The Schizophrentic Chef

I wrote this on 11/05/15 for a writing class at the Beachside Shepherd’s Center.

“Where do you find them?”, I asked Irene as her new found friend drove away from our Bethesda home. “I don’t! They find me!” Irene replied. “But I’m afraid that one is hopeless.. You just can’t fix someone who doesn’t want to be fixed”

Fixing people was Irene’s favorite hobby, though It never occurred to me that she could be trying to fix me. As for ‘how’ we found each other, it was basically simple enough. We were both recently divorced, relearning to circulate the singles scene in the 70’s, and often looking for a partner with whom to play bridge =- a game we both enjoyed.

Sometimes I think God, if there is a god, likes to relax, in-between deciding where to have the next hurricane, by playing chess-like games — moving us humans around like chess pieces, trying out different mixtures, like some schizophrenic chef creating a new recipe. “I wonder what would happen if I put that guy together with her. He could use a bit more spice in his life!”

Certainly, our backgrounds could hardly be more different. Mine, very prosaic! Small town! Middle class! Father owned a coal and ice business in Southern Illinois near St. Louis. Albeit, I did have the dubious distinction of flunking out of a Jesuit Seminary after only a few weeks — unable to maintain required silence during the mandatory 30-day retreat. It wasn’t that I needed to talk. I just needed to laugh! And my uncontrollable laughter during the meal readings of the martyred saints being tortured and burnt at the stakes was not the fodder for comedy. My body just insisted on release! It wasn’t that I didn’t, at the time, believe and respect that, after they ‘gave up the ghost’, they went on to a heavenly reward. In fact, I realized much later that my body was trying to tell me something. I was a fraud, thinking of myself as someone unselfishly devoting my life to god. It was the greater heavenly reward I was going — not quite thirty virgins, but at least good placement for all eternity, — which is a long, long time — like an ocean compared to this life’s drop of water in the time this life takes— a good investment — like the “delayed gratification” test that promises kids 2 M&M’s at the end of class if they refuse 1 M&M at the beginning!
Contrast this background with that of Irene’s prosperous Berlin family of doctors in the late 20’s and early 30’s. They considered themselves German rather than Jewish. Her father won a contract to provide hospital equipment as part of the reparations dictated by the Treaty of Versailles. When Hitler announced he would not live up to the terms of the treaty, her father not only lost most of his own money, but the money of his friends as well, he chose to commit suicide. Her mother got very ill and died as well. As the Jewish situation worsened, Irene was sent to a boarding school in London, but her funding was suddenly cut off and, at age 14, was on her own. Her sister, Helga, went underground in Amsterdam, like Ann Frank. What is even more ironic about this, my wife, Branka, had been also been a displaced person after WWII, but was not Jewish.

But I don’t want to write about all that horrible shit — even if I knew enough about it now, which I don’t. Neither liked talking about that period of their lives, and I have no desire to do the necessary research to learn more. I had what is mostly happy times with both women. Probably if I had known more, I would have been more understanding in our disagreements. Haven’t you ever been really critical of some person’s behavior, only to realize later they had some handicap that clearly explained their apparent misbehavior? Too bad it seems to take a life-time to really learn how to live.

At the same time, I can’t honestly say I have regrets. Not that I wouldn’t do things differently knowing what I now know. But it’s stupid to argue with reality. Bad things do happen. But if they hadn’t happened the way they did, then all these wonderful other things wouldn’t have happened. And, as a whole, most of my life has been a lark!


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