SIDS can strike adults, it seems: Sudden Inverted Destination Syndrome. Or mixing up two Sids, as it were.
The story occurred this holiday season. A young fellow from Germany, Tobi Gutt, had been saving his euros for a four-week vacation with his girlfriend in Sydney, Australia. He went on the Internet to find an affordable flight. After kissing his Mom goodbye, he flew eight thousand miles and landed in Sidney, Montana. Oops! Sometimes the price is consonant but you have to watch out for the vowel.
But there is a larger theme here, beyond one lost soul flying America the beautiful from sea to shining Aussie. I hark back to a memory from 35 years ago. I was a teenager grabbing a bite of lunch at a kosher pizza shop in Brooklyn, and in the background a Jewish radio station was playing. A talk-show host had a rabbi as a guest and he was fielding calls about Passover, which was upcoming. One older gent called and said he would be away from home for Passover; did the rabbi have any advice?
“What’s your destiny?” asked the rabbi.
The man began sputtering and stuttering.
“What’s your destiny?” the rabbi kept demanding, as the caller grew increasingly incoherent. It was one of the funniest pieces of radio I have ever heard: the rabbi not catching his mistake and switching to “destination”; the caller thinking he was being challenged in some existentially profound way, as his self-confidence melted away. It seems now the rabbi was right. You cannot know your destination until you know your destiny.
It seems there are always two paths (Tobi Gutt or not Tobi Gutt, that is the question); they begin virtually alongside each other, later diverging more sharply. Sidney and Sydney, you might say. Look at Sidney Poitier, who grew up in the Bahamas without electricity. His Haitian father and Bahamian mother grew tomatoes on their small farm and scraped by, while young Sidney was an out-of-control teenager. The path of delinquency was already paved, his path of decency barely defined. He went the right way and his name is freighted with earned honor.
Then look at Sydney Biddle Barrows, who was raised in wealth and privilege. She is a Mayflower descendant, from the upwardly stationary Biddles of Philadelphia. Tops in her class at the Fashion Institute, she went to work for a major designer. A few years later she was out of a job; her version is she was too honest to participate in their kickbacks. Still young, bright, talented and privileged, she chose to cash in her upper-crust pedigree by running an upscale prostitution ring. (“Yes, Mom, I still work for a big house.”) The police closed her down after five years. (“Sorry, Mom, I’m going to the big house.”) But her name will forever be a byword for the road that ought to be less traveled.
“Why me?” people ask when it all comes apart. “Y I?” the German kid asked in the middle of Montana. By that point, the answer may be nearly forgotten. The chance to correct course came earlier, but beyond a certain threshold destination has become destiny. We need to map out a route and stay pretty close to its prescriptions, lest we wake up too late, too far, too old, too lost, too tired, too depleted. The website says to carefully review your itinerary before clicking your future away. Take that advice, before the mouse leads you into a trap.
A lot of kids I hung out with in Brooklyn chose neither wisely nor well. One high-school football star, whose father was a gunned-down wise guy, turned into a petty thief who robbed his own buddies. A son of Holocaust survivors burned up too many brain cells with dope, married an Italian girl who cheated on him, then sat in jail for two years for shooting her lover in the rear. (“I cut him a second —hole,” he bragged to me when he got out.) A black guy named Johnny Walker — yes, we called him Johnny Walker Black; no, not to his face — fought with a Jamaican in a bar and was shot to death. One brilliant Italian songwriter decided he was too hypoglycemic to work and still lives with his parents at age fifty. A handsome Israeli handball wizard played yacht gigolo to a rich girl in Florida and fathered her child; now he pines for his daughter.
Richard Folch, the Catholic School kid, and Jay Homnick, the Hebrew School kid, were the two who saved ourselves, buoyed by our parents’ love and our schooling. When Richie died suddenly three years ago at age 44, he left a lovely wife and three daughters. He had been successful in the computer-chip industry, liked and respected by all. I call his mother and his widow periodically to reminisce about this wonderful guy.
So now that you have chosen well, stop standing around in the aisle. It’s a long trip. Siddown…
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