Monday, August 29, 2005

Four Shots One Evening

I rose to peer out of the window.

One man was dead, another man fled, and the witnesses were left with the thoughts swirling in each head.

It has taken days, but I now realize that there was much more in these two men's lives than what I saw, what I heard, what I felt. These men are more than their roles as victim and murderer. What led up to the murder? Not simply between these two men, but in their lives as a whole. We must not look for excuses or even reasons, murder should never be condoned, but simply gain a fuller picture. The victim was 21 years old. That is 21 years of moments just as the one that ended his life. The murderer, possibly a gang member according to newspaper reports, is also a victim. A victim of his own actions, his crime.

A maniac is confused. He wears a 'wife beater' and dark baggy jeans. He lowers his arm and runs in one direction for two steps. He changes his direction back toward his victim. He raises his arm in a panic and another POP resonates the parking lot. Then, in a flash, he is a blur. He gallantly, frighteningly runs to my right. Never to be seen again. He hopes.

A martyr lays on the concrete. He is purged of all his sins in a bloody mess. His feet point toward heaven. His right arm, decorated with a gold watch, rests peacefully on the ground. But the two morbid puddles of red tell a different story.

We are in shock, a frenzy, trying to find some semblance of calm for the sake of the others around us. The word that begins a million questions is 'why'.

Life changes in a second. But for both of these men, their lives had been leading up to this one moment. Nothing really changed. Every action that preceded that moment remains cemented in the stone of time. Only the way we relate to history changes. History does not.

The murderer, a man gone astray perhaps? Or perhaps he knew what he was doing. Perhaps he reached a moment of clarity before he pulled the trigger. This is what he was put on earth to do. To play the role of God for one brief moment. This was his destiny.

Maybe he really is a victim of society. Bad childhood. Parents hated him, if he had parents at all. This society breeds murderers through our own apathy. We view the people around us as 'others'. They're not our concern. This man fell pray to his circumstances. He could not change them. Sure, others have, but they were lucky.

I don't know. What I do know is that it is not that simple. It is not a case of 'either or'.

The victim, a man in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe he ran with the wrong crowd. Things spiralled out of his control. He didn't deserve this.

Perhaps he did deserve this. Perhaps he never had a way to lose. He was a bad man who finally got what was coming to him. He is yet another one that society forgot, because he didn't want to be remembered.

Again, it is not that simple. That is the way this incident will remain. A barrage of questions with little or no answers. A complex entanglement of 'perhaps's and 'maybe's that in the end signify not a whole lot.

I rose to peer out of the window.

One man was dead, another man fled, and the witnesses were left with the thoughts swirling in each head.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

What Becomes of the Broken Hearted?

I just saw the movie The 40 Year Old Virgin by myself. I'm talking I was the only person in the fucking theater!

Epiphany: I am a loser.


There for all to see. Our stereotypes. Our worst fears. What was going through these people's minds? What had we just said? I needed a time machine.

It was asked at one point, "Does being Jewish look fun?" There is a reason to try and have a sense of humor; because it is not.

We were assured that we had just given others a rare look into the Jewish community. What a frightening thought?! The rareness. The fact that we had given it. Were we given a choice? We must have been.

After being thanked by many, half of my fears were eased, the other half intensified. Why were we being thanked?

Jews are not a unified group; we hold many diverse points of view. This is obvious to me. Just come over to my house and listen to my family. We consist of three liberal secular Jews. We never agree on anything. Not even that 2+2=4. Ma still contends that it equals 5. My brother Ian and I have tried hard to convince her, but to no avail. Ian won't accept the fact that there is a G-d, and I cannot be convinced that there isn't a vast Christian conspiracy. Ok, a lot of that is not true, but you get the point.

The last time the three of us agreed on anything was 1988. We all liked popsicles. Specifically cherry. Even ma.

In my haste not to reinforce negative stereotypes, that's exactly what I was doing. A hard proposition to accept. I needed to talk to someone. Was being honest a good thing this time? Could being honest actually be harmful? We waited for the group's responses.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Inside the Camps

In Ravensbrook and Auschwitz, I tried to gain some minute glimpse into what the inmates there saw, felt, experienced. Where could they find hope in Ravensbrook? Was it the green of the leaves on the trees, the blueness of a clear German spring day? I was told in Auschwitz that desperate prisoners had eaten all of the leaves in the main camp and that only inmates who held hope stayed alive? I was further from understanding than before.

