He was talking to a friend on Shabbos.
"She said you were a little," he said, and, palms up, pumped his hands up and down.
A little off? He thought only he knew that. Is it so obvious? Ouch.
Then there’s the long walk down Pico Blvd after davening with the sun overhead and the ejecting shuls beside him and there are friends to walk by but what’s worse are the non-friends, when he sees them far ahead he’s not sure where to look and so his neck locks and he goes down and his shoulders shrink and then he finds himself staring and wondering how much they hate him, oy, such a violation of his probation!, and then he squeaks "Gut Shabbos" and then there’s the long desperate wait for some affirmative "Gut Shabbos!" greeting in return…and the wait goes on and on unto Sunday.
He talks to his friend at LimmudLA at UCLA’s Hillel building.
He remembers the days when women were warned he was a dangerous seducer. Now the warnings are that he is a dangerous blogger. Oy, how the mighty have fallen!
"Doesn’t anyone give you a hard time for hanging out with me?" he asks.
"Let me tell you," says the macher, "in high school, there was the popular circle and the rejects. I was one of the kids in the popular circle who didn’t mind hanging out with the rejects."
"My family used to go to Israel and visit and the graves of the great rabbis. I know you’re a vegetarian, but we used to slaughter goats. And there were lots of Arabs around. And one morning my mother was making an omelette for five of us. And there was this little Arab kid in the corner. And my mother fed him first. I’ve never forgotten that. Normally when I tell that story I get tears in my eyes but I’m with you now so I’m not crying."
"I’m glad you’re not crying," thinks the reject and he looks around the room and back at his friends and he shrugs his shoulders and smiles a little too broadly and tries to go forward and up with his head and smile some more and let his shoulders drop and his back lengthen and widen. He’s never felt so much kinship with little Arab boys. He wonders when he’ll get his call from Hamas.
He yearns to be cool and popular but sighs at the hopelessness of it. He tells himself that he’ll get a good blog post out of the day and one or two personal connections and a little bit of learning.
No, it will be more than that. He’ll pioneer a new genre in the literature of Gedolei Yisrael (the Great Ones of Israel) — the confessional form. He’ll be the Jewish Augustine and get all the lovin’ that comes with it.
"That’s Luke Ford, the Supreme Leader!" they’ll say as he marches down Pico Blvd, exhibiting perfect Alexander Technique.
He looks at the three heaped plates of pastries and thinks about his pre-diabetes blood sugar levels and all the things he wants to put in his mouth but can’t.
Nobody said the life of the tzaddik would be easy.
He turns away from his friends — both of them! — and sees a couple who hosted him for a Shabbat dinner a few months ago. He decides to take their dance class.
He doesn’t realize that the insurance company has already been contacted about Friday’s accident and he is blissfully ignorant of its consequences for his life.
It’s time for the first session. Rabbi Lisa Edwards‘s "The Jewish Case For Marriage Equality" would give him the most material for his blog but he’s not strong enough. Instead he’ll hit Reuven Firestone‘s "Wherever/Whenever People Engage in God’s Word, the Divine Presence Abides Among Them."
One of the things he hates about non-Orthodox Judaism is the lack of hierarchy. Everyone is asked to give feedback on the sacred text. Today the Jews are upset that the teacher’s selection of Jewish and Islamic writings are not exactly congruent. They go on and on with their ignorance. Why do those with the least to say talk the longest?
He had hoped that LimmudLA would help him love his fellow Jews but he’s only hating them this morning.
Dr. Firestone: "The Islamic tradition is much less intellectual… We can look at ourselves and say we’re so smart, but look at the numbers…"
He keeps saying how much he’s looking forward to Larry‘s dance moves until Sara says, "I know you’re joking, but Larry’s a great dancer. I met him at a wedding and he asked me to dance and he was great. And I said that any Jewish day school graduate who dances that well I must marry."
In the way he was raised, dancing was a big sin. He’s never been able to let go of the awkwardness. He tries to smile real big and fling himself around as the teacher and the Talmud instruct — written law and oral! — but it’s hopeless.
Teacher won’t play ABBA’s Dancing Queen, his only hope. Instead they’re stuck with Jewish music.
He fears going to crush someone with my ineptitude. He tries to dance a little to the side or a little to the front or a little to the middle so he doesn’t hurt anyone. He just wants to get outside of himself and his pounding head for five minutes, to join the dance instead of analyzing the dance…
After half an hour, he’s exhausted and humiliated. On the ground floor he comforts himself with four helpings of pastries. Then he heads for Rabbi Shlomo Seidenfeld’s class on God.
