But, Fook One Goat...
Rupert, an angry Irishman took his son to the highest mountiantop overlooking the fishing village he called home, and began complaining in a voice which sounded like Groundskeeper Willie's, but with a different brogue.
"Son," he said, "Look out over that harbor. See all those boats? Everyone of those boats has a net. Do you know who wove those nets? I wove all those nets. But, do they call me 'Rupert the Netter?
And son, look out over the Village. See all those houses? Everyone of those houses has a thatched roof. Do you know who thatched all those rooves? I thatched all those rooves. But, do they call me 'Rupert the Thatcher?'
But fook one goat....
I've longed for years to write a book about political spite entitled, "But Fook One Goat," but this essay is going to have to suffice.
I intially wrote this as a Yom Kippur piece entitled "Tshuva," mostly with my laptop literally in that location, at some distance from its adaptor. When I saw a pop-up telling me there were about seven minutes of power left, I sat down at my usual desktop (a bar in our den) and plugged in again.
At least I thought I did.
Satisfied with my work, I completed the spell-check and was about to publish just before our Kol Nidre meal, when the computer shut down from lack of power. I was only able to recover an in-progress version.
Was some higher power (“power” being the operative word) trying to tell me something?
Anyway, I took the hint, which accounts for this being being posted after the High Holy Days have passed. The next sentence was the orginal opening of what I failed to post.
Aging is a difficult process. Temporary memory loss, for instance, isn’t always a physical condition. Sometimes, on a bad day, a half a century’s accumulated names and faces just overload.
Thursday evening, I picked up eight year old Dybbuk from Hebrew school, and he insisted that we needed to have a festive meal together before the holiday, and asked to go to the Waterfront Alehouse, which turned out to be celebrating Oktoberfest with a festival of Germanic Sausages and malt beverages.
Dybbuk was skeptical.
“Don’t we Jews have a problem with Germans?”
I explained that the youngest living German involved in any persecution was now older than his grandfather, who had just turned 80, and I then asked Dybbuk whether he thought it was fair for people to blame him for the bad things I had done.
Dybbuk said he didn’t even want to be blamed for the things he had done.
To celebrate Eruv Eruv Yom Kippur, Dybbuk ordered a Barenwurst wrapped in cheese and bacon and topped with kraut.
Having finishing our feast, we started the walk back home, when someone shouted my name--I looked at the face and blanked for a second.
For some reason, I decided I was talking to Jonathan Yedin, though I was not.
I made a reference to mentioning the guy on my blog, and since I had mentioned the guy I was talking to on my blog, the conversation was not too incoherent, but eventually he must have caught on that something was wrong.
The conversation ended and we walked away--then Dybbuk protested:
“What’s the matter, you’re not going to introduce me?”
Feeling bad, I turned around and shouted back at the departing man:
"Hey Jon, my son wants to be introduced"
The man turned and shouted back:
“HI, MY NAME IS KALMAN YEGER!!!”
I had known Kalman pretty well for only about 15 years, give or take, and his dad for probably half a decade more than that.
Despite my Judaism, I worried I had become afflicted with Irish Alzheimer’s, the disease where you forget everything but your grudges.
The tale is told of a once earnest young aide to a powerful pol, who back in 95 got a call from a man named Frank Kerry.
Kerry said, “I’ve known your boss for many years, and I’ve got a problem.”
Kerry, who was in a wheelchair, had retired on disability from the latest and last of his government jobs, only to find out that while his City and State time had combined for pension purposes, some quirk he fell into left him short for medical benefits.
The earnest young aide wrote a memo outlining the issue, and suggesting possible avenues to pursue, and faxed it to the boss in Albany.
That night, the boss returned from Albany and the aide, his boss, and the rest of the staff crawled the pubs until closing time, when they found themselves at the Waterfront Alehouse.
The boss was effusive, telling tales of De Valera and Collins, as well as of political treachery more local and recent.
But not all that recent.
“Back in 72, we had really beaten the Regulars but good.
Pesce had taken the Assembly seat, and Bellamy the Senate. Al Lowenstein had had the Congressional seat stolen from him, but we’d carried our area for him big. We’d taken the Female District Leadership, and we had a small margin on the district’s County Committee.
I was President of the Reform Club and Jimmy Mangano, the Sheriff of Brooklyn, called me down to his office.
Mangano said we needed to organize the district’s County Committee and had to work out how to divide the positions.
‘Divide?’ I said, ‘With all due respects, sir, fuck you. We divide nothing. We won. We get everything.’