In the main camp at Auschwitz, I was considered a newcomer from a Polish Jewish woman, who was younger than me. She had visited the camp many times. She wryly told me, with a poignancy that she probably didn't realize, that she would protect me. Her presence gave me comfort. I was tired and famished; the sounds created a type of madness. Of course, comparing my exhaustion and hunger to that of the actual prisoners would be the same as comparing a mild paper cut to a limb-less Iraqi orphan. And, it actuality, I would not have been able to feel this young woman's warmth, because the sexes would have been separated. Instead, I would have been surrounded by men, some good, some bad, all in the process of dying.

In Birkenau I was overcome with the tragic history of every rock, every splinter of wood on the railroad tracks, every blade of grass. It was too much to take. At one point, I became weak. I was so weak that I just had to sit, my yarmulke still perched on my head. Were they alive, my grandparents would be mortified that I went into a concentration camp. I just wanted to get the hell out of there.

After listening to a granddaughter of survivors pour out her emotions, I gained strength. But later, alone, I fell back into the abyss of uncertainty. Would I ever get out? I stumbled towards whichever direction I thought was the way out. Unfortunately, I had lost my sense of direction.

When I finally found the way out, I walked into a barrack. I felt trapped again. Then came Eric, representing the American army. He asked, "I don't mean to rush you, but we have to go."

Rush me?! I imagined an American officer telling an inmate that very sentence.

I returned to Birkenau with the group the following night. I was scared. I prayed before I walked into the camp again. A few steps in I froze. Two young men asked me what my plan was. I said that I didn't know. The third, Miffy, asked a different way. We requested that I walked with him. It occurred to me while walking with him that this place could not hurt me. Only people could. I walked with Miffy, an Austrian, and we talked about ping pong, politics, and joked with each other. I didn't have to fear this place. I came back a free man. I laid the stones from my family in the field of ashes and went to our meeting place. There, Claudia, a young German woman took me in her arms. It was much more than a Jew and a German embracing in Birkenau. Two people who truly respected each other and each other's struggle with their familial history embraced.

I could wave off a German man's question. I could joke with an Austrian. I could hug a German woman. I could sit on the railroad tracks as a train in the distance could be heard. I could walk down the railroad tracks, Claudia in one hand, and Patricia, a Polish Jew, the woman who stood by me in the main camp, in the other. And I could walk out of the camp by myself. With my head held high.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

The Sights They Saw

The thin trees that create a bizarre forest. The mixture of colors that swayed into each other creating a horizon. The off-green of the grass. The sky, in its infinite vastness, a symbol of what I'll never know about my family. The emotion at the border of Poland swamped something above me that I cannot comprehend. It missed my body.

I could not come to terms with my family's relationship with Poland, my familial historic return, and the proper sensitivity for the nation's residents, especially those who had nothing to do with why I live in the United States.

At times in my life I have dabbled with the possibility that I am Polish-American. Half of my grandparents were born and raised there. But I know that I'm not. The way the world defines its subjects, I'm Jewish. There have been times where I was American before being Jewish, but not in the States themselves.

I went to Poland wondering if it would feel like home. Did my family and I belong there? The answer I got in one short week was simple. Poland wasn't home. It was a foreign country. One in which I didn't belong.

Last Night In Berlin

Berlin has been somewhat of a surprisingly safe atmosphere. It is a modern city. There are people from all over the world walking the sidewalks. Cars actually stop if you even think about crossing the street. They have Indian food. Good Indian food. Berlin's not bad.

Eric, a six foot American (need I say, not a Jew), and I were walking from the internet cafe to the bar to meet some people from the program. We walked up the street and saw a he, uh, she, uh, it, in the distance. He/she was about 6'8" tall. We scurried past, hoping she/he wouldn't see us. Unfortunately, this (wo)man did see us as we walked past he/she. He/she followed us, asking us if we desired a "good time". At least, that's what I'm guessing she/he said, as she/he was talking to us in German.

We thought we were in the clear once we passed gigantic, white-boot wearing, short-skirt displaying, person. Not to be.

Shortly thereafter, we heard a faint chanting in the background. We saw lights flashing. Hmm, what the hell is happening? Let's go in the other direction, we thought. A bad decision.

