I have little regard for the number one, and it has always seemed that the feeling has been mutual. Evidence as early as my grade-school report cards points toward an attitudinal disorder between the two of us at the very least. “Capable of much more” and “Disappointing lack of effort” were recurring themes over the years, culminating in “We wish David luck in whatever he chooses to do,” after the first (and last) term of my junior year in high school. The lowest my handicap ever got to was five, which, despite the general oafishness I showed in math class, even I know is nowhere near the sacred “One.”
Even in the things at which I’m reportedly supposed to be good, I’ve always managed to evade the uncomfortable glare of the number-one spotlight. For example, I’ve never won an award for writing, or for anything I’ve done in television, either, and I sure as hell knew I could never be number one on the golf course. Any time I won a tournament, I always felt as if I hadn’t played that well, that it must have been due to a bizarre set of coincidences in which no one else had played worth a crap that week.
But there is one thing of which I know I am the leading proponent, numero uno, chief wizard, head honcho, at which no one else can beat me, and all that stuff. I know some of you are guessing at this point, and yes, my stentorious ability to flatulize at will is the stuff of legend, but no, that’s not it. I am number one at knowing who is, and what are, the number ones in their genres.
For instance, Tchaikovsky’s first piano concerto is the best that he wrote, and Saint-SaÃ«ns’s fourth his, but for me, Chopin’s first and Rachmaninov’s third will always be in a rapturous tie for the top spot. Joseph Haydn wrote more than 105 symphonies, most of which are utter crap, and Antonin Dvorak completed only one cello concerto, which wins that category handily. I know it doesn’t seem fair, but that’s how life is. Charlie Parker was a heroin addict who, while chasing the dragon, abusing Benzedrine, and hustling his friends for money, found time to study Bach and Stravinsky, and service about four different females a day, yet his sweetness of tone and sense of timing was enough to make Dizzy Gillespie fall on his ass. And speaking of drug addicts, pretty much every classical writer and poet I was forced to read in school falls into that category, from Willie the Shake to Robert the Marley, to Percy Bysshe Shelley and the fat guy, Chris Farley. I love poetry, but apparently it hates me…
But moving right along, Carl Hiaasen is my number-one fiction writer, and he has another new book out called Star Island, at which I can’t stop laughing, and I hate him, for by now it will be number one on the New York Times list, and I don’t know how he does it. Peter Kostis is the number one teacher of golf in the known universe, and not a lot of people know it, because he refuses (quite rightly) to teach most people, except when he’s doing his Konica Minolta biz-swingy-thingy hub, during which people who should be paying attention are generally not, in case they might actually learn something. I noticed that kind of thing while I “should have been trying harder” in school.
The number-one short game in the history of golf is still up for grabs, but Seve might still lead Tiger (who isn’t done yet) by the tiniest of margins, and, as I write, Jack Nicklaus leads by four in the all-time best category. Unlike baseball, golf numbers don’t lie. Or do they? Physicists and mathematicians argue all the time about equations — numbers, letters, and symbols that apparently even number ones like recent chairmen of the Federal Reserve can’t understand, numeric nimrods that they are. So, we just stand by while these guys take number twos all over us, and lose our asses along with our marbles when the whole financial system implodes like a red dwarf into the number one taxpayer-funded bailout in history, in which everyone in the country except (a) those who were responsible and (b) those who weren’t paying taxes anyway, gets unrighteously hosed.
So, there’s clearly something to be said for both getting to, and avoiding, the number one. As I write, Tiger has held that position for an astonishing 613 weeks, almost 300 more than his closest rival in that category, Greg Norman. Albert Einstein, arguably the world’s greatest mind since Thomas Jefferson, dropped out of high school, but for me, uttered the number one definition of insanity: “Doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.” Well, I do the first part splendidly, but avoid the second, and for me there has always been a comfort in mediocrity. I think I’m mediocre, anyway. I must be — all my old schoolteachers told me so, and I think most of them actually graduated high school.