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The Gantseh Megillah

Joel Wayne Speaks Out

I donít feel as relieved as I had thought I would. The fact, the UNBELIEVABLE fact of the Democrats taking control of BOTH houses of Congress had barely settled in when I realized that they would be able to accomplish little in the way of actual change. Bush would still be able to veto any legislation they passed, and the Democrats donít have a super-majority in either house to override those vetoes. So much for health care and any of the other many and varied issues that need addressing. True, they would be able to use their powers of investigation and subpoena to embarrass and keep a tight reign on what was rapidly turning into a monarchy, but as far as the war goes, precious little will change. The butchery in Iraq will continue under new leadership, and the stream of corpses and broken bodies will flow home unabated for the foreseeable future.

I find the whole thing depressing. I have just recently turned sixty, and it has hit me harder than any other milestone in my life. I realize now that I am officially old. I further realize that I had, to this point, believed that the world would work out its problems before I checked out. I look around me, and have come to the conclusion that we are still butchering and otherwise inflicting pain on each other in the same manner we have been doing for thousands of years, and it doesnít seem likely to change anytime soon.

Hereís where the depression comes in. We seem to pass this hatred and bigotry on to succeeding generations, almost as if we had looked at the stinking fruits of our endeavors and deemed them a fine outcome.

Iím going to flashback to my childhood once moreÖ

Where I grew up in Brooklyn in the fifties, the most important establishment in our neighborhood was Manganoís Bicycle shop. The owner would leave the air hose snaked out through the open door for us kids to use, and use it we did; the area became a hangout for the kids from the neighborhood, who would avail themselves of Manganoís free air.

Free airÖ

As I recall, Mangano's air hose was the source of the first of many anti-Semitic remarks I ever heard. It came in the form of the old joke having to do with large noses and free air. The remark was passed by some kid from East Fifth Street, a fat kid named Angelo, as he filled his own tires full of Mangano's free air. Air I assumed he volunteered to pay for, not being a Jew and all.

The little jerk was lucky I didn't clock him. He was not a friend of mine, and kidding I'd take from a friend was disrespect from a near stranger. What saved him were the embarrassing facts that I found the joke clever enough to use myself at Hebrew school, and that he used the term "Jew" instead of some other word I was sure he had in his lexicon. I guess with an Italian surname, I sort of "passed," and as such got to hear loads of these and many worse references to Jews from my neighbors. It seemed that every single one of the stupider folks in the neighborhood worked for a "Jew Boss." And if he didnít, he worked for a kike boss. Even more strange, the evil nature of the Jew or kike increased in direct proportion to the stupidity of the employee! Strange how that worked out. This boss, it turns out, was responsible for the complainant's miserable life, and never their own ignorance or mediocrity.

What I find remarkable even now was how even the smallest of children would let loose with bigoted remarks, and how casual they were about doing so. In our own home, any sort of profanity was forbidden, and it was made real clear that racial or religious epithets fell into the same category as swearing. Even the hint of such a remark would get my parentís jaws tight. Not to say that we didn't joke among friends, but we "smiled when we said that."

Nor were we Jews immune from the disease. I remember when I was about sixteen I was walking on Avenue U near Ocean Parkway with my friend Jimmy, who was Catholic. We were on our way to the beach, and passed an old man who I recognized as a member of our congregation, on his way to afternoon services. He was dressed in a suit and tie. He recognized me and stopped to say hello. For some reason he felt it important to inform us that while it was OK to go to church in shorts and t-shirts (as Jimmy and I were wearing), when you go to shul, you "MUST WEAR A SUIT AND TIE!" This last bit of Talmudic Wisdom emphatically pronounced in a grave tone from behind a stiff upraised index finger. As far as I know, there is no dress code for attendance at services mentioned in the Talmud, and if there were, robes and sandals would probably figure prominently in it. I had no idea why this coot decided to so inform us of this dubious regulation, but I figured the large gold crucifix around Jimmy's neck had something to do with i t.

While this was not a major deal, there was something about the incident that embarrassed the hell out of me. It had the prime ingredients for true bigotry in it. It was uninformed, illogical, unnecessary, and arrogant.

I knew for a fact that Catholics dressed for mass. I saw them streaming southward every Sunday, as Iím sure the old man did as well. Sure, for confession and other ancillary activities it was come as you are, but didn't we dress down for Hebrew school? What the hell was this guy on about? I just looked at Jimmy and shrugged.

If we Jews were occasional targets, Negroes (the then "proper" term) were used for artillery practice.

I remember clearly the first time I heard the word "Nigger." I was seven or eight, and engaged in a game of punch ball on the corner. I was on our third base sewer as a base runner, and the third baseman, a kid I remember simply as Pepe, asked me if I'd "ever smelled a nigger's fart." As seeking out such an odor from any source at all seemed absurd, I just stood there and gaped at him. To add to my confusion, at the time I had no idea what a nigger was. He then expanded on his remark, answering his own rhetorical question in the age-old manner of the terminally moronic. "It smells like a fuckin' sewer!

Now where would young Pepe come up with such a theory? Pepe was (maybe still is!) eight years old!

Cut to Pepe's supper table. Here's Dad, who has the IQ of a mineral, and had a bad day at work (maybe his "Nigger Boss" gave him a hard time?) Then came the reference to the relative merits of farts. Pepe hears it and accepts it as divine truth. Dad said it, right? A nigger's farts smell worse than a white man's. This divine truth is then submitted for my approval during a game of punch ball.

I looked down at the base we both occupied, then back at him, searching for the irony in his simile. When I got home later, I asked my mother what the word "nigger" meant. She explained with words to the effect that it was an abusive term for a Negro, and told me that I was never to use it. That was sufficient explanation for the moment. As I got older, I of course heard that and the countless other expressions for all the races and religions on the planet.

As I grew older yet, and developed a passion for reading political and military history, I came to the entirely subjective conclusion that every millisecond of misery, war, pestilence, tragedy, and fear the world at large has ever suffered through can be traced to the selfsame idiocy Pepe had flying around inside his head that day. If there are any other root causes, I'd like to know what they are.

Maybe if Pepeís dad had instructed Pepe that if he strapped explosives to his torso and took the subway up to Harlem and blew himself and a few niggers to bits, this would please both God and Pepeís father.

Perhaps I am wrong; maybe the Dems will be able to effect meaningful change. Itís never happened, though, and Iím not getting any youngerÖ

Once again, thanks to all my Megillah friends for your indulgence.

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