Tuscaloosa Diary 1
I am trying to interrogate myself about this smugness, this Yankee intellectual artiste atheist lefty smugness. They pronounce "swim" in two syllables. Sway-em. They say yes ma'am, and I can't figure out the politeness hierarchy of who says it to whom. (Starbucks barristas in the student union telling me that 50 Shades is a really good book, yes ma'am. One of them had to look up some words while reading it. I didn't ask which ones: for sexual acts?) Why did I email a few people the other day: There's a prayer meeting in the coffee house. It's actually sweet, though, isn't it, that they're praying? The Jew superiority that they believe in Christ, we've been raised with the notion that Jesus was a prophet, perhaps, but not a supernatural deity. It didn't climb, it didn't fly--translation of a Yiddish expression referring to Jesus as inanimate to throw the goyim off even more. So what am I thinking? This is alien, they are praying in public, it's funny because it's incongruous, it's going on among the cappuccinos, I like cappuccinos and everyone else who likes espresso drinks has to be sophisticated like me--it's funny because they are ignorant, they don't know that there's no lord. He don't exist. Is that it? I don't think so. I think I'm defensive when it comes to blatant Christianity. My dander up, my game face on, because they want to convert us. You have to watch out for them because they will ring your doorbell, they will ply you with pamphlets, they will preach into your ear. There are a lot of them, they get points for converting us, you can't trust them on Israel because they support it because the existence of Israel means we're closer to the end of times. (I had an atheist student who was writing about Armageddon and was thinking of calling up churches and asking them what their religion thought about the end of the world. She ended up not doing it. I thought it was a bad idea. But it might have been a great idea. She might have gotten great quotes and more understanding.)
I had the students read Stephen Bloom explaining Iowa to the mainstream cognoscenti. They didn't like his attitude. They didn't like all the mistakes he made, either. This week they read what I called another academic fish out of water: Phillip Lopate's Houston Hide & Seek, where he tells you in the first paragraph that he thought it would be boorish to look down on Houston. He wanted to like it. He didn't come there for the bagels, after all. The writers who criticized Iowa City because it was hard to get a New York Times on time there. I remember in Evanston if you didn't subscribe you would go to the little convenience store and buy one that you'd reserved. Maybe you couldn't subscribe, only through the store/dealer. Both of these writers, I told them, Lopate and Bloom, are secular Jews from the coasts. Bloom mentions his struggle to get students to replace Merry Christmas with Happy Holidays. He doesn't say why. I assume it's so he'll feel included. No, it's because he wants them to realize that not everyone is Christian. Deep down, is it fear of annihilation? Our form of making lebensraum? Make way for the Jews, make way for the Jews. We exist. Do not disappear us. With freedom of religion we do not have to be Marranos.http://www.jewishhistory.org/the-marranos/ The amusement and horror in the Workshop in Iowa when someone recounted an Iowan at an auction using Jew as a verb. Part of the continuum that includes stories of people in the South/small towns/older days who said, You're a Jew? Where are your horns?
God is a verb. Title of a book?
J, whose father brought the family to Atlanta from New York in the 1960s, who practiced labor law and maybe was a civil rights lawyer, too, J said that one time a friend was at her house and said, Who's Jim Crow? Is he a relative of yours? That is not funny. Or maybe it's horror again, combined with a snort at the ignorance, a snort that says, That sure explains a lot.
At the Y, tonight's Zumba class--five black women, three or four white women, a Latina and her daughter, white teacher. I did not feel racial tension. I read somewhere, maybe it's a commonplace, that in the South the races are more used to one another, have a history of closeness. Some of that closeness was criminal, but still it existed. All of that closeness came from the criminal act of buying another human being. The first task of the newly-formed University of Alabama was buying a human being. His name was Ben and his job was to prepare the ground for buildings. Who we are superior to: rednecks who drink and drive and hunt, people who have tchochkes that are not ironic. People who root for college sports teams. But mostly just Southerners who do. The Northerners root as part of a well-balanced diet of activities. People who buy a certain car for status. People whose taste I do not approve of. Am I so devoid of self that I have to condemn anyone who's different? Am a snob? Would I be walking around Harvard Square with my eyebrows arched they way they are here? The answer is no. I've been to Harvard Square. I approve of Harvard. Though I could probably make fun of it.
*** The YMCA in Tuscaloosa, I said before I got here, really believes in the C. This was based on its web site. Some people I said this to didn't realize that C stood for Christian. On the TV screen today yesterday at the Y, in between shows, was the quote from Isaiah that seems to be its trademark. Crossfit, I said also before I left Chicago, is really Cross fit. Why is that funny? Because the Y feels as if it should be a public organization akin to a park district, and these people (whoever they are) are violating the separation of church and state--they are naughty, doing bad? But the Y is not a governmental body. I still don't understand why governments do put up Christmas trees and set up creches, but that's another story. I'm against the giant menorahs, too, on public plazas. Celebrate the season.
M, who is in her eighties, remembers that her parents were wary of letting her go to the Y in Chicago for a dance--they were afraid the Cs would try to convert her. Make her a C, too. While the Y in Chicago had a shirt made that echoed the sentiment of Rabbi Hillel: If not now, when? I don't think the Y staff was thinking of Hillel when they ordered the shirts..