12:30 pm. As the rabbi thinks about his parents (Holocaust survivors), he chokes up.
He feels ashamed that his troubles are so trivial. Why can’t he cry over others’ suffering and not just his own?
It’s time for lunch.
He’s first in line. He goes for the grilled-vegatables sandwich. Then he sits in the back. After ten minutes, an organizer lady joins him. "I’m a Yiddisha mama," she explains. "I can’t bear to see anyone eat alone."
It’s freezing. The air conditioning is way too high. Even the scantily-clad hot chicks are cold. He won’t write about that. He won’t let himself appear creepy or needy. He could wax eloquent for paragraphs about the intriguing nature of brunette beauty, the mesmerizing eyes, the gentle femininity, the fire and the ice…
He runs into Jewish Journal Editor Rob Eshman in the stairwell and talks to him for 15-minutes about the difficulty of earning a living producing journalism for the web.
Some people are making money online. Why not the Leader? Why not a Brilliant Career?
He unzips his psyche and chants: "I am a star. I’m a star, I’m a star, I’m a star. I am a big, bright, shining star. That’s right."
1:30 pm. UCLA professor Monica Osborne speaks on "Dreaming Jewish Dreams: The Revival of Jewish Literature in America and Beyond."
No wonder her dog Eliot Epstein got so excited at three this morning that he jumped high in the air and broke his leg upon landing.
A bloke walks by Monica and sticks out his hand.
Monica shakes it.
Puzzled, he asks for her hand-out.
Monica begins, tipping her head back and crushing her three-inch black heels against the ground: "I function best as a discussion moderator rather than a lecturer. Please butt in with your comments, profanities…"
"Damn!" I say.
"Not you, Luke!" says David Suissa.
"Yeah," says Monica. "Not you."
They give a great class. It wasn’t billed as a co-production but he has so many wise things to say, he can’t keep quiet.
They’re available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.
She says she was inspired to write by the beauties of Judaism that she wanted to share with the world.
After class, a bloke comes up to him and asks, "Didn’t we meet in David’s bedroom?"
"Hush!" he says.
"That was you, right?"
"I try to keep that on the down-low."
"I’ve read many of your articles."
"It’s not gay if you beat them up afterwards."
The conversation wanders for five minutes until he brings it back with a forceful: "So tell me how wonderful you find my articles."
"Well, I wouldn’t say that. It’s just that I keep Googling things and your articles show up first."
2:30. He wants to check out that blonde Leah Hochman. She’s teaching "On Looks, Judaism, and Jewish Thought, Thinking About Beauty and Ugliness in Modern Judaism."
He sits next to the door in case he wants to jump out if things get boring and catch Rabbi Klein’s "Writing Fiction: The Role of Fiction in Creating Identity."
"Are you sure you want to sit there?" asks Leah, turning around to look at him.
An obedient and chivalrous Jew, he gets up and moves across the room.
"You didn’t have to," says Leah. "I was only asking."
"Jewish guilt!" says a woman.
"You don’t strike me as someone who a stranger can guilt-trip," says Leah.
He stays quiet and preoccupies himself with Torah.
"She’s good looking," his friend scrawls across her pad.
Then she scribbles it out.
"Are you going to be politically correct?" he asks Leah.
"Are you going to be politically correct?" she responds.
"Oh, very," he says.
Leah asks, what is beauty?
He raises his hand and launches into an emotional address. "Beauty is what makes my heart swell. It makes me expand. Right now, you, you make me want to want to expand."
Leah looks at her notes. "That’s a check," she says.
Ten minutes later, Leah pauses for a question.
"How does that not reinforce hetero-normativity?"
He realizes he can never date anyone who uses "hetero-normativity" non-ironically, no matter how smart and beautiful she is.
Leah talks about a word if said twice in a row, according to the Talmud, induces ejaculation.
"Oh, please don’t say it," he says and the room fills with shock and awe.
At the end of class, Leah delivers her long-promised big reveal about beauty in Judaism (it has to do with revelation replacing creation as the Jewish motif).
It leaves him cold, so he eats a big bowl of chocolate ice cream scooped out by the woman who busts medical marijuana clinics and then he piles on chocolate chips and cookies and by the time he’s walking up Hilgard Avenue and utterly alone again, he feels sick.
guest2: are you luke ford?
guest2: you are an odd dude