Monday, January 26, 2009

Deja Jew

I live in a small town, and like many such towns in the American West, and especially in New Mexico, there is a relatively high tolerance for alternative/New Age/non-traditional beliefs. By way of setting the scene, it also bears mentioning that our community of 10,000 has about 60 or 70 disorganized, rather relaxed Jews-- and no rabbi or synagogue.

I usually don't discuss my religious affiliation (or lack of same) unless someone asks me about it, but I am in fact a product of a Reform Jewish household-- though, as I've mentioned in an earlier post, I have no religious faith.

At any rate, there are people in town who know about my background. The fact that many of them have had little or no experience with Jews, coupled with the aforementioned Aquarian-flavored spirituality, can make for some interesting interactions.

Today a frequent customer came by to drop off a flyer for me to put in our store window, a service we gladly provide for the community. She then asked me if I had any Jewish blood; I replied in the affirmative, 100 percent. She then asked if I believed in 'channeling' and I replied, "Only on my cable box."

She then proceeded to tell me that she had heard from someone who practiced channeling that the reason why Jews were such 'advanced' (her choice of word, not mine) individuals is that, because they are the Chosen People, they are always reincarnated into the bodies of Jews-- and therefore were familiar with their surroundings and already knew how to drive the car-- so to speak.

Playing to one of the classic stereotypes, I said: "So, what you are telling me is that Jews are an insular society in this life and in the next?" She agreed.

Well, that explains a lot-- such as the fabled Jewish sense of humor.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Scenes from the Class Struggle in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania

It was the fall of 1969. I was 16; she was 15. How we met is a whole other story, not to be written now. We were in love, and we lived 75 miles apart.

We wrote each other letters, sometimes several times a week, and used to microscopically dissect each others' writing and responses; I sometimes think that my abilities as a writer (such as they are) were developed and honed as a result of these exchanges, which took place for nearly three years.

We were both virgins, and we both believed in romantic love-- at least we did then. She wasn't my first love, but she was certainly the first in what I consider to be my adult life. I often wonder how different my life would have been if we had managed to stay together longer, or if we lived closer together; I think I would spend too much time trying to re-create with other women the feeling of being in love with her-- and I'd have never grown up.

We came from very different backgrounds. I was a long-haired snarky Jewish kid from a middle-class liberal family; she was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed sweet young thing from an old Presbyterian family that traced its roots back to England, and they made a point of living an understated life... except for the indoor pool and her father's two antique Rolls Royces, which he maintained as a hobby.

Her mother reminded me of June Lockhart, who played Timmy's mom in the 'Lassie' TV series. Her father wore a crewcut and kept a teargas pen in a bracket by the front door; it was inconspicuous, but I noticed; I noticed everything.

I tried to fit in when I would occasionally be allowed to spend a weekend with her in the insulated suburb her family lived in, but I was acutely aware of the class differences. Sometimes I reveled in the situation (Jewish boy hooks up with a rich shiksa), but while I was there I was coiled tight as a spring; I remember playing some card game with her little brother and letting slip a "Jesus!" when he won big, and feeling the raised eyebrows from clear across the den. I also remember her mother chiding her father for mentioning within earshot of the children that one of her aunts was "hot to trot" about something.

They certainly appeared to be the ideal family, not dysfunctional like mine, though her father apparently was away a lot of the time. I found out years later that her parents got divorced after twenty-odd years of marriage, and her mother started a business offering financial and investment advice to other divorced women. My parents, despite their differences, the ongoing stress I created, and the unhappiness that we all experienced, managed to stay together for over sixty years until the death of my father, followed by that of my mother a month later.

After almost forty years, I remember something about her family that I will always cherish, an ironic bit of business that endeared them to me, a chink in the polished armor they wore for company: when I went to use the upstairs bathroom, I dutifully lifted the toilet seat and saw, hand-painted on the underside, "Goody-Goody, Daddy's Home."

Monday, January 12, 2009

Coincidental Juxtaposition

I was looking at the newswire on Salon a few minutes ago and saw the following two headlines, one directly under the other:

# Teen convicted of killing mother over video game
# Bush says nation's 'moral standing' intact


I didn't read the articles themselves-- I liked the arrangement just as it was.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Crackpot Theory

I'll just lead off with it: I believe that the economic downturn we've been experiencing in recent months will not last as long as many experts expect.

Why? Because the people of this country have a short attention span and will eventually get bored of it all.

Remember 9/11? Remember how for a period of several months it seemed like everybody was united, and how everybody in New York was suddenly nice to each other? Didn't last, did it?

How long the current mess will last, I don't know... but I'm betting Americans will simply get sick and tired of the bad stuff and somehow reverse what is considered to be a crisis in confidence. Maybe a new administration will help; after all, Barack Obama ran on a platform of hope.

As my wife would say: "From your lips to God's ears."

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

In Restless Dreams

Though I left college back in 1972 without a degree, for the next 30 years or so I could count on every so often dreaming that I had a term paper due that I hadn't started yet, or that I had cut so many classes that I no longer had any idea about what I had missed.

For the most part, I have put those days behind me. Nowadays I dream that I am back at work in a 'cube farm' trying to figure out what I'm supposed to be doing before somebody catches on to the fact that I'm nowhere near as competent and knowledgeable as they think I am. (To make matters even more interesting, sometimes in this dream I'm in my underwear or am stark naked; the "Emperor's New Clothes" symbolism is pretty obvious, isn't it?)

What is notable is that these dreams are not all that far from the truth (except for the part about being under-dressed). I was a terrible student and lacked the motivation to succeed in school, which is why I dropped out after only two years of college and never returned. As for my worklife, the four years I spent in Virginia working for "Feeble & Witless" prior to moving out here were fraught with uncertainty and contradiction, and I constantly feared for my job and my future; I knew that I was being overpaid, and that my only skill was in being obsessive.

What prompts me to write this is something that happened recently. I was exchanging comments with a friend and former co-worker on her Facebook page when she said:
YOU ROCK, you escaped, you got a life!!

You make us all proud....

Her comment brought home to me a fact that I had forgotten, if I had ever understood it at all: that some people feel that my having moved to a small town in a remote part of the country and starting a business unrelated to the telecommunications and IT industries that fed (and clothed) me for so many years was somehow laudable, or heroic, or something like that.

For a moment, I was appalled.

I don't feel like I'm a shining example of anything other than somebody who jumped from the frying pan into the fire and who no longer has the strength to crawl out. The thing I am proud of is that I made the attempt-- but I am not what you should call a success.