Sex, Religion & Idiocy

NOVEMBER 17, 1996; CHICAGO, IL: I’d like to ask this girl out. But there’s a problem. She’s with this group. They like to stop street traffic and commuters on subway platforms during rush hour. They’re out there to spread “The Way to God.” I admire the effort. It takes pluck to slow down people who do not want to stick around. This girl, though, she’d correct me. “Not pluck,” she’d say, “faith.” And that’s great. Only there’s one little snag. Not that there’s anything wrong with it, but I don’t share her faith.

I’m supposed to be Jewish. Just between you and me, I’d prefer to be Jedi. I’m not trying to convert you or anything, but the Force is real. I know what you’re thinking. It’s not like you see in the movies, though. Hollywood tends to glamorize. The real Force isn’t about rearranging the furniture by closing your eyes, sporting a shit squeezing face, and waving your fingers in the air. No, on this planet, the real Force is more about… charisma.

As far as my family is concerned, I am Jewish. I’m also Irish—which perhaps could pass as a religion. A pub, depending on your heritage, or a deli, is a sanctuary of sorts. And I’d like to believe that this amalgam of cultures and traditions makes me unique—a rare breed—so rare that an archeologist might want to stuff, mount, and set me in a dioramic tableau behind a pane of glass inside the Field Museum. Works for me. That is, so long as I’m stuffed and mounted after I’m dead. Dead of natural death, decades from now.

(One can never too clearly express one’s wishes for one’s own remains.)

By the way, if you happen to work for the Field Museum, please note that my permanent pose should inspire some degree of mirth. I could be spilling a pint of Guinness in one hand, while choking on a large bite from the corned beef sandwich held in the other. In truth, I’ve never choked on a corned beef sandwiched. I have choked on a hard taco shell. Twice. Both times needed the Heimlich maneuver. But if you put that in the diorama it would just confuse people. On second thought, how many Irish Jews have choked on a hard taco shell…twice? (Few, if any.) So that’s special. Lookit, if I’m not an anthropological exhibit then I’m definitely an art exhibit. (Modern art.)

Hm.

Having just publicly disclosed my post-life aspirations, I think I now have legitimate reason to fear the curators of the Field Museum (et al.), as they are quite possibly and literally after my hide. Welp, whenever I become a museum exhibit, here’s hoping my taxidermic presence will somehow contribute positively to the education of generations of grade school students.

Imagine a docent saying, “Over here, boys and girls, we have the famous Tsavo man-eating lions; over there we have a shrine to the cat goddess Bastet; oh, and, there in the corner—that’s our Irish Jew. He was a Jedi wannabe. On three separate occasions he choked on a hard taco shell. The third one killed him. Some suspect foul play.” She’ll wink at the group before leading them on.

But this notion—that, from a certain point of view, I qualify as a museum exhibit—it could explain, in part, why I have such rotten luck with the ladies. Like most exhibits, I am a thing to be stared at, studied, classified, never to be touched or embraced. It’s ok, though. I’m a germophobe anyway. Keep your distance. Please.

So, yes, bris and bar mitzvah notwithstanding, I consider myself more Jedi, or Jedi-ish, or Jedi-esque, than Jewish. While there are numerous legendary figures of the past who easily meet the criteria, you’ll find folks aplenty here and now who are strong in the Light and Darks Sides: Michael Jordan, John Travolta, Dr. Ruth Westheimer, Bozo. That’s right, Bozo (the clown). He’s got the kids. He has the future. Where these icons land on the Force’s Light/Dark Side spectrum depends on your point of view. (Just ask Obi-Wan. The real Obi-Wan.)

I’ve blocked out the bris, along with most of my childhood, but occasionally I still reflect on the ordeal of my bar mitzvah. Mostly, it was a self-inflicted ordeal. Also, in a way, it was an out of body experience. I’ve had two. The other out of body experience happened when I flipped my car over into a ditch. (Talk about Force!)

Oddly, I don’t recall receiving much instruction in the language or the traditions of Judaism during religious school. The only stuff that stuck had to do with the Holocaust. That’s not because I have a morbid disposition. After “Shabbat shalom,” and “shavua tov,” the most popular refrain at the temple was, “It could happen again!

You know how your more mischievous friends and relatives will, on occasion, hide behind a door or a couch and suddenly spring into view? You know, they’ll shout “Boo!” and giggle and point as you shiver and recoil. Imagine that, but instead it’s your religious teacher leaping up from some dark corner to shout, “It could happen again!” every Sunday morning. I’m not suggesting that it wouldn’t happen again, but the only certainty was the shock of being reminded that it could.

