Why the hell would a Jew commit suicide in a world ‘so fraught with vile vultures keen at jumping on every opportunity to gamely excise whatever wasn’t already circumcised?’…If only I could still ask Lee…

No one really knows why Lee Lavinson may have killed himself. We only heard when, where, what and how.

Some of the details may be a little sketchy. But what I heard is that he macramé a Windsor knot in a new Hermes silk tie, looped it over a hook on the bedroom door, and swung into eternity.

As the muses pray: May the knotted pain of his private war finally unravel to untangle the knotted web of his unanswered prayers.

A couple of his co-workers, Anthony and Rocco, located him still dangling the next day when he mysteriously hadn’t shown up for his regular 11-hour shift. He was assistant manager at the celebrated Holt’s Cigars store in Philadelphia.

For the 38-year old ‘Iron Man’ Lee not to show up to fervently serve his adoring aficionados was tantamount to something unimaginable. You know, something as unthinkable as baseball’s ‘Iron Man’, Cal Ripkin, possibly not showing up in the batter’s box during his Hall of Fame march to most consecutive games ever played.

When word began seeping out I first heard the news from my friend all the way in Puerto Rico. Jose practically lives in one of the deep leather chairs in Holt’s back smoking room when he’s visiting town for a few months. That is, when he’s not getting examined, poked and prodded at the Veteran’s Hospital from his lingering Vietnam rewinds.

Jose, who looks like Papa Hemingway, knows all too well why the celebrated writer stipulated long before composing his own suicide: Once you see war, you never stop seeing it.

So when Jose gravely filled me in, all I could reply, in my own emotionally challenged way, was: “Gee, I always wanted a Hermes tie. Since Lee’s not going to be needing it anymore, do you think I could…”

Over the distant telephone connect Jose offered a mocking chuckle: “Like me, you have seen too much life and death, my friend. We all deal with it in the way we can each deal with it.”


Now Lee doesn’t have to deal with anything. The worries that ate him alive are now the worms that eat him dead as he lies in a quiet New Jersey cemetery plot.

He wasn’t buried with his black-framed eyeglasses. So he probably can’t see what he’s done to us. He’s no longer suffering. That is, unlike the rest of us ‘cowards’ who ‘die a thousand deaths,’ in serving out our life sentences.

And that pretty much sums up the cacophony of metaphysical posturing and postulations we cigar friends all pose in his aftermath.

It simply comes down to the inexorable fact that the moment we are born is, paradoxically, the very moment we also begin to die. Piece by piece. We all live and die in bits and pieces that, at times anxiously, vacillate to coexist in the world between high optimism and low desperation.

It is our home theaters of tragedy and comedy.

There is no finale, no finish line. There is merely a finish.

In retrospect, we can now recognize the bits of Lee that began slipping away from us. We didn’t take notice then – his withdrawal from socializing with friends after work; his weight loss; reportedly giving away some possessions, the whispers of a career bump in the road…

No one is to blame. We don’t readily detect the nicks and wounds – the demons and despair — in others. We are usually too puzzled by our own private miseries to peek behind the Halloween masks of public personae.

Some suggested the obvious possibility of the demon of depression. I wish I had been paying better attention. For, about that, I can speak prudently.

The descent into hell is in tiny steps. And so does the chemical imbalance of depression strike. It can result from Post Traumatic Stress as with Jose. It can be stitched into your heart with traumatic surgery. It can be born with the congenital and persistently life threatening illness of your child.

It creeps upon you. But it inevitably arrives to bang your bell from many universal ordeals — as the many and more traumas did with me.

And there I finally was, for hours, in that late August afternoon sun, perched on the edge of my apartment building’s 14th story roof top. My resolve to live was being desiccated by a bloody past that tattered my bulwark.

At the same time, my resolve to jump was being decimated by the love, both for my struggling sick child and the slippery bond with my older boy.

And also, I have to admit, there was my cowardice. Was 14 stories high enough? Would I only cripple myself?…Would-of, could-of, should-of.

What the hell… What the heck. “Shit or get off the pot,” as my 92-year-old Mother still barks.

And so I got help, until I didn’t need help any more. But in return, I still give help. And it’s a helping hand that often saves another man.

It’s the little human kindnesses that make life worthwhile. We all need help – even from a simple hug — from time to time. And that’s why we, who knew Lee, are exasperated, if not downright angry.

We are annoyed at ourselves. And we are incensed at Lee. He didn’t reach out into the sea of our love. Instead, he was lost, punching the fog of hopeless misery. He was obviously so deeply gone, out into the ocean blues, he didn’t know which way to swim — back to us.

