Aisle Of Wit

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Ode To Tragedy

Two men very close to me died on this day.  I’ve written a lot about my dad, who finally let go in 2014 nearly a month after he spoke his last words on Earth.  I still feel his loss daily, especially when the Dodgers are winning (sure enough, they’ve won seven in a row this week, and I’ve gotten a lot of free pizza as a result).

The other was my brother-in-law, who left us far more prematurely two years ago today–or that’s at least when I learned of his passing.  By that point, I had already fled the marriage that connected us, for a variety of what I consider extremely justified reasons, none of which had to do with him.  I genuinely loved him, although it’s often difficult to process exactly why.  To say he was complicated would be an extraordinary understatement.

He was a rebel WITH a cause, usually to try and make his world respect and understand him.  He was given all the trappings of a successful upbringing, a first born son to well-off parents who seemed to have an idyllic relationship and a lifestyle that the outside world envied.  He idolized his paternal grandfather, a self-made millionaire who I did not know, and his maternal grandmother, who I did know and was far and away the most resilient lady I’ve ever met before and since.  He had a brilliant mind and an attention to detail that could have made him richer than even his father and grandfather were.

But he was also the most deeply impacted of his siblings when his dad, shortly after a Hawaiian vacation, up and left the family for his secretary, whom his mom lovingly referred to as the “shiksa c-nt” whenever there was a rare family gathering when they were in the same room.    He justifiably resented his dad for this choice, and like many other San Fernando Valley teens from broken homes he found some solace, not to mention spending money, in dealing weed.   He developed an edge and attitude and resolutely chose to never suffer any fools despite any benefits that doing so may have resulted in.  When his mom found her second husband, he could and would not respect the judgmental, entitled sons this man had, and refused to kowtow to their behavior even though mom felt it was her family–er, HER–best interest to take this man’s desperate offer to share his successsful life and lifestyle with them.  So he was banished to living with his dad and said “shiksa c*nt”, as well as two adopted step-siblings who they chose to love far more than him.  As he would repeatedly tell me during our mano a manos, “Mom chose a big house and entitlement over me”.

The fact we had any relationship at all was, in hindsight, astounding to many.  It’s easy for an outsider to say “poor you.  Shut up and deal”.  Many others in his world did just that.  As his life fell deeper into self-inflicted ruin he grew increasingly distant from all but his sister and, tangentially, me, as well as his maternal grandmother.  Indeed, he established a satellite life in her Beverly Hills condo, conducting “business” under her nose that an outside observer might have wanted to call  elder abuse.  The poor lady had more weed in her den at times than did several dispensaries, not that she could see any of it anyway.  But her grandson showed up for her, helping her navigate life, shopping for her, helping her manage her finances and just being her companion.  Her daughter was far too busy living her entitled life with friends in the Valley and the Desert to spend much time with her mother.  He got his resilience from his grandmother and it was evident they had the same kind of bond as a first-born grandchild that I was blessed with with my grandparents.  They not only shared love, they shared “rachmunis”— a Yiddish idiom that loosely translates to “You don’t deserve the help I’m about to give, but I’ll give it to you anyway.”

So yep, I had rachmunis for him, and I dare say he had the same for me.  And as you can see, he loved cats, too.

He’d describe a wild lifestyle where he’d earn hundreds of thousands in cash a year dealing drugs and then spending a good chunk at the Bunny Ranch.  He grew acres of weed and shared quite a bit with my wife and I, most of which went into her lungs and cannabutter.  He lived “off the grid” in a small shack in Joshua Tree that his dad gifted him, an iconic hideaway that was once owned by the 60s singer Donovan and was the inspiration for his song “Mellow Yellow”.    He would attempt to conform at times; indeed he made it a mission to try and help my wife and I with a massive remodeling of our home.  Let’s just say I didn’t make it easy for him at times–nor did she.  But he did his best to try.  He tried to do a lot of things.  He never could quite succeed.  More than ever of late, I understand a bit more as to why.

Sadly, and particularly after his grandmother passed shortly after my dad aged 100 years and one day, he spiraled more and more out of control,  What I know about Alex Jones I learned from him. What I know about conspiracy theories I learned from him, not that I asked.  He’d show up in our house at odd hours of the night, my wife panicked every time he visited, because we never knew what version of him we’d get.  She would frequently threaten me “if he’s wearing his leather jacket, you’d better do what he says”.  He often wore it, particularly in the winter.  But interestingly, he’d often reserve a lot of his vitriol for her, not me.  While he loved his sister, he knew better than even me exactly how much of a “saboteur” (his word, not mine) she was.  He would urge her to treat me better, and she’d grudgingly agree while he was present spewing his frustration.  Though as soon as he’d leave, she’d quickly fall back into the patterns we both despised , much more emulative of the mom she supposedly tolerated than the brother she supposedly idolized like a second father.  He was none too happy about that either, as he frequently shared with me as well.

Tragically, he fell deeper into his own world of isolation and conspiracy adulation, and was by the time the pandemic started was a full-blown MAGA who truly believed in the power of hydrochloriquine.   He contracted COVID twice, the second time proving to be fatal.  What little details I know about his death was that he supposedly was found deceased in a pile of his own feces.   It was poignantly not a fully unexpected fate.  And it DEFINITELY was premature.  57 is simply too damn young for anyone to die, no matter how troubled they may have been.

When my journey to self-preservation began during the summer of lockdown I would frequently run into people on my dog walks who reminded me of his bluntness and his passions.  Inevitably, the conversation would turn to him, as his family would not allow me to mourn him.  I’d tell an edited version of this story, and I’d receive either a blunt or a loving hug from the most unlikely of sources.  Because, like he did, these are people who live uncompromisingly and impactfully.  And I’m doing my damndest to try and live more like him these days as a result.

So in case anyone might be trolling, let me cap this tribute to him witb three thoughts aimed squarely at said trolls. First, dear G-d I wish he was still alive, because I have zero doubt all of the drama and ignorance that has emerged from extracating myself from my situation  would likely have already passed.  Second, I wish fervently he knew any of the people who saved me, because we would have had the most amazing time together living life the way it should have been all along without the woman who connected us getting in the way.

Finally, I’ve got my own leather jacket now.  Cost me $3, thank you very much, thanks to the eagle eye of my special friend that I am certain he would have adored.  And yeah, like him I’ll wear it when necessary.  I hope I never need to wear it for anything other than winter chill.  But I’m ready nonetheless.

If you’re so inclined, light up a bowl today in his honor.  RIP, JLG.

Until next time…