The summer before my junior year in college, I got a job bartending at a restaurant in Boston. As I was about to leave for my first day at work, my father pulled me aside and gave me a piece of advice. “Look, you’re gonna be behind that bar all day, and you’re gonna be tempted to take a little sip here and a sip there.” He paused, giving me a dead-eyed look meant to underscore just what a ludicrous path this would lead me down. Then he shook his head. “You leave that for the goyim.”
As if he had to tell me. Why would a good Jewish boy be remotely interested in alcoholism? My parents have a liquor cabinet, but I’m reasonably sure that they have the same bottle of vodka in it today that they did when they built the house in 1970; it’s a happy coincidence for them that some liquor gets better as it ages. A few years ago I was invited to a college friend’s house for Rosh Hashanah, and I was worried about what to bring. My gentile then-girlfriend (now wife) said to me, “How about a nice bottle of Scotch?” I looked at her with utter disbelief. “You don’t bring Scotch to Jews,” I said, as if she’d suggested I bring porn to a priest’s house.
Perhaps it’s a generalization, one of those things that you assume is self-evident the world over just because it applied to the people you grew up with—kind of like how I still believe only trashy people eat Peter Pan or Jif peanut butter. But it was ingrained in me that Jews just don’t get involved in the craziness that is addiction. My parents’ generation experienced anti-Semitic bias in a way that has never touched my life, and they were told (by their parents’ generation, even more scarred by anti-Semitism) that Jews always had to be operating at 100 percent in order to succeed. Clouding one’s brain with liquor or drugs was a luxury a Jew could not afford.
So it was a bit of a disconnect for me when I tuned into VH1’s Celebrity Rehab halfway-house spin-off, Sober House, last week to see ex-Guns N’ Roses drummer Steven Adler stumbling around in a heroin haze. Having relapsed, he struggled to put on his pants, then slipped into jerky seizures as he staggered about the house, failing in his attempts to get doorknobs to work. It was a disturbing scene, and yet in the middle of it I suddenly thought, “Adler? Wait…that sounds Jewish.” A simple web search confirmed it—and I was suddenly less saddened by his inevitable downslide (he had seemed so dedicated to sobriety after Celebrity Rehab!) than I was amazed that a Jew was doing heroin. What next, Jews playing jai alai? For a brief, shameful moment—one that quickly faded as I watched Adler nod off while checking his email—I was . . . dare I say, proud.
Such is the inevitable decline of ambitions at the end of the assimilation timeline. First we’re pleased that our brethren can be accepted as doctors and lawyers. Then it’s, “Hey, we’re making strides in show biz!” and “We’ve got a major league baseball player!” And then, as the honorable professions become commonplace and modern-day Jews take their status in America for granted, we slide into the high-school nerd fantasy. Screw the sensible success—we want people to think we’re cool. Downward-spiraling rock stars! Why should we leave that to the goyim?