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Shambhala Sun | September 2014


On Track with Paul Newman

Between blockbuster movies, car racing, and salad dressing, Paul Newman was one of the world’s most recognizable celebrities. Yet, says MICHAEL STONE, he was one of those rare people who could sit still and watch the rain fall.

I’d seen Paul Newman around the track. He wore shades, he always had his collar up, and he seemed like the wise, rebellious leader of both his team and the entire paddock. He said good morning to everyone, like a man from a time when men were elegant.

I was twenty at the time, studying philosophy at the University of British Columbia, and depressed. In the summers I ran communications and marketing for a racing-car team owned by a wealthy businessman from Toronto. Through my girlfriend, Laura, I was introduced to Paul at a dinner in Monterey, California. Laura thought I’d be able to find a job with his team.

Our first private conversation was at the Homestead racetrack in Florida. Paul was sitting in an oversized chair in his custom bus, tracing his fingers down the window as raindrops streaked the glass.

“Michael?” He stood up and reached out his hand.

“Good to meet you,” I said.

“Do you bet?”

“Not really,” I answered, looking down at his white socks and running shoes.

“Have a seat,” he said.

There was just a small table between us, and my left knee was almost touching his. He was wearing a Kmart baseball cap and white golf shirt, and it was funny to see someone his age and so admired covered in corporate logos. Feeling like I needed to say something, I stated the obvious: “It’s been raining a lot.”

“How long,” he asked, “do you think it takes for a raindrop to go from the top of the window to the bottom?” His watch was on the table. Maybe he’d been timing the raindrops as he’d been sitting here alone. Maybe he wasn’t alone much. “Pick a raindrop,” he said.

I pointed to one on the window and he pointed to another. My raindrop moved slowly down the tall, tinted window, touched another raindrop, then shot down to the windowsill. Meanwhile, Paul’s thin, old finger traced the path of his raindrop as it dripped slowly down the glass, then crossed the window toward me and finally came to a stop right in front of my knee.

“Again,” he said.

This time I chose a drop at the top of the window. It moved sideways and then stopped. It was absorbed by another droplet and then the whole area pooled, becoming one large drop, which slid down. Paul’s raindrop made a slow, straight line to the bottom of the window, and he looked over at me and smiled.

Read this complete article inside the September 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

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