And even more maddening we heard that one of Lee’s final acts of reflection was to reach out to his cat. Lee reportedly left him bountiful bowls of food and water.

Obviously, there was still something there in Lee reaching out. That is, if he was only willing to overcome that first step in the long journey back.

Although it takes a braver man than moi to ‘pull the trigger,’ it is, nevertheless, a selfish, distasteful act. It deprives us all. The dead are no longer knotted in pain. They have escaped. It’s the living who must endure to persist – often without some of the vital pieces that fulfill life’s jigsaw puzzle.

What further engulfs my festering lesion is that Lee was Jewish. Suicide is a sin in most religions. But for a Jew, like me, it seems worse. It’s letting the bastards grind you down. And they don’t need no damn help.

As my dear ol’ bourbon sippin’ Pappy once poignantly jabbed at me between those omnipotent puffs on his omniscient corn cob pipe: Why the hell would a Jew commit suicide in a world so fraught with vile vultures, keen at jumping on every opportunity to gamely excise whatever wasn’t already circumcised?

I think I must not be as inured to all this as my friend Jose may suggest. Like Shakespeare, we are pestered by Hamlet’s quandary. For cowards like me the thought of killing myself may have been the only absurdity that once kept me going.

For three days after my gloomy waters were roiled by Lee, I did what so many of us do — flee. I escaped into the bottles that only forced me to recall what I was trying to forget.

And when I was done vomiting my last scream of anguish, I bid my farewells. For life is for the living. There are no guarantees stamped on our government documents that tomorrow will definitely be another day. We only live once. Some only live once in a while. I, however, plan on living every day.

But shit happens. Every day the bell tolls. Today it tolled for Lee. From G-d’s dust he came, to dust he returns, so the Earth will become his throne.

Lee’s days are done. Ours are still beginning.

That’s life. And death.

And dats yDrewIS on DIS penal colony…

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8 Responses to Why the hell would a Jew commit suicide in a world ‘so fraught with vile vultures keen at jumping on every opportunity to gamely excise whatever wasn’t already circumcised?’…If only I could still ask Lee…

  1. Selena Nightingale says:

    I don’t know who you think you are to post false information about my cousin Lee…u jackass! As I am sitting with my aunt, who is Lee’s mother, I just want you to know how unappreciative we both are to read such untrue words. As we assume that you are grieving as well, it would have been very much appreciated if you had done your research properly before posting this for all of the world to see. As some of your words may be true………..some of them are absolutely false! Lee was a loving, caring and kind person and it’s a disgrace for you to post your letter in such a way as to devalue the true person that he was and will always be to all that knew him well. Even though you may have been or are still are journalist, you seem to lean towards sensationalism in your writings, which makes you sound like every other asshole journalist out there that does not care about other people’s feelings. You may want to reconsider the negatives that you wrote about my beloved cousin Lee and retract or change what is innappropriate.

    -Selena Nightingale

    • distrunk says:

      Thank you for your honesty. However, the outpouring of thanks I received from folks about the world contradicts what you have interpreted. first of all, please elucidate anything you may have warranted to be untrue. And secondly, as the vast, vast majority noted: Thank you Drew. You gave me closure for my own grief…
      It’s my job…and be devotion…
      And dats yDrewIS in DIS penal colony.

  2. Suzanne R. Tran says:

    I’m Lee’s fiancé. We were very much in love and were so happy when we were together. Moreover, we were excited about planning our future together. Can you please tell me how you knew Lee? We had been childhood friends. Lee was always good to me and loved by so many. Lee is love and love lives forever.

    • distrunk says:

      Suzanne —
      I’ve said pretty much everything I had to say on Lee. Even the part about I wish he would have reached out into our sea of love.
      You’re right: Love is everything. I just wish it were more powerful than the hate that seems to prevail in duh world.
      Thanks for joining my world.

      • allery elder says:

        Drew will not engage in real dialogue with us! I have tried! My boyfriend and I loved him so much! What he will let show on his dialogue is only beneficial to him. I will message you privately because I know he will delete this as he has deleted previous posts of mine. He is not your friend,and is simply looking for someone to stroke his dick…i mean, conscience…

      • distrunk says:

        If ignorance and lies were bliss, you must be climatic! I never argue with fools, for all they do is drag you down to their level and beat you with experience. I also harbor the mercy rule of not engaging in a battle of wits with unarmed twits. It’s crazier than a blind man in a gun fight…. In your case, if brains were dynamite, you couldn’t even blow your nose…
        And dats yDrewIS on DIS penal colony…..

  3. David says:

    Hey Drew,
    Can you give me a shout one day soon. 609-558-5701. Thanks.

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