This is shaping up to be a very scattershot issue (scattershot: adj: broadly and often randomly inclusive). I’ve been ricocheting off the walls, shrapnel flying everywhere. Duck and cover if you must, but keep on reading.
This year Pookie and I will celebrate our 15th anniversary. It’s my longest hetero relationship so far—heterospecies, that is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not into bestiality….
who you callin a beast?
Ah, it’s my better half. Wanna go outside? Wanna go outside? Less go outside!
There, that was easy. He’s got some sort of project going in the back 40. “Back 40” usually means 40 acres, but in our case it’s 40 inches, if that. (I just measured it, and it’s 36.) Basically, it’s a narrow strip of hard ground, 3 x 10 ft, between the concrete patio and the fence. My Danish farmer grandfather would be scandalized that I get by on so little contact with the land. Pookie has been building something behind the honeysuckle that, to my untrained, eye, appears to be a pile of stones. (I can’t help thinking of it as a burial mound and wondering, for whom?) Maybe it’s a Zen thing, a process rather than a product, his own little meditation space, though, frankly, he can meditate just about anywhere. At least that’s what he tells me he’s doing.
I bought Pookie one of those “kitty grass” plants for him to munch on. It was even organic. He could have eaten better than I do. But no, he wouldn’t touch it. So I took it out of its little black plastic pot and put it outside, thinking maybe Mother Nature would take over and do something with it, maybe make a little kitty forest or at least a lawn. Far be it from me to… what do they call it? dig in the ground and… oh yeah, plant anything. But time ran out for the kitty grass, and now it’s just sitting out there, a cube of dirt with bleached-out leaves/blades/whatever sticking out of it. In fact, it looks just like the Wilson volleyball that Tom Hanks painted a face on in “Castaway” after it had been sitting around for about 4 years. It did cross my mind to make a face on the side of the dirt cube, but even I thought that was going too far.
Pookie, of course, can spend hours lounging, exploring (disappearing into the thicket of honeysuckle vines), or piling stones in the back 36 and then come in to do his business in the litter box. That’s OK; better he not get the idea he can go just anywhere. But the other day, after a particularly extended session of rock-piling, he got up on the pile and…
don’t you dare!!! or ill tell them about the time you…
OK, never mind. Let’s talk about our anniversary. I’d say we’ve had a good 3 years. What’s that old joke, “My wife and I have been happily married for 3 years; unfortunately we got married 20 years ago”? But in our case, it was the first 12 years that were kind of rocky. (Hmm, could the rock pile be a metaphor….?) I felt that I never really bonded with him, whereas little Tweeter was the light of my life. But after he almost died of that bladder infection (see mary’zine #2), everything changed. He still throws up all over the place, sheds buckets of hair, shits off the side of the box (“No, Pookie, you’re supposed to think outside the box, not shit outside of it”)… but I feel deeply connected to him. When I look into his eyes, I feel as if there’s a great intelligence looking back—Pookie and me… in the Mystery. As Krishnamurti said, “When you and another person [cat] are in the same place at the same time, are there really two? Or is there just the One?” (I’m paraphrasing wildly.) So we have these profound, sweet moments, and then I’ll have a little fun with him by rocking him gently back and forth with my foot and saying, “I could crush you like a bug!” in a really cheerful voice, and he’ll look at me deep from behind those luminous, intelligent orbs and he has no need for human speech, it’s all in the eyes. “You talkin’ to me? … You talkin’ to me? … I’m the only one here. You must be talkin’ to me.”
the genius of me
Apropos of nothing (but that’s never stopped me before), here are a couple of my Great IdeasTM. I’d like to run them up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes.
• Great IdeaTM #1: I wish Ford or one of the other automotive-behemoth-manufacturing companies would have a contest called “Name This SUV” for their next monstrosity. I’m pretty sure I could win with… Land Shark. Think of the possibilities. It would only come in black, with one of those ‘50s-style grills on the front, the ones that look like snarling teeth. A fin on top. And a trompe l’oeil paint job on both sides depicting fish, surfers, and Volkswagens scrambling to get out of the way.
