Friday, August 23, 2019

Rick Stolorow's Guide to What Is Jewish

Richard Norman Stolorow.

Fellow prep school student.  Roommate at the University of Michigan, freshman and senior year. 1964 and 1967. Yes, many moons ago.

Taught me so many things.  We were a team.  The two ridiculous brothers.  Going to parties at U of M.  Smoking dope.  Inhale.  Cough.  Pass that joint.  Whew.

Competitive.  Both won awards at U of M for writing.  We would be writers.  Maybe.  We both had domineering fathers. 

Jewishness.  Learned most everything from Rick. Went to his house one weekend when I was a teenager at prep school.  His family, very Jewish, culturally.  At dinner. Talk:

“Let’s do the ‘What’s Jewish’ thing,” Rick said.  “I’m in control.”  He knitted his fingers together and spread them out. “So,” Rick said, picking up a salt shaker, “what about salt?”
            “Salt is Jewish,” Mr. Stolorow, his father, said.  He wore huge glasses that went far beyond his eyes.
            “Pepper is Christian.”
            “Ok, what about water?” Rick asked.
            “Water is Christian,” Mr. Stolorow decreed. “Ice is Jewish.”  He came up with answers immediately, as if they were obvious. He was the Supreme Court of what was Jewish.  
I blinked in wonder.  Growing up Christian in a small Virginia town, I knew nothing of this.
“Potatoes?” Rick asked.
            “Mashed potatoes...” Mr. Stolorow paused and reflected, “can be either Jewish or Christian.  Baked potatoes are Christian.”
            “What about boats?” Rick asked.
            “Sailboats are Christian,” Mr. Stolorow said.  “Powerboats are Jewish.  Everyone knows that.”
            “Boiled chicken is Jewish.  Fried chicken is Christian.  But chicken in general is Jewish.”
            Mr. Stolorow looked at Rick as if a three-star chef had just been asked to flip a burger.
            “What about card games?  Poker?”
            “Poker is definitely Christian.  Gin rummy is Jewish.”
            I listened, slowly ate my food in amazement.
            “Speaking of gin,” Rick said, “what about—gin?”
            “Gin is Jewish.," Mr. Stolorow said. "Scotch is Christian.  Though that may be changing.”
            “Christian.  Catholic, even.”
            “Budweiser is Christian.  Stroh’s is…” he named the local beer, “both Jewish and Christian.  But,” he raised a finger in refinement, “Jews are not great beer lovers.”
            “Mailboxes are Christian.  Mail slots are Jewish.”
            I wanted to contribute. 
            “What about dogs?” I asked abruptly.
            Everyone turned and looked at me.  For a split second I wasn’t sure if I’d committed a grave mistake.  I’d entered a world uninvited.
            Mr. Stolorow eyed me.  Was I making fun of him?  He paused.  I held my breath.  Then he spoke.
            “Poodles are Christian," he said.  Then he looked down at their own dog and his drooling, gummy maw.  "Boxers," he decreed, "are Jewish."

Rick Stolorow, top row, second from left. Only photo I can find.

Monday, August 19, 2019

Darkness Invisible

When someone says they're "depressed," they can be referring to a one-day dispiritedness.  Or even something lighter:  "I'm depressed the Giants lost."  Or: "It's so depressing it's raining."

Or, more seriously: "He's depressed his wife left him."

But at its worst, at its most profound, depression is crushing.  A weight that can only barely be borne. I think "depression" should have one meaning, and one meaning only, like death. There is no "death lite."  "Depression" should be reserved for that one black night that never turns into day. I think it's because of the enormous range of meaning for the word that some non-sufferers don't see chronic depression as that dire. (You're depressed? You'll get over it.")  It is dire. This dismissiveness is what often makes depressed people ashamed to speak of it.  Once again, that great, oily manipulatorshame.

People have tried through the years to describe what it's like to be profoundly depressed.  Most famously, William Styron in Darkness Visible.  It's a small book full of despair, and he writes truthfully when he says, "the pain of severe depression is quite unimaginable to those who have not suffered it, and it kills in many instances because its anguish can no longer be borne." Styron also writes about the word "depression" being unsatisfactory for what the malady brings to the soul.

But as with all fine writing, there is a kind of paradox to it. Styron's writing is so fluid, so able, so lucid that, somewhere, I'm thinking: this is too beautiful, too lyrical, to represent that utter bleakness.

I think if I were to try to capture what it's like to be profoundly depressedand I declare that I cannotI might write about it monosyllabically, or as close to that as I could get.

Weight.  Dark.  Hopeless.  Tears.  Gone.

I was profoundly depressed in my forties.  My willpower vanished.  All sense of routine was gone.  Responsibility meant nothing.  Everything in myself I relied on deserted me.  Nothing could penetrate this darkness.  It was an emotional black hole where all light was sucked into itself.  Movement was impossible.  Suicide seemed reasonable.  Even desirable.

You have to think: for someone who loves life so much, what could turn them so against it?

Something you don't stand a chance against.

Use the word judiciously.  But if you are depressed, profoundly depressed, speak it.  Let yourself be heard.  And if someone tells you they're deeply depressed, listen to them.  For me, at least, it was only through the help of others, and of one woman in particular I confided in, that I emerged, finally, into daylight.  

But, like the ocean, I respect depression's might and ability to drown.