From time to time, I attempt to keep a diary. I have done this a couple of hundred times in my life, the last time when I got my home computer. I labeled a disk "diary" and made precisely one entry in it before, as always, boredom overtook me. My life is a lot less interesting to write than it is to live.
I think that Charles Z. Wick, director of the U.S. Information Agency and denigrator of the term "presidential crony," understands that now. His memos -- some to aides, some to himself, most to history -- were published the other day, having been secured under the Freedom of Information Act. They reveal a man who thinks that he stands at the very center of history, who is not just important but who is, as they used to say on the backs of cheap novels, an historical personage. Wick, it turns out, is to self-delusion what Mount Rushmore is to sculpture.
Rising sometimes at five, Wick reaches for his dictaphone. He dictates memos to his secretary, orders to his staff, recollection of things he had done the day before, notes to himself ("Write a note to Jim Watt"), instructions, pronunciamentos on the state of the country and the world and, over and over again, letters to people who could be useful to him. In all candor (Hollywood-style), this former film producer has told the rich, the famous and the powerful what they already knew -- how wonderful they were. With his dictaphone, Wick carried coals to Newcastle.
For all the fun of reading someone's private papers, there is, alas, a serious issue to take up. Is this -- this dreck, this garbage, this 2,700 pages of egomania run rampant -- what the Freedom of Information Act is supposed to be about? Is it anybody's business that Wick dictated two memos on the type of batteries he needed for his dictaphone? Did we really have to know how much thought went into a note to Ann McLaughlin, a fellow Reagan administration official: "How nice of you to take the time, blah, blah, blah . . ." That man sure can write.
At first blush (and I'm sure it was literally that for Wick when he saw his memos in the paper), the answer would seem to be no. Surely the FOIA was not enacted to hold government officials up to ridicule, no matter how bracing an effect that might have. The act was instead supposed to keep the public informed of grave and momentous matters of government -- things militarish, policyish and, of course, Watergateish.
But the FOI request for Wick's papers was in fact for more substantive matters and, anyway, if Wick thinks the business of the government is to type up his thoughts on everything and everyone, then it should be the business of the people to read it. Neither he nor his poor secretary, probably reduced in both weight and IQ by her daily task, work for private industry.
Still, Wick strikes a chord in me. He could be anyone and, in fact, he is. Like me -- like you, too -- he thinks what he does is important. As pre-Copernican astronomers did with the Earth itself, he has placed himself at the center of the universe -- and for the same reason: ignorance. He thinks the trappings of power are power, that celebrity (Charlton Heston, Kirk Douglas) is lasting -- that history will keep a table for Frank Sinatra. He's Descartes in the age of People Magazine: I have press, therefore I exist.
There is a bit of that in all of us. If we had a dictaphone and secretary, we would record it all. We would put down on paper what we tell our friends on the phone -- everything from the ordinary to thoughts that are -- let's face it -- profound. Wick just has the means to do it -- thanks to the taxpayer. He is only doing in his own way what countless people do in theirs -- people who tonight will resume work on their novel, their autobiography, their unsolicited poems to The Atlantic and, even, their picture albums of photos no one in the world will ever want to see. This -- all of it -- is a variation of the cry, "I am here and I matter."
And so it is with Wick. He's just a guy who lusts for recognition of his own importance. He would know, if he had to work at writing a diary, that he has none. By inadvertence, he has managed to perform a public service and teach us all a lesson:. There, but for the grace of a dictaphone and a secretary, goes you or I.