“Oy, Veyashmeir,” shouted the rabbi. He turned to the Dyke, my mother. “For this leiftmenschen meshuganah you drag me here.”
His outburst surprised me, but it made me think - even Jewish people have their own language. From all the television I had watched. I knew he was speaking Jewish. Did that make them a people?
But what surprised me even more was when Bobby answered him in the same language. I didn’t know that she was bilingual. She must have taken a course in Jewish when she was in college. Or maybe she picked it up from Seinfeld. She turned to the rabbi and answered him in that cool calm voice of hers that makes me think of the hissing of sparks on a fuse as they make their way towards the dynamite. ”Yener leiftmenschen zayn mayn benyoched!" I don’t have a clue what she said, but the rabbi shut up with a scowl.
I was a little rattled. I looked at my mom, hoping for some kind of answer, even though I didn’t know what the question was. But then Bobby gave me one of those looks that I better get to the point fast, or she’d be the one yelling at me. So I pressed on.
In case you hadn’t figured it out, already, Atyaf Samar was not the reason I ended up trapped in a hotel room with my parents and a bunch of terrorists and stuff. I mean she was all right and everything. She was pretty cool and all; I definitely wouldn’t mind hanging with her or anything, especially since she enjoyed flirting with me. It was a new experience for me. But, on the other hand, she wasn’t really the type to inspire me to send a check to the refugee relief committee, let alone take up arms for their struggle. I wasn’t sure from all her speaking, what she wanted. I mean, one more McDonald’s in a refugee camp didn’t seem to me to be an international priority. It’s not for nothing that CNN shows us those pictures of bombed out buildings and people wearing rags for clothes right? I mean if people saw refugees wearing designer jeans while jamming to their iPod, it might color their impression of the whole political situation, right? I might be wrong, but what do I know? I mean, well, you know what I mean, right?
The truth is, she was actually a really good speaker, and if she hadn’t have hit on me the entire way back to campus, it probably would have inspired me a lot more than it did. But all that flirting and confusion had my mind spinning like a one of those … Well, one of those, you know, spinning things. I think I may have missed a lot of what she said. I was a little preoccupied during the reception and Atyaf’s speech.
When we got to the reception, Alisa stopped what she had been doing and ran over to us. I thought she was just glad that the speaker got there. She had put her trust in a total stranger, and the whole thing could’ve gotten totally screwed up. Actually, if I hadn’t been a total stranger, she probably wouldn’t have put her trust in me. To tell you the truth, I was a little surprised, myself that I hadn’t screwed up the whole thing.
But she seemed genuinely glad to seem me. Really. She looked at me and smiled. “I’m glad you made it.” She said. “Thanks.” She touched my arm when she said this, to tell you the truth. Actually she touched my arm twice, and she even squeezed my bicep once. Again, I wondered if maybe I should have done a couple of push-ups before we went into the reception. Then Alisa turned to Atyaf and introduced herself. “Hi, I’m Alisa.”
I got to tell you. The most amazing thing happened. Atyaf put her arm through mine and smiled at Alisa. “Hi,” she said, “I’m Atyaf.” The two women looked at each other for about a million years with these wide friendly smiles. Alisa’s hand returned to my shoulder, and the two women started talking about all sorts of things: what they were wearing, the flight, and just about everything that didn’t seem connected to anything. It was like they were old friends. They were all smiley and happy. And, I hadn’t the slightest clue what to do. I’m just happy that these two women are actually touching me, but none of it made any sense to me at all. And, the weirdest thing was, I kept getting this feeling that underneath it all, these two friendly women actually hated each other’s guts. It was the strangest conversation I was never a part of.
There were other good things that happened at this reception too. When I finally met this Mustafa guy, I had a tremendous sense of relief. He wasn’t the dark suave and debonair guy I had imagined. He wasn’t exactly ugly, but when you are expecting a smooth brown- skinned Arabian knight, and instead you get a regular American, you feel the competition was knocked down a few notches. Not that I was in his league anyway, but I was a lot closer than I had been on the drive to the airport. Being an African American, Mustafa still had a certain amount of exotic charm, especially for all of us non-ethnic white suburban college kids. But, the only thing my imagination got right was the dark part, and even in that I was off by a few shades.
Actually, Mustafa didn’t usually refer to himself as an “African American.” He didn’t get the term. One day, about three months after I had joined S.T.O.O.P.I.D., we were sitting around in Steve’s room having one of those regular BS sessions that our organization seemed to specialize in – we called them meetings, and Mustafa started in on his gripe.