• Great IdeaTM #2: A store, website, or designer fashion line for Dykes Like MeTM who are tired of trolling men’s departments for simple, comfortable, colorful (or plain) shirts and pants. But these clothes would fit women, including those of us d’un certain âge. What a concept—duds for the non-girlie-girls! You wouldn’t have to be butch to buy them, but it would help. Just think what DKNY could do with this—just scramble the letters a bit. My name for this stroke of marketing genius? Mister Sister.
Yes, I’m brilliant… except when I’m not…. Read on….
war with … huh?
It was July 4, and since nothing closes on holidays anymore, I was out shopping for some Frappucino and other staples. I had just pulled into the parking lot of United Market, and for some reason I had the BBC World News on the radio. I wasn’t really listening, but suddenly I registered the words “… recent attack.”
Of course, I had subliminally taken in all the vague warnings about how the terrorists might strike again on the Fourth of July—as if they would feel the need to attack us on a day that’s meaningful to us, or to engage in symbolic posturing at all. After Sept. 11 there was a flurry of speculation about the numerical significance of the attacks. People played with numbers—flight numbers, dates, latitudes and longitudes—and instead of putting 2 + 2 together to get 4 (they hate us; they really hate us), they came up with… 11. Aha! Eleven! Eureka!
(I can just imagine the terrorists, last summer, trying to book flights that would not only be going cross-country and carrying maximum fuel, but that would provide these numerological fanatics with all the important clues to read the secret message.
“Which flight did you want, sir?”
“Oh, anything going to the coast that would spell ‘Afghanistan’ on a telephone dial.”
But let’s get back to the BBC. The reporters’ voices are agitated as they breathlessly announce that they have just received an exclusive report from New York saying that Hawaii and the Philippines have been attacked! We won’t know for a few days yet if the United States will go to war with… Japan??
My head is in 2002—July 4—7/4—11!—struggling in mental quicksand. “Well, Hawaii is in the U.S.—maybe the terrorists decided to blow up an island. But why the Philippines? And I sure haven’t heard anything about hostilities with… Japan??
And then, of course, I realize I’m listening to a rebroadcast of reports from 1941 about Pearl Harbor! But why now? What a thing to play on Independence Day! Are the British still trying to get back at us for that?
I sit in the car feeling like an idiot. I’ve had my own personal little “War of the Worlds” moment. (“War of the Worlds” was the 1938 radio play that started a panic because people thought Martians had landed in New Jersey.) Well, at least I didn’t run into the store crying, “The terrorists attacked Hawaii!”
This slow-grasping-of-the-obvious may or may not be a sign of early senility, but I’ll tell you what is. The other day I drove up to P’s house in Novato, parked in the driveway, and popped the trunk with the lever inside the car instead of opening it with my key, as I usually do. I got out and went back to get my tennis racket and noticed that the trunk was slightly open. And I thought—swear to God—“Why is the trunk open? Did I drive all the way from home like that?” And then my brain cells kicked in and I remembered that 4 SECONDS AGO I had popped the trunk. By now I’m used to walking into a room and forgetting what I’m doing there—I can handle that—but I’ve been known to get up from my desk chair to do something and forget what I was going to do before I’m even fully upright. I’m beginning to see why old people live in the past—the past is on the hard drive, but the present is on an unlabeled double-sided floppy disk you can’t even read on your Power Mac G4 because it requires high-density… (An unexpected error occurred because an error of type whatchamacallit occurred. Save your work and abandon metaphor now.)
So, while I still have my wits about me (they’re around here somewhere, I just know it), let’s get serious for a minute.
the rough beast returns
One day I was driving home from Woodlands Market (that’s all I do all day, is drive from one grocery store to another), and my radio was again tuned to NPR. Fortunately, the BBC was occupied elsewhere—maybe chasing down old recordings of the Battle of Gettysburg. (Oh yes, serious.) A local left-wing talk show, Working Assets, was on, and the guest was Todd Gitlin, NYU professor, formerly of UC Berkeley. He was talking about the difference between patriotism and nationalism, a distinction that the usually bright politicos on the Left seem incapable of making. Nationalism is the gung-ho belief that your country is superior to all others. But patriotism is about the bond you feel with your fellow countrymen (countrypeople?) and the public servants who put their lives on the line for you every day: your firepeople, your policepeople, your soldierpeople. That seems legitimate to me, and that’s why I have an American flag sticker on my car—not to rally ‘round the Bush Man’s warlord tendencies and crimes against humanity but to express my solidarity with my fellow (and gal) Americans, who are not predominantly racists and xenophobes and corporate criminals, but regular people who don’t deserve to die for the real or perceived sins of the government.
