Thursday, February 23, 2017

How Evolved Are Your Characters


When news of your forthcoming marriage was made public, you made two discoveries, each of which influenced your subsequent evolution as a person and served to ratify your own views about the forces influencing your sense of humor.

Through the inertia of what you've come to regard as the social Darwinism of the eponymous Darwin, you gained entry onto this planet in Santa Monica, California, the sociological equivalent of a second generation American, thanks to your mother's birth in a small town in Middlesex County, New Jersey, and your father's place of birth not all that far away, in the same county in New Jersey.

Culturally, you were born into an uninterrupted line on both sides of individuals raised in and following the Jewish faith. You were accordingly given--without consultation--the rite of circumcision. From time to time, you were given Sunday schooling in the same spirit in which puppies and kittens are given treats. You in fact never had  to go to Sunday school as, indeed, twenty some odd years later, your nieces had  to attend.  No one in your immediate side of the family held anything close to orthodox views of the Jewish faith.

You in fact stopped going to Sunday school for a reason you regard in retrospect as whimsical and yet a simultaneous indicator of the sense of ironic humor you were evolving toward. Your reason for not being interested in Sunday school was because the stories you got in the Sunday comics sections of the Los Angeles Examiner and the Times were more meaningful to you. Your elder sister also stopped attending at about the same time. 

There were no recriminations or indications of parental concern. But you do recall at this remove a long, pleasing period of Sunday morning breakfasts, with lavish meals, interesting conversations, and your own personal sense of the week being off to a grand start. Your mother was won't to say, asking if you'd like another waffle or batch of made-from-scratch pancakes, not to expect such largess on Monday. Of course, come Monday, you'd have a choice of Oatmeal, Cream of Wheat, of Wheateena, and there was always more than one fruit, which, of course, was fresh because your mother held no brief for canned fruit.

Farther along in your story arc, you knew Jewish men and boys who had not been circumcised and or allowed to participate in the Jewish equivalent of first communion, the bar or bat mitzvah. You and your sister were willing participants in those rituals, even though you understood, at the very conclusion of those rituals, when the rabbi expressed the hope that you'd "stay active in the community," by which he mean participate in regular attendance and observation of seasonal rituals, you both knew you wouldn't. 

This knowledge did not represent even a slight notion of apostasy or rejection of heritage. You and your sister each went on to evolve and articulate a stance of being a cultural Jew. You identified with the culture, made no attempt to hide it or your sentiments about any form of organized religion and the need for those involved within such faiths to be mindful of retaining an individual code of responsibility to the concept your sister put into words for you, The rule of ethical human law.

This insured you would both follow along in the Socialist-oriented politics of your forebears, favoring workers rights, workers organizations, Rosa Parks being allowed to sit wherever she wished on the bus, and, so far as your own religious preferences were concerned, congregations where, at the least, women and men sat on the same floor (as opposed to women in the balcony) and you were the first to ask with all seriousness, Hey, how come no women rabbis?

These previous revelations are intended to show your arrival without rancor at positions you felt equitable to all concerned, in the face of unanticipated oppositions from within and subsequent outcomes. Your sister married into a family where an approach closer to orthodoxy was the default condition, resulting in your nieces being made to feel they had to comply.  Immediate effects: on reaching dating age, both widely dated black and Asian boys to the point where you can't remember either of them having dated a white boy, much less a white Jewish boy. Not until she was living away from home, on her own did the eldest date white men, but again, not white Jewish. And the youngest was steadfast to the point of marrying a young Japanese, born and raised, as they say, in beautiful downtown Tokyo.

Your dating profile was more or less of a piece; at one point, a member of a Jewish sorority was wearing your fraternity pin, which translates to our having been engaged to become engaged, and so on. But you did not become engaged to her nor marry her. When the time came for you to consider marriage, your candidate was a person who had spent some time living in a convent as a novice nun attached to a widespread Hindu organization with home base in India, with independent centers operating throughout the world.

Because of your overall self-identification as a Jew, and because of a sense of sentimentality, you sought to discover if the rabbi who'd in a sense formally welcomed your sister and you into the Jewish community were still alive.  What better person, you thought, to preside over this lovely ritual.

Rabbi S. was still alive at the time, and yes, he'd be delighted to preform the ceremony, but as, he said, anyone could see your intended was not Jewish, she'd need to convert first. And so, for the interim, you could have a civil ceremony, which would "make do" until such time as.

The first thing your then fiancé said as you left Rabbi S.' home was, "Did you have to ask if we'd get steak knives if I converted?" To which you replied, "Yes. You have to understand. It's a Jewish thing."

The second discovery and in its way your entire reason for the shaggy-dog-story nature of these sentiments, came when your mother showed you a letter she'd received from a cousin of the brother-in-law of her older sister. This puts the writer's relationship to you at the literary equivalent of way out in the boondocks. You'd never even heard of this person who wrote to your mother about you, who where thirty-two at the time, although you were hazily aware that your mother's sister's husband, Uncle George, a dentist who had more than once cleaned your teeth, had a cousin who was an orthodox rabbi.

Your mother handed you the letter written about your forthcoming marriage. "I have a mind,"she said, "to go to Minneapolis and tell her face-to-face it's none her business whom my son marries, and if he wishes to marry someone who is not Jewish, he has every right to do so." But that wasn't the best part. "I wonder," your mother said.

"You wonder--"

"Maybe this is her way of--you know--not sending a wedding gift."

Yet another relative you did not realize you had was Damian Williams Lowenkopf, a major contractor to Shell Petroleum Development Company. Damian lived and worked in Togo, a thin sliver of a country sandwiched between Ghana and Benin, off the Gulf of Guinea. You are informed by Gabriel One Okworo, his attorney, who is also licensed to practice law in Nigeria, that Damian left an estate of some seventeen-and-a-half million dollars, and how his last words and thoughts were for me and all the things we might have done together, had he not become so obsessed with making a fortune.

But now, Barrister Okworo informs you, he has instructions to transfer a significant sum to your account so that you may enjoy your life thinking kindly of Damian. If you will kindly send Barrister the routing and account numbers relative to your banking institution and perhaps, as verification, your SSN, he will expedite this significant sum.

Dear Barrister Okworo, you are tempted to respond, Does this largess from dear old Cousin Damian Williams Lowenkopf come with steak knives?


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