Without literature, I think I’d go nuts. You’d see me at the public library, toting around some piece of Samsonite I’d found in a dumpster, running my yellow fingernails through my yellow beard, muttering to myself how I need to let the cats out, how no one else cares, no one else cares about the cats, that’s why it’s all up to me, because I’m the only one who will remember to let them out.
The cause of my insanity would, of course, be my family. These people are insufferable. And, of course, I mean that in the nicest possible way.
But seriously, Freud’s patients were more well-adjusted than these people. If there was a method to the madness, I think I could get by. But nothing they do makes any sense.
On one hand, I’m the Perfect Boy. (Yes, Boy; in these people’s eyes, I’ll always be ten-years-old.) I am smart and funny; I have perfect manners. Every distant cousin and nephew is found to be a total loser because they can’t—no matter how many sports they letter in, no matter how many Ivy League colleges they get accepted to, no matter how many Nobel awards they receive—they just can’t compete with me. I am Donny, the greatest son/grandson/nephew since Jesus Christ himself. Of course, even Jesus didn’t have my good looks. “Do you know who you look like Donny? That actor, what’s his name? George Clooney, that’s it. I saw him on the TV the other day, and I said to myself, I said, that’s Donny, that’s our Donny.” (For the record, I don’t look like George Clooney; aside from being white and having black hair, I don’t look anything like him. I honestly don’t know where they get this stuff.)
But when I’m not God Incarnate, I’m the World’s Biggest Schmuck. How a boy can go from being the Exemplar for All of Humanity to the World’s Biggest Schmuck is beyond me, but somehow it happens. One moment, I’m being worshipped (if their living room was bigger, I swear bulls would be sacrificed in my honor)—the next, I’m being told that I need to be more sociable, that I need to be more affectionate, that I need to be more sensitive to my wife, that I need to be more considerate of others, that I need to call my grandma more and travel more and like dogs more and relax more and smile more and enjoy life more…and on and on it goes and I begin to feel like I’m on trial at Neuremberg.
In this way, I do think that I know how Jesus Christ felt. One minute, the wedding party runs out of alcohol, so his mother brings him before the father of the bride and proudly declares that her son, her son, is going to turn water into wine. The next minute, ol’ mom is telling Jesus that he’s meshuggina, that he needs to stop teaching all this gibberish and come inside and get a good night’s rest.
Literature reminds me that I’m not supposed to take my family seriously. And, when you get down to it, that’s my problem: I actually believe what they say—half the time, I think I can walk on water (this causes major problems in my marriage, believe me), while the other half I walk around with more guilt than Lady Macbeth.
So that’s where literature comes in. Last weekend, I read Portnoy’s Complaint and realized that my suffering is not unique. I realized that it’s okay for me not to like my family (love, yes, but like—ha!). I realized that my desire to run away from these people, to get as far away as I can and not return every one of the eight hundred phone messages they leave for me every week—I realized that this desire—which, by the way, I first felt just minutes after leaving the womb—I realized that this desire is nothing to be ashamed of. It’s natural!