I was pretty sure I’d seen an article by Mr. Gitlin in the S.F. Chronicle a day or two before. So when I got home I started pawing through the recycling bags. I had to pee, it was way past my lunchtime, but I was determined to find it. When will I learn to clip these things when I come across them? Well, sometimes I do, but those are the ones that pile up on my dining room table and get covered over by Lands End catalogs and coupons for Silver Screen Video and Mr. Handyman until they finally float to the surface, old and faded, and I wonder what I thought I was going to do with “Science makes strides toward relief for restless leg syndrome.”
Finally, voilà! The headline is “Anti-Semitism masquerading as activism”; the article first appeared on motherjones.com. I e-mailed the author asking permission to reprint his article, and he replied on the same day:
Thanks very much. I’m delighted that you want to send the piece around and you have my enthusiastic permission.
Professor of Culture, Journalism and Sociology
New York University
“The Rough Beast Returns, by Todd Gitlin, June 17, 2002
“The email sent out last month by Laurie Zoloth, director of Jewish Studies at San Francisco State University, was chilling on its face.
“ ‘I cannot fully express what it feels like to have to walk across campus daily, past maps of the Middle East that do not include Israel, past posters of cans of soup with labels on them of drops of blood and dead babies, labeled “canned Palestinian children meat, slaughtered according to Jewish rites under American license,” past poster after poster calling out Zionism = racism, and Jews = Nazis,’ she wrote—and the details only became more shattering from then on.
“I read Zoloth’s words with horror but not, alas, complete amazement. Eleven years ago, during the Gulf War, across San Francisco Bay, the head of a student splinter group at Berkeley addressed a room full of faculty and students opposed to the war, spitting out venomously, ‘You Jews, I know your names, I know where you live.’
“The faculty and students in attendance sat stiffly and said nothing. Embarrassed? Frightened? Or worse—thinking that it wasn’t time to tackle this issue, that it was off the agenda, an inconvenience.
“Far more recently, two students of mine at NYU wondered aloud whether it was actually true, as they had heard, that 4,000 Jews didn’t show up for work at the World Trade Center on September 11. They clearly thought this astoundingly crazy charge was plausible enough to warrant careful investigation, but it didn’t occur to them to look at the names of the dead.
“Wicked anti-Semitism is back. The worst crackpot notions that circulate through the violent Middle East are also roaming around America, and if that wasn’t bad enough, students are spreading the gibberish. Students! As if the bloc to which we have long looked for intelligent dissent has decided to junk any pretense of standards.
“A student movement is not just a student movement. Students, whether they are progressive or not, have the responsibility of knowing things, of thinking and discerning, of studying. A student movement should maintain the highest of standards, not ape the formulas of its elders or outdo them in virulence.
“It should therefore trouble progressives everywhere that the students at San Francisco State are neither curious nor revolted by the anti-Semitic drivel they are regurgitating. The simple fact that a student movement—even a small one—has been reduced to reflecting the hatred spewed by others should profoundly trouble anyone whose moral principles aim higher than simple nationalism—as should be the case for anyone on the left.
“It isn’t hard to discover the sources of the drivel being parroted by the students at San Francisco State. In the blood-soaked Middle East of Yasser Arafat and Ariel Sharon, in the increasingly polarized Europe of Jean-Marie le Pen, raw anti-Semitism has increasingly taken the place of intelligent criticism of Israel and its policies.
“Even as Laurie Zoloth’s message flew around the world, even as several prominent European papers published scathing but warranted attacks on Israel’s stonewalling of an inquiry into the Jenin fighting, the great Portuguese novelist Jose Saramago was describing Israel’s invasion of Ramallah as ‘a crime comparable to Auschwitz.’
