February 24, 2024 | Rome, Italy

Humoring depression

By |2023-10-09T16:02:18+02:00September 12th, 2023|Area 51|
Black dogs, symbols of gloom.
L

ike a lounge lizard on mean-street rounds, depression makes itself at home with carcinogenic panache. Panache inverted to suit goblets of flair sunny-side down. At least in me.

If only cute cleverness dulled the hurt, but it doesn’t. The lounge lizard is unmoved by intellect — just ask William Styron. It lingers and malingers.

How then to fight what Churchill called the Black Dog?

With folk wisdom and anecdotes.

If you know to feed a cold and starve a fever, you’d better learn — hard as it is — to humor despair.

I pluck my own humor from a youth at times so outrageous as to give even a Black Dog cause to pause, and maybe snort. My many little gaffes produced outrage precisely because I believed I’d gotten things right.

Let’s start with my first bike. My father took me to Sears, once the hub for all things American and useful, and let me pick it out from among a few dozen parked on the display room floor, with others hanging from the ceiling like leftover airplanes.

I chose the Silver Flyer, a big and heavy bike with rakish handlebars. From the front, it had an “out of my way” feel, which I liked. I’d be 007 atop a puma — if, that is, I ever learned to ride.

Then came the matter of raining wheels.

No, not training. Raining. At least that’s what I heard, and when we got home my father set me up, raining wheels and all.

Except it wasn’t raining.

When I told my neighbor Bruce I had a new bike with raining wheels, he laughed and invited all the other kids on the block to laugh with him.

When I told my neighbor Bruce I had a new bike with raining wheels, which to me meant I could ride it in all conditions, he laughed and invited all the other kids on the block to laugh with him.

More precisely, he invited them all over to see me on my new bike and its raining wheels.

More laughter.

Not that the raining wheels stopped me from falling.

Only then did I catch on to the difference between monsoons and training wheels.

Perk up, depression. Please.

Next year I got my first portable radio, a little Sony with a wheel/dial to set the frequency. I still lived next-door to Bruce and decided to make the same mistake twice. Why not? What with depression lurking, albeit still decades away.

What did I have in my hand? he asked, as The Beatles played “Day Tripper” for my benefit only.

It was a Sony portable radio with nine, nine, I emphasized . . . resistors.

Bruce yelped with delight and labeled me a one-boy resistance movement (his father was an Army colonel). Again he invited our local gang, and again they chortled at my radio with resistors.

I burst into tears.

Transistors, my father told me later, but depression had already overheard all this and stuck it dutifully in my archives.

Want me to stop there, in my pre-teen years? I could, but I won’t. The sincere and the outrageous won’t let me.

Fast-forward a decade.

Now I’m in my early twenties in Rome and working for a world-class news agency.

After six months of tutored dispatches I’m finally on my own, not a rainy bike or resisted radio in sight. I’m my own man running my own shift, with nary a mentor around.

I listen to a news dispatch that announces the pope has said Mass during a wedding. It’s the first time he’s married a couple since becoming pope, the first Pole to occupy that role and the first non-Italian in nearly five centuries.

I tear off an Italian news agency dispatch confirming all the details and set about writing a short news story. I’m filled with pride.

The pope, I write, has consummated his first marriage since taking office.

Then I press send on my early computer monitor, and now the world knows.

Thanks to me.

Less than a minute later the message teletype — there was no e-mail then — rattles off three brass-knuckled words, in capital letters, code for loud:

WINNER WRONG WORD

Go ahead, depression, go ahead. I know you love it.

The bureau chief calls me a moment later. He’d hoped to have his first Sunday off in months.

The pope, I write, has consummated his first marriage since taking office.

“Officiate,” he says. He’s coming in. He’ll rewrite it and send an explicatory correction. All want to know why I was left alone to man the so-called “slot” so soon.

Bruce is also present, as is a lounge lizard busy taking notes while sloshing a cocktail. Oh, what fun depression will have with me when I put down my pen. Because depression knows its strengths well. It carries an eraser in one hand and nonchalance in the other. Not even a nuclear attack would delay its rounds, so why should it idle with these trifling remembered ditties? How it will delight in turning oddball nostalgia against me and making matters worse.

So here I am on a Sunday afternoon at seventy, keenly sad, hope vanquished, yet allowed for a moment to smile, courtesy of raining wheels, radio resistors, and a pope’s alleged consummation. It’s not much, I know, but no matter the blues, I’ll take whatever I can get.

About the Author:

Christopher P. Winner is a veteran American journalist and essayist who was born in Paris in 1953 and has lived in Europe for more than 30 years.