You want to hear a joke? Okay, a transvestite, a bull dyke and a rabbi are all trapped in a hotel room. So far so good, right? I mean that’s a pretty good opening for a joke, right? The only problem is, so far, that’s all I got. I don’t know the punch line yet. To tell you the truth, I was never very good at telling jokes. It’s not that I don’t have a sense of humor, or anything. I come up with a lot of great one-liners and witticisms all the time. Well, at least I think them anyway. They sound great in my head, you know. But, for some reason, the minute they leave my brain, they seem to trip over my tongue and crash into my teeth, long before they ever get a chance to leave my mouth.
Anyway, this joke - the one about the transvestite, the dyke and the rabbi – the truth is, it wasn’t so much a joke as it was actually my life. No, really. See, aside from the three of them, I was also trapped in the room. Of course, I didn’t have a label like they did. I’m not an easy kind of guy to label, you see. Really. I was never good at those, “describe yourself in fifty words or less” things either. I’m a complete failure at Twitter, if you know what I mean. How can you say anything in under one hundred and forty characters? I need a few hundred pages just to get warmed up. Then again, maybe there’s really nothing on my mind, and I just keep the chatter up to convince myself otherwise. That would be scary. I hope it’s not true.
I guess, what it really is, is that I’m never really focused enough for a label. You see I’m a little A.D.D. If anything, I spend a lot of time and effort trying hard not to define who I am “in fifty words or less.” Anytime the urge towards self-reflection does pop into my head, I’m always able to find a good distraction. Thank God for television, right? I’m kind of a T.V. addict. If I get in front of a television, I just lose myself, even when it’s a program I’ve already seen; even when it’s a really crappy show. There’s a lot of crap on television, as I’m sure you know. There really is.
The television in this hotel room wasn’t working. Nothing was actually. The police had cut off all the power to the hotel, in order to force the terrorists to surrender. I guess I forget to mention the cops and the terrorists, right? Oh yeah, well, sorry. As you can imagine, I’m a little preoccupied here. And, on top of everything else, as I mentioned, there’s no television, so I’m nervous to start with. So yeah, there are terrorists, too. I forgot to mention the terrorists. And the cops. See, little details like that can be really important, when you’re telling a joke, or describing life. Same thing really. It’s why I have so much difficulty with both of them.
The terrorists, that’s how we all got stuck in this room together - without television, without air conditioning, in the middle of a hot and humid summer heat wave; a regular dog’s day afternoon, if you’ll pardon the expression. So there we were, all sitting in the room together; the dyke was sweating, the transvestite was perspiring and the rabbi was schvitzing. Schvitzing is Jewish for sweating. I learned that from watching television. You can learn a lot of neat words from the tube, so it can’t be all that bad. I mean there’s some educational value to watching it, right? Anyway, I don’t know what the terrorists were doing. They weren’t in the room.
That is, except for me. Oh yeah, another point I may have forgotten to mention. I happened to be with the terrorists. Did I mention I‘m A.D.D.? Yeah, sorry, about that. So, some might say that this whole joke was really all my fault. It might be true, really. They have a point anyway. Then again, I’m not so sure.
Anyway, so you can picture it, I’m standing against the door, with a very large Chinese AK-47 pointed at the other three people in the room. It even had “Made in China” stamped on the black metal. The gun, I mean, not the people. There weren’t any Chinese people in the room, and even if there were, I doubt they’d be stamped with a label. That would be a kick, wouldn’t it, if everyone went around with a label on their head, telling everyone what they were made of. I wonder what mine would say.
It’s funny, you know, most of the things I own are made in China. I’ve never been to China. Actually, I’ve never been out of the United States. Well, I did go to Canada once. I don’t know. Does that count? I know Canadians get all upset when you suggest that Canada is just like the U.S., but to tell you the truth, I didn’t notice that much of a difference. I don’t mean any offense by it, or anything. When I was there, though, I bought this really cool souvenir: a model of a Canadian Mounty. It must be cool to be a Mounty, except I’m kind of scared of horses, so I probably wouldn’t be so hot at the job. The only thing is, when I got it home and looked on the bottom of this thing, it said, “Made in China.” If I ever get to China, I bet they’ll have a million souvenirs, with “Made in Mexico,” stamped on them, or something like that. I don’t know, maybe not.
