Friday, November 22, 2013

That Time of Year Again...

F.Y.I:  the box is empty!
It's fast approaching this year. With Thanksgiving falling on the second night of Hanukah this year we have a unique holiday, Thanksgivukah. This cultural collsion that has moved up and lengthened the dreaded Xmas deluge and has ushered in what promises to be a long season.

For an entire month all those Happy Holidays themes will be officially irrelevant to those whose token festivals either don't exist or are over. Those tacky paper menorahs, dreidels and blue and silver decorations will have to be sold at deep discount on December shelves.

Not that this mish-mash holiday stew ever made much sense in the first place. Hanukah is a minor Jewish holiday that was blown up and embellished to provide Christians with company on their big birthday bash. Kwanzaa was invented  in 1966 to spotlight Black history. The Solstice celebration of the return of the light on December 21st dates back to the pagan calendar. But, under capitalism, all these festivals are reduced to one purpose only: rampant consumerism.

In my family we covered all the bases by celebrating both Hanukah and Christmas. Neither had any religious content and the eight presents of Hanukah were token tschokes at best. The Hanukah Bush was a staple seasonal fixture in many Jewish homes. Ours even had lights on it.

My sister and I had a yearly tradition. On the night before Christmas, we would call strangers on the telephone and read the entire text of the poem by the same name. Almost every person listened until the end then applauded and thanked us.

So, there was no war on Xmas coming from my house. All we had there were collaborators. But my parents did draw the line. Strings of colored lights on the outside of the house were declared strictly for Gentiles only. But we always drove around to find the most exciting and elaborate displays on other people's lawns to both enjoy and envy.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Class Comfort Level Persists

My father was a salesman who worked on commission only, my mother temped as a secretary throughout my childhood. My sister and I would spend every weekend at our immigrant grandparent’s apartment because parenting was not on the to-do list of either of my folks. In both environments, the kids I hung out with were from what we all considered “regular” families but now recognize to have been mostly from the socio-economic class that lies between the poor and the middle class.

My mother was always quite vocal about my father’s irresponsible financial behavior which consisted mainsly of going deeply into debt in order to project a middle-class image. She often called him Willie Loman, in reference to Arthur Miller’s character in “Death of a Salesman.” Both of them were Jewish and college-educated so, in some ways, they were atypical of the "white" working-class. And, in those days, Jews were not really considered white, anyway. 

In spite of my parents' educational achievements, they fell far short of the material prosperity held out by their socio-economic aspirations. None of us possessed the mannerisms of that desirable group. Kids in my school seemed to know instinctively that I was not one of them and treated me accordingly. Was I too outgoing? Too open? I couldn't figure it out. But the friends I made then were all from similar class backgrounds. We just had so much in common that I never considered befriending one of the “rich kids.” Like the weather it was just a given, a reality too obvious to be questioned or discussed.

At Ohio State University, I was introduced to a broader vision of the world. Now, if I so desired, I could be friends with students who wouldn’t have had anything to do with me before. And, sometimes, I chose to pursue these very people. It was to prove my worth, as though their privilege might rub off on me and allow me to rewrite my past. Sometimes making them like me was simply a way to extract a sort of revenge.

But as college years faded into real life, my path diverged sharply from that of the factory-owners’ daughters and the trust-fund babies. Economic struggle is not just theoretical when there is no family safety net waiting to catch you if you fall.

To this day, I find myself gravitating instinctively toward people from similar circumstances. Instead of diminishing, this tendency seems to be increase with age. I can’t put my finger on the exact cues of this shared oppression but, considering my automatic selection process, the indicators must be quite blatant and obvious to all.

Evidently, the people who can best put up with me, are those who have made their way without a lot of financial and emotional support. It has nothing to do with concious intention or some form of reverse snobbery. It just happens.