A break in the heat

Dining al fresco on Sunday night. 8:30 PM. Photo: JH.

Thursday’s column on the state of marriage (and divorce) these days brought out a big response all of which was agreeable (or agreed upon) except for one. No matter the responses, there are many more out there who shared a diversity of opinions and didn’t express them.

Some of the responses were funny. A reader who serves as a town clerk in New England, and who is very much and has long been married (and presumably happily) wrote:

Highly enjoyable!

I am officiating at two weddings today.

About one of them, all I can say is what Gramma
used to say: "People that want to get
married in the worst way, usually do."


Another reader called on Mother and W.C. Fields (my favorite):

Wonderful, simply wonderful.

I cannot put it better.

In reading your right on target essay about the foibles of those who insist on marriage, I found two adages running through my mind.

One is what my Mother always said when somebody said something inane about A having stolen B's wife:

"No man ever steals another man's wife. No woman ever steals another woman's husband. They were ready to go. It was simply a question of when and with whom."

The other is W. C. Fields's definition of marriage:

"Marriage is like a violin. When the beautiful music is over, the strings are still attached."

Bottling Happiness; Drugs and Marriage.

In these terrible times, other people’s marriages and divorcess, especially those of celebrities or the rich are great entertainment. They are a perfect receptacle into which we can briefly cast our anxieties about the truly horrendous situation the world is in politically and environmentally. They do not affect us directly (most of us anyway) and we get to play out the Relationship Drama, such as what we think those marriages were all about, without actually going through it ourselves.

These relationships are comparable to winning the lottery in the public consciousness. Sex and zeros (000,000’s), and self-indulgence.

Brinkley and Cook are a perfect story. They were holding aces, or so it seemed -- money and looks; and multi-million dollar houses. Maybe an SUV or two thrown in too. And staff and flash and popularity. Lead me not into temptation or what.

Now, most people who have too much of a good thing don’t know it, and they only want more. And that may very well include little ole you, too; let’s be honest. However, too much eventually means trouble, of one kind or another. Money, oil, ego; drugs, alcohol, and money.

Yesterday’s New York Post reported a drug arrest involving Christie Brinkley’s husband Peter Cook back in 1982 when he was in his early 20s. Cocaine. Media loves stories about celebrities and drugs and presumably the reader does too. The matter is rarely addressed honestly. Cocaine is everywhere and especially among those who have the money to spare for it. It’s one of those drugs that turns you on just thinking about it (if you’ve used it frequently). Gotta Have It. Just like you-know-what.

I’ve written this here before so it’s not now revelatory, but when I was steadily ingesting the white stuff (for about six months) thirty years ago, one of the fascinating things about it was The Desire. You get it; I had it. Say the word “coke” and it saturates every corner of the user’s brain until some is made available. It is the drug of false promise, greedy but powerful.

People like to make it a moral issue. It’s a social issue, a companionship/compatibility issue. Like booze; an emotional isolater. But, it’s not the only one. And Lotharios like Peter Cook or rock stars or movie starlets aren’t the only users. One day at lunch, a prominent New York woman, rich and social, said to me: “I’m the only woman you know who’s not on Zoloft. Huh? She repeated it.

I didn’t really know what Zoloft was (I’d heard of it, of course), until she told me. An anti-anxiety drug. I repeated her statement a few days later to another very social woman here in New York, just to see her reaction. She shook her head and corrected me: “Uh-uh; Xanax. All the women keep a bottle in their lockers at the club and pop a few after a game of golf. You don’t need a prescription.”

I’ve never taken an anti-anxiety drug or felt a need to, or had it suggested to me by a shrink or physician. Although I’ve had a lot of anxiety in my life. So I’m not sure I know what the anxiety is like that provokes prescription or need. I suspect many of its takers don’t know either; they just need. And if it works, they’just get used to the effects (or as some would say, “the high”) so that it becomes indispensable.

There was an article in this weekend’s Financial Times about the opposite of all that. This was about “happiness,” a review of several books on the subject. When I was growing up, in a family that was severely economically – and therefore psychologically depressed (but not quite poor), I thought money brought happiness. Since we had so little of either. So did everyone else around me. It is a very commonplace thought, although I didn’t learn that until many years later. It never occurred to anyone that there might be something else besides money that would do the job.

I also didn’t learn until many years later that money doesn’t bring happiness to the individual, or the marriage (especially as you move up the economic scale and food, shelter, light education and freedom are not an issue). A lot of people know this and act accordingly and turn to the druggist or the drug dealer. Or, in many instances, (the greed factor again), both. Happiness addressed.

According to the FT, “Talk of “happiness studies or the ‘new science of happiness’” according to the FT review, is everywhere at the moment. Philosophers, the ancients, are alluded to. As are Confucius and Seneca, and the Greeks and the psychologists and psychiatrists. Confusius was a great believer in the Golden Rule – doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I often wonder about that last phrase, when you consider what we see people do unto each other in the course of a day or a lifetime. Maybe that’s it: what would you want done unto you? By you, or anybody else. Again: what do we want? What do we need?


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July 24, 2006, Volume VI, Number 118


© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/NewYorkSocialDiary.com