Schlemiel/Schlemazel

24 Jul

BACON!!!I’m being set up. I can always tell. I walk into the bar and there are five other people. Two couples I recognize and some lady with dark hair and fishnet stockings, pale skin, nice legs, the former-Goth look I’ve always had an itch for. At least my friends know my taste, I think as I greet everyone. Jen and Michael, Rudy and Cathleen, these are the couples. Lauren is the set-up. These are real people, but not real names.

“Did you know this was going to be what it is?” I ask Lauren as I sip my Diet Coke.

“Nope.”

“Me neither. Probably better that way.”

“Bandaid philosophy,” she says, sipping her sangria. “Just rip it off.”

We get a table. Orders are taken. I’m not drinking, I explain to the crestfallen table. Taking a couple of months off, like I did the year before, to regroup post-NOLA. Lose some weight, work on my new book. Lauren asks me if I’m a writer.

“Yeah,” and I go into the spiel. Self-published, sold like two and a half copies. Short stories. A weekly blog no one reads.

“What’s the blog about?”

“Whatever I feel like writing about. Today I posted a review of the new Linklater film.”

“Oh, I totally want to see that.”

“It’s pretty fucking awesome,” is my assessment.

And we continue like this. At least I’m wearing a decent shirt, and not my corporate polo that always adds fifteen pounds to the thirty I plan on losing one of these decades.

The conversation moves smoothly around the table. Jen and Cathy talk and then Mike breaks in with an observation. Lauren and I are hitting it off, which we both comment on.

“This is strange,” she says.

“Yeah, I know. It’s like…” I dip into my Bag o’ Metaphors but can’t find an apt analogy to the weirdness level I am experiencing. I hate being set up. It says more about the setter-upper than the settee. Too often they pair me with a vegan or Republican, two equally disconcerting concepts. I think it’s that they have two friends who are both single at the same time, and this somehow makes it a good idea in their minds. But here in the tapas bar, shockingly sober, I find Lauren to be quite bewitching. Intelligent, liberal, carnivorous, sexy. I’m getting the feeling that she is finding similar attributes in me. I’m getting the vibe.

Conversations veer. They turn down weird bends in the road. There’s the sign for homemade ice cream, let’s go there. Oooh, look a scenic two-lane route, it’ll be beautiful this time of year with the leaves changing. Just don’t go down that creepy path with the sign posted for moonshine and bbq, I mean you’ve seen The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, right?

So we discuss movies and books. I tell Lauren how much I loved True Detective, but thought Fargo was actually better. “Me too!” she says. “And the funny thing is, I didn’t even like the original movie.”

“Me neither!” I go out on a limb. “Did you like Lost?”

“I LOVED Lost! Jacob is my God!”

“Good to hear.”

“Oh, ah!” And we both laugh.

Our conversation has morphed into an orgy of exclamation points of agreement. I know she is thinking the same as I am: this is far too good to be true. I can see in her eyes that she, like me, has been through the relationship ringer once or twice, and probably has given up on giving a shit about love.

Soon we’re onto politics, where we also agree. We are in a self-congratulatory mood, hating on the judges who might undo the ACA (neither of us call it Obamacare), mocking Ted Cruz for his criticism of his portrayal in True Blood, and still liking Obama even after everything. Rudy brings the conversation over to yet another plane crash.

“That’s like four this month,” he says.

“I don’t think so, hon,” Cathy says.

“Planes don’t just crash,” he continues. “Something is Up.” Up for Rudy is the direction of nefarious evils. A former 9/11 Truther who saw the light, Rudy gets off on the revelation of secrets, the dishing of information, possessing a Mulder-like obsession with the Truth that perfectly balances Cathy’s Scully-esque skepticism. Recently he and Cathy bought an Irish Setter, which he insisted on naming Snowden. Cathy vetoed, and they settled on Eddie. Everyone thought it was an homage to the dog on Frasier.

“So,” Rudy continues, “did you hear that Obama grounded all the flights to Israel.”

I look to the waitress, my thirst suddenly in need of slaking.

Jen steps in. “Technically it was the FAA. Not Obama.”

“Yeah, like they do anything without his say so.”

“So,” Jen readies a snark, “do they call him when Flight 485 from Boise needs to be rerouted to Salt Lake?”

“What I’m saying…” Rudy says.

“I thought you liked Obama,” Mike says.

“I like him as a person. Not a President,” Rudy continues. “I don’t like Presidents. There has not been one good President in our nation’s history.”

“Oh boy,” Mike says. “Here we go.” He motions for the waitress.

“Lincoln suspended habeas corpus,” Rudy begins to count on his fingers. “FDR interred the Japanese. Johnson, Vietnam. Teddy Roosevelt was a warmongering fool. Clinton did more to undue the few decent things FDR accomplished with the New Deal than any other President. And don’t get me started on Washington and Jefferson and all those other fucking slave owners. Oooh, scallops…”

The shellfish distracts him for a moment, and I hope that a getaway is possible.

