Sunday, November 20, 2005

Tolstoi: Kind Of A Dope.

He was, you know. He began Anna Karenina with the line, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” Which sounds clever, until, on a moment’s reflection, you realize that it’s utter horseshit.

It’s unhappy families that are all the same. Take this debacle, which began a stone’s throw from my own house and ended up paralyzing the city for half the day. What leads somebody to go bugfuck and blow a piston like that? You can’t imagine.

And then a couple of days go by and the details start to come out. Boy meets girl, and white meets trash. He’s known to the cops—something about an underage girl some years ago: She, at 36, is living with her mother—ostensibly to sort her life out, though she doesn’t appear to be trying particularly hard to get straight. They’ve got booze in common; How could it not be a match made in heaven? It’s not, though—but he won’t take no for an answer, and she hasn’t the sense or the will to keep out of his way. He’s out of work soon enough, but he’s apparently got enough cash to be smoking crack at eight in the morning.

Oh, and he’s got a gun, of course. They always do.

And is anybody honestly surprised by what happens next? Two lifetimes of economic desperation, brutally curtailed opportunities, bad choices, bad drugs, sexual fuckups, immersion in gun culture, and plain old human weakness—was anybody really expecting heroic rise-above bootstrappings, here?

What about this sad and sordid little tale? What a shocker that that didn’t end well, huh? (Although I did get a grim chuckle out of the repeated use of the word “boyfriend” to describe Isaac Jones: back in my day there were 21-year old guys who fucked 13-year old girls, but we just called ‘em “pederasts.”)

In most of the unhappy stories we hear, there’s a horrible undertow of inevitability, and the same elements—poverty, ignorance, alcohol, jealousy, violence—are always there. All unhappy families are the same.

The miracle is that there’s any happiness in the world. And those families that manage it have to make it up more or less out of whole cloth—reinventing the wheel in every generation.

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