Sept 28 2006
I love to watch The Sopranos with my friend G., curled up on the couch, eating garlic fries or popcorn, drinking a glass of champagne. I love everything about the show, the opening credits as Tony puffs a fat cigar as he drives out to New Jersey, the ominous-sounding theme song, every line of dialogue, the clothes, the food, the fights, the sex, each and every character, but especially Tony. I love Tony Soprano, because he is me: crude, sensitive, wanting to be good but so skilled at violence, in denial, smart, defensive, old school, loyal, questioning, lost in mid-life.
For those who scoff, The Sopranos is not just a show about the Mafia. It’s not just violence or obscenity (although there’s plenty of both.) It’s about a man having a long, existential mid-life crisis, all the while coping with everything life dishes out—revelations, breakdowns, illness, job stress, love, hate, kids—the whole catastrophe.
My mother always used to feel bad that our family was not like the families on TV—The Waltons, for example, with their scrubbed, WASP-y cheerfulness. Or The Brady Bunch, or The Partridge Family, or Laura and Dick Van Dyke—or anyone! for Godsakes! Anyone except what we were—an assortment of goofy, smart, big, thin-skinned, needy, sometimes sullen, frequently selfish individuals who loved and hated each other.
“If you’re going to act like animals, I’m going to treat you like animals!” she would announce to my brothers and sister and I before wading in to try and break up one of our fights, or vigorously washing our mouths out with soap.
Tony Soprano is an animal. He does terrible things; he kills people. He’s full of rage and shame. And he’s also a human being. Because of the genius of the actor James Gandolfini, we love him, even while seeing his bestiality. And watching him struggle to be human, I feel redeemed.
In last night’s episode (we’re only in the middle of the second season, renting the DVDs,) Anthony Jr. says God is dead. Tony responds, “Maybe he is, but you’ve still got to kiss his ass!”
Afterwards, G. and I talk about God. He can’t bring himself to believe any longer in the fire-and-brimstone big Mafia don in the sky of his Baptist childhood.
“Some people say God is a verb,” I say.
“God, a verb? How does that work? You can’t use God as a verb: I God you.”
“Well, you can say I love you, and love is a noun too, but you can’t show me love. I mean you can show hugs and kisses, and buy expensive presents, but everyone knows that’s not necessarily love.”
“Yeah, okay, he concedes.
Other abstract nouns: gravity, time, life, death. They’re real, and ungraspable.
“Maybe God’s just an energy,” I suggest. But I’m faking it, sounding more wise than I am. I’ve read this theory somewhere, it makes sense to me intellectually, but I haven’t actually experienced it. It’s just words. God is an energy. Okay, then how do I invite that energy into my life?
It’s the week between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippor. We Jews supposed to be doing extensive self-examination. I look inside and what I see is Tony Soprano, socialized as a Jewish female. Yet I haven’t done much of anything bad this last year, except for cutting people off in traffic. I resolve to be a more polite driver, and to take my fish-oil supplements. And water the house plants more regularly.
The conversation with G. makes me hungry for more. Hungry for God. How long since I meditated? I want to—I always want to—and other things get in the way. The Internet. Shopping. Planning. Achieving, or trying to. Making things okay for other people, for myself, making sure no one has hurt feelings. Female preoccupations, time-wasters. When I was younger, people were always telling me I should be a therapist.
If I weren’t an artist—if I hadn’t wanted to be an artist from the time I first wanted to “be” anything—I would be a mystic.
Can I do both?