“So there’s this new conspiracy,” Cathy begins, “that says that Obama grounded the flights as indirect sanctions against Israel.”

“Fuck the new book,” I say under my breath, “I need a drink.”

“Well,” Lauren says, “maybe there should be sanctions. This is an apartheid situation. AIPAC has every politician in this country frightened. We’ll veto anything in the U.N. that resembles criticism of Israel. And why? Because the Jews can’t let go of Jerusalem.”

“Jake,” Mike says, “you feeling okay.”

I suddenly realize that my head has sagged forward, my eyes staring deeply into my bacon-wrapped scallops, my lips dying for a jumbo sized pitcher of sangria.

“Um,” I say as I look up at Lauren. “You know I’m Jewish, right?”

“You’re Jewish? Huh?”

“My name’s Jacob Mendelsohn. I look Jewish. I talk Jewish. I said plotz like eight times already. I get compared to Woody Allen all the time. Minus the pedophile shit, of course. So yeah, it’s kinda, er, obvious.”

“Well, um, sorry,” she says. “Hope I didn’t piss you off about your precious country.”

I smile. “You mean America? Because that’s where I live.”

“Jacob,” Cathy begins, “maybe you shouldn’t…”

“No, it’s okay. I haven’t had my requisite one conversation about Israel during this conflict.” I look at Lauren and am thankful I’m being a sober asshole and not an inebriated one. “First, I don’t know shit. Neither do you. Neither does anybody. You get that? Good. Anybody. Any. Body. Who is totally gung ho pro-Israel or totally gung-ho pro-Palestinian is wrong. The word nuance does not do this situation justice. No one understands it. Not even the people in the middle of it. Second,” I point at myself, “Jew.” I point somewhere I assume to be west, “Israel. Get it? Jew here. Israel there. You know those people busting up synagogues in France? Old school anti-Semitism bubbling up because the one country run by Jews is being a dick. Hatred needs very few excuses. But don’t confuse Jews here, or Jews in France, with the government of Israel. Don’t even confuse the people of Israel with the government of Israel. Third, there are plenty of Jews in America who disagree with Israeli policy. Is there an Israel lobby? Sure. I can’t fucking stand the Sheldon Adelsons of the world, who think they can bribe politicians to get what they want, whatever that may be – from guns for preschoolers to rockets for Israel. The Israel lobby has a lot of Jews in it, to be sure. But it’s also the Michelle Bachmans of the world. The Rick Perrys. The legitimate rape guy. Do you think they give a shit about Israel, or about the Jews? No. They need us so their little rapture can come to fruition. Fifth…”

“Fourth,” Lauren says. “You’re on fourth.”

“Thanks. Fourth, it’s not apartheid. Apartheid is actually an Afrikaans word. It means something specific. Just like the Holocaust means just one thing. You don’t compare them to anything else. Don’t call it the, I don’t know, Nigerian Holocaust. That’s my people’s genocide. It’s ours. We own it. Same thing with apartheid. it’s a slippery slope comparison. Fifth…it’s fifth, right?”

“Yup,” she hasn’t blinked, and I’m not sure if that’s a good sign or not.

“Fifth. And this goes back to one, or two, I’m not really sure at this point. Fifth, no one is right. It’s all muddled. I would love to have a two-state solution. I would love peace. In the book I wrote that no one read, I wrote a line, spoken by an Israeli woman. ‘We all want peace, Jews and Arabs alike. But it’s the crazies and the assholes who ruin it for the rest of us.’ That’s sort of what I think. I think you get crazies in Hamas who use children as human fucking shields, and assholes like Netanyahu who let them get away with it. And I’m not sure which is worse, frankly. It’s like a schlemiel and a schlemazel.”

“You mean like Laverne and Shirley.”

“No. Not at all. A schlemiel is the guy who spills the soup. A schlemazel is the guy who gets soup spilled on him. That’s Hamas and Israel. Except everyone is both. Everyone is spilling soup and everyone is getting soup spilled on them.”

“Except soup is bombs, and there are more schlemazel children in Gaza,” Lauren observes.

“Which brings me to sixth. I hate talking about Israel. I’d rather talk about the Kardashians. Or Pokémon. I’d rather listen to Creed and Nickelback. You know why I hate talking about Israel? Because I don’t know what to do. No one does. Not Israel. Not the Palestinians. Not Obama or Kerry or Hillary or Bill. My solution? Nuke ‘em all. Russia, China, America, all the other countries with nukes. We just pull a Superman IV and hurl all of them at the motherfucking cocksucking goddamned Promised Land.”

“That’s a lot of firepower. It would probably take out most of the Middle East.”

“Do you see me complaining? Let ‘em burn.”

“So does alcohol make you more or less…er, this?”

“I don’t know.” I realize that at some point in the middle of this year’s iteration of the Israel Rant I stood up and began to glower over Lauren and the rest of the table. “You don’t know what it’s like being a Jew and wanting to support Israel, but…”

“But? But what?”