We were walking directly into the mob. They were all men, yelling fervently in German. A bad situation to be in for a Jew. Really for anyone, but especially a Jew. "Fuck!" I ran around in a circle wishing I could fly back home or somewhere safe. They were either neo-Nazis or ardant soccer fans, which could be one in the same I was later told. Eric told me to calm down. He advised that we should walk (I added the 'quickly' part) not run, away from the mob. We made it safely away into the bar. Oy!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

What A Day

The day began with one goal. Buy a German Hip Hop cd.

We all stumbled in to open forum, while everyone back home slept (except for Ian, who was probably watching info-mercials at the time.) One young Polish woman explain her non-paticipation in the Polish living sculpture from the previous day. Then she asked for any questions directed towards her. I took the bait. I questioned her about the connotation of the term bystander and its meaning in relation to Poland. She was reluctant, but I was patient and the entire group watched our interaction. Then I discussed the issues with the other Poles in the group. Perhaps I became hostile, though never shouted, but there were things that I needed to say. I know that there were good Poles that saved Jews during the Holocaust. I don't need to be reminded of the fact whenever the Poles' relationship to the meaning of bystanders and perpetrators arises.

Finally tough questions were being asked.

After our open foum, a survivor came and spoke. The first ten minutes of her story was fairly uninspiring, filled with awkward pauses and seemingly meaningless detail. Then, her true greatness as a person shined through. She told us things about her life that I could relate to, both though my grandparents and for myself. It provoked me to talk about my dad and his death.

I walked to lunch wondering what I had just said. Would it do any good? After lunch I ran into Sylvia again. Be angry; be comfortable with your anger; embrace it. Anger changes the world. Those were the words from her lips. She kissed me on the cheek and I knew everything would be ok.

In the afternoon, it was the German students' turn to be challenged. It began with a critique of one German student's simple drawing. A three-lined road. What did this road symbolize? A short, straight, narrow view of the Holocaust and its memory? It came up that he, had he known him, would have hated his Nazi grandfather. I asked him, that if you knew your grandfather, what if you loved him? What if there was something in your grandfather's unopened letters that you could connect with? Does that make you a Nazi too?

Of course not. It would make him a person. A person with emotions, one of them love, who feels a connection with his ancestors, no matter its episodes of ugliness. We all have that in our heritage.

Then the conversation shifted to a frustrating discussion about approaches. Methodology?! I din't travel an ocean, disobeying the wishes of my dead family to discuss methodology! Emotional or academic? How can you distinguish between the two? I lost it. The lessons from China became clearer. I knew how to deal with bullshit. Scream your head off. After all, anger changes the world.

Ask the Fucking Questions

I realized that I'm not here to make lasting relationships, although, if it happens, great. I am here to ask difficult questions. The questions that people have never thought to answer. The questions that make people feel uncomfortable. The questions that make people doubt themselves and their viewpoint. And I am here to give of myself and answer those questions that others may have for me.

Together Because of History

I found myself on the floor with a young German woman in our group, both of us shaking, as half of the people in our trip watched. She was recreating the moment when she found a chest in the closet filled with old items belonging to her Grandmother. There were Nazi-related objects. I told her that she needed to ask her Grandmother about her photos, which included friends of the family wearing Nazi clothing. Her Grandmother claimed that she forgot what the puicture was about, but the woman sitting across from me did not believe that this was true.

She feared that her questions might make her Grandmother cry, but I assured her that my questions to my Grandmother made her cry. My Grandmother had been strong enough to tell her story to me. I trusted her. I respected my Grandmother. She was strong enough, I knew. This woman was not so sure about her Grandmother.

"It's ok to cry and it's ok for her to cry. Her story is important." Then we embraced.

I looked up, there were people surrounding us. They were all emotional. They had all been touched in some form.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

H or D

In another country there are a few essential nuggets of information. As I've found out, sometimes the hard way, bathroom-related info is among the more important.

A group of us were in a 1950s style American diner. Sammy Davis Jr., Abbot and Costello, and Rocky all stared at me from the wall. Eric, a tall American gentile from Oregon sat to my right. He and I have cheered up the group with our playful banter. All tall male gentile friends of mine know what I'm talking about. Cara, who lives in New York, sat across from him. Across from me was an American-Austrian, Miffy, a tall skinny man with a slight Austrian accent with every word, expect for Long Island. His mother is from Long Island and she at least passed on her accent with 'Long Island'. Next to him was Patrick, a German who wants to convert to Judaism.

