Friday, April 16, 2010

Running towards Stupidity

As I walked my giant oaf of a dog in a neighborhood much fancier than my own, I heard a giant swarm of bees. I looked all around me--buzzing around filling the air. The buzz buzz got closer and closer, until finally I saw them: a swarm of fifteen or so women running and talking  and talking and talking. Skinny legs and all flew past my ass and falling apart black boots. The oaf stood in one place gnawing on the long wet grass oblivious. "How do they do that?" I wondered aloud in both awe and utter annoyance. How does one run and talk and run and talk with such ease? After a few minutes, I pulled the oaf back to the car, dropped him off at home, and went back to my normal morning of writing and researching. I forgot about them...

However, at some point I decided to check facebook and my page was filled with running updates: 5ks, 3.5 mile markers, running music enthusiasm-- all from people who never used to run. College friends, law school friends, work friends, my husband's high school friends. In fact, all from women I placed at the top of my list of women who looked good without being skinny. I liked my list. It made me feel good. Not that they are wasting away to practically nothing, but they are doing the one thing I can't handle: running. I'm not anti-exercise, in fact, last semester, (stress on last semester) I was super in shape. I worked out at least four days a week. I could walk forever- up hills and down. I lifted weights, punched bags, did suicides, but whenever I actually started running I'd have a full blown anxiety attack. Hiccuping, crying, yelling--I couldn't get past it. Somehow, everybody else, people I never imagined in the whole world get past it!

Why? Now, I'm not looking for encouragement. The last thing I want to hear is- you can do anything you put your mind to. Comments like that make me want to punch you in the face. Comments like that make me want to be fat just to spite you. Or worse, you'll become a character on this blog. I just want to know if everyone else got some magic pill in the mail that I missed. Some would argue that this all stems from the fact I'm married to an avid runner (now you all feel you figured it out), but The Giant Gentile's running doesn't get to me. It's his thing. He's a super athletic crazy man who has never found a physical activity he isn't good at. He's not someone to compare myself to. I know how he gets past it--you could cut off his arm and he'd keep going. It's in his Giant Gentile genes mixed with Marine Corp training. It's the women who seem more like me that I don't get.


The Cultural Historian returned papers last night. Crazy Chaim spent the first five minutes I walked in the room bragging about writing the paper without reading the book. "I saw the movie; it's the same thing." Then he practically leaped for joy when he looked at his grade. "Look!" He screeched, tsit tsits flying with misplaced pride. For a moment, I thought I might be blown away by his brilliance. For a moment, I thought he pulled his tallis over the eyes of The Cultural Historian and managed to wow him with his astounding prose and bullshit insights. The moment passed quickly when he shoved the paper in my face (but not close enough to actually touch me). "C! Isn't that Great? I got a C." Atlanta turned to him and said, "I would have pegged you for an achiever."

"Achiever!" He squealed back with glee. "A C is an achievement. Every time I've gotten a C or better I've been overjoyed."

Now, I'm worried about the credentials of the graduate school. If he's proud of a grad school C, then what does that say about his grades in college? Do they just let any Chaim Yonkel into the graduate program? How did he explain away his crappy GPA?

Just when I thought the IQ level in the room couldn't get any lower, when we finally looking at literature, Curious George says "I'm confused." We were reading Philip Roth's Eli the Fanatic about a community of Jews in 1948 30 minutes outside of New York City who cherish living comfortably next to their gentile neighbors. They don't want to be seen as Jews. They've worked too hard to blend in and are incensed when a Yeshiva of DPs (two men and eighteen children) opens its doors in their backyard. The traditional Jews fill them with fear. "There he was, wearing the hat, that hat which was the very cause of Eli's mission, the source of Woodenton's upset….Get the one with the hat. What a nerve, what a nerve." (Roth, p.920)*

The Jews in the community send Eli, a lawyer and member of the Jewish community, to speak to the head of the Yeshiva. Of course, as Eli said, "The trouble was that sometimes the law didn't seem to have the answer, the law didn't seem to have anything to do with what was aggravating everyone." (921) The Jews in the Yeshiva are greenhorns; they are obvious Jews. Thus, the community feels they reflect poorly on the modern Jews. "This is the twentieth century, Eli. Now it's the guy with the hat. Pretty soon all the little Yeshivah boys'll be spilling down into town…next thing they'll be after our daughters." (923)

In the midst of analyzing the story, Curious George raises his hand. "The story is about Jews? I thought it was just the town complaining." No dear, the whole point of the story is the tension between the assimilated American Jews and the traditional immigrant Jews. Fine, whatever, I should cut him some slack. Sometimes we skim stories and miss the whole point. My own students do it all the time. However, my own students are community college students. They take my class in order to improve their critical reading skills. They do not have the benefit of a four-year college education. Again, everyone makes mistakes. I used to think that if someone got five fouls in a basketball game they we're thrown out of playing basketball…but I digress

We moved on to Art Speigelman's graphic novel about the Holocaust—Maus II. Curious George pipes up again. "Dude, I'm so lost. I have no idea what went on in the story. The pictures are confusing." So let me get this straight: words confuse you and pictures confuse you. As I write this, I worry that I sound like a condescending Jerk. I admit, when the Cultural Historian asked me to add my own thoughts on Maus II, I had a hard time. My foot had fallen asleep and I was trying to talk and shake it awake under the table. Maybe Curious George's foot falls asleep a lot. Maybe he's got a really hot girlfriend who makes it hard to concentrate on reading. (doubtful) Maybe his cat died. Maybe he needs new glasses. At least he didn't scream, "This isn't literature—it's a comic book!"

Then, during break, Curious George tells me this strange tale of his friend in college who organized an Easter Egg hunt for the Jewish Student Union. They hid eggs around campus, and when the Jewish students found them, they were found with Jewish sayings. "What?" Chaim interjected with disgust. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard." Curious George looks at me for encouragement and understanding—convinced, I'm sure, that my Gentile husband and low-cut shirts make me very comfortable with going on a Jewish Easter Egg hunt. "Um, I have to say I'm with Team Chaim on this one." I said with my best talking-to-a-young-child voice. "Easter and Jews don't mix well." He gave me a look of confusion and then a bit of shame. "Yeah, yeah, I know. I told him it was dumb. I can't believe he did it."

Sure Curious George. Sure.

I should let it go. I should remember that my other grad school classes were filled with intelligent individuals. My other classes had rabbinical students, educators, lawyers, and even a nun. More than anything, my other classes were filled with adults not 22 year-old boys.

Maybe I should go for a run…

*Roth, P. (2001). Eli, The Fanatic. In J. Chametzky, J. Felstiner, H. Flanzbaum, & K. Hellerstein (Eds.), Jewish American Literature: A Norton Anthology (pp. 918-945). New York: WW Norton & Company.



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