‘You’re a smarty young man,’ said the Sheriff, ‘and you have a bright future in this business. You will go far. But before you do, you will have to learn a few lessons, and one of them will be in the matter of political mathematics. I would not be so sure of the total of my votes until they were counted by the teller.’
We had eight more seats, but suddenly three of our blacks in Red Hook Houses got jobs at the Board of Elections; then we got to the meeting and one of our guys was running for Vice Chair on the Regular’s slate. If you do the math, those are all two point conversion, meaning they needed only one more vote.
The boss looked at his aide and asked if he knew who the last vote was?
While asking the question, his boss simultaneously pulled the aide’s memo out of his pocket and lit his cigar with it.
There followed some history of what the lack of curb cuts meant in 1972 for a man in a wheelchair who no longer had any fiends left in his neighborhood.
I have been told that, for the Irish, 23 years in the life of a grudge means it is is barely out of its adolence. It must, like a fine wine, be allowed to age, and must not be consumed before it reaches full flavor.
But the truth is, I mostly inherited my Irish Alzheimer’s from my Pennsylvanian Litvak mother.
My mom's mom had died in childbirth with her. The depression had closed the textile mill my grandfather managed for his dad in Allentown, and my grandfather now moved back in with his father and step-mother to work in his dad’s Paterson, New Jersey mill.
My granddad’s step-mother did not much care for the two children of her husband’s first marriage, and my mother was not welcome to join her father in the family home by East Side Park, living instead with her mother’s father, an itinerant peddler and courthouse interpreter in Easton, Pennsylvania.
My mother was the apple of her maternal grandparent’s eye, but at age five, her father re-married, and she was forced to move to Clifton, New Jersey, where she began a 60 year war with her new adoptive mother.
Living with her dad also meant a monthly pilgrimage to visit her step-grandmother, Frances, who my grandfather dutifully visited until he passed at the age of 78--even though his younger brother, a noted author of bad self help book and awful mystery novels, had felt free to refer to her as “the prototypical wicked step-mother,” in a profile which ran in the Daily News’ Sunday Magazine, and which she had surely seen.
My mother married at 20, just to get out of the house. But my father, the sort of man who would visit all of his friend’s parents (even if his friends did not visit them themselves) would never allow her to cease the relationship with her mom, even though my mom’s mom treated my father like dirt.
My mom did, however, manage to cease her relationship with Frances. In fact, it was not until my late teens that I even learned of her existence.
“I have a great grandmother I never met?”
“She is not your great-grandmother.”
I only met my grandfather’s half-sister, Nancy, when my grandfather became a golf Buddy of her husband Lenny, who, along with now Congressman Bill Pascrell (a teacher at my high school), was part of the inner circle of Paterson’s Mayor, Pat Kramer.
My grandfather died in 1984 (my grandmother had two more decades of life in which to make my mother miserable).
There was a light rain at the cemetery when we buried my granddad. I was walking with my girlfriend Phyllis, and my grandfather’s employer, Boris Kroll.
In the late fifties, Kroll had bought out his partners' (my grandfather and his author brother), share of their textile mill, and had therefater employed my grandfather for the rest of his working life, which had ended six weeks before, at the age of 78. He was regaling us with tales of my great grandfather, who Kroll assured me was a giant in the textile industry, which I must assume is true, because it takes one to know one.
To my left, my grandfather’s half-sister was arm in arm with a very elderly lady, who was having a bit of a struggle.
I took the elderly woman by the arm, leaving Phyllis with Kroll.
The elderly woman looked at me.
I smiled, “Hello, Frances.”
A few weeks later, Phyllis and I were back at my mom’s house in Paramus. She pulled out a letter. It was on Frances’ stationary, handwritten in halting old lady scrawl.
Frances had written that said she had just met her great-grandson for the first time, and would like to meet her other great grandchildren as well.
“Can you believe that bullshit?” said my mother.
Denied her rebellion against her mom, my mother displaced her anger towards some other woman who had also inherited someone else’s kids and had also botched the job.
Though normally the kindest of women, my mother would not even then forgo her vengeance.
To my shame, I never again saw Frances.
Working seven years for Marty Connor had reinforced my Irish tendencies, already strong from the five years I’d spent living in not too original sin with Margaret Kelly Francis Elizabeth Houlihan, AKA, MK, which had helped my unquenchable thirst for knowledge evolve into an unquenchable thirst.
It was clear MK and I were to be married, but the question was which religion not to raise the kids in.
