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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Mortal Enemies: The Jews

My 3rd grader reported to me today that one of the boys in her class, said, "You know who my mortal enemies are? The Jews."

Hmmm, I said. He's probably repeating something he heard some older people around him say. Why do you think he said that? I asked.

She shrugged.

Does he know any other jewish kids? I asked.

More shrugs. Ethan's Jewish, she said.

Well, did that bother you, I asked?

A little, she said.

What did you say when he said that?

I told him I'm Jewish, she said.

Okay, good. And did anything else happen?

She said, He went like this (she pantomimed someone drawing away in exaggerated fear). And he said, Cc's Jewish, and I hate Jews.

Well, look, I said.  You could tell him, if it happens again, that you don't choose who your friends are based on what religion they are. You could say that doing that is acting prejudiced.

Yeah, she said.

So how did Ethan take this conversation? I asked.

Well, he heard it, but he ran off and joined some other people, said my 3rd grader. It probably bothered him a little, too, but he didn't want to think about it. Anyway, Joe (who said it) is a little crazy, she said, sounding as if that would take care of the matter.

Yeah, well, now's your chance to let him know a little bit about what he's saying. It's crazy kids who grow up to become crazy adults. Hitler was crazy, I said.

True, she said, although she doesn't know much about Hitler beyond the name. We're not exactly browbeating Holocaust history into our kids here in this household. We don't even belong to a synagogue. We don't even believe in God, at least the adults in the house don't. Still, we're marked as Jews, and that marking still matters. There are plenty of scary people around these days. Sipping Tea, for example.

Being Jewish isn't something I think about often. At the High Holidays, sure, at Hanukkah, and at Passover. I'm poorly educated about Judaism. What I know, I've gleaned for myself. I had only one year of religious school as a kid, and my children don't go to Hebrew school. This lack of education has only bothered me at times like these, when I realize that my being Jewish marks me in others' opinions, and I feel ill-equipped to re-educate them. Take Israel. I can't stand the whole Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It's got to end, and it's got to end with two states. The hardliners are disgusting. As disgusting there as they are here in the US, although their religions differ. But I hardly know a thing about it, and I can't bear to pay attention.

About twenty years ago, I had a housemate who asked me, in all seriousness, why the Jews didn't just buy an island somewhere and go live there. This was an extremely well-educated woman, and the question was honest, an honest reflection of pure ignorance. She had a crazy father, the kind of crazy that led to building an underground bunker on his property to escape the Communists, the kind of crazy who believed in the Illuminati, the kind of crazy that saw all Jews as rich and evil power-mongers. Somehow, miraculously, he raised a child who was willing to ask an honest question born of ignorance. The kind of ignorance that crazy Joe exhibited today.

Refill, anyone?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Sartorial Blues

At the beginning of October, I took a pair of chinos to the tailor to shorten them. This was my first time at this tailor, as I've not needed one since I left NYC and Leung's tailor shop on Lexington and 92nd (they make shirts there, by the way). The guy was very nice, the shop was full of work, so I left the pants. When I picked them up, I made my first mistake. I failed to check the hem. I was in a rush, we were going away for the weekend, and I had to go. When I pulled the pants out of the plastic to pack them, I noticed the stitching was very obvious. The pants are blue, and the stitching was contrasting, whereas all the other stitching on the pants was matching blue. Well, I threw them in the suitcase because I needed pants, and trundled off for the weekend.

The stitching really bothered me. I tried ignoring it, but when you're as "low to the ground" as I am, you don't want any contrasting stitching attracting the eye downward. The tailor had told me he was going away on vacation for a couple of weeks, so I waited until today to take in the pants. Needless to say, I had no receipt--my second and third mistakes were throwing that away, when I tried to convince myself the stitching was fine--but all of my information was in the cash register/computer, so I knew he could look me up.

There was a customer in the shop when I arrived, so I waited for her to leave before approaching the guy. I showed him the hem and told him I was not so happy with it. He took my name and number on a new receipt and said he would look up the invoice. Then he told me to leave the pants with him and he would get back to me in a week whether he found my information. Whether, that is, if, he found my information.

This was not going to be one of the "the customer is always right exchanges." And if he didn't find the receipt, he said, he would have to charge me to redo the hem. I told him I'd like him to call me before he did any work, and at that moment, I believe, the transaction changed. As I saw how the wind was blowing, he began fingering the stitching and told me he would never do work like that. He got out a spool of thread that matched the pants and said that would be what he would use. I said, yes, that would be the right color to use. Then he suggested that some people do their own hem and then they don't like it and then they come in and ask him to redo this work. For free, was the implication.

Okay, he said, leave the pants. I said I'd rather not leave the pants (fantasies of returning for the pants and the pants having mysteriously vanished), but that I'd be happy to bring them back in once he'd looked up my information. I asked him couldn't he do that right now, and he shook his head and said he couldn't.

