THE STIFF JEW
Michael Bahler


I once dated a straw-haired Christian woman of Midwestern lineage. Let’s call her Shoshanna Goldstein (so she won’t sue me). The first time I met Shoshanna’s parents, they took me to this very gentile restaurant in Connecticut. Let’s call it the Second Avenue Deli. Everywhere I looked, people sat up straight. There was not one bald person in the room. They had a fireplace.

Her dad was very tall. He worked at a major corporation and, as he methodically buttered his bread, like only someone with Germanic ancestors could, he told me about how employees at his company were made to take “cultural compatibility” tests.

“We can’t send someone to Japan who’s going to offend the Japanese,” he said. “It’s interesting. Certain cultures clash. Did you know that Slavs and Central Americans annoy the hell out of each other?”

“I didn’t know that.”

“So we test them. It’s a multiple choice test. It’s easy. There are no wrong answers.”

“Did you take it?”

He nodded.

“What did it say?” I asked.

“I’m German. We get along with everybody.”

I waited for him to laugh.

Shoshanna hated chicken soup. She wasn't a vegetarian—she just didn't like the taste of chicken broth. Every relationship has its problems, you’re always looking for an easy way out, and when the Christian woman you’re with doesn’t like chicken soup, it’s too easy to bail.

She once offered to convert to Judaism.

“I don’t care about that," I said. "Just try chicken soup again. Please.”

My friend is South Asian. Let’s call him Gary Cooper. Gary started dating a silver-eyed Ukrainian American. A year went by and he still hadn’t mentioned a word about her to his folks in Jersey. He finally figured he had to fly her out to meet them. He called first.

“She’s a biochemist, Mom. She’s actually taking Hindi language classes. And she can cook—spicy.”

“You bring that whore to our home,” Mrs. Cooper said, “and you are no longer my son.”

There was a time when Jewish parents used to say “ditch the shiksa or you are no longer my son.” Today, they are far smoother. After I brought Shoshanna home for the first time, I asked my dad what he thought.

“You know that girl is a lot smarter than you,” he said.

My mom: “The only thing that matters is that she’s nice to you. Is she nice to you?”

“I think there’s a ninety-five percent chance you two are going to get married,” my uncle told me.

Shoshanna once said to me that she could convert to Judaism, she could learn to stomach chicken soup, she could swear off Christmas and Easter, she could join the JCC, but I still would never be happy with her.

“Why?” I asked.

“Because of my name. Wherever we go, they’ll hear Shoshanna and know I was born Christian.”

“I don’t care about that.”

She started crying.

“I like your name.” I did like her name.

I went over to Shoshanna’s house for Christmas. I grumbled about having to celebrate a Christian holiday, but secretly I was overjoyed. There is a theory that says Jewish men don’t lust for Christian girls, they lust for Christmas—and a way to celebrate it without looking like a poser.

While her mom was baking the last of the cookies, we had sex in the guest bedroom, directly upstairs from the kitchen. I could hear the oven door open and shut as I thrust in and out. I could smell the warm cookies. When I came, I saw god. He had blond hair and blue eyes, not unlike Dolph Lundgren.

I threw out my back that Christmas. I was playing in the snow with Shoshanna's little cousin Mordecai, and I tripped on a tree stump. I spent Christmas dinner: the stiff Jew.

Shoshanna was in a terrific mood in the car leaving her parents’ house.

“What is it?” I asked.

“My mom says that I shouldn’t marry someone with a bad back.”

“John Kennedy had a bad back,” I protested.

“My mom had a Jewish boyfriend in college.”

“With an achy back?”

“They were dating pretty seriously. I think she really loved him. But then he broke up with her because of his parents, and she moved back to Chicago. But years later, he tracked her down. He wanted to marry her. But it was too late. She was married to my dad. I was already born.”

“What are you trying to say?”

“Nothing.”

“You realize that’s a sad story,” I said. “Your mom lost out on the guy she really loved.”

“Whatever you say.” She was giddy for the whole ride to Boston.

Everything is fate. And, all things being equal, pretty gentiles shouldn’t have to marry Jews with bad backs or even John Kennedy for that matter. I did go looking for Shoshanna after we broke up, though I never proposed marriage.

Faith of my father, and of my father’s father, and of my father’s father’s father, and of Philip Roth, you have me now. I’m yours. Point me to the URL where I’ll find the beautiful dark-haired sister who will give me blow jobs with my grandmother’s chicken soup swirling inside her mouth, a woman who will make a suburban home for me free of crosses and pine trees, where I can finally retire the part of my brain constantly combing for anti-Semitic innuendo and devote my full attention to self-hatred.

 

Michael Bahler is a writer living in New Jersey. He has published fiction in Glimmer Train, the Brooklyn Rail, nerve, Eclectica, Spoiled Ink, Hanging Loose and the (defunct) New Jersey Review of Literature. He studied at Boston University's graduate creative writing program.

 

© 2007 Swink, Inc.