May 6, 2003
I went to Wisconsin for the weekend. I am now back in Chicago, aimlessly stacking things near my luggage and making the occasional trip over to the Japanese consulate, just a few blocks away, right next to the Museum of Contemporary Art. With my apartment lease now expired, I am living in my mother's penthouse downtown, always a curious transition no matter where I'm coming from. I never know what to do about the doormen. I really prefer to open my own doors, but it seems kind of vicious to disregard the only thing they are being paid to do. They always get up from their chairs before I can open the door myself, so it would be a shithead move to wave them off when they're already on their feet, but then I have to wait for several seconds until they reach the door, seconds in which, as an able-bodied human being, I ought to be opening the door for myself. It's all very awkward, and I am tired of hearing about the suffering of Iraqi children when I am made to endure such things.
Last week was quite busy. Tuesday was my last day at work. Because he gave me a bonus check, I allowed the rabbi to recast our mutual history as one of shared prosperity and joy in various reminisces public and private. My replacement at the job is an excellent fellow who stands as good a chance as anyone at succeeding in the job. He was beginning to look quite overwhelmed by the time I left on Tuesday, but that will happen to you around the time you encounter the seventh alternate spelling of Hanukkah and begin to wonder if you're responsible for knowing which fits which context. My only concern is that I'm not sure if he has the ruthless streak that allowed me to handle those situations (immediately ceasing all work until someone comes by to explain it to me, or simply writing I DON'T KNOW, THIS WAS SECRETLY WRITTEN BY A GENTILE instead of the word). But they certainly did reduce me to a formula in the hiring process, because they chose another non-religious white kid with a Germanic last name and a background in literature from a state school. So I hope it works out for everyone. I keep meaning to call over there to find out how things are going, but then I keep not doing it.
The exit interview was tame. The HR director pre-emptively announced that the rabbi was a pain in the ass and that I'd done a splendid job with him, and also that my replacement was making $4000 less than I started at, so they'd prefer if I didn't mention that to him. (Did I fuck! Homey don't play no conspiracies of silence.)
The day was chock full of poignant moments. The rabbi announced that he'd be taking me to lunch, and then he didn't. He implied that my replacement would be far easier to deal with than me, and later he whispered that he wasn't sure if my replacement "was all there" and wanted reassurance. People with whom I had no relationship whatsoever began chatting with me about the trip to Japan as if we were old friends. They did the same thing when I grew a beard. Then, I replied with some of the most powerful set of blank stares yet unleashed within city limits. This time, I just shrugged and agreed that, yes, it was pretty exciting. (I mean, it is.) Several people requested that I speak some Japanese for them. I don't know any, but rather than take the time to explain that the job doesn't call for me to speak the language, I got in the habit of stringing together the few words I know, like dorobo saru no kansai, and claiming that I'd complimented them on their clothing, when in fact, I was referring to a thief monkey belonging to the region south of Tokyo. They tended to think it was great. I do what I can. The rabbi announced that if I ever got into legal trouble, I could call him and he'd help me out. (Everyone thinks I am always on the verge of trouble. Four people contacted me to make sure I behaved during the exit interview.) He thanked me for two and a half years of remarkable service and said that, from a substantive perspective, I was the best help he'd ever had during his thirty years in Jewish communal service. In truth, I was only there for one and a half years. As for the other statement, I will allow it to stand on its own. I hope things go well for my replacement. He really seemed like a great guy.
As I walked out of the building, people kept coming up to me and telling me what an amazing job I'd done handling the rabbi, and how I was the best they'd ever seen at it. It was all very surreal.
There were no such poignant goodbyes on my way out of THE LAND OF THE DOUBLE BONE HARD NIGGAZ, although they made their peace in ways traditional to the neighborhood, such as double-parking alongside the moving van (thereby blocking the entire street), continuing to holler at each other at all hours (yelling through windows: the original cell-phone), and, perhaps sweetest of all, making off with my toaster. I left it on a box near the dumpster because I wasn't planning to keep it, and sure enough, the toaster was gone less than an hour later. God bless Rogers Park.
And so, as I sit here in my mother's place downtown eating applesauce, writing out in the dining room because all of the other phone jacks are blocked by bookcases, I am led to reflect upon the time, many years ago, as an angry young boy, I spooned a bunch of applesauce into one of my stepfather's books, closed it real fast and replaced it on the bookshelf. It was never mentioned. Has he not opened that book in the seventeen years since that act of guerilla vengeance? I don't even remember which one it was.
I leave on May 19 for San Francisco and May 21 for Osaka.