Another customer arrived. I had been trying to avoid embarrassing him, but now I said that when he located my receipt, he could just give me a refund. He said, fine, and I left. At the car, I realized I had left without my copy of the new receipt of this transaction, which would be proof that this conversation had occurred, something I was now sure I would need. I returned to the shop. The customer and the tailer were smiling and talking and the customer looked away, suggesting that naturally I, the disgruntled self-hemmer was trying to take advantage of the reputable tailor. I asked for my receipt. The tailor refused. No pants, no receipt, he said. He could look up my information and let me know, but he wouldn't do work like that. Not in his shop.

I left the shop adrenelated. I know that's not a word, but it should be.  He was never going to look up my receipt, and even if he did, he would pretend he hadn't found it. The cost was minimal, maybe twelve dollars, but I'm on a tight budget. Besides, there was a principle at stake, maybe more than one. My integrity had been impugned, and there was nothing I could do. It would take this guy a matter of seconds to look up my name and phone number, but he wouldn't do it. Short of creating an ugly stink of a scene, it was unlikely I'd ever get either satisfaction or a refund. It was only twelve dollars, but twelve dollars is clearly worth the fight to Mr. Delmar Tailor. I thought about going back in. I'm still thinking of it. I thought of walking back in and asking if he's had the chance to look up my information yet. When he said either no, or that yes, he had, but that I wasn't in his records, then I would say, politely, that I was sorry to end on this note, and that my blog readers would be very interested in this transaction. In my fantasy, I neglected to mention that I have, to my knowledge, maybe two or three readers within 50 miles of here, but that would be my secret.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Le Shopping

I went to Macy’s the other day and bought some things for my kids. I really dislike shopping around here, where it's all malls, and nothing is interesting, and there isn't even the option of strolling into a fantastique boutique and finding some cool French kids' clothes way on sale.  Nevertheless, children do grow, and so, I went to Macy's. I collected a few items, and went to pay.

Although there were several salespeople visible on the floor, there was just one open register, at which a line had formed. As soon as I joined it, holding my items, I realized I needed a restroom. Well, I figured I would wait. I was holding a bunch of hard-sought children's clothing that I didn't want to lose.

It quickly became apparent that the transaction underway at the desk wasn't your basic cash-and-carry. It could be a price check, or a return, or God help me, an account opening.  I listened and observed. The salesclerk, who avoided looking at the line in front of her, was entering data into the register -- and apologizing. Not a good sign. She was entering this customer's vital stats -- and making typos, and apologizing.

I began looking around. An army of salesclerks and managers seemed to be standing around the children's section, gabbing. I nabbed a passing name tagged person and asked if there was another register open. Not in the children's section, I was told; but I was welcome to try another register in a different department.  Why would I do that, when I would have to search through the minipods of goods in Bedding or Housewares to find the one lone register that would be open there? By the time I located someone to ring me up, it would probably be my turn in the children's department.

At this point, someone ahead of me in line left, probably setting out for the register in crockery. A relaxed, casual atmosphere now descended upon the salesclerk and the customer up front. I overheard more than I needed to know about this customer's son, so busy playing sports he had no time to shop for a blazer. Imagine, he was going to a bar mitzvah, and he needed to wear a jacket and tie. Well, he didn't own a jacket, and she didn't realize how dressy a bar mitzvah is. Oh, it's like a wedding. And on and on. I was beginning to question if I was on Planet Earth. Imagine being in any place called New York and not knowing about bar mitzvahs, at least enough to know they call for fancy dress. And what was with this whole chatty thing? I felt very far away from NYC.

Perhaps I was exuding molecules of impatience. I'm not the most patient person. I'm an Aries, for God's sake. But I was being as patient as I knew how. I asked politely about the registers, and only maybe mumbled something to myself about how when someone is not conducting a routine sale, that might be a plausible time to deploy another register to reduce the wait for those who just wanted to pay and pee and flee. I'm sure it was barely audible. Anyway, it was only an idle comment to the ether, as I listened to the customer signing up for one of those point-accruing cards where after about five thousand points they give you a ten dollar credit, and in exchange, you’ve given Macy’s marketing division all your personal info, as well as a lot of info about what you buy, how often, and when, which they can then use to enrich themselves further. I suppose if you're buying every navy blue blazer in three sizes for your son who's too busy with after school sports to shop with you, so he can attend a bar mitzvah in proper attire, you might want to collect all the points you could before you return all but one of those blazers, but still.

I started practicing mindfulness of my impatience as a way to survive it.

In time, the salesclerk placed each blazer in its plastic covering and this painful transaction ended. After that, the lady in front of me, who was next up at the register, actually turned to me and said she wasn’t in a hurry, and I could go ahead. People, it was one of those moments when your character speaks. When you say to yourself, I could take advantage of this woman who is more patient and certainly more charitable than me, but I shouldn’t, so I won’t. Or you could say to yourself, this woman has more time than me, and she probably doesn’t need to pee, and I hate Macy’s, and I hate shopping because every time I shop I have to wait forever to pay and then I have to return stuff later, and I will take advantage of her kindness – whether ironic and therefore hostile and meant to induce guilt and remorse, or genuine.  So, which was it, people? Well, I really had to pee.

All items but one were too small, too see-through, or too big. I would have to return them.