Anyway, I don’t really consider myself a terrorist - not a real one, anyway. Yeah, I got the gun and all but it’s not so simple. It takes more than a gun to make someone a terrorist, right?
Actually, this whole thing really started about a year ago. And, it had nothing to do with politics or war or peace or any of those things. It’s really all about love. That, and a girl named Alisa Cooper. I know what you’re thinking. She’s got one of those names that make you think you must know her from somewhere. But, I doubt it. She doesn’t get around that much.
I met Alisa Cooper as I was crossing the quad on campus. She had long brown hair pulled tight into a bun that clung to the nape of her neck. She was wearing a snug white t-shirt with red lettering – from the angle I couldn’t make out what they said - and a pair of Levis, that while not exactly tight, didn’t hide her figure at all. To tell the truth, I get distracted a lot walking around campus. There are so many … I don’t know what the word is, “opportunities,” maybe. Yeah, I know that sounds sexist and all, but I don’t mean it that way. I’m not this sex crazed fiend or anything. I just really like to talk to women, and be around them, even though I’ll never understand them in a million years. Of course, they aren’t all real opportunities anyway. Most of them, actually, aren’t even close. In fact, none of them have ever really panned out for me at all, so far. But, like a kid staring at the display window of a candy shop, the fantasy of possibilities is always very exciting.
The truth is if you knew anything about me, you’d probably think I’m like the least sexist guy in the world, considering my upbringing and all. I guess just being a guy makes me an automatic sexual suspect these days. I once signed up for this feminist class about “Women and Language.” I was the only guy that had ever signed up for the course in the whole history of the school. You’d a thought that people would appreciate that, right? You know, kind of give you the benefit of the doubt? However, the first day of class, two of the women wanted to have a vote to see if I could stay. They claimed I would ruin the dynamic. They didn’t even know me. I hadn’t even opened my mouth yet or anything. I was just sitting there at the table, doodling in my notebook. There were only about a dozen of us in the class anyway. No one would speak to me at all, though. They just all stared at me; wouldn’t say a word. It was like the “cat got their tongue,” as my mother would say.
Thankfully, the professor, her name was Ellen James, wouldn’t hear of it. I think that put everyone on edge with her for the rest of the course, to tell you the truth. She kind of made things even more tense when about halfway though the semester she went and got married. It was to this really nice guy, a professor in the Anthropology Department. I mean he was probably a bigger feminist than John Stoltenberg or Michael Kimmel or one of those other male feminist guys. It didn’t matter though. Half of the women in the class acted as if she was the biggest traitor in the world for getting married to a guy. Despite what they say, I don’t think they were the most open-minded bunch of people in the world, to tell you the truth.
Anyway, she was my type, this Alisa Cooper, not the women in the class. Not that there was anything wrong with them or anything, but I think I would prefer to date a girl that didn’t think my gender was just “an annoyance of evolutionary biology.” I don’t thinking I’m setting my sights to high to want more than that in a relationship, if you know what I mean.
Anyway, Alisa Cooper was who, or is it whom – I’m never very good at that. I was talking about her, Alisa Cooper, when I mentioned she was my type. She was very pretty in a rough, casual sort of way, but that’s not what attracted me to her. Well, to be honest, not only. I mean if she looked like a double for Jabba the Hut, I don’t think I’d be attracted to her no matter how glowing her personality was. Maybe that does make me a little sexist, but I got to be honest, right? What got me though, really, was her earnestness, her energy. She was like this big electromagnet pulling me into her gravitational field. She was passing out flyers for some organization. Before I knew it, I was standing in front of her little makeshift stand, reading the large lettering on the white and red banner overhead:
Student-Teacher Organization Opposing Palestinian Indignity and Discrimination
Someone else might have laughed. But not me. I have a certain sensitivity for silly names. Even so, the name probably didn’t do much for their cause. I told her as much.
“Yeah, no one paid much attention to the acronym when we formed the group,” she revealed. “And by the time anyone noticed, we were already tax-exempt and everything. You know how hard it is to change a registered organization’s name?” Her confession immediately endeared me to her forever. At the same time, I questioned, not for the first time, what I was doing at a university where such things were regular occurrences. What was it that they were supposed to be teaching me? How to be a clueless idiot? Where was the faculty advisor for this group anyway? Of course, I didn’t blame Alisa Cooper, for the group’s name. I’m sure she wasn’t the one that picked it out. And even if she did, well, she pretty much had a free pass with me at that moment.
