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Today's selection -- from The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir by Paul Newman. Paul Newman was perhaps the biggest star of his generation, with such major film roles as The Hustler (1961), Hud (1963), Harper (1966), Cool Hand Luke (1967), Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean (1972), The Sting (1973), The Towering Inferno (1974), Fort Apache, The Bronx (1981), and The Color of Money (1986). Here he describes a part of his childhood:
 
"The strongest recollection I have of my father (and that best describes our relationship) happened when I was about twelve. It was on a Sunday, and my father said to me, 'Let's go take a walk.' I was delighted, staggered by the opportunity. We walked and walked, but I could think of nothing to say that was of any interest to him. Nor could he find anything to say that provoked a response from me. The best we could do were rhetorical exchanges like 'Isn't that a nice tree?' or 'Isn't that a nice fire hydrant?' I'd walk sideways, half skipping, looking up at him, and he'd just keep nodding his head affirmatively. Not a single thought passed between us.

"Kids find out about their parents only by asking questions. Unless, of course, their mothers and fathers are tellers and talkers, which I never was and never have been. My own kids were fasci­nated once I did start talking to them; but if you're a non talker and your kids never ask, what then?

Newman in 1958

"One afternoon, playing baseball, I was trying to catch a fly ball but missed it and landed on top of the ball; I badly hurt my ankle. It was right before dinner, and I started practically crawling home. My father, who'd just come from the rapid-transit station after work, passed by. I asked him to help me, and he replied, 'Are you kidding?' and just walked on. He probably thought I was being a crybaby. The next morning, when my ankle blew up to the size of a grapefruit, I was taken to the hospital. It turned out to have been broken.

"There was a sense of dissatisfaction around the house that I couldn't do anything right. My father was dismissive, disinterested; a note of sarcasm would always creep into his voice. I think he stopped trying to inspire me because he felt he was licked. I didn't try harder to be an educated man because in a strange way I knew I couldn't. When I read Schopenhauer in school, I didn't remember it, and I didn't even remember what I didn't get. Years later, when Joanne and I became good friends with Gore Vidal, it was difficult for me to be around a man who could speak so intelligently about so many things: American writers, the Greeks, the Romans, French playwrights, while I was just an illiterate. I've come to realize I have some kind of disability that makes it difficult for me to listen, to hear people, to read faster than I can speak, even to memorize. Whatever the reasons, I never did anything academic with distinc­tion, never gave my father anything to be proud of.

"The only way I could get any sense of accomplishment was through work, to make money. It may have been the only thing I did that really pleased my father, to show him I could be a self­starter, able to get jobs all by myself I think I also had a desperate need to be independent, to get away from a sense of always being taken care of at home. And we were always being taken care of -- I can't remember my brother and I ever having to clean up anything. I sure worked a lot. I was making deliveries for the florist and for the dry cleaner, carting pickle barrels and Coca-Cola cases up and down stairs for the delicatessen, and even did a stretch as a Fuller Brush man. I applied when I was thirteen, and became an under­sized little towhead carting around this suitcase filled with samples that weighed more than, and was fully as big as, me.
I did have a perfect route, in a blue-collar neighborhood off Kins­man Road. My mother would pick me up after school, then drop me off there with my gear and collect me three hours later. Kinsman was where the working people lived, and they all needed what I was selling: garage brooms, hairbrushes, toothbrushes, whisk brooms­sixty different varieties, excellent quality, and much cheaper than they'd cost in a store. I didn't have much of a spiel, but I didn't have to walk far from house to house, either, and wound up making maybe forty dollars a week. …
 
"The job I had that may have left the strongest impression was when I was delivering newspapers. I was a really good bike rider, and my paper route was near my house. On Shaker Heights Boule­vard there were these huge houses -- they'd be selling for millions of dollars now. They were right out of F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Great Gatsby, all the pretty women in their summer dresses, patrician ele­gance, and ease of grace and manner. I developed a real yearning to be rich. I mean fiercely rich. I got it, because I saw all these beautiful people to whom I was delivering my papers. And it seemed so far from anything I could ever reach toward, just out of sight."

The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir
 
author: Paul Newman  
title: The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir  
publisher: Alfred A. Knopf  
date: Copyright 2022 by Joanne Woodward Newman  
page(s): 19-20  
The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man: A Memoir
 

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