This past week was a bear. A good word for a bad week, I suddenly notice, though I don't know why it fits so well. I have no real familiarity with bears; and while they're famous for their ability to inflict horrendous damage on a foe, I'm not sure that sort of thing is comparable to the debilitating effects of one king hell week. It strikes me that I could use the TGIF logo as license to routinely bitch about my week, so why not indulge myself just this once? Oh, yeah, because I actually do it constantly, I just remembered.
A good bit of this past week's festival of anxiety, depression, general existential malaise, and suffering came in the form of e-mails. This contributed even further to my ongoing and building fear, loathing, and general detestation of this form of communication that so many exult in to the point of OCD in checking the [s]uckers every three minutes or begin experiencing withdrawal. Monday morning I received an e-mail from Carey Driscoll at San Diego Acoustic Music that Buddy Seigal had died from a heart attack. Buddy and I weren't close friends, but we liked each other, had a mutual respect, and much in common. We both loved language and the written word as well as blues, R&B, and all its side streets. We even had identical criticism leveled at us from various sources, "You know, that guy is his own worst enemy."
So the week began badly and ended with Buddy's memorial service on Friday in La Mesa, which I could not attend. Somewhere, bracketed between those two e-mails (the other one informing me of the service) during this past week was an intercepted e-mail. I didn't purposely pry; it was attached to a Forward or Reply e-mail and had to do with someone's pitch regarding a proposed column about the weekly events in the life of a seriously disabled man. The column promised to be "as cheery as TGIF." Naturally, it became clear to me what a laff-riot this column isn't.
Here is the part where I would, by instinct, launch into the litany of lament and list all the bummer crap that happened to me this week. Let's take my computer alone. I just bought the thing, new, six months ago. Ah, but here I can employ my right to choose. The onus of responsibility is upon me, and I feel its weight bearing me down, bowing my posture. The list in my shirt pocket ("1. Buddy Blue's death, 2. My column apparently perceived as a bummer 3. P.O.S. computer, AOL sucks. 4. SPYWARE and Anti-virus software: what kind of world are we living in? -- could do a whole Andy Rooney thing here, etc.") tugs me inexorably toward the earth and my grave. I can seize this opportunity and utilize the enormous power I wield, powers of good and not -- well, if not evil, the equally dark powers of the eternal kvetch.
And so I will declare it sufficient to say that much has gone awry this week (I just looked up that word out of curiosity in the Oxford American Dictionary, and the first definition is "twisted to one side") But so what? Why does this phenomenon that demonstrates itself so repeatedly and has since recorded history, seem to take the aging ape more and more by surprise? I refer to the above-mentioned Andy Rooney Factor as well as the (what I like to call) old Jewish Guy Factor.
I'm just an old guy, though not an old Jewish guy, but I think I can include myself here. What I'm describing is something I noticed when I first arrived in New York City in 1971. I was dropped off at the corner of 72nd Street and Amsterdam Ave. On that corner was a narrow V-shaped row of park benches, an island in traffic directly in front of the IRT subway station. Along these benches were two facing ranks of elderly men and more than a few women with Yiddish accents I was unfamiliar with. The conversation north and south for a block was health -- or rather the lack of it -- and doctors and operations and insurance and organs and veins and phlegm and discharge and swelling, etc. It seemed to me this was a pocket of the universe where the sick had been deposited or congealed in some way to bemoan their illness and complain about every subject under the sun, in no way limited to medical matters.
It took me months to catch on that these people were not gathered together in the name of buttressing each other's misery, but instead to affirm each other's toughness, resilience, patience; to mirror and applaud each other's very survival. Sometimes the survival they were really discussing was never alluded to but something for which the gall bladder operation was a functional metaphor.
Whether or not I am entitled to include myself a practitioner of the Old Jewish Guy Factor, I don't know. But I can hope that the phrase follows quickly on the heels of anyone thinking ironically, "as cheery as TGIF."