I was following this Orthodox Jewish guy around in my car, two guys actually, two young guys, then more, they were walking down the sidewalk and standing on the corner and I was looking for a place to park because I was on my way to a therapy session and my therapist is in a section of town where there happen to be a lot of your orthodox types and I always find good restaurants or a nice looking kosher shop looking for a place to park.

Cause kosher shops, you know, they can’t park just anywhere.

And I was looking at these guys, thinking, that’s a great look they have going. Dark suit, dark shoes, white shirt, you can’t go wrong. And I had to think about my grandfather. Not my Chicago-Irish paternal grandfather, the one who drank, the one who married the hot, young divorced Montana-Swedish singer with a kid already, the one who always said, You’re a gentleman and a scholar, the one who died before I was born, but my mother’s father, who also died before my birth, the one who spoke Yiddish, the one who suffered for years from diabetes and finally killed himself with a loaf of fresh bread when they left him home alone.

Yiddish, in Washington State. I listen to a radio station in Vienna, Oe1, which is so totally intelligent and interesting I’m kicking myself for not listening to it earlier. They have the most wonderful, smart programs and stories and music there and yesterday they had a special about Klezmer music and the scene in New York and they said around the turn of the century, the one 105 years ago I mean, there were a several million Yiddish speakers in New York, if I understood them right. 1-2 million, something like that. Or in the United States? or around the 1930s and not the turn of the century? I wasn’t listening too closely, I was driving, man.

Klezmer music is good music. It really rocks. They played a lot from the 1920s and 1930s, and to be honest the vocals, at least what they played… I can listen to the instrumental stuff longer. But any music gets on your nerves after a time, and what do I know anyway.

My mother still spoke some Yiddish with us, because her father had with them. Or she spoke it with me at least. I never spoke it to anyone, I know that. I feel like the ass end of American culture. I remember what it was like before it became homogenized and industrialized. As far as I know, my family is not Jewish, although there is this one great-great-grandmother who came from Alsace we’re not sure about. That would be his grandmother.

I used to work at a mortgage bank, back when I lived in the U.S., and there are these rules and conditions printed on the back of property deeds and they include, still today, things like, “the property may not be sold or rented to Jews” and so on. It’s illegal and carries no legal weight and no one pays attention to them; they’re just this historical appendix hanging there. It would be impractical to remove that stuff from millions of deeds, they just pass laws making that bit void. But what I’m saying is, I don’t know what I’m saying. He spoke Yiddish is all I’m saying.

When I was little I was attracted to flashier attire than I now wear. In a shop in Vancouver, when I was about ten or eleven, its name, back then, was “The Gay Blade”, I remember insisting that my mother buy me a paisley shirt. She said I had what her father would call “fingerspitsengefoo”. I said what’s that and she said it means you’re a flashy dresser. When I learned German, I found out that would correspond to the word “Fingerspitzengef

3 responses to “Fashion

  1. It’s remarkable to me that your family was able to hang on to any Yiddish at all for so many generations, considering how far back the one Jewish person was … my family was all 100% grade-A Jewish until my generation, and though Yiddish was spoken *to* my Mom in her household (by her grandmother), she had the usual ‘greenhorn 2nd generation’ attitude and responded in English–so she knows Yiddish, but only ‘passively’, not very well actively. Yiddish was something you spoke at family gatherings so that the children *wouldn’t* understand (shande!)

    I knew some German, and so in my early 20s tried to learn as much Yiddish as I could: learned how to use the Hebrew letters to spell it (the rules, such as they are, differ from how they’re used to spell Hebrew), tried to read some Singer and Sholom Aleichem. Got far enough to understand the bits of Yiddish I could seek out in the family environment, which was precious little. In addition to my anemic Jewish cultural sentiments, I also have a rather strong orientation to language as culture generally, and am sad to see any language die–but this particular one, it’s my direct heritage, and, well.

  2. Your mother’s father may well have been Jewish–or at least his parents were. Forced conversion, or conversion to avoid persecution, has been a continuing theme for Jews through the centuries.

    On that note, I’m claiming you as one of my people. Welcome to the fold. By the way, you’re looking a little peaked–you should eat more.

  3. paul

    The ass-end of American Culture.. I like that. I have no discernable cultural heritage from my immigrant ancestors that I know of. Just plain American as far as I can tell (unless a fondness for potato’s can be counted as a German trait).

    I think my Mom’s side tried to downplay their German heritage during World War II.

    Speaking of culture, my Mom’s German surname had only 4 letters and we always thought it was some version of a longer name that had gotten shortened at Ellis Island or elsewhere in the immigration process. But when my Brother went to Germany to look it up, it turns out it is a moderately common 4 letter name in Germany.

    Strikes me as anti-climactic somehow.