Sunday, May 18, 2008


I’ve always been a very friendly, exuberant, positive person. Usually, when I am thrown into a group situation, I am the cheerleader or the MC or some other not-so-invisible role. At various times in my life, I have attempted to tone myself down and be less visible, but usually this quiet state only lasts for a short while. Whatever I am doing—I try to get into it with gusto.

And so, when my wife asked me to attend the Unity Church in Austin, TX with her, I did so quite willingly—even though it was a bit out of my comfort zone—being a very ethnic, unmistakable Jew.

Fortunately, this particular church was very into singing—which was perfect for me, since I love to sing. I took up my hymnal like a regular and very soon was exuberantly singing along with my Christian brethren, in a strong loud voice, as if I had been coming there for years.

Everyone was incredibly friendly at the Unity Church in Austin, Texas. Maybe it was because it was Texas or maybe it was because it was a “New Age” church. But, whatever it was, the people were very friendly and very gracious. They were friendly and gracious in the morning when we arrived. They were friendly and gracious at the place where the minister stopped and told everyone to greet the people around them, and they were friendly and gracious at the hospitality table after the service. That is—everyone but this one tall, very WASPs looking man who was there all the time. Whenever he saw me, he turned and went the other way. I tried to reach out to him, but to no avail. He was always snubbing me and sat as far away from my as possible. Obviously, he knew I was Jewish and he was an anti-semitic, Nazi bastard. So, I stopped trying to win him over and just snubbed him back. After all, this guy was, perhaps, the biggest asshole on the face of the earth, so why should I keep trying?

This went on for weeks and weeks. I told everyone I knew about the sour, anti-semite at the Unity Church. He became the laughing stock at my dinner table on several occasions.

Then on Sunday, the minister must have seen me glaring at him. She came up to me and said, “Bennett, do you have a problem with Ed Johnson?”

“No,” I said, “he has a problem with me. I think he’s anti-semitic.”

She looked amused.
“No, I’m sure that is not right. Ed is a very liberal, egalitarian man. He is the head of our interfaith committee that works closely with the area synagogues. I know you are mistaken.”

I was taken back. I was sure he was anti-semitic, Nazi—but maybe I was wrong. But, he still is a very unpleasant fellow—and I told the minister as much. She wouldn’t let it go. She said, “Bennett, please do me and you a favor. Go over to Ed and ask him what’s the problem.”

So, I swallowed my pride and saddled over to the ex-Nazi. I asked if we could have a few private words. He obliged. We stepped aside to where no one else could hear. I told him that I had felt snubbed and disrespected by him and that everyone in the church had been so friendly to me except him and asked him if he had a problem with me.

He paused a minute to collect himself and spoke slowly. “Bennett," he said (I was surprised he even knew my name), when I come to church, it is to put myself in a quiet, meditative state. I love to sink into the quite grace of the beautiful building and the beautiful hymns. It is very disconcerting for me to be anywhere near you in church. You belt out the hymns like they are Broadway musical numbers. You don’t try at all to blend in, but instead, sing as loudly and exuberantly as you can. I hate it. It throws me off. You have a right to sing as you please, so I never said anything—but, I try to get as far away from you as I can—so I can have my own spiritual experience—and not yours. I am sorry I never said anything, but I am a quiet man and I don’t like conflict. I hope you understand.

I was dumbfounded. There was nothing I could say. I thanked him for his honesty. Later, I told my wife I was too ashamed to ever go back to the church again, but she wouldn’t let me off the hook.

For weeks after that, friends would ask me about the anti-semitic Nazi at the Unity Church—hoping to get more funny diatribes—so, the shame continued.

I did go back to the church and got to know Ed better. I stopped singing like I had something to prove and, instead, sang with everyone else. Ed and I eventually became friends. He is a wonderful man.

And I am, perhaps, the biggest asshole on the face of the earth. Actually, it was an important life lesson. Since then, every time I meet someone who pisses me off and seems vile to me—I think about Ed. It usually turns out that the person who pissed me off, really isn’t very nice—but now, I first look for the good—instead of quickly writing someone off. It works a lot better that way. And, oh yes, I sing a lot quieter, too.

THE CITY by Ruth Berg

There is a parking space in front of MOMA...on the south side of 53rd. Jim is clever...he easily backs into the small space. The old Volvo even has a bit of room to maneuver....I’m not sure why Karen and Jim kept the car when they moved back to the city but if you are as clever with parking as Jim, a car is a great convenience. I open the back car door and step out onto the sidewalk. There is a Sabrette street-stand next to the sidewalk. I can smell the onions, the sauerkraut. The aroma tempts me; I haven’t had a Sabrette hot dog in years. Across the street, I can see vendors with make-shift stands selling leather handbags and large swaths of cotton material from Africa. Fifty-Third Street has changed... no longer the pristine street I once knew so alive with vendors and tourist

We walk to Sixth Ave. (Avenue of The Americas...the powers that be tried to change the name during remained Sixth) Turning north, we cross 54th St. where I lived with my dog Hambone in a narrow room, cooking on a hot plate. I went to sleep to the sounds of cool jazz vibrating the floor coming up from Jimmy Ryan’s Club below and the club’s neon sign outside my window casting shadow patterns on the ceiling and the rhythmic drum beat from the strip joint across the street as the ladies bumped and grinded.