I really had to poop midway through our outing. I asked the two Europeans about the whereabouts of the bathroom, WC, toilet, I-have-to-shit. They told me it was down the stairs. When I got there, I was confronted with a dilemma. There were no pictures on the bathroom doors, only two letters "H" and "D".

I raced upstairs to ask Miffy and Patrick, "H or D?" They both answered emphatically, "H!"

I ran back downstairs and realized that both letters were part of my intials. 'Which one of my initials did they say again?' I thought. 'D, it must be D,' I decided.

So I opened the door to D and walked in to the empty bathroom. 'Hmm, there are no urinals. Guess they don't have urinals in Germany,' I reasoned.

I struggled to find the light for each stall, but finally gave up and plopped my ass on the toilet farthest from the door.

In the middle of my dump I screamed, "Shit!" It had occured to me that my two German-speaking comrades had told me 'H' and I was taking a shit in the lady's room. I finished as quickly as possible and scurried out the door of the lady's room.

'Whew, no one saw me,' just as a man walked by. 'Fuck, just be cool, act normal, you're just a hairy woman.'

I went back upstairs and told everyone that I just took a big shit in the lady's room.

Arrival In Germany

We touched down in Munich. I hadn't slept all night. I can't sleep on planes. Slept only 8 hours in the last 3 days. I was overcome by emotion. After so many years, I was the first in my family to come back. Back to the source of everything that has shaped my life. The reason why I live in the United States. The reason why I am so close to my family. The reason why I can never truly connect with my grandparents. Back to Germany.

I bent over, a tear streaming down my cheek. My Grandmother's face appeared. It was a source of strength.

Walking through the Munich airport, searching for our flight to Berlin, I was shocked with what I felt. I felt empowered. I was free. Free to walk where I wanted to. Talk how I wanted. Think anyway I wished.

The flight to Berlin was lonely. The symbolism of the flight attendant taking my backpack away and storing it in the overhead compartment, because I was sitting in an exit aisle, was not lost on me. The confusion and anticipation of the flight to Berlin replaced the jokes rooted in exhaustion from the flight to Munich.

I walked off the plane and into the terminal. A tear ran down my face. Then more after I retrieved my bag.

Walking through Berlin, I felt, I felt an emotion I never expected. I felt a warm feeling. These people were all colors, coming from different backgrounds. I was at, well, I felt not very far from home.

Friday, August 05, 2005

On Hiatus

I will be in Germany and then Poland until August 21. I'm not sure of my internet access over there, so I am temporarily on hiatus. However, check back with the site periodically to see if I've been able to post from Europe.

If I'm not able to, God help us all. How will you survive without my unique wit on the day's most crucial issues, such as circumcision.

Steroids for Everything

The line us baseball fans have been fed over the past couple of days is that Rafael Palmeiro is such a good person that it's sad that he tested positive for steroids. Palmeiro, who has over 500 career homeruns and 3,000 career hits, adamantly denied ever taking steroids in March in front of Congress. His denial has now become infamous; his stern glare in the direction of the
representatives, finger wagging in their direction as if he were lecturing them on something important, like their numerous acts of adultery.

The fact of the matter is that this is not a surprise in the least. Palmeiro, a decent hitter, has put up legendary numbers, and its not simply because of the futility of Tampa Bay Devil Ray pitching, though that's helped. Palmeiro takes steroids for everything, including his penis. He has been the national spokesperson for Viagra since his mid-30s. Can a man with a floppy penis possibly hit 500 homers without being on the juice. The virility of my penis leaves me with one conclusion, no.

Palmerio's mustache has always creeped me out as well. I mean are you a porn star or a truck driver or what? What's the deal with that thing? And what's with his name? I mean is he Mexican or Italian? Make up your mind.

As you could guess, I didn't feel that Palmeiro should make the Hall Of Fame before this scandal. Now he definitely should not. He was never a great hitter, despite the numbers. Derek Jeter doesn't put up nearly the stats that Palmeiro does, but it would be hard to argue that Sleepy Weewee is a better ball player.

