Aside from the few friends whose names and faces even forty-plus years cannot entirely erase, I remember almost nothing of my high school years. Neither the classes I attended nor the poor devils assigned to teach them have left much of an impression.
If it wasn’t for the fact of a diploma collecting dust in some forgotten storage bin, or an unflattering senior photo in the yearbook I never bought, it might be difficult to prove I’d ever gone to high school at all. But one image from that time remains seared upon my memory.
It was 1962, the year Marilyn Monroe and Eleanor Roosevelt died, and there I was, a callow sixteen-year-old, sitting in an auditorium at a school assembly and listening to a rabbi recount the lives of those two celebrated women, each so utterly unlike the other that it seemed almost impossible to imagine they had occupied the same planet. Yet he managed to draw them together so poignantly that to this day I cannot separate them in my mind.
It was not their lives but death itself that formed the link between them. The precise image the rabbi used to describe this connection was that of two freshly interred corpses undergoing an identical decomposition of flesh. Imagine Poe’s “Conquering Worm” wrapping itself about the bodies of each, emitting the ooze of a final, consuming corruption. The imagery could hardly have been more repulsive. Or...