Monday, April 16, 2007

Being a Duck on Easter

Saturday is my day of rest. I don’t usually go to religious services, and I don’t stop using electricity or anything like that, but I do try not to do anything that feels like work. Usually my Saturday involves relaxing and frivolous activities like sitting in a café, