Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Essence of Cool

The conversation began when I was thinking about a former co-worker of mine who I always thought was cool.

"What does cool really mean?" my friend asked.

I thought a bit, then replied, "Someone who isn't afraid to say something funny, even though it may not in his character to be funny. You know, a person who appears solemn, perhaps stuffy, who has another side to his personality which occasionally shows through."

"Does it have to be a man?"

"I think so," I answered. "Women can't be cool because their very temperament requires that their true personality be on display most of the time."

My friend asked, "The big question then is, who do you know now that is cool?"

I thought for a while. "I'm afraid I can't think of anyone."

"What about famous people. Who can you think of that's cool?"

"Well, let's see. Clint Eastwood is kind of cool. He has a sparkle in his eyes and a wry grin. You might not know what he is likely to say or do next. Dustin Hoffman is cool. So is Louis C.K. I think humor comes into play. Being cool means that you can laugh at the world or yourself in an instant. Other cool people should include Jon Stewart, Robert Klein, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Bruce Willis, Phil Mickelson. These are people who you would invite for a party, who are charming to be around and no doubt have plenty of good stories. Dick Cavett, Jim Lehrer, Bill Murray, Charles Osgood, Alex Trebek, David McCullough, Vin Scully."

"What other qualities make someone cool?"

"Self confidence goes a long way to making someone cool. They should be unpretentious, gracious, easy-going. Someone who wouldn't yell at a waiter or criticize someone who made a mistake."

"Wow. You are really raising the bar here. Can't you think of someone around you every day who you would consider to be cool?"

"No. My dentist is cool, but I only see him once a year or so. None of my co-workers, none of the neighbors. Nope. Can't think of a single person."

"What about people who are no longer living? You know, from the old school of cool. How about some people from that group?"

"Paul Newman was pretty cool. Humphrey Bogart probably was, too. There were plenty of people who could at least fake being cool during the days before the media followed you around to every party and premiere. I'd have to say Yul Brynner, Leonard Bernstein, Tony Randall, Alistair Cooke, Eric Severeid, Arthur Fiedler.  I read that Lionel Barrymore was an amazing guy. Very artistic and a composer, as well as being a great actor."

"What a mish-mash of names! I don't see any common quality shared by these people."

"They each have something that makes me think they would be worth knowing. How many people can you say that about? How many people do you know whose opinions interests you, whose stories fascinate you, who you'd like to spend time with?"

My friend thought for a while. Then he said, "I think you are on to something. It's a pretty sad comment about the people we know today when we can't think of more than a few people in our circle of acquaintances who we enjoy knowing."

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