“What is that African American shit?” shouted Mustafa. Actually his real name was Gordon Sims, but ever since he saw the movie Malcolm X, he insisted that people call him Mustafa. Of course, I’m still convinced that Alisa Cooper was secretly in love with him, which has nothing to do with anything, but I thought I’d mention it.
You see, despite Mustafa not being this suave, debonair Arab sheikh, there was something about him. You know, I said, he was everything that every white suburban kid wanted to be: urban, real, and a minority, so we all were kind of in love with him, if you know what I mean. But, what I meant was that she was secretly in love with him, in the way that I wanted her to be secretly in love with me. And, despite the fact that Alisa Cooper had actually consented to share a cup of coffee or two with me, I was pretty sure it was all just a set up, and eventually, I’d get caught sniffing the air freshener again, if you know what I mean. Did I digress again? Sorry. I have to try to stop doing that all the time. Though, it’s not really my fault, I have this ADD thing, you’ll remember. In any event, we were all sitting in my dorm room sharing a joint, when Mustafa started his rant.
“I mean, I ain’t ever been to Africa,” he continued. “Yo, Anthony, what do you call yourself?”
“I’m an Italian American,” he said. “I’ve never been to Italy, but my Grandfather came over from Sicily.
“It’s because of Malcolm X,” said Neil. He knew how to get on Mustafa’s good side. “He wanted to give the Black community an identity that they could be proud of. Instead of their identity being focused on them being descended from slaves, he went back to the original culture.” Neil was in love with Mustafa more than the rest of us. So, I didn’t want to correct him about the Malcolm X thing. As you probably know, it was Jesse Jackson who convened a whole convention just to talk about what they should call themselves. But he’s the same guy that made the Hymie Town comment, which ruined his chance to become the first Black President of the United States. We had to wait until Barak Obama before we could get a black president, and he’s at least half white, but I’ll probably be called a racist if I ever mention something like that, so I keep it to myself. So, anyway, as I was saying, I wasn’t so sure that Jesse Jackson was the biggest expert on labeling people, if you know what I mean. Besides, like I said, I didn’t want to rain on Neil’s parade. I don’t know, but he may have been Alisa’s biggest competition, and I wanted to keep him in the running. So, I let it slide about it being Malcolm X who started the whole African American thing.
“Oh, that was one crazy nigger,” Mustafa said in admiration. Did I mention, he loved Malcolm X.
“How come you can use that word, but like if I were to even think it, you’d chop my balls off?”
“Cause niggers can call each other nigger, that’s all.” It’s like Jews, right. You call a Jew a kike and he flips, but they call each other that all the time. Right Amer?”
“How would I know?” I asked.
“Ain’t you Jewish?”
“No.” Again, I wasn’t surprised that people thought so. It happened all the time. But then again, I was a member of S.T.O.O.P.I.D. What kind of Jew would join an organization that hated him? I don’t know, is Rodney Dangerfield Jewish? I don’t think so. But even so, they can’t all be Rodney Dangerfield, can they?
So, of course, now, the fact that I wasn’t Jewish became the focus of our conversation. It seemed to fascinate everyone, except Alisa Cooper. She already knew that I wasn’t Jewish. We had that conversation, when we met. Had I mentioned that already?
So what are you then, man?” Steve asked. I think I already mentioned his tendency to add the word, “man,” to everything right? He must have been what they used to refer to as a “man’s man.” Okay, maybe not.
As you know, I have a few identity issues. Or, maybe it’s that I have issues with my identity? Anyway, I don’t like to be labeled, as I’ve mentioned. It’s not really that easy to define one’s existence, especially when he hasn’t a clue as to who he is. I’m digressing again, I know. Or maybe, I’m just stalling, I don’t know. Is being able to see all the connectiveness a sign of intelligence, or is just about a lack of focus? Maybe it indicates an unsettled spirit. Sorry, there I go again.
Anyway, so, I took a deep breath. Alisa Cooper had already discovered my secret so I wasn’t worried about her finding out. I had no clue how the others would take my heredity. Maybe, it would’ve been easier if I was Jewish. I don’t know.
“Both of my parents are transgender. I grew up with a mom that acted like Mike Tyson, and a father who wanted to be Fay Raye. I used to tell people I was Transylvanian, but no one ever got it. You tell me, what am I?”