“In one of his long, lapping sentences, Saramago wrote in Madrid’s El Pais (as translated by Paul Merman in The Forward, May 24):
“ ‘Intoxicated mentally by the messianic dream of a Greater Israel which will finally achieve the expansionist dreams of the most radical Zionism; contaminated by the monstrous and rooted ‘certitude’ that in this catastrophic and absurd world there exists a people chosen by God and that, consequently, all the actions of an obsessive, psychological and pathologically exclusivist racism are justified; educated and trained in the idea that any suffering that has been inflicted, or is being inflicted, or will be inflicted on everyone else, especially the Palestinians, will always be inferior to that which they themselves suffered in the Holocaust, the Jews endlessly scratch their own wound to keep it bleeding, to make it incurable, and they show it to the world as if it were a banner.’
“Note well: the deliciously deferred subject of this sentence is: ‘the Jews.’ Not the right-wing Jews, the militarist Israelis, but ‘the Jews.’ Suddenly the Jews are reduced to a single stick-figure (or shall we say hook-nosed?) caricature and we are plunged into the brainless, ruinous, abysmal iconography that should make every last reasonable person shudder.
“The German socialist August Bebel once said that anti-Semitism was ‘the socialism of fools.’ What we witness now is the progressivism of fools. It is a recrudescence of everything that costs the left its moral edge. And, appallingly, it is this contemptible message the anti-Semitic students at San Francisco State chose to parrot.
“We are not on the brink of ‘another Auschwitz,’ and to think so, in fact, falsifies the danger. The danger is clear and present, though not apocalyptic. It’s no remote nightmare that synagogues are bombed, including the one on the Tunisian island of Djerba, famous for tolerance, an apparent al-Qaeda truck bomb attack. This happened. It is no remote nightmare that hundreds of Palestinian civilians died during Israeli incursions into the West Bank. This, too, happened. The nightmare is that the second is being allowed to excuse and justify the first.
“Laurie Zoloth wrote: ‘Let me remind you that ours is arguably one of the Jewish Studies programs in the country most devoted to peace, justice and diversity since our inception.’
“But anti-Semitism doesn’t care. Like every other lunacy that diminished human brains are capable of, anti-Semitism already knows what it hates.
“This is no incidental issue, no negligible distraction. A Left that cares for the rights of humanity cannot cavalierly tolerate the systematic abuse of any people—whatever you think of Israel’s or any other country’s foreign policy. Any student movement worthy of the name must face the ugly history that long made anti-Semitism the acceptable racism, face it and break from it.
“If fighting it unremittingly is not a ‘progressive’ cause, then what kind of progress does progressivism have in mind?”
This is where I wanted to tell the story of King Christian X of Denmark, who, when told by the Nazis that Danish Jews must wear the yellow star of David, said that he and his family would wear the yellow star also, and that all the Danish people would be encouraged to wear it—thus expressing their solidarity and making it difficult to identify the Jews. I’ve been known to tell my Jewish friends that “my people saved your people,” because Grandma and Grandpa Larsen came from Denmark. But it turns out this story is just another urban legend. I found the following on the Web, written by King Christian’s granddaughter, Queen Margrethe II:
“One of the stories one often hears about the Occupation, and which I persist in denying each time I hear it, is the story about Christian X wearing the yellow star of David as a demonstration during the Occupation. It is a beautiful and symbolic story, but it is not true. I do not mind it existing or being told, but I will not support a myth, even a good one, when I know it isn’t true, it would be dishonest. But the moral behind the story is a far better one for Denmark than if the King had worn the star. The fact of the matter is that the Germans never did dare insist that Danish Jews wear the yellow star. This is a credit to Denmark which our country has cause to be proud of: I think this is an important fact to remember. The myth about the King wearing the star of David, well, I can imagine that this could have originated from a typical remark by a Copenhagen errand boy on his bicycle: ‘If they try to enforce the yellow star here, the King will be the first to wear it!’ — I don’t know whether this was the actual remark, but I imagine it could have been how the myth started. It is certainly a possible explanation I offer whenever I am asked. To me, the truth is an even greater honour for our country than the myth.”
However, there was a mass escape of Danish Jews from Nazi-occupied Denmark to neutral Sweden, organized by the Danish resistance. So maybe I can stand by my claim that my people saved my friends’ people. And regardless of urban legends, if worse comes to worst, I’ll be out there on the front lines wearing my “Gone Gefilte Fishing!” cap and wielding the souvenir “Danmark” letter opener Mom brought me back from the Old Country—
“Gai kakhen afenyam!”* I’ll cry. “Mæke my däy!”
*Yiddish for “Go shit in the ocean!”
