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Trying to Keep Sense of Balance and Grace

November 21, 1994|JACK SMITH | Jack Smith's column is published Mondays

One thing a columnist ought to have is balance.

I think I have had pretty good balance over the 30 years or so I have been writing this column.

But I seem to have lost it, politically, if I ever had it. In the recent election, I voted on the losing side in all the big races. Of course, I may have been right.

More grievous is the loss of my sense of physical balance. I no longer have the automatic balancing skill that most of us acquire before the age of 2. I cannot walk safely without a cane or my wife's arm--and even with those two props, my walking is precarious.

I am prone to falling, and a fall can be disastrous. One can break an arm or a leg or even a hip. I have chipped an ankle, bruised both my elbows and a shoulder, and, as I have already said, broken my left wrist.

Even with my cane, which I do not use very skillfully, walking is dangerous. I was coming out of the bathroom into the hall when I lost my balance and fell. My wife was in the hall but did not become aware of my predicament in time to save me. I did the usual flinging out of arms and crashed to the floor.

She went to her knees, wailing, and gathered me up in her arms, but the damage was done. A broken radius.

A broken wrist is more disabling than I had imagined. Not only does one lose the skills ordinarily performed by the wrist, such as typing and driving a wheelchair, but it becomes impossible to fold a newspaper back to an inside page.

More devastating is the loss of balance a free swinging left arm provides. The added weight of the fiberglass cast deprives one of this automatic skill.

My wife rented a wheelchair and hired a woman to help me. But I do not call on her as often as I should. After all, I have a sense of adventure and think I can make it by myself. The result is too many close calls.

Some of the most ordinary human pastimes become perilous. The other evening my wife and I went out for a reception at Chasen's. The room was overcrowded with guests, including celebrities such as Kirk Douglas, Charlton Heston, Hal Linden, Mariette Hartley, Roddy McDowall and Gordon Davidson, artistic director of Center Theatre Group. It was a celebration of the reopening of the remodeled Ahmanson Theatre.

A cocktail party is especially treacherous for a man with no balance. One is liable to be knocked over by a guest--even by a petite woman--and sent sprawling.

I had asked a waitress to get me a chair and she did, a small wooden one, placing it at the edge of the crowd. I was sitting on it drinking a vodka tonic, when I lost my balance and began to slide off. My wife had warned me not to spill the drink and I remember thrusting my right arm out in an effort to save it.

I was already off the chair and slipping toward the floor when I was grabbed by a strong arm that righted me and lifted me to my feet. My savior was none other than that heroic figure of the screen--Kirk Douglas.

Of course, I can't always count on such a practiced hero as Douglas to rescue me, but I wonder if I couldn't get him to retype these essays for me.

Using the touch system is hopeless. The result reads like this: Tqui kb roddwwn fox jumped over thaae lazy dog;s bsack.

So I am reduced to the tortuous pick-and-peck system.

It is heartbreaking to watch athletes or dancers on television. When I see Joe Montana roll out of the pocket and throw for a touchdown or watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire in one of their dazzling routines, I feel like a clod.

All my life it has been my ambition to tap-dance. Several years ago, Douglas and Burt Lancaster did a little soft shoe together at the Academy Awards. It was lovely--those two big men tapping about so lightly and so gracefully.

I was so pleased that I wrote a paragraph about their dance and was delighted to receive a note of thanks from Lancaster.

Once I went so far as to enroll in a tap-dancing class in the Valley, but I attended only one session. Of course there are many other things I wish I had taken time to learn, but I had tap-dancing within my grasp and let it get away.

If there is a moral in this sorry tale, it is that one ought to take the time to do what one yearns to do. And don't break a wrist.

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