Nobody cares about the plants inside Dino’s Pizza, but they’re there just the same.
Some of them are real, some are fake. The real and the faux intermingle thoughtlessly. We need some green in here, Bev. Somethin’ green. People come in for strombolis or — I was going to say garlic knots — but not even. This place doesn’t have garlic knots. It doesn’t matter. Pizzas and strombolis. The fat guy in the fedora recommends the pepperoni and mushroom. He could take the plants or leave them.
When I placed my order, the woman at the counter asked for my name. “Gabriel?” I say. I don’t know why I uptalk when I give my name at a coffee shop or at Dino’s Pizza; like a teenage girl in English class answering a question about “The Odyssey.”
“Give me your answer with confidence,” I told the girls at the Catholic school I substituted at for a month when I was twenty-eight. That’s a whole other essay. “You need to be a little more assertive. Believe that you have value — don’t state your answers as questions.”
And yet, there I was, at Dino’s Pizza, saying Gabriel? I say it with trepidation; faltering at the thing about which I am the most sure: my identity. Or am I?
The fat guy in the fedora, who I was hoping wasn’t listening, or was dead, leans in to me.
“You look just like my accountant,” he said to me. I turn to look at him, but I can’t make eye contact, so I look at the side of his head. “And his name is Gabriel, too! ‘Believe that?”
I don’t believe that, nor do I believe that this guy has an accountant. But maybe that’s my bias, but, for the moment, I am too focused on his to care much about mine. I want to say to him,
“Really? You look like my accountant? Is that where we are, in 2019? You’re going to make a barely-veiled anti-Semitic comment to me in Dino’s Pizza in Bullshit, Maine, population 1,600, on the very first day of my family vacation?”
But I laugh it off, because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re a minority, when you’re off your home turf, when you don’t have the brawn to back it up. You make light. You defer. Deflect. You write about it later. Days later, when you can step back from it all and make it more palatable for your minute readership on Medium.
“Well, you sure wouldn’t want me doing your taxes, I can tell you that!”
Later I sit with my friend with whom we vacation every summer.
“I just don’t want to have to deal with that,” I say to him, knowing tacitly, as a minority himself, he understands. Others don’t, though. And you can’t make people understand — that’s much of our pain — the energy we expend on social media, running around in circles, circling the drain, playing hot potato with the truth, your truth, trying to pass it along to the next person in the comment chain and watching them burn their hands with it, but they drop it, because that’s what happens. You can’t hold onto another person’s truth. And you can’t make people understand.
And I just don’t want to deal with my map-of-Israel face in rural America — even in a blue state.
I don’t want to deal with mass-shootings either, but they’re on my door-step, my soaking, bloody doorstep, the same as yours, so it isn’t like I can make tea and make jokes and make amends like it’s any given Tuesday. It isn’t like I can just be on vacation when there is blood all over this Maine cabin. But do we even notice that it’s there, leaking over the first step and pooling onto the grass — do we see that there’s cerebellum on the sidewalk or do we just gingerly move our Skechers around it as we make our way to the mailbox, dented here and there with skull fragments?
I get it. We don’t want to deal with that. I mean, that’s a mess. We just want to get our mail, for God’s sake. Our American mail. Stamped with the eagle or the flag. We don’t want to be bothered. If we get a paper cut on the envelope, we can just blame people with mental illness. Mentally ill people, running around Wal-Mart or garlic festivals, chasing down people with envelopes.
I don’t want to deal with what the fucking salami is made of. My wife wants the kids to keep kosher. I don’t give a fuck. They’ll be Jewish if I slaughter a pig and drain its blood all over the doorstep and the sidewalk and I blow its brains out with an AR-15 and get its skull fragments into the side of the mailbox and I shove an apple in its mouth and I carve it on the front yard so the other Jewish neighbors next door watch out their windows in horror as I cook its carcass in a fire on the lawn and I feed it to the children for dinner. It doesn’t matter, but it matters to her. So I have to care. And I swallow and I accept and I hug her by the enormous seaweed-covered rocks in Stonington. And we mend and we repair. But the next day it’s the hot-dogs at the food truck. And she asks and they’re made with beef and pork and I cringe because we’re Jews in rural Maine and I don’t want to disappoint my daughter and I don’t want to be special or looked at or judged or identified but I’m identified anyway by my nose and my skin and I might as well have a yellow star on but hey I don’t even need it, do I, and there’s blood on my Clarke’s and I don’t understand why they just sit back and watch people die without doing anything.
Because guns. Always guns. Guns always win. We don’t care about the plants at Dino’s Pizza. Or each other. And we don’t care about any other amendment except the second. Because we believe in the sanctity of life the millisecond the fat bastard at the pizza place ejaculates into whoever he’s spending the night with and that sperm does its thing with that egg, but we don’t care very much about the hundreds and hundreds of lives ended abruptly by weapons that West Point cadets have to qualify with in the hands of the next angry white man, because men in stockings and wigs damask silk waistcoats wanted us to have a well-regulated militia and they surely wouldn’t throw up all over each other if they were resurrected today and had to walk out their front door and slip on blood and brain as they went out to get their mail and they wouldn’t say, “Whoa! Whoa whoa whoa! What the FUCK is going on here?” And Jesus wouldn’t say that, either, about what is being done in his name. Or yours. Or mine.