One of Todd Gitlin’s sentences that really struck me was: But anti-Semitism doesn’t care. Like every other lunacy that diminished human brains are capable of, anti-Semitism already knows what it hates. I think of that sentence when I hear that we have to change our foreign policy so the people who hate us won’t hate us anymore. Which is somewhat like a woman saying, “I must start wearing old rags instead of these provocative dresses so I won’t get raped.” If it were that easy to avoid rape, we’d all dress like me. But the rapist doesn’t care what you’re wearing, and the Islamic fundamentalists, or at least the ones whose handiwork we’ve seen, don’t care what our policies are. It works better for them if we’re Satan’s spawn. They’re not interested in walking hand-in-hand with us to make a better world. Just because oppressed peoples have legitimate claims against our government doesn’t mean that the terrorists are working on their behalf. Can we hold two ideas at once? The Bush administration is fucked AND there are fanatics who will stop at nothing to destroy us.
In a recent column in the Chronicle, Jon Carroll quoted part of a New Yorker article:
“A lot of contemporary culture seems to take the form of the opinion piece: you read the first paragraph—sometimes you read just the title—and you don’t have to continue, because you know exactly what is going to be said. Everything is broken down into points of view, positions on a curve. If you’re off the curve, or if you pay no attention to the curve, no one seems to know how to understand you….”
Carroll was writing about the flack he’s taken for what he wrote on September 12, 2001. He was “essentially the only person in the mainstream press” with his particular take on the attacks:
“I had not trusted the Bush administration before Sept. 11; I saw no reason to change my mind. I feared an unwise war; I feared John Ashcroft; I feared anti-Muslim witch-hunts…. I had not waved the flag and asserted the essential strength of our nation, nor had I called for revenge.”
I was in complete agreement with his column that day and thought it was gutsy of him to write what he did. I thought the same about Bill Maher (even though I can’t stand the man) when he got in trouble for disputing the use of the word “cowardly” for the terrorists who flew into the buildings. Freedom of speech much? I thought that was a given.
But were either of these guys “off the curve”? Seems to me they were on a well-traveled curve—the one that curves to the Left. (Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) The Left’s curve—conflating mass murderers with oppressed peoples and predicting the death of democracy—is just as predictable as anything the Republicans are saying. The most common ending to letters to the editor decrying our “loss of civil liberties” is “What’s next?” The Domino Theory was a big joke back in the ‘60s—we mocked the anti-communists for thinking that if we didn’t stop the Reds in Vietnam, they’d proceed directly to Dubuque, Iowa. But now dominos are falling all over the place in the minds of the Fuck The War people, who don’t seem to see any difference between Then and Now. Isn’t there a weird kind of low-self-esteem/self-centeredness (“The U.S. is the piece of shit around which the world revolves”) in assuming that the only reason any group or sect would want to destroy us is because we’re BAD? Do we really think the terrorists would back off if we all just marched for peace and learned more about Islam? They’re not negotiating with us. Have they made any demands besides “DIE”?
And because I love the word “conflating” so much, I’ll use it again. While writing this, I realized I was conflating the U.S. terrorism issue with the Israeli-Palestinian issue. Unconsciously, I was seeing the two as the same problem, interchangeable, and maybe they are. Innocent people are being killed all around. And the seeds are certainly the same. When you fight with your neighbor or hate people who are different from you, you’re a freakin’ Johnny Appleseed of violence.
But there’s at least one very big difference between Israel and the U.S.: We are surrounded by (a) water, (b), Mexicans who come here in droves, not to kill us but to work, and (c) Canadians who do the same but walk unnoticed among us. And look who Israel is surrounded by. Like us, Israel is not always true to its democratic ideals, but it’s also not deserving of extinction.
So that’s my rant du jour, my scattershot, my meandering curves, my reactionary politics, my failure to get with the program and condemn the Jews for being racists. I have sympathy for both the Israelis and the Palestinians, I really do. But those activists at San Francisco State have gone too far. With that sweet Scandinavian blood in my veins, I can’t help wishing for all my Danish-descended sisters and brothers to join me out there at 19th Ave. and Holloway, 100,000 strong in our “Gone Gefilte Fishing!” caps, fulfilling the promise that King Christian would surely have carried out if history had gone the other way.