My bar mitzvah was a rush job. Imagine a pudgy, sweaty, Saturday morning Smurf drenched adolescent (“Smurf” because a lot of blue and white was involved) who had no legitimate business standing on the bema of any synagogue. More than anything else, it felt like I was on display to show off how many zits I’d squeezed that morning. It was a little tricky to pick them out from the shaving nicks my mother’s dull, pink Lady Bic had given me. But I stood there with the Torah rolled out before me and recited phonetically memorized Hebrew—words that no one ever bothered to translate into English. For all I know I was insulting myself in the ancient language of the Israelites. Some in the congregation were chuckling.

Unless you’re Orthodox, you could probably forgive a thirteen year old American schmuck for flubbing a few Hebraic prayers. But, naturally, I had to top that. I say “naturally” because another decade would pass before I’d grasp the value of looking before leaping.

At the bar mitzvah after-party, once everybody was seated, I seized a microphone from the DJ, leapt onto the dance floor, and lip-synced “The Power of Love” to a girl I’d had a crush on since the fifth grade. This much I knew: No way could I pull this off at some other kid’s bar mitzvah. In addition to fifty-odd relatives, I’d invited all three of my friends and a few too many “popular” seventh grade classmates. None of them were there to witness the milestone of a boy becoming a man. They came because they knew there’d be a show. My reputation was one of an accidental circus act. Because this wasn’t school, where I regularly performed cartoon theme songs during lunch period (“He-Man” was the most requested), they’d have to be respectful. Pretty much the most they could do was look at each other with bulging eyes, puffed cheeks, and bobbing shoulders.

A while later, no doubt out of pity, my crush let me slow dance with her. I couldn’t even get that right. As I’m sure you know, a man traditionally places his hands on his partner’s hips. Me? I grabbed this poor girl by the shoulders and squeezed. Needless to say, she didn’t invite me to her bat mitzvah. Thank God I didn’t scar her for life. No, she turned out ok. She’s married, with kids, and works for Goldman Sachs. I take credit only to the extent that my instinctual buffoonery might’ve taught her forbearance. Restraint is key for the career investor.

But this girl I’d like to date, this religious chick with her guerilla Jesus Saves group, I’d like to ask her to dinner, take her to a movie. But all she wants is to stuff “The Way To God” leaflets down my pockets. I’m more interested in stuffing something else into something else. There is a conflict of interest here, this much is evident. Actually, we’ve never spoken. We’ve smiled at each other, a long smile, I’d like to think gazed into each other’s eyes. I’m sure she believes we briefly swapped holy energies. Of course, I’d be obliged to explain that it was the Force at work.

There’s another thing you should know. I’ve only seen her once. And yet I have faith that she’ll return to the subway platform, every Friday, where the Blue Line meets the Red Line. And that’s kind of how we are: I’m the Red Line, she’s the Blue Line. (Or vice versa.) We stop at the same subway platform, but on opposite sides. We’re always passing each other, never meeting.

It's tragic. 

Maybe, just maybe, someday, her train or my train will, in a blind passionate fury of acceleration, derail and leap over the platform; and just as my Red Line is pulling in or her Blue Line is pulling out, we’ll link and become the Red-Blue Line (or the Mauve Line, or the Fuchsia Line, but not the Purple Line since that already exists), Howard Street to O’Hare Airport non-stop, a new vision in rapid transit as never before imagined!

I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right. I should write for a soap opera.

Believe it or not, I spent a summer in LA as an intern for “The Young and the Restless.” Everybody was super model material; not just the actors, but the directors, the producers, and the office staff. The stagehands, in their burly Teamsters sort of way, could double as on-screen thugs or professional wrestlers. (They were too handsome to pass as legitimate thugs.) Heck, the cameras were sharp—and graceful. They’d sweep across the soundstage and perform a sort of behind-the-scenes ballet. Even the Xerox machines were sexy. You never saw such state of the art. The way they vibrated and moaned when in operation… Well, they didn’t really moan—unless they were broken. And, oh, the smell of fresh copies! You might say these things gave off mechanical pheromones. If copy making wasn’t outright erotic, it was addictive, and naughty. (All those poor trees.) No doubt the first name dreamed up for a nationwide chain of copy shops wasn’t Kinko’s, but Kinky’s.

Ok. That's enough. 

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