It’s been said that on the radio, a hockey game — with its endless series of missed shots, errant passes and unintended consequences — sounds like the broadcast of one long mistake.
As I sit on the verge of turning 60, sometimes I’m tempted to conclude that the story of my life would, like the broadcast of a hockey game, sound like one long mistake. Or at least one long unintended consequence.
That got me wondering what a look-back broadcast of those 60 years would be like — perhaps a dialogue between me and the Cosmic Inquisitor.
Cosmic Inquisitor (CI): Well, now, Mr. Dennis. We’ve been looking over your file, and it does appear that you have indeed made many, many mistakes. It’s a rather impressive tally for only 60 years. Perhaps you’d like to tell us about a few of those errors. Let’s start with relationships between you and the world’s females. Tell us about Brenda Molasani.
Greg Dennis (GD): Boy, you guys have been doing your homework. Yeah, I guess she was my first big mistake, if you don’t count trying to kiss Pam Cole in the art room closet in third grade.
I spent all of sixth grade getting up the courage to ask Brenda to go steady with me. Two weeks before school ended I finally asked her, she said yes, and I gave her a ring.
CI: And then?
GD: Well, I hadn’t really accounted for the fact that we would never see each other during the summer. I don’t think I even knew where she lived. I spent the whole summer feeling stupid about it. Then right before school started, I ran into her outside my house. I asked for the ring back. She was still wearing it, and she gave it back to me with a smile.
CI: Girls didn’t always greet your mistakes so kindly.
GD: I guess you must be referring to the day after my junior prom. I took Diane to the prom, and then the next day I broke up with her because I wanted to go out with Denise, who was a senior and about to graduate. Diane spent the entire next year rather magnificently ignoring me.
CI: Yet during your college years you were loyal to just one girlfriend.
GD: There I was surrounded by hundreds of beautiful, athletic, intelligent young women, yet I chose not to play the field.
CI: I suppose we can give you some credit for actually being in love.
GD: Yeah, but never again will I be close to so many voluptuous virgins this side of jihadi heaven.
CI: Later in life, you were married for many years to a very nice woman. But then you divorced.
[Unintelligible. Muffled sounds of Mr. Dennis storming out of the studio and screaming at his agent for roping him into doing this stupid show in the first place. Eventually he returns.]
CI: I assume from your response that we should change the subject, Mr. Dennis. No problem. There are plenty of other mistakes to dwell on. Going to Scotland in your junior year of college, for example.
GD: I actually tried to study while I was over there. I should’ve spent way more time in the pubs.
CI: But eventually you had the good sense to come back to Vermont.
GD: And then I lost my good sense and left Vermont. What was I thinking? This place was the perfect combination of political cauldron, cheap housing, and hippie haven. So what did I do? I moved to San Diego.
CI: Where, I gather, you blundered into numerous other errors. Your brief career as a political consultant stands out.
GD: Boy, that was a doozy. What I knew about running a political campaign could be written down in a single paragraph.
But when a suddenly wealthy friend volunteered to bankroll four of us in a new political consulting firm to run the campaign of an upstart mayoral candidate, I suddenly thought I was a political genius. I didn’t feel so smart a couple years later, when my suddenly wealthy friend turned out to be living off the ill-gotten proceeds of a Ponzi scheme.
CI: Your automotive history is also noteworthy.
GD: My first car was a rusted-out VW bug with 90,000 miles on it that someone was selling through Weybridge Garage. I spent the next two years proving how inept I was as a mechanic, trying to keep the damn thing on the road. Eventually I totaled the car on a red-dirt road in South Dakota.
CI: It says here your next vehicle was in fact a moped.
GD: I think I put that one in a ditch, too. It was followed by a Datsun 510 station wagon. I managed to crack the engine block on that one.
CI: I understand you’ve also had some rather interesting jobs.
GD: It’s hard to say which was worse — writing catalog copy for a failing maker of medical equipment, or working as a janitor at the Middlebury Inn and cleaning up the vomit every morning in the old Pine Room.
CI: Was it worse than any of your newspaper jobs?
GD: Actually, I think I’d rather clean up a bar than repeat the job I had as the editor of a right-wing daily newspaper, which was run by an alcoholic publisher who couldn’t make it back into work after his liquid lunch.
CI: Any last words on 60 years of mistakes?
GD: Well, I guess I regret not having lived more fully in each moment, paid greater attention to the present. But then, when I look back on some of those moments, it’s no wonder I didn’t want to focus on them too closely.