She handed me one of her pamphlets. As she turned, I saw the acronym emblazoned across her chest: S.T.O.O.P.I.D. It takes a lot of courage, or commitment I guess, to wear a shirt like that on a campus full of drunken college students. “You probably aren’t interested, right?” she said accusingly. “You’re probably a big supporter of those fascist Zionist Israelis, right?”
“Why do you say that?” I immediately became defensive.
“Well, you’re Jewish, right?” It was more a statement than a question.
“No,” I answered, though not so surprised. For some reason, people were always thinking I was Jewish.
“Oh, sorry,” she apologized. “It’s just you look it, you know.”
“Not like I’m anti-Semitic or anything,” she offered quickly. “It’s just most Jews tend to not be so interested in our group.”
I nodded. I was buying whatever she wanted to sell, truthfully.
“Anyway, we’re having this rally on Sunday afternoon. There’ll be a speaker. You want to come?” She asked.
She probably asked everyone who passed, but to me, it sounded like she was asking me out on a date. I couldn’t say yes fast enough.
“You want to sign our petition,” she asked, noting my excitement. Of course, I would have agreed to take up arms for the cause, at that point – which, I guess you could say, I actually did, but I don’t want to talk about that part yet. She had me hooked. I nodded enthusiastically.
“Cool. What’s your name?” she asked, grabbing a clipboard off of her table.
I hesitated. This is where I always crash and burn. “America,” I answered, hesitantly.
She made a face. One of those, “get real,” expressions. She obviously thought I was making fun of her, or at the very least, giving her a phony name. “It wasn’t even a very good joke,” I could hear her thinking.
“No, really,” I said, already fishing in my pocket for my campus I.D.
As I said, I’m sensitive to strange sounding names. You can only imagine some of my experiences in school. The teachers were never very sympathetic. Most of them were just out of jail for marching against Vietnam, and stuff. So, they always thought that my parents must have been these super right wing reactionary neo-fascists or something. On the other hand, those teachers who had just gotten back from killing babies and stuff in the war, always assumed my parents were these big peace and love, pot-smoking hippies. The funny thing is if you knew my parents, you’d realize how ridiculous both of those assumptions were.
The truth is, my parents named me America, because, as they tell it, I was conceived during the song, “A Horse with No Name;” play time: four minutes and eight seconds. Thank God they weren’t listening to “Another One Bites the Dust” or “Girls on Film.” It probably wasn’t the most brilliant thing they ever did. And, the thing is, it took me many years before I understood how perverse it was that my folks know exactly which song was playing when I was conceived. Think about it.
I don’t have a last name either. My parents didn’t believe in them.
I thrust my I.D. at her, like an old lady with the winning card at Church Bingo. Can you tell me what the hell “Bingo” means, anyway? And why is gambling only okay in a church? Yeah, I’m digressing again, huh? Sorry about that. It’s my A.D.D. thing.
So I offered her my I.D. In today’s world, of course, who we are is defined by all those two and a half by three and a half inch plastic rectangles. She didn’t take it, not wanting to make a commitment, but she did turn her head to read it. Then she looked at me. Her face asked, “Is that for real?”
“Yeah, well.” I started. I had to be careful. You’re going to think I’m crazy, but I was thinking if things go any further with this girl, I didn’t want to turn her off my parents, her future in-laws, too quickly. “My folks are a little different,” I offered.
“I know what you mean,” she replied, in a gesture of shared camaraderie, fellow generation travelers, whose parents couldn’t relate.
Of course, she had no idea what I meant. I was purposefully vague, but I wasn’t going to set her straight. Not yet, anyway.
I could go on talking about Alisa Cooper. I really could. But, I’m kind of on a schedule and, well, it was at that point that the hostages interrupted me.
’Why do you have to point that filthy thing in this direction?” The transvestite shrieked hysterically. “What’s going to happen to us?”
“Oh relax, Leon,” I said. “Don’t get all hysterical on me.”
“Don’t talk that way to your father!” shouted the Dyke.
Oh yeah, I may have forgotten to mention that the dyke and the transvestite were my parents. Sorry, about that. Did I mention I’m a little A.D.D.?