On occasion, someone poses the question, “What other person would you like to be?” As a kid, I would have answered Mickey Mantle, centerfielder for the New York Yankees. As an adult, I’ve never wanted to be anyone else. But I know someone I’d like to be more like: Bill Murray.
I have no idea about Bill Murray’s private life. But I know Bill Murray’s TV/film persona: irreverent curmudgeon with a heart of gold. Just thinking about it helps me keep my balance at trying moments.
Even when Murray plays it fairly straight as in TV’s Olive Kittredge, the 2014 movie Monuments Men or the 2003 film Lost in Translation, he still deflates pomposity and the over-seriousness that too often burdens people. The 2014 film St. Vincent paid homage to the Bill Murray persona that dominated so many hilarious movies after his three seasons on TV’s Saturday Night Live. I liked it.
Why do I want to relate to Bill Murray? Like everyone, I share the genes of two parents—and their approaches to life. My father Morris was a wonderful man—the most honest and ethical I’ve ever known. He also was an introvert. My mother Blanche was an extrovert, great at meeting new people and having a good time. And if someone bent the rules a little? Let’s just say that my mother loved to mention going to a speakeasy during the days of Prohibition. Life, she believed, is to be lived.
My Morris genes have battled my Blanche genes for seventy years. Generally, my Morris genes emerge victorious. They produced an introvert and a straight arrow. That’s nothing to be ashamed of, but it can feel confining, especially when I take my shortcomings too seriously.
But every once in a while my Blanche genes shove the Morris genes gently aside and say, “So what? So what if you forgot someone’s name or said the wrong thing or responded too late—or not at all—in a certain situation? So what if you chose to do what you wanted to do instead of what you were ‘supposed’ to do?” I become a faux Bill Murray. And I feel good.
Lately, whenever I’m about to take myself to task for one failing or another, I say to myself, “Bill Murray.” That’s it. Those two words. And I’m fine. Because I know what one of Bill Murray’s characters would do to the guilt that tried to climb up on his back. He’d blow it off. Or blow it up. He’d wriggle out of the emotional straightjacket in which we too often bind ourselves, stomp on it and share a philosophical gem like the one he offered in Scrooged: “You’re here to show me my past, and I’m supposed to get all dully-eyed and mushy. Well, forget it, pal, you got the wrong guy!”
I don’t kid myself. I’ll never be that Bill Murray. The Morris genes won’t permit it. But the Blanche genes will keep pushing me in Bill Murray’s direction. That should be just enough to get me to lighten up when I need to. And if it isn’t? Screw it.
Wishing you a Happy Passover or a Happy Easter or just a wonderful weekend.
Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.
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