“Kids need one religion” I said, answering the suggestion they be raised in both traditions, “they get confused by two sets of absolutes. And religious education is essential to give them some moral code to violate.”
“Well,” she countered, “can’t we teach them by our example?”
“Our example is exactly what I’m afraid of. I’m looking for some ideal they can strive for; they’ll learn reality soon enough.”
“Why can’t we just show them Frank Capra films?”
“Beautiful; every time there’s a crisis, their answer will be to jump off something.”
Our relationship could not survive the kulturkampf, and eventually she went off to find someone with a more congenial background.
MK now goes by the name Margaret Kelly Francis Elizabeth Houlihan Ginsberg, and is Vice President of the Sisterhood of a Conservative congregation.
By contrast, thanks to Facebook, I’ve learned that the first two girls I ever felt up have both become Chabadniks.
I myself was afflicted with the Irish curse for some time thereafter. I still remember my first date with Bridget Rosemary McCarthy.
Returning home from a Felix Hernandez Classic Soul Dance, we touched down at 2:15 AM on a Saturday night at the Waterfront Alehouse.
Back in 1996, before moving across the Avenue to roomier quarters, the Waterfront was a pretty thin corridor, and the bar began almost at the door.
There were 15 people drinking at the bar, all regulars, and all close acquaintances.I snuck Bridget past them to get a table in back.
45 minutes later we were leaving when Doug, one of what Domestic Partner charmingly used to refer to as “Gatemouth’s alcoholic friends from the Waterhouse,” jumped out from his seat and confronted me.
“What’s the matter, Gatemouth, you’re not going to introduce me to your date?”
The rest of the clientele now turned as well, forcing me to introduce Bridget to everyone whose name I knew in the bar.
It being 15 years ago (when my mind was far less cluttered and not yet bobbled from fatherhood, as well as from decades of 3:00 AMs at the Waterfront Alehouse), everyone whose names I knew constituted everyone in the bar.
All 15 of them.
At 3:00 AM.
As we left, Bridget smiled and said “Remind me, Gatemouth, exactly which of us is it who’s supposed to be Irish?”
It goes without saying that I never got to say “Brace yourself, Bridget.”
And of course, she was right. Despite the ethnic stereotypes about matters like drinking and grudges, it was I who was guilty of both.
Which brings us to the matter of Irish Alzheimer’s and its significance to Yom Kippur.
The tradition holds that before Yom Kippur, every Jew who desires to be inscribed for blessing in the Book of Life must first prepare to make his accounting to G-d.
The other day, a fan of the Hebraic persuasion wrote to say:
You have made me laugh out loud (literally) four times this morning, and I certainly needed it. As far as I am concerned, you are well prepared to make your accounting.
But, am I really?
Friends who are not religious question why I, an agnostic, so embrace some religious practices.
Passover is easy to explain.
5000 years ago, the Jews freed themselves from an Egyptian tyrant; today the Egyptians do it themselves.
The quest for real freedom often takes time.
The Jews left Egypt and slavery and wandered for 40 years. Lincoln freed the slaves in the 1860s and black America wandered 100 years in the arid desert of American Apartheid before the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Voting Rights Act of 1965 made the prospect of real freedom even possible.
Easy metaphors for our times
Yom Kippur is more difficult.
I regard the whole “Book of Life” thing as I regard so much of Jewish (and other religious) ritual: as chum to get the suckers to bite into the hook.
Most of us think of ourselves as good people. But we so rarely reflect upon the awful things we all do almost every day. At best, we take our reflection fitfully, if we do so at all.
But on Yom Kippur, we spend 24 hours reflecting and dwelling upon all the evil we do.
In the Viddui, the Confession of Sin, we say out loud practically every category of commission.
In the English translation which appears in the Reform High Holy Day prayer book, “The Gates of Repentance,” one category of sins are the bad acts we committed in the service of good causes.
In 30 years of liberal politics, committing bad acts in the service of good causes pretty much sums up my career.
It is a humbling experience. I do not think one needs to believe in a higher power, whether G-d or Vito Lopez, in order to draw benefit from it. I highly recommend it to all.
Another important tenet of the holiday is that Yom Kippur only atones for your sins against G-d.
Every sin is a sin against G-d.
Allegedly, eating a Barenwurst wrapped in bacon and cheese is a sin against G-d, but so is hurting another person in some manner.
Yom Kippur atones for the entire Barenwurst sin (unless once counts the grievances of the pig), but for sins against another person, one must also atone directly to the victim of one’s misbehavior.