“Exactly. But. It’s like Ryan Fucking Braun. One of the best players in the game. And a Jew. You know what it’s like having a Jewish baseball player? It’s special. It’s not like a Jewish scientist or a Jewish writer. Dime a dozen shit. But an athlete. That’s special. That means something. And he goes and ruins it all by doping. And I’m sure there are some people out there who will defend him. And part of me…part of me wants to. And another part of me hates his guts for taking a good thing and fucking it sideways.”

“It’s like black people and Obama,” Lauren says. “It’s almost impossible for them to criticize him.”

“Yeah, until he got caught cheating on Michelle.”

“No he didn’t.”

“Yeah, didn’t you hear, it broke like an hour ago.”

“What?” Her eyes go wide.

“Gotcha.”

“Don’t fuck with me, Jew boy,” she says with a wink.

“I read this thing today,” Cathy says, and I realize that we have yet to make our exodus from Israel. “It said that Israeli Jews – see how I said that? – that they’ve got a victimhood complex, and that’s partially what’s to blame.”

“Yeah,” I say, “I saw that article. Maybe the rest of the world’s Jews have a victimhood thing going on. Israelis are not victims. I’ve been there. Sabras scare the shit out of me. If anything, they’ve got a bullying complex. They’re like cops who can’t escape a bad shooting. Think of it like this – a crazy person has taken a bunch of kids hostage. He’s got a lot of guns, and he’s lined up all the kids so that if the cops shoot at him, they might hit the kids. He’s shooting at the cops outside. Hitting some of them. All he wants is for the cops to shoot back to hit the kids.”

“That’s a terrible analogy.”

“I know. But…”

“What?”

“What if Israel doesn’t strike back?” I ask. “Hypothetically speaking, I mean. Hamas sets up its rockets in schools and hospitals because they want Israel to kill children and women and sick people. They want Israel to have a bad press day. Hamas is trying to commit suicide by cop. Well, what if Israel doesn’t humor them. What if Israel, instead of striking back, just defended themselves. Strict defense. Shoot down incoming rockets, but don’t fire any of your own. Yes, Israelis would be killed. But…see, Hamas is trying to be the victim here. They want the world’s sympathy. And they’ll get it as more and more kids and aid workers and innocent people are killed.

I take a deep breath. “What if Israel simply stops firing back. They’ve got that Iron Dome thing to stop most missiles.”

“Pipe dream,” Rudy says. “Israel will never stop.”

“It’s not Israel,” Lauren says. “It’s any country. You get attacked. You hit back. That’s just how the world works. Look at what we did with Iraq. They didn’t even do anything to us. We just needed to kill someone. If Israel didn’t hit back, it would look weak. No one doesn’t strike back anymore.” She finishes her drink. “I mean,” she says with a straight face, “even the Empire struck back.” I wonder why I ever thought she was a horrible person.

“You mean,” I say, “we don’t turn the other cheek. We’re eye for an eye.”

“Yes,” Lauren says. “The whole world. Not just you Zionist pigs.”

***

We’re walking to the subway.

“Do you ever write about Israel for your blog?”

“A couple of times. But each time I do, I’m afraid I’m going to say something stupid, or piss off the wrong people. This time around it just seems like there’s more anger on both sides. I once wrote that the Middle East is a perfect example of Nietzsche’s law of eternal return. It just keeps happening over and over again. That’s why I want to nuke ‘em. I’m tired of them clogging up my news cycle. I’m sick of my Facebook feed glutted with misinformation and distractions.”

“That’s sort of what Facebook is for.”

“I was going to write something this week, but I wrote that Boyhood review instead. I just didn’t know what to say. And Boyhood was so damned good.”

“You should write what you said to me tonight. Hell, if you’re such a good writer – and Jen was telling me about the book when we were smoking, it sounds fantastic – write about tonight. I even give you permission to make me into a Jew-hating cunt.”

“Oh, c’mon, you’re not Jew-hating.”

She punches my shoulder playfully.

I ask her if she wants to do this again sometime. Just us, not the couples. She does, but on two conditions.

“First, you have to write about Israel. And send it to me.”

I agree.

“Second,” she says, “we do two dates. No matter how bad the first one goes, we have to do a second. You pick the first one and pay for it. I pick the second and do the same.”

“So, you might say it’s a Two-Date Solution.”

“Really?” she rolls her eyes with exaggerated flair. “Worst. Pun. Ever.” Her Comic Book Guy impression is sexy as hell.

“Which train are you taking?” I ask.

“A. Uptown. You?”

“N. Down. Where do you live?” I can’t believe the topic hadn’t been broached.

“Inwood.”

I turn in disbelief. “Bay Ridge.”

“That’s like…”

“…the longest commute in New York.”

“It’s like three times the length of Gaza.”

“Hey,” I say, “if we can make it work, then maybe…”

“Riiight…” she says and makes her way into the train station.  

 

 

One Response to “Schlemiel/Schlemazel”

  1. Deborah July 24, 2014 at 19:06 #

    This is such a great description of what it’s like to be an American Jew observing this whole Israel/Hamas clusterf*ck.

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