January 10, 2012

Suicide by Edouard Manet

Suicide by Edouard Manet

My prejudices are inclusive. They don’t only revolve around ethnicity, but also class and age. As a Gen-Xer raised on punk, I consider it my duty to hate hippies and baby boomers and all their world-destroying pomps (although some of the blame for their sheer toxic awfulness falls squarely on their “Greatest Generation” parents).

Woody Allen’s character in Manhattan (1977) crystallizes a stereotypical baby boomer’s life in a few beautifully observed sentences:

My first wife was a kindergarten teacher, you know. She got into drugs and she…moved to San Francisco. Went into est, became a Moonie.

She’s with the William Morris Agency now.

Bodolai’s last message to the world reads like a far longer, more leaden version of that sparkling Manhattan gem. One day he’s in the Cambridge Footlights with John Cleese, “punting on the Cam.” The next, the Ohio-born Bodolai is in Canada, “a draft resister, not ‘dodger.’…I was wanted by the FBI.” He campaigned for RFK, then became “involved with Parisian students in 1968” and got “hit by a flic’s rubber coated lead baton.”

Joe Bodolai was a true boomer, born in 1948. I’ve heard of show-biz types becoming parodies of themselves, but when you become a virtual parody of someone else—say, a character in The Big Chill—maybe killing yourself is the only option.

His narcissism, boastfulness, and self-pity make for excruciating reading, exquisitely encapsulated in the near-final sentence: “The shelter I am volunteering in will be my new home.”

I lost count of the number of “I”s. Bodolai’s sons and ex-wife merit ten sentences. Otherwise, famous names are dropped like apocalyptic frogs: Andy Warhol, Mike Myers, Bill Murray. He fondly recalls “Ted Kennedy intervening in my case to drop charges due to illegal activities by the FBI and CIA against me. (Long story. Very interesting and relevant today.)”

The atheism. The alcoholism. The rage against “The Man.” The broken relationships. The fury at today’s youth, superficially for not embracing activism and social justice (this, just as the Occupy movement was winding down), but actually for the “crime” of being younger than he is.

The “note” is the last testament of an angry, lonely leftist who’s drunk on nostalgia, utterly oblivious to the part his corrosive “idealism” played in his own downfall.

Speaking of corrosive: While Bodolai’s vaunted comedic talents aren’t displayed at their best in his suicide note—gags about Snooki and Mayan calendars? Really?—his sense of humor clearly hadn’t abandoned him entirely.

I’m talking about his weapon of choice.

He died after downing a lethal combination of “antifreeze and Gatorade.” The syllable count and matching “beats” reveal a word combination perhaps only a professional comic would have chosen. It sounds like the punchline of a dark, and maybe even inspired, joke. Maybe Bodolai had the last laugh after all.



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