It is also highly recommened that one extend your forgiveness to anyone who asks you for it.
In January, in my email@example.com, which, I confess, I only check on a sporadic basis, I got the following email from a familiar name.
“Hi, Are you also Hack N. Sack on r8ny?
A few years ago, a rich young bucket of slime (hereinafter referred to as “Slimebucket”) was running for office.
Simultaneous with his efforts, there came an internet campaign of sleaze casting Slimebucket’s opponent in a false light.
Part of that internet campaign was a social networking effort to spread libel by calling the Slimebucket’s opponent a criminal (he was knick-named “Captain Kickback”) and a reactionary, neither of which were true.
I should note that such social networking blasts were a hallmark of campaigns associated, like Slimebucket’s, with a “gentleman” I will call “Little Prick”, though his real name is Micah Lasher.
It was clear where these pieces of sewage had come from; they had come from Slimebucket’s campaign.
On my Hack N. Sack blog, I had reprinted one of these well circulated missives verbatim, including the name of its sender (who I shall now refer to as “Young Hipster”) in a piece attacking this tactic. I even made a pun on Young Hipster’s real name part of the title.
I think my piece showed the line between the candidate and the message, but did not prove it conclusively, though it did ask Slimebucket to come clean about the relationship between himself, his campaign and the Young Hipster who had sent the message. It also asked him to repudiate such tactics, and to ask Young Hipster and others not to engage in them.
I also asked Slimebucket to apologize to the victim (hereinafter “Vic Tim”), or at least to publicly ask Young Hipster and the others to do so, as well as emailing such an apology, and a clarification telling the truth, to their respective contact lists.
They did not comply, though Michael Bouldin did post a piece calling my response to this sleaze “thuggish.”
The email asking if I was Hack N. Sack had come from Young Hipster.
I responded to the email thusly:
I think that Gate admitted that--it is a matter of public record now. I'll tell Captain Kickback that I heard from you.
But my response, admittedly, a few weeks late, came back as undeliverable.
Around the same time, Young Hipster also posted on a thread from a month old public service announcement I had posted on Hack’s Blog
Hack, I'm glad to see that you are still blogging. Can I ask you a huge, tremendous favor on a different subject?
Not too long after, Young Hipster sent Room 8 publisher Gur Tsabar the following email, which Gur forwarded to me:
Gur,Could I ask you a personal favor regarding a post that is several years old on r8ny?
This post is the absolute first thing that comes up when you Google search my name:
[a link to the Hack N. Sack post followed]
It's embarrassing because I am in the process of applying for new jobs (I am a paralegal) and I know they're doing background checks and stuff.
Would you mind reaching out to the user who is Hack N. Sack and ask them to consider taking it down.
I don't work in politics whatsoever, and this post is almost 2.5 years old by now. For some reason, it persists on Google.
Thanks very much for your help.
I responded to Gur as follows:
Please forward to Young Hipster that I am sympathetic to his situation, and will be happy to alter the post to change his name and personal information if he is willing to meet with Vic Tim to sign a sworn affidavit in which he details exactly who and how the piece calling Vic Tim “Captain Kickback” came about.
I then forwarded Gur’s email to Vic and a group of our mutual friends:
Vic was philosophical: He helped me lose my job, so too bad if its hurts him getting one.
Roscoe Conway was a bit harsher: Fuck him. And if he's so stupid as not to know it can't be taken down from Google, fuck him twice.
Sadly, Young Hipster did not take me up on my offer, and the piece stayed up, unaltered.
Anyway, in June, I posted a defense, on some minor manner, of Brad Lander, a politician I’d been previously harshly critical of, especially, but not exclusively, on the matter of Israel:
At the risk of shocking people, I find the implicit criticism here of Brad Lander to be as stupid and outrageous as when Bill DeBlasio went after Bloomie for a Neville Chamberlain comparison.
The lessons of Pastor Niemoller did derive from the Holocaust, but the lesson has far greater application. If we are barred from telling people to empathize with others lest they be next, because we are afraid of being called demagogues, then our society will be deprived of its best anecdote in the service of caring about others.
I then got this email:
Thanks for the post. I appreciated your defense of my using the form of Pastor Niemoller's poem to encourage solidarity, without being accused of making a moral equivalence between genocide and reduced public library hours.
Also wanted to say that I thought what you wrote about Hope Reichbach (who I similarly liked quite a lot, despite some political differences) was very moving.
Wonder if it would be worth getting together for breakfast or a drink sometime, maybe this summer after we're done with the budget.
