like, “Nobody goes there anymore. It's too crowded.” Someone with something named after them like Yogi has to be an ideal candidate for hero status. If you include Yogi, then how about the James Parkinson, Daniel Elmer Salmon, or Burrill Bernard Crohn, you ask. Who the hell are those guys? They all had diseases named after them and they aren’t on your list, you say in desperation.
I give up. This hero stuff is way too hard. Maeve Binchy, an Irish novelist, said, “Everybody is a hero in their own story if you just look.” I been looking and looking and all I can come up with are an old, gay poet and a bunch of dead marines.
Hemingway was right.