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Jack Smith

Are we ready for a printout of our lives--the here and now, what if's and why oh why?

June 20, 1985|JACK SMITH

'The other day," writes Carol Huebner of Hacienda Heights, "I had an idea: Wouldn't it be terrific to request, as we near the end, a computer printout making patterns from the many events of our lives?

"For example, there would be all the cool, objective data: How much did I learn during my lifetime? How much did I spend on shoes?

"Then there could be the warmer data: What were the five worst decisions of my life? Who else could I have lived with happily? (That genial fellow who retrieved my purse when it slipped off the back of my chair in a Paris cafe?)

"What would you like to learn from your life's spread sheet?"

I'm not sure I'm ready yet for a printout of my life.

As for the cool stuff, if I had a printout of all I've learned in my life, I'm sure I'd be depressed by how much of it I've forgotten.

How much did I spend on shoes? I'm sure I've spent more on shoes than many people in the poor countries spend on themselves in a lifetime. I happen to wear a 9A shoe, which nobody makes, but I am always being talked into some compromise by plausible salesmen. Consequently I have perhaps three dozen pairs of shoes in my closet right now, only four or five of which I wear; and in my lifetime I must have given hundreds of pairs of nearly new shoes to the Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

What were the five worst decisions of my life?

Why would anyone want to know?

It is my belief that most of us arrive at where we are by a series of bad decisions. Life is too complex and we are too short-sighted and innocent to make the decisions that would have been the best for us in the long run.

Oh, I suppose a woman can look back and see that she made a mistake in rejecting a suitor who turned out to be a multimillionaire, and a good husband and father as well, while she chose to marry an irresponsible wimp.

What good would it do her to have a printout?

Besides, I have an idea that our mistakes could have been worse; and if we had done what we now see as the right thing, it might have led to disaster.

Even though everything has turned out well for me, I can certainly say that I made some mistakes. I was just lucky enough to survive the consequences.

When World War II started I was in Honolulu, working on the Honolulu Advertiser, in what was regarded as an essential job, Hawaii being under martial law. I was draft-proof.

What did I do? I grew restless and came back to the States. In time I found myself drafted, at my request, into the Marine Corps, a decision that almost cost me my life on Iwo Jima.

Earlier, I made another critical decision. I was going to Bakersfield Junior College full time, I was working as a sports reporter on the Bakersfield Californian full time and I was courting my future wife, full time. I was capable of two full-time jobs at that time, but not three. I gave up college.

Many times since then, I have had occasion to wonder whether I didn't give up the wrong thing. To this day, however, I am still in the newspaper business and I am still married to the girl I was courting; as for my education, it is incomplete, but I am still working on it.

Even back beyond that I made a decision which, had it gone the other way, would have eliminated college, that particular courtship and maybe even the newspaper business.

I was in the Marine Cooks and Stewards Union and had made two glorious trips to the South Seas and Australia. Back in San Francisco after the second voyage, I telephoned my father, who was then living in Bakersfield, and told him I was signing on a Dollar liner to go around the world. I had found a profession.

He talked me into coming to Bakersfield and going to school. He had lost his grip during the Depression and had been unable to send me to college; he wanted to make amends.

Because I felt sorry for him , I gave up the sea and went back. It is a mistake to make life decisions to please anyone else, and I soon knew it.

What of it? I got my start in journalism, and I met an extremely pretty, cheerful, intelligent, compatible and loyal girl. She is also hard-working, which is a help.

If a mistake can turn out that good, what difference does it make? My guardian angel was simply not going to let me get into too much trouble, no matter how stupid my decisions were.

I often meet young people who are agonizing over their choices. Should they go to this college or that? Should they take a job? Should they join the Army? Should they get married?

As I have proved, it doesn't make much difference what you choose, as long as you're lucky.

But there is no way a printout can show you what might have been. Once you choose one path, the destiny that lay in wait for you along the other is wiped out; each of us cancels out dozens of other futures every time we make a choice.

Sometimes I wonder, though, what I'd be like today if I had stayed with the sea.

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