“You just messed up, America,” declared Mustafa.
Tell me about it. Mustafa had a point. He usually did. He was just never ever really aware as to what that point was. I started wondering about the conversation we had had. And the question of calling Blacks, “niggers,” and Jews, “kikes,” bothered me. I mean isn’t it racist to call Paula Deen a racist for saying nigger, but it’s okay for Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr.? And what about Alice Walker? Maybe it’s okay for her to call Jews, “kike.” She certainly calls them everything else, and gets awarded with all sorts of prizes. I decided to ask the rabbi about the “kike” question.
The rabbi looked at me as if I was still smoking that joint. In case you were wondering, I wasn’t. Besides, I never ever inhaled. Really. I was too scared to. Anyway, the rabbi said that he had never heard Jews call each other “kike,” at least as far as he knew. And, he should be an expert right. Of course, I wanted to be thorough, so I asked him about other names too, like “Heb,” “Shyster,” and “Hymie.” He said that they were pretty offensive too, no matter who says it, even Alice Walker. That made a lot of sense to me, actually. I mean if I were black, or African American or even Jamaican, I think I’d get pretty offended at being called a “nigger,” no matter who was doing the calling. But I don’t know. How can I judge? I mean, I’m not any of those things, really.
But then again, isn’t that the whole point of today’s multiculturalism, that despite our diversity, we are all essential the same. So, shouldn’t I be able to relate to how a Jamaican would feel if he were called a “nigger,” by his equally dark pigmented neighbor? I don’t know. But of course, if multiculturalism is all about a society that is “at ease with the rich tapestry of human life and the desire amongst people to express their own identity in the manner they see fit,” then I guess if people want to be called nigger, then they are entitled. But, with all this multiculturalism, someone better be keeping track or he’s liable to offend a lot of people if he’s not careful. I never did understand how multiculturalism was supposed to embrace everyone, including people that are offended by multiculturalism. Is that possible? I suppose anything’s possible. I once knew this African American guy, who was into the south and all for states rights and stuff. He was always saying how the Civil War and the Confederacy were misunderstood. He used to call himself the “Chocolate Cracker.” I didn’t know what to do with that at all. I still don’t.
As, I may have mentioned, I’m not really anything. I’ve never had an appropriate label, really, except “confused.” Maybe that’s why I tend to offend so many people unintentionally. I don’t mean to. I think I had offended the rabbi, though. At first, he looked as if he were about to burst. And then he did.
Fortunately, his outburst was directed at Bobby, not me. “This is your idea of success? This ”farkakt meshuganah leiftmenschen?"
I smiled. Finally, I understood something. I mean, I actually knew what “ferkakt,” meant. After all, I had seen the Blues Brothers Movie at least a dozen times. That was really a great film, if you know what I mean. And that whole, “mission from God,” thing – I mean I was a little ambiguous about this whole God thing, myself. Not like I actually researched it or anything, but there are some really good, catchy memes on the internet, right. But still, I guess there’s still this idea of having a higher purpose, like a calling. I wonder who would be doing the calling, if it’s not some godlike God being. Anyway, maybe that’s what I was doing holed up in a hotel room with a transvestite, a dyke and a rabbi. Maybe it was a calling, a mission from God. Okay, maybe not. But what was I doing there? Why were we still sitting in this hotel room? Okay, my parents made sense – okay, not real sense - but the kind of dysfunctional sense that makes up my life, but still. Why was this rabbi there in the first place? I decided to ask him.
“Because your crazy mother, the one who grew up with circumcision envy, my sister, forced me to come down here to try and talk some sense into you. I’m not sure it’s possible, you meshuganah.”
Well, that was unexpected - at least to me. You probably saw it coming a mile away. Did you? Would this be considered dramatic irony, or situational? I supposed it would depend on if you had figured it out already. Still, this is all about me, so we’ll stick with the idea that it was unexpected. Situational irony it is then, maybe even downright surprising.
I looked at my mother. Bobby grimaced. Leon looked like he had been caught peeing while standing up.
And the Rabbi just shook his head. “You see: both your schwanz ganaf mother, and your smaltz malke father are Jewish, and that makes you Jewish, too, you leiftmenschen meshugeneh,” he said. “I was even the one that performed your bris, your circumcision, you fertummelt ongepotchket. I hate to admit it, but you’re meshpukhah.”
Wow, I thought. I am a kike.
You know, the rabbi was right. It did sound pretty offensive, even when I said it about me.