I've noticed lately that I have a really difficult time being in situations where I am surrounded by Jews.
This is a somewhat strange problem, being that I am Jewish.
I didn't seem to mind it very much when I was younger, but I definitely do mind it now, and I don't know what's wrong with me. I'm pretty sure that something's wrong with me, and that nothing much is wrong with them.
This past weekend, my wife and mother-in-law journeyed down to a hyper-Jewish area in Baltimore. I can't remember the name of the town-- it doesn't matter. Now, I grew up in what I thought was a Jewish neighborhood-- you know, lots of synagogues all over, people walking to schul, a Bloomingdales within twenty miles. This place, though, made my hometown look like Butte, Montana. Case in point, I was a little hungry having forgotten to eat breakfast that Sunday morning. "No problem," my mother-in-law said, "There's a Subway over there on the right."
"And it's Glatt-Kosher."
Hmmm... kind of takes the fun out of everything, I thought, but what the hell? I entered this restaurant and was immediately overwhelmed by JEWISHNESS. Every female over the age of naught had a skirt going almost down to the ankle, lest we lascivious men be tempted by the sight of an uncovered heel. Hair was worn in an identically unflattering fashion-- and it was difficult to tell whose black hair was a wig and whose was real. Many tables were filled with young couples and an average of five small children each. The elderly Jewish men puttered around, exercising their jowls, hiking their stained pants up to their sagging nipples and ordering crazy sandwiches.
There was a sink with a metal cup and a towel by the counter, which I stared at, at first mistaking it for an emergency eyewash station. Some Jew I am, right?
Speaking of which, I received another reminder of my ignorance and idiocy when I tried to order my sandwich with the herb and cheese bread, found at any other Subway in the universe.
"Sir, have you never been to this particular Subway?" the African-American woman behind the counter inquired. Oh, Jesus, I thought, how could I be so fucking stupid? I was about to get a lecture on kashrut from a black girl.
"This particular Subway," she mechanically recited, "is a kosher establishment. What that means is: we do not serve any dairy product with any meat product. Kosher eating is a--"
"Right, yeah, okay, thanks," I interrupted. Can I have.... uh.... um....."
My tired eyes scanned the various meat objects proffered by this "particular Subway kosher establishment." I'd love to meet the rabbi who certified this restaurant-- he's probably more corrupt than the crookedest cop who ever raided an evidence locker. All of the meat that I could see was gray. Lots of gray, nondescript, floppy things. Gristle and fat hung off each sliver like dozens and dozens of small leeches, like a gelatainous curtain, like a... a.... oh, God....
I stared at the menu offerings like I had just arrived from Jupiter.
"I'll have a chicken and beef fry sandwich, please," I said, sealing my doom.
"Do you want parve cheese on that?" Parve cheese, I thought. That must be made out of potato flakes and wood shavings.
"No thank you."
I ate three bites of this sandwich before throwing it out, and, fortunately and miraculously, not up. It was like biting into a living jellyfish, covered with pickles and Southwest Chipotle sauce.
I was just happy to get the fuck out of that restaurant. As if the indignity of being lectured about my own religion from someone who learned about it from a PowerPoint presentation by Subway Foods, Inc. wasn't bad enough, I felt surrounded by people with whom I'm supposed to identify, but don't. All the men with beards and yarlmukes, all the women with large hineys and schmatas. All the children, all, all, all the children, some with strange defects. The old people with food on their chins. All the ccchuufffing, and choffffing. I'd say it reminded me of my grandfather, but it didn't. He never cccchhffed and choffffed. He was just there, saying inappropriate things and selling men's trousers.
I needed to leave.
Later in the day, my mother-in-law decided that she wanted to stop in a store called for "a couple things for Passover." I assumed we would be in whatever store this was for approximately eight to ten minutes, for matzah and.... I don't know.... matzah? This turned into an hour-long shopping extravaganza in a Jewish supermarket, the likes of which I have never, ever seen.
Can you guess that I won't be signing up for a "Jewpermarket Frequent Buyer Keychain Card?"
There were Jewish people everywhere, and that makes sense. Buying herring pieces in fluid and kosher hot dog buns and things that I have no idea what they even are, because the product name, nutrition information and ingredients are all in Hebrew-- a language which, I guess, you're supposed to know if you want to shop here.
The middle-aged couple in front of us in the checkout line had two shopping carts, filled to the kosher gills. Grand total for them?
Now, sure, they were doing some Passover shopping. I can't imagine that this is their total every week, but JESUS CHRIST! The last time I spent that much money on something I was.... well, I have no idea what it was. Probably auto insurance.
I just don't understand what's wrong with me-- why I bristle so in situations where I'm surrounded by "my own people." Maybe it's because I'm jealous of them, that they're so facile and so ensconsed by the religion that it's just as easy as breathing for them, and because it's something that I was always expecting would embrace me, when, really, religion is something that you have to, at least initially, embrace on your own.
Maybe I'm just a hostile, intolerant asshole who doesn't like what he doesn't understand.
Maybe I need to start seeing a therapist.
A nice, Jewish one.