Thus concludes my kicking yet another person while they're down. Of course, if I kicked Rafael Palmeiro in the groin, he wouldn't feel it, because his penis is dead, just like his soul.

Now I know why no man has really made fun of him for his ED. I'm gonna be nervous that karma will bite me in the, well, you know, for the next 60 years.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Facts About Karl Rove

Karl Christian Rove was born on December 25, 1950 in Denver, Colorado (look it up).

As a school boy, he used to supplement his father's income by beating up weaker kids than himself (they were usually ethnic minorities and/or gay) for their lunch money.

Karl Rove hit puberty when he was 10 years of age.

Karl Rove stole women's virginities in high school without having sex with them.

He attended the University of Utah, where he subsequently dropped out.

He rose to the top of the College Republicans to become chairman in 1973.

Rove once got his head stuck up an elephant's ass earning him the nickname "Turd Blossom" from President George W. Bush. Mr. Bush massaged the elephant's balls in order to relieve the large animal of Rove's head up its ass.

His mother did not commit suicide after seeing Karl naked as previously believed. What? I said did not. Then it's not wrong.

Rove is the master of what his critics call political "dirty tricks". His allies can't believe how fat and ugly he is.

"Uh, yes, may I have one order of evil with a side of douchebag," Karl C. Rove, who is often mistook for a manatee, said to the devil's 'character guy' in Hell before he surfaced on earth in 1950.

Two different, presumably sane, women actually married this man.

Rove learned his tricks of the trade from Donald Segretti. Refer to All the President's Men for more on this great American's achievements.

Karl Rove has never had sex with a man... but he's thought about it.

Karl will never admit it though.

Rove released the name of an active CIA agent to the press, which is a felony.

The agent had it coming, read:

Mr. Rove watches the Snoop Dogg version of Girls Gone Wild almost constantly.

Karl Rove has the disease ring-around-the-asshole.

He is Mr. Bush's top aid.

He is a bit off-putting.

He once punched a pregnant woman in the stomach and screamed, "Here's your abortion, bitch."

The woman did not actually want an abortion, though she is and was pro-choice.

Karl has a son.

He also has one ball that is much bigger than the other. I mean much bigger. I'm talking 5-6 times bigger. Not coincidentally it is the right ball.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Summer Projects

Two summer side projects that I have done research for are determining whether Bill Evans, the famous Jazz pianist, is Jewish or not, and whether or not Pelé, the famous former soccer star, is circumcised.


Bill Evans - My prediction is that he is not Jewish.

Pelé - My guess is that he was not circumcised shortly following birth, but was circumcised as an adult after being convinced by a fervently pro-circumcision teammate. Pelé attended pro-circumcision events with the teammate until he finally decided to fix his penis and snip his tip. That's just my guess. The teammate was a midfielder.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Garang Dies

The Vice President of Sudan, Dr. John Garang is believed to be dead at this time. The flight that carried Dr. Garang from Uganda back to Sudan has crashed and all aboard are presumed dead.

Dr. Garang's impact on Sudan extends far greater than his role as Vice President. He led the rebels against the murderous government of Sudan. His position as Vice President was a compromise of sorts to the southern Christian Sudanese. It was the latest attempt to stop the murdering of the Sundanese people.

Now that he has died, according to a Reuters report based on information from Ugandan officials, peace seems impossible. Numerous cease-fires and proposed peace agreements in Sudan have been ignored and have not stopped the killing. It is to the point where there is not much hope in the near future for the Sudanese people.

Remember the Rwandan genocide took place after President Juvenal Habyarimana died in a plane crash. The Hutus blamed the death on the Tutsis inciting the killing of hundreds of thousands of Tutsis and moderate Hutus. Though Mr. Habyarimana's death was used by those with power, while Dr. Garang represented those who are weaker, Dr. Garang's death has the potential to trigger more violence from either side. His death may be blamed on the Sundanese government, or may have actually been committed by them, but the impact of his death would appear to be undeniably negative.

The hope for Sudan, however, lies in its people and their spirit. As singer Emmanuel Jal vocalizes in his song Gwaa,

"I can't wait for that day when I'll see no more fears, no more tears, no cry.

"No tribalism, no racism in my motherland when my people go back home to their motherland Sudan."