I know we won't agree on everything (domestic or international), and I'll still expect to be skewered on the blog from time-to-time.
Let me know if you have time in July or August.
I answered: you are free to email me at the beginning of any week to make plans.
I will never support you for Congress (perhaps public advocate or Beep, but not Congress), and I am highly skeptical of the WFP, but I see no good reason to remain on bad footing forever--if I can support Chris Owens I can reconsider anyone
He answered: Just planning to run for re-election to the Council in 2013, and there's not currently a congressional seat I'd run in, in any case. And I know your feelings for WFP.
But it seems sensible to try to have fewer unnecessary enemies, when there are enough unavoidable ones.
I'm swamped until budget is done toward the end of the month, but will email to find a time after that.
There were some further emails at the time, which I seem to have deleted. As I recall, in some, Lander used what appears to be his favorite word: “Tshuva,” the initial title of this piece, which is Hebrew for “repentance and return.”
But during summer, breakfast was in direct conflict with getting Dybbuk to day camp.
Finally, after the primary/Special Elections were over I raised the matter again:
The High Holidays are coming up and I’m hoping for some time for reflection (Personal to Brad Lander: this would seem an apt time for you to try to schedule breakfast or drinks before my Gates of Repentance close for the year).
Shortly thereafter a response from Lander appeared in my Inbox:
before the gates close ... My rabbi insists that they never really close ... but somehow, from her, that always means the time is now, and not later.
We had breakfast, the morning of Eruv Rosh Hashanah. Shelsky's has no tables, so we met at Cafe Lulac.
Why any member of the City Council would find it worth their while to spend two hours schmoozing with Gatemouth is a philosophical question beyond my pay grade, but mostly we talked about matters Jewish. Things like the Jewish renaissance of Brownstone Brooklyn as exemplified by Mile End, Shelsky’s and Fliesher’s, and the future of the relationship of liberal Democrats and Orthodox Jews in the aftermath of the shiva period for Hakoras Ha-Tov.
We talked about Israel, a prior bone of contention between us.
Lander contended, somewhat halfheartedly, I thought, that, through his own fault, something he had published had conveyed an impression of his views of Israel which was not even then accurate.
Pardon me for maintaining my skepticism.
However, the views he now expressed (which were clearly sincere), though at the other end of the left Zionist spectrum from my own, were no longer those of someone who would deny Jews the right to their own nation- state. In fact, his views on Israel and Iran seemed unexpectedly hawkish.
But mostly, our conversation was on a different plain entirely.
As is Lander’s wont, the word Tshuva came up quite frequently. Though we are not friends, I was mostly reminded of a poem by Leonard Cohen:
Friend, when you speak this carefully I know it is because you don’t know what to say. I listen in such a way so as not to add to your confusion. I make some reply at every opportunity so as not to compound your loneliness. Thus the conversation continues under the umbrella of optimism. If you suggest a feeling, I affirm it. If you provoke, I accept the challenge. The surface is thick, but it has its flaws, and hopefully we will trip on one of them. Now we can order a meat sandwich for the protein, or we can take our places in the Sanhedrin and determine what is to be done with those great cubes of diamond that our teacher Moses shouldered down the mountain. You want to place them in such a way that the sun by day, and the moon and stars by night, will shine through them. I suggest another perspective which would include the light of the celestial bodies within the supernal radiance of the cubes. We lean toward each other over the table. The dust mingles with the mist, our nostrils widen. We are definitely interested; now we can get down to a Jew’s business.
And somehow, I found myself telling Lander about Margaret Kelly Francis Elizabeth Houlihan, about Frank Kerry, and about Young Hipster.
Last week, I re-copied the article where Young Hipster had appeared. I deleted his name from it and reposted it, under a slightly different title, in an empty slot in Hack N. Sack’s archives (which, being my all-purpose dumping ground, contained some empty spaces where some ephemeral announcements I’d posted had since been deleted).
Then I deleted the original article.
Within a few days, the article no longer appeared in a Google search of Young Hipster’s real name.
I hope Vic Tim will forgive me. I do not feel it is my place to suggest it is time for him to forgo his vengeance.
But, despite the fact that Young Hipster has done absolutely nothing indicating that he has learned his lesson, I just don’t feel that justice demands that he serve a sentence longer than three years for the crime of being a young arrogant asshole.
“Vengeance is mine,” sayeth the Lady.
In the spirit of Tshuva, I am inclined to leave the matter of Young Hipster’s parole to a higher authority.
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