Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Now that you mention it…

You're gettin' ready to blow?
I'm a mushroom cloud laying mother fucker.
I hate these anti-Semitic moments I get sometimes here. I got another one today and you know, this was just after the rebbe came to town. I really don't know why I let this stuff get to me and maybe my liberal, middle-class background offered protection from ethnic slurs in a way that communal atheism didn't. Or maybe it is my own liberal and open minded way of thinking that prevents me from accepting negative attention being sent my way simply because of how my face is seen these days. But in either case, I simply cannot stand being labeled negatively because of my religious affiliation, no matter how "stupid" I may wish to label the source.

Today's little moment of joy was over at the milk shop (again) where I had decided to treat my 2-and-a-half year old daughter for an ice cream cone on the way home from kindergarten. Waiting in line, Anya agreed to my stipulation that she ask for her dish by calling it ice cream rather than marozhina. The lady behind the counter, probably a bit tired from spooning out ice cream by the kilo, wasn't so impressed with the necessity to wait for the little girl who is not quite tall enough to see over the counter. Without too much prompting Anya called for belli (white) and so I ordered two cones of vanilla.

There was a young drunk man (25-30) just behind us in line and in this minute, his drunk mother/girlfriend (She was wearing a yellow cotton top but was so shriveled, I would give her age as anywhere between forty and sixty-five) followed him in and told him that they needed to order six ice cream cones. Having the flow of the world now resting on his shoulders, he made his order and then decided he needed to pay some attention to my little girl who is about as tall as his knee and who was standing just in front of him with her nose smashed up against the counter glass. Straight away he reached for her, putting his hands around her waist and tickling her saying "And how are you, little girl?"

Now, Anya does not particularly like strangers in general and for sure she does not like to be touched by them. In fact this is the second time in two days a drunk adult whom she doesn't know arbitrarily laid hands on her. Just yesterday someone we know decided that he could pick her up in his arms and coo coo coo her. She screamed like a pig the first time and he put her down, but after thinking, he actually picked her up again and questioned her to her face as to why she didn't like him. She immediately started screaming for me and I took her out of the man's arms. He then asked me (and I am not making this up) what was wrong with my girl that she wasn't available to give him some love. "Who will she go with, you?"

I didn't answer the question and we parted without further incident.

But back to the milk shop: When the guy touched Anya she yelled again and again, this other guy looked up as if being refused to right to touch a strange 2-year-old girl was in violation of his inalienable human rights.

"Oh, she's upset."

"Don't touch her." I said to him.

"Is she yours?"

"She is. But a better answer is that she isn't yours. She doesn't like to be touched."

"I am sorry."

"I'll forgive you this time."

"Are you Jewish?" Shbam! Now the question came straight away, just like I have written. My head went blank when he asked. I didn't answer and simply turned my head away from him. He had a half smile on his face and his eyes were rolling a bit, not focusing.

"No, seriously. Are you Jewish?" What was the point of the question? And what was going on in his head? "No, I am asking are you really Jewish?"

"Listen, do I know you?"

"Yes!" He stuck out his hand but I wouldn't take it.

"I don't remember ever meeting you and I know nothing of what you are speaking of."

"I am just asking if you are really Jewish that's all. It's an honest question." I had finally got my ice cream by this point. There were two girls sitting at the tables behind us and when all of this got started, they both got up and walked away. I have once or twice tried to tell people that to an American, questions about one's religious affiliation are not asked because it is inappropriate and the answer is personal. Maybe in a no-personal-property world this is a far-fetched ideal but in any case, I was not of the mind to even start the conversation.

"Be quiet." I said. "Don't touch me or my daughter ever again. Do you understand?" His shrivelled mother/sister/concubine told him to be quiet as well.

"I am sorry…"

"I don't forgive you and I don't want to talk with you." Is what I said and left. I could hear him complaining to the lady dispensing ice cream as I walked away that he simply asked if I was a real Jew or not. I had been wanting to sit in that air-conditioned ice cream shop with Annie to enjoy our ice cream but didn't. We went and sat on the bench next to the garden instead. We traded licks on our ice cream cones and laughed as a series of cats walked through the garden. She seemed unfazed by events. I would like to think that she wasn't.

Now, I could extrapolate wildly here about what the hell is going on in Pinsk these days. I could start with how out-of-their-minds paranoid everyone is about money since New Years when the Russians both broke our hearts and wiped out our oil business. Everyone is expecting a general collapse, an event which all remember vividly, and all of this extra weight is sending people running to the bottle to ease the stress. Like I say I am only extrapolating here, but to my mind this is all that is happening.

But I can't stand this "Jew" business. It is just the way that it is said, as if the negative (greedy) connotation was simply understood. And I hate having to suffer the insult because frankly, other than that I wear a beard and occasionally show up at the synagogue I really do not fit any of the stereotypes: I am not rich and I am no Shylock, playing with people over their debts to me. I do all my own work and have even carried our harvest home by hand cart. In fact, the truth is that I am basically screwed right now because I didn't get anything like input or investment I had I had hope for during the pledge drive! Yes, I am getting more reads than I have ever had (Thank you google and blogger very, very much!!) but I have not gotten the sponsorship I needed which is why you are reading all of these slice-of-The-Life dramas from Pinsk, instead of hearing stories from the beinghad war front. But regardless of this, apparently we have gone back to Berlin in 1936 and started playing scapegoat of the week. Now, rather than being the local novelty act, wanna-be dachnic, I am seen as sitting on some of that "Jewish Gold" and this is becoming a resentful thought to the locals.

It's just hatred, can you understand? It's acid. And it is growing and growing and people here are trying to cope with their becoming-more-shaky-by-the-minute living situations. And me, I am feeling like another stereotypical racial icon, Jules from Pulp Fiction: You're gettin' ready to blow? I'm a mushroom cloud laying mother fucker.

    "I saw some shit this mornin' made me think twice. Now I'm thinkin', it could mean you're the evil man. And I'm the righteous man. And Mr. .45 here, he's shepherd protecting my righteous ass in the valley of darkness. Or could by you're the righteous man and I'm the shepherd and it's the world that's evil and selfish. I'd like that. But that shit ain't the truth. The truth is you're the weak. And I'm the tyranny of evil men. But I'm tryin'. I'm tryin' real hard to be a shepherd."

And I am trying real hard to protect the idea of that man has a responsibility to his fellow man, to his community and eventually, to his world. I am trying to defend the idea that there is such a thing as right and wrong and that there is a simple, transparent understanding which is possible to know regardless of political, religious or ethnic affiliation. And if you find this to be moralizing, well, hey: You get an A. You understood. I am moralizing and I have been for three years now.

But its hard Ringo. I'm telling you: it's damned hard. But I'm trying.

More soon…