Monday, March 19, 2007

What Do We Have To Be Happy About?
(by Sera)

First things first:

Mojo, as I mentioned before, had his munitions factory surgically removed last week. The vet sent him home in what I've been calling The Conehead but which is technically referred to as an Elizabethan Collar. When Mojo wears it, he becomes a bat with fucked-up sonar. He runs into things, he drags the bottom edge on the ground and then scares himself with the noise, he looks at me with a mix of self-pity and confusion: Why hast thou forsaken me?

So we decided to take it off him with the stern warning not to lick his nuts (or what's left of 'em) and lo and behold, he understands English including the vernacular for testes, and he's totally left himself alone.

Are you already bored of me talking about my puppy? If so, sorry. Sorry your heart is so ice-cold that not even the sight of this perfect manifestation of cute can thaw you.

In case you're wondering, the shaved bit on his arm is from the IV. And the look on his face? Well, that's 'cause we done took his jewels.

I talked to the vet the day after the surgery. He's a family friend, an earnest, excitable Polish immigrant running a pet hospital in San Bernardino. Judging by the waiting room the day I was there, San Berdoo boasts a highly inappropriate per capita share of the nation's pit bulls. They're cute when they're puppies, those li'l killing machines. It's all fun and games 'til somebody eats a toddler. My point is, Dr. Z's not only a nice Polish man, he also takes his life into his hands every day to serve the populace of SoCal and its cornucopia of hellhounds.

Anyway, so I call him the day after the surgery, and I go, "Mojo's just lying there. Is that normal?"

And Dr. Z goes, "He just had his testicles removed. What does he have to be happy about?"

This struck me as an incredibly Polish thing to say. In fact, "What does he have to be happy about?" was pretty much my parents' mantra about all things and people throughout my childhood. Sort of like — well, we survived the war, but it isn't like life's a fucking Chuck E Cheese.

There's an awesome Polish restaurant just down the street from my house, and they kindly provided me with another perfect example for you, dearest blog reader, of an Incredibly Polish Thing To Say. They recently hung a banner to advertise their happy hour drink specials. It invites passersby to the "Is Anybody Really Happy Hour?" The first time I saw it, I immediately called my mother. She cracked up, out loud, for approximately 0.8 seconds, which on the Polish scale of amusement falls somewhere between Tickled Giddy and ROTFLMAO.

I've been trying to parse the differences between the morose Jew in me and the morose Pole. It's a strange exercise. Both cultures wear this "We're bound to get fucked again" attitude like a waterlogged parka. I know Jews are all "Yes, shit happens, but why does it always happen to us?" But that specific tenor of We've Been Fucked Repeatedly feels different to me from the uniquely Eastern European brand of Yes, Of Course I'll Have A Vodka, Because Life Is Exactly As Shitty As Usual.

When my parents emigrated, they didn't go back to Poland for 25 years. That's because being Jewish in Poland is kind of like being Black in Lynchville, KKK County, Red State, USA.

I came with them on their first trip back to Poland. I was in college at the time. I watched them swallow down a pretty intense internal conflict: they were nostalgic for the country of their youth, but the country of their youth had treated them like shit. They'd been beaten up and called dirty Jews. Their own parents were trying to move on from the un-move-on-from-able: their friends, their cousins, everyone who didn't flee Poland in 1939? All dead.

So, suck city. The 'rents didn't feel at home in Poland when they lived there, but it remained the closest thing they'd ever had to a home.

Sime and I have written a lot in this here Hot Blog about the attributes shared by all us Jewsy types. My brother read it, and then called me to say he thought I had it wrong. "You and I have more in common with all those kids whose parents jumped the Mexican border than with Jewish families who have been here for three or four generations."

I've been thinking a lot about that. First of all, Ben usually talks about poker and chicks, so I was a bit surprised by the sudden introspection. And second, well, he's onto something.

I've always had a lot of Immigrant Kid friends. Perhaps this is fairly common in California, but my brother's comment prompted me to examine my relationships with all those I.K.'s. And I realized there's a reason we gravitate towards each other.

We know what it's like to grow up in two cultures at once — one at home, and one that began as soon as we stepped off the front porch.

We've been teased mercilessly for our difficult-to-pronounce surnames (no, Gamble isn't the last name I was born with. The name on my driver's license includes a "w" that is pronounced "v," an "i" that is pronounced "ee," and a "cz" that is pronounced "ch").

Whether or not our parents had money, nearly all of us were raised with the understanding that nothing we got came easy, and that our parents had to work way harder than their American colleagues.

We are almost always punctual. We experience great anxiety if we're running late. In general, we're trying to keep it together and be perfect in every way.

We are the force that Americanized our parents. And generally speaking, we yanked them in directions they were deeply ambivalent about.

We can talk to a wide variety of people flavors. Rich, poor, more or less melanin, jocks, geeks, we learned early to pick up social cues and blend.

We sound totally American. We are totally American. Some of us even look like regular old white Americans. And when you talk shit about someone's funny accent or clothes or customs, we may say nothing. But inside, we are taking it very, very, very personally. We would like to kick you in your stupid face.

Not you, of course. You'd never do that. But stupid people.

I went to that Jewish Day School — you know, when they showed us pictures of Auschwitz in the first grade? But I just gotta be honest with you here. I never felt like I fit in with all the other Jewish kids. I know, I know, I'm writing a blog about Jewishness. I'm supposed to be writing about how you and I and our Jewish pals in Tel Aviv and Tehran and Beijing are all hilariously similar, all slightly varied recipes of the same fantastic chicken soup.

But now you and I've gotten to know each other a bit. We've joined forces in celebrating the lusciousness of Rachel Weisz's breasts and Aimee Bender's prose, we've basked in our shared boredom in schul, we've swung bats in synchrony at the Very Hot Jew Perpetual Hitler Burning Effigy PiƱata.

So it's time to deepen the convo a notch. Talk about the ambivalent shit. It's time for me to tell you that when I'm in a big crowd of L.A. Jews, I don't always feel like I belong. I feel like my history is vastly different from most of theirs. (That even includes Simon. Obviously, we share many traits and get on like a house on fire, but there are also a lot of things about my background that I have to go into some detail to explain to him. And vice versa. And yes, maybe we could explain things more simply if we had the conversation before the tequila came out, but come on. Like we want to talk without our dear friend, Watermelon Margarita.)

Want to hear the funny part? I can only imagine you do. And by the way, thank you for hanging with me through so many paragraphs with no jokes. You're swell.

The funny part is, when you add up my Morose Jew DNA and my stressy Immigrant Kid childhood and my Existentialist Polish influence ... you get a pretty happy chick. Weird, right? I mean, it's not like I'm Little Miss Sunshine, but I'm not the Gay Proust Uncle, either.

Either the depressed Pole/oppressed Jew gene spontaneously mutated, or all their hard work being bummed finally paid off, because I seem to possess an unusually high amount of the "fuck it, this'll all work out somehow" hormone. I'm one of the most optimistic people I know. And I'm a writer. It's almost ... eerie.

I revel in discovering people's quirks. I love to hear folks speak broken English. I could write scripts full of cholas and Pakistanis all day. There is no cuisine I will not sample. Okay, well, I hear there's this nomadic people subsisting on rancid yak's milk, so maybe I'd draw the line there.

No, actually? I'd drink it. Life's short. Perhaps it is delicious.

All this is just to say: What about you, Jew? Do you feel like you belong? Are you One Of Us? What do you feel like you're One Of? That's what I want to know. What's your particular flavor?

And why aren't you shouting it from the rooftops?

Because "What do you have to be happy about?" is not a rhetorical question. That's what I discovered when I started writing about my very hot self right here. I discovered that when you stand up and declare yourself — it feels fuckin' hot.


The Minstrel Boy said...

my particular flavor is an irish immigrant father and a white mountain apache mother. grew up in the not very enlightened '50's in rural arizona. heard lots of stuff about "half-breeds" like how we have short tempers, mean streaks and can't be trusted. finally got to a place, after many years of being the pound puppy who kicked your pedigreed ass, to where i just say "i'm mixed race, my children are mixed race, my grandchildren are mixed race. we are simply going to fuck you idiots into irrelevance."

AuthorM said...

my particular breed choice. Living in mostly rural Pennsylvania, where you can only find Kosher Salt in the "international" section of the grocery store. Where we have more non-Jews at our seder than Jews simply because...we're about the only Jews we know.

It's having to defend my decision not to have a Christmas tree because "trees aren't religious."

It's not regretting my choice.

Rabbi Yonah said...

I love Polish vodka. My favorite is Luksosowa, straight from the freezer. It's distilled from potatoes, not rye like Belveder, Chopin, and Wyborowa.

Is there a good place to stock up here in LA?

I got spoiled having it at my fingertips all the time in Poland. Yes I lived there for many years working in the Jewish community.

I loved this post. Really. and the vodka. that too. Love that Polish vodka. Lchaim. Shabbat Shalom

Katherine said...

what a great sentiment. life is short, perhaps it is delicious.