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A MAN AFTER MY OWN HEART


In my quest for perfection, I have studied the lives of countless individuals. My purpose has been to determine what exactly constitutes the life well-lived. Is there an archetype of the perfect person? What ingredients in life are necessary to make it complete? Might there be a particular perspective or profession that lends itself to supreme contentment? What about good looks? How much money is enough? Does one need to be well-endowed? Is there a HQ (happiness quotient) that corresponds to one's IQ? Is a sense of humor really necessary? What about great hair? 

As you can see, my search has left me with a lot of unanswered questions. I have found, however, that a reliable way to identify the ideal individual is to ask yourself whether there is anybody alive or dead who you'd rather be. 

You don't have to know the individual personally. They need not even be alive. All that is required is that you know enough about them, possess sufficient information about their life, to make an informed decision. Take this seriously. It's like the death question. There's no going back. Once you decide to step into a particular body, that person you shall remain for the remainder of your life. I love using variations of the same word in a sentence.

My instinct tells me to choose Socrates. Albeit the philosopher, who lived in Greece over 2500 years ago, was purported to be quite unattractive. And his wife was notoriously ornery. But in an ideal society, where a life of contemplation was the highest goal and brought with it freedom from the necessities of life and freedom from compulsion by others (read: no labor or work), Socrates, whose only entanglement in worldly affairs was to walk around the agora or town square and freely engage citizens in philosophical debate, was the epitome. Man's highest capacity is not reason, as the scientist of today so esteems, nor speech, which is so adored by the politician, but contemplation, whose chief characteristic is that its content cannot be rendered into speech. Translation: a life not of the mind, but beyond the mind was the concern of the time. 

Ah, the good life. Literally. Aristotle, prized pupil of the prized pupil of Socrates, called the life of the citizen "good" to the extent that "having mastered the necessities of sheer life, being freed from labor and work, and overcoming the innate urge of all living creatures for their own survival, it was no longer bound to the biological life process."

The good life was therefore free. In fact Aristotle went so far as to say that no man who had to work for his livelihood could be a citizen. Think about it. How much freedom can the modern householder possibly have when his life is inextricably bound up with providing for himself and his family, often by toiling away in the office for ten or twelve hours, commute included? This is not freedom but slavery in a suit and tie. By comparison to the desk jockey of today, the slaves of Athens had it easy. The household life of domestic servants was relatively cush. The worst that could be said of the slave was that his freedom to do as he pleased each day was restricted. And so the poor free man often chose the insecurity of daily-changing labor to regular assured work, since the former at least brought the occasional day off. These days many employees, tethered to their phones, are compelled to conduct business even on Sundays.

How Socrates managed the freedom to contemplate with a wife and sons is beyond me. While as a youth he worked for a time as a stonemason and later undertook military service, these brief stints were hardly what you'd call careers, and ultimately he must have had enough property and capital to support his family without the need to remain the ancient equivalent of today's wage slave. 

Now, I am not entirely without vanity. But before the invention of mirrors what could personal beauty or lack thereof have mattered to one who may never have beheld his own reflection? I'm not quite sure I could get past the domineering wife, however.

Since there is so much of Socrates' life that is either shrouded in obscurity or lost to posterity, I'll double my chances at obtaining a worthy doppelganger by choosing a more modern candidate as a substitute for me.

I used to think Johnny Depp had it all. Both critical and commercial success as an actor and all-around heartthrob, with musical talent to boot. As a guitar player he's been onstage with Alice Cooper and Marilyn Manson and other rockers I admire. He's dated some super hot females, not the least of whom are Kate Moss and Winona Ryder and Sherilyn Fenn. He's a husband and a father who loves his mother. Christ he even owns an island in the Bahamas! 

But as I've watched his romantic upheavals and witnessed the deterioration of his physical appearance (my vanity talking) and general profligacy (who spends $30,000 a month on wine???), the phrase that screams to mind is "mid-life crisis." All's well that ends well, and if middle age is so rocky the end can't be any better. So another actor gets my vote. 

Paul Newman, who passed away in 2008, was a fellow Aquarian, and at 5'10'', around my height. He had a storied career and a well-rounded life as a husband and father of six, not to mention a humanitarian whose line of sauces and dressings donates its proceeds to charity. To date over $400 million has gone in part to a summer camp for seriously ill children. Putting it in perspective, such a sum would buy 100 of Depp's islands.Yes the man was briefly married before meeting the love of his life, the lovely Joanne Woodward. And though I'm ambivalent about marriage I'd definitely not want to get a divorce. But there's so much to love about the guy.


me doing my best Paul Newman, age 44
Cool Hand Luke, age 42
As both a pretty boy and a man's man, Newman defied stereotype. And yes like JD he deteriorated starting at around the age of fifty, but I blame his bad habits, which included lots of beer, cigarettes, and junk food. A heavy smoker for over three decades, he still lived past eighty, but died of lung cancer. I hope the man who played Edward Scissorhands has given his habit up. The star of Cool Hand Luke, and winner of the Oscar for Best Actor, which Depp cannot boast, has been the topic of many books. His portrayal as an alcoholic womanizer by the author of a recent biography was merely a shameless attempt to top the best-seller list, for Newman was a mensch with a rapier wit who combined genuine humility with a lively sense of humor. Yes my idol did go prematurely gray, but that's what a half a dozen kids will do to you. Ah the price of love. 

But what I love most about good ole Paul, above his looks or material success or all the love in his life, above even his humility and humor, was the manner in which he lived. He once said that he often woke up without any idea of how the day would unfold. So he just let it do it's thing. That lazy man's philosophy would give even Socrates a run for his money, if he had any.

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