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John Benditt in conversation with Nancy Pearl - University Bookstore Wednesday, February 25th, 7:00pm
The Happy-Enough Family on the Day of the Sorrows-Weighing
That they were not working class was listed as a problem for them, something they construed as a problem in order to reach the troubles-quota that families from that region were meant to meet. On the ledger it was listed under Problems of Excessive Guilt.
A daughter also, in amounts that exceeded the normal range, was known to think about suicide. She’d even tried that trick once or twice, halfheartedly, as that particular problem counted a long way towards a family’s necessary minimum of unhappiness.
This month though, their biggest problem was a meta-problem, was that they hadn’t enough problems for the quota, and that didn’t count as a proper Sorrow.
This month, they knew, the weight of their problems would not be enough, even wetted down, even with bits of lead slipped into the pockets.
The young one would have to take up self-harm, cutting maybe, or else some symptom of body dysmorphia. The parents would have to think about divorce or the middle one might, at the very least, affect a form of paranoia or obsessive compulsion.
Other families had catastrophes: dead sons or burned houses, botched abortions, Lou Gehrig’s Disease. In this family, so much in need of problems, the oldest son was not even gay, nor were his parents homophobic.
The oldest son was, however, resourceful, and he cut out problems from the stone of the quarry. He painted FAMINE or BELOW AVERAGE GRADES or SUDDEN ONSET OF APHASIA on each block of granite and gathered them and hauled them all to the courthouse for the Measurement of Sorrows.
His stones were so heavy that his family members, who had been fasting and rending their clothes and self-consciously nurturing the development of upper class neuroses, needed not to have worried over their moderate excess of happiness. In fact, they were found to be the most heavily troubled family in the whole of the town and the other families, the drug-ravaged and the homeless and the child-burying families, all wept en masse for the happy-enough family.
The devastated families flooded Main Street with their tears so that the not-so-unhappy family could raft down the boulevard on an impromptu pleasure cruise in a donated Army-surplus lifeboat. Irony would have one or several family members drown, pitched from the raft and weighted down with some false, stone-hewn trouble of which they were too proud to release, something like ALLERGY TO RUBBER or IRRATIONAL FEAR OF WATER. Instead the family sailed to edge of their neighborhood and drank complimentary sparkling wine, a gift of the liquor store owner, who, embarrassed of his meager list of sorrows – a failing business, cataracts, knee surgery, two obese children, a loveless marriage, an unfaithful wife – had told the now-quite-happy family that, really, it was the least he could do.