“Readin’ up a storm out here alone.”
Funeral man would lament. In the heat of summer, in the shade of a deep carpeted entrance to one of the fanciest funeral parlors in Brooklyn. A pile of dust. Inside the dust storm, a stack of books ranging from real classics like “Moby Dick” to hip then now-classics like “The Joy of Sex”, he’d read. Sit there for hours and read. Share thoughts. I always wondered how someone who smelled like dead body was optimistic enough to read about the joy of sex.
Every day. All day.
In the heat.
From a white-granite ornate bench. A rest stop for the grieving (now reading).
Funeral man in his Rolling Stones ’77 concert tee, fascinated me for several summers. Inspired my love of books and printed words. He’d show up in June, be gone in September. For years I sat with him, listened as he read. Didn’t sit too close though. The musky odor of moldy page and person mixed with New York heat was occasionally too much.
“Buy two books. One read. One save. One book perfect. One book messy.”
It made my parents, (especially dad) insane when I asked him for money for the school book fair.
“Why in hell does he need so much money for books? And then he buys two of the same %)@))@#_@ damn book, too? What a f***ing retard!”
Funeral Man was correct. I learned to hate cracking the binder of a new book, bending a page, messing up the cover of a new paperback. I was obsessed/distressed. Even with “one book messy.” It didn’t sit kindly with me to be “one book messy.” I did it. I read the book. But it stressed me out, regardless.
For a few 1970s summers I stayed. Near the dead. As Funeral Man espoused the benefits of reading, I listened closely.
1). Be open to messages from teachers. Teachers come from all areas of life. There doesn’t exist income or social criteria for those who provide lessons. I work backwards. In other words, I consider everyone who crosses my path a teacher, a provider of lessons, until they prove otherwise, or I feel I’m done with the lessons because on occasion, the learning is indeed required and appreciated, but the lessons are mentally painful. I choose not to continue.
2). There are times you will need to be brutally honest, insane, stand out, to communicate your point of view. When my last employer decided to throw ethics out the window and treat clients improperly just to make me look bad, I spoke out to my detriment. It’s ok. I have faith that in the end, it all works out when you stand for the greater good. Don’t sell out, stand out. Long term, you’ll be wiser. I’m learning we are a nation of sell outs. Life appears much easier that way. I see the beauty in it but I’m not going there. Funeral Man wasn’t a sell out (perhaps that’s why he smelled so bad).
3). You are what you read. If you read garbage, you’ll think garbage and never challenge your mind. Pick up a subject outside your comfort zone. Fiction is fine, Fifty Shades of Foot Fetish is acceptable too, just make sure you throw in substance on occasion. Politics will muddy your thinking because there’s always a hidden agenda (so it’s garbage). Re-discover a classic. Funeral man was partial to Hemingway and Kerouac.
4). Grill your financial adviser. Ask him or her what books made an impact and why. Ask how many books are read in a year. You may be surprised at the responses. Understanding what your financial advisers read may provide a clue to their passions and interests for further discussion.
The summer of ’77, I threw Funeral Man a book curve ball. While reading near the foot of the master, a self-improvement book he recommended, I looked to him and said:
“You know, you read some great stuff. Why can’t you live the words?”
He was clearly hurt. I mean with all this knowledge, why hadn’t he done more with his life?
What words will you read today and really take to heart?
Will sentences change your perspective, motivate you?
Words change me.
So do the lessons learned.
Funeral Man died in 1979.
I attended the service. Room B. Inside plush further inside plush of his favorite death parlor.
I didn’t recognize him at first: I thought it was a mix up. All cleaned up. Hair neat. His name was Sam. He wore a military uniform. With multiple medals hanging from his chest.
I truly felt bad for what I said.
Funeral Man was indeed a man of lessons.
He did live words. His truth. Obviously, it was just enough to drive him insane.
I ran four blocks home for my copy of “The Sun Also Rises.”
It was buried with Funeral Man a long time ago.
Not a cover was bent.
One book perfect.
One book saved.
Like a life not lived.
But not you, Sam.
You live on.