It’s so awkward being Jewish, or any sort of “invisible” minority, because people will say absolutely heinous shit to your face without realizing that they’re insulting you, and you can’t just say ”fuck you” and walk away. Well, at least I can’t. I’ve actually pretended to be an anti-Semite to avoid an awkward confrontation.
I feel like I should make an announcement every time I meet someone: “Hey, I’m Alex. I like boy bands and cats. Also, I’m Jewish, so please don’t try and convince me that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion makes some valid points.’” (yes, this happened)
The other day, I went to a pub in Little Haiti and bummed a cig from this girl with a shaved head and funny teeth.
“Wow, congrats on wearing flannel after 2008” she said, handing me a light.
I immediately felt like I had entered some boring, hipster version of Mean Girls. Shaved head girl was definitely Regina George. “I can’t tell if that’s an insult or not” I laughed, (sidenote: My shirt wasn’t actually flannel, it was a plaid chiffon button-down. Come correct if you’re trying to slight a bitch.)
One of her friends, a spacy blonde wearing a bindi, looked at me apologetically and told me that she thought my flannel was cool.
“Thanks, I feel better now.” I smiled.
We talked for a while. Bindi chick was going to read her poetry later, and I should totally come and watch. Regina asked me where I got my boots, and I abjectly told them the name of my local suburban mall. “But you could also try Aventura!” I added, (I felt that Aventura had more cache.)
Hipster Regina George grimaced. “Ugh. I refuse to go there. That place smells like Jews and old people.”
Everyone laughed and I followed suit, of course, so no one would suspect me of being offended. ”Definitely don’t go to the Boca Mall then. That place is even worse. Jews everywhere.” I said, laughing a little too hard. I suddenly noticed how blonde they all were.
Later that night, when they were leaving, Regina hugged me and I told her how nice it had been to meet her. I half meant it.
The way I’d acted only started bugging me the next day (maybe cause the horseload of Xanax I’d taken had worn off and with it, my complacency) Why did I need the approval of these lame randos? Why did I pretend like I wasn’t offended? Methinks the Semite doth protest too much.
I got to thinking about when I was 16 and my mom and I went to San Francisco. We were in high spirits, and decided to take a cab to Lombard Street. I think it had just been Pride Week, and as we passed the Castro, the cab driver started to complain about how the gays and the Jews had taken over the city. ”It wasn’t always like this” he sighed. He had a pleasant Caribbean lilt and a permanent grin; quite the charming bigot. I focused on the melody of his speech and tried my best to tune out his words. It must’ve worked, because I don’t remember much of what he said, his accent sort of diluted his hatefulness. Maybe if the Nazis didn’t have those severe accents, their whole plan wouldn’t have taken off quite as well.
But there are some things that sting no matter how charming the delivery. I remember, the cab was stopped at a crosswalk and a crowd of tourists hurried across the street when he hit us with the whammy.
“I just wish Hitler had finished what he’d started.”
I was so uncomfortable, I wanted to jump out of the cab and roll all the way down to the bottom of the hill. My mom and I looked at each other, horrified, frozen. Just the day before, we were eating See’s caramels on a bench in a nearly empty Union Square, watching 4th of July fireworks explode in the foggy distance, and today a cab driver told us he wished we were dead.
“Am I right?” he asked, looking in his rear-view mirror for our approval, but we just stared at him, half-appalled, half-scared we would be found out.
“Right? It’s funny?” he asked again, grinning desperately. I think he’d realized he’d said something wrong. I stared down into my lap, scared he would look at me, find something suspect in the shape of my nose, or the color of my hair, and realize he’d been talking about me the whole time. No matter how shitty the person, there’s always a part of me that wants to spare them the embarrassment of having offended someone. My sensitivity to social awkwardness always overpowers any sort of personal offense. I lifted my head and managed to smile and nod in agreement, acting like he had just shared some amusing cab-driver anecdote. He looked relieved.
When we finally got to Lombard Street, my mom paid the fare and we got out of the cab as quickly as possible, shaking like a pair of tiny Chihuahuas.
I’m trying to figure out why I always react this way. It’s a weird defense mechanism that makes me loathe myself in hindsight. But what is the other option? Always causing a fuss? Is it really worth it? Idk. The only way I know how to deal with shitty people is by being shitty to myself.