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Changes of Life : What Would We Be, if Given a Second Chance?

January 18, 1987|JACK SMITH

Who has never said or thought "If I had my life to live over again. .?

The idea of having one's life to live over again is among the most common of fantasies.

What paragons we would be if only we had a second chance.

Frank Liberman, the veteran publicist, has sent me a set of resolutions attributed to Nadine Stair, 85, of Louisville, Ky. It is a list of changes she would make in her life if she had it to live over again.

"I'd dare to make more mistakes next time. I'd relax. I would limber up. I would be sillier than I have been this trip. I would take fewer things seriously. I would take more chances. I would perhaps have more actual troubles, but I'd have fewer imaginary ones. . . ."

And so on. Obviously, if Nadine Stair could start over again, she'd kick up her heels some, quit worrying, be daring, have more fun. Damn the consequences!

I suppose most of us would use a second chance the same way.

The idea of going back to some particular time and rearranging the future has great appeal. It was the theme of two recent movies, "Back to the Future" and "Peggy Sue Got Married." In the first, the hero tries to turn his nerd of a father into a real man; in the second, the heroine has a sexual adventure with the class poet and tries to head off the nerd she married.

I have probably mooned about starting over as much as anyone else. One thing I know I would do: I'd save my money and get rich.

All of us can look back to certain crossroads that changed our lives. For one thing, I got married, too. My life has never been the same.

Early in 1944, when I was employed at the United Press bureau in Sacramento, I got tired of being the only civilian in Buddy Baer's bar. One day I telephoned my draft board and insisted on being drafted.

A year later I found myself crouching in a shell hole on Iwo Jima, with Japanese mortar shells bursting all about, wondering how I could have made such a stupid mistake.

In the fall of 1942 I had left a job with the Honolulu Advertiser, worked briefly for the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, then come back to the States. If I had stayed at the Advertiser, I might have become editor of that paper and lived a life of distinction in the Islands, having my gin and tonic every evening in my home on Diamond Head and entertaining the cream of visitors from around the world.

Everywhere, people would say: "You're going to the Islands? Look up Jack Smith. Marvelous old chap."

Our parlor, like George Washington's, would never be empty.

Nadine Stair said: "I've been one of those persons who never goes anywhere without a thermometer, a hot water bottle, a raincoat and a parachute. If I had to do it again, I would travel lighter than I have. . . ."

I don't know. Maybe I've traveled too light. I have quit several jobs without knowing where I was going to land. Maybe a parachute would have come in handy.

In 1937 I was going to sea in the Merchant Marine. I was the lowest form of marine life--a scullion--on the SS Monterey. At the end of two voyages to the Antipodes, I telephoned my father from San Francisco and told him I was about to sign on a President liner and go 'round the world. He persuaded me to come back to Bakersfield and go to college.

That was a mistake. I did not do well in college, though I became editor of the college newspaper and got a job on the Bakersfield Californian. But I have always wondered what my life would have been like if I'd gone 'round the world and stayed with the sea. I might have become a character out of Maugham or Conrad.

Of course, if I hadn't gone back to Bakersfield, I wouldn't have met my wife.

On the other hand, I'd probably have a wife in every port. Not better. But different.

What if I'd stayed on the Advertiser? Instead of becoming a distinguished figure, known 'round the world for my cellar, my hospitality and my informed, sophisticated, global conversation, I might have degenerated into a lush, wasting away in dry rot while my children turned into beach bums and my wife went to an early grave in humiliation, disappointment and regret.

Oh, if I had a second chance, I might eliminate a few minor peccadilloes. I might not make all the fatuous remarks I've made at cocktail parties. I would certainly try not to hurt the people I have hurt.

But I am what I am, as Popeye says. And I doubt that I could change very much.

Or would want to.

Semper fidelis .

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