We continue up Sixth, cross 55th St. There is the Warwick Hotel. There use to be a drugstore tucked in with the hotel. Don and I would meet for coffee there. In her late years, I can see that Old Lady Warwick has fancied herself up...doorman and all. We cross Sixth and continue walking up to 56th St. turn left. I do not recognize anything on this street...for a year I took acting classes in a building on the north side...and across the street was Jerry’s where after class we gathered ( Ina, Barbara, Marty, Tony....Don would join us.) We’d each have a stein of draft beer trying to appear world weary with our cigarettes and sit for hours discussing acting, auditions, agents. One of us would have seen a fellow student in a Broadway show, declare that he/she was the only actor who was believable, who said his one line “ Dinner is served, Madam.” with such conviction that it delegated all others on stage to a role of ham emoters. Tony drove a cab, heavy Brooklyn accent, knew he would be a star. Now when I go to see any DeNiro or Scorsese or Coppulo movies, I search for Tony’s face in the background where the extras are. We all thought opportunity was around the corner: something marvelous was to happen; just turn the corner. I often wonder are there young people still coming into the city with the same dreams, ambitions, the same innocence that we had. I hope there are. How could our futures fail us? Jerry’s is now a sleek glass building.

On the north side of 56th, there is a French restaurant with tables outside. A lone man is seated at one of the tables...inside there appears to be no one. I think of the hole-in-the wall French bakery with three tiny tables where we had breakfast this morning. It is on First Avenue at 110th St. A constant flow of customers...Karen says they sell out 2 hours before noon. I understand why. I had a croissant that when I bit into it I was covered by tissue paper thin flakes of crust. The man sitting here at this restaurant seems embarrassed. Has he already ordered? Who didn’t show up? We walk on. Two doors further is the Thai restaurant; we enter. Howard is seated at a back table. The restaurant is already crowded, tables pushed close together. We maneuver to the back table...I’ve met Howard before....a brief meeting. I know he has been engaged 4 times...different women...but never made it to the altar. I don’t know whether he broke off the engagements or they did. We sit. I think Karen must have said something to Howard about my having pursued the theatre in the past because he immediately begins asking me where I had performed, for whom. In other words, he wants a resume. I am not a particularly secretive person except....this is one of the excepts.. I become vague....I ask him if he had pursued theatre. He says “No but I could have. I was in a High School production of “Our Town” and everyone raved about my performance...I probably would have been quite successful if I had pursued it. Everyone who saw the performance said so”. I ask “Did you enjoy the work?” His face becomes blank. He says “I really was outstanding.”At that moment the waiter appears for our orders. I have a salad with an exotic alien dressing that makes my taste buds dance. After dinner we hurry back to MOMA for the Korean film. Rushing along 6th, breathless and unsteady on my feet, memories from the past, of times when I stepped out with a clipped pace in high heels...3 blocks in less than a ½ minute..

The film is weird...I can not recall the film maker’s name .its gone into a memory box only to reappear another time unexpected. But I can close my eyes and the images of the mist shrouded lake appear, the woman rowing the boat, the man stripping off the sides of a large fish for sushi then throwing the live fish back into the water, its raw sides bleeding, exposed.


My discontent seems to be directly related to my impatience, frustration and general none acceptance of how things stand at a certain time. Not that this is the only time I feel discontent, just that these are usually present as well.

Diliala would definitely be a huge memory of discontent. Not that I started out that way. In the beginning we were drinking buddies. She stayed with me at my place in Brooklyn and I stayed with her family in Milano. We had a lot of good times together although they are really hazy. The discontent started when we got married. A decision made over sake in Avenue A Sushi on Avenue A. No surprise there I would Imagine.

It is one of those situations that happened purely from impaired judgment on both of our parts. When two people get together and both make a disclosure that they are an asshole in a relationship it is a sure sign to me today that there will be problems. Then, however, I was completely out of my mind in my alcoholism. In my mind we would get married and have a fairy tale ending. Everything would just work out perfectly. Ah, delusions.

Everything did change, it just got worse. My drinking partner changed. All of a sudden she was nursing her beers, I would end up drinking almost 3 to 1 to her. Then she would tell all our peers look at my drunken asshole husband. Which I played the part of very well. I would get nasty, bitter and paranoid.

A fun drunk I was not. At least not anymore. Fights, miscommunication, expectations from both of us. For so long we had been on the same page, we understood each other. Now it seemed like we were reading two different books. We never resolved anything, it all just lingered and festered. The discontent hurt feelings grew until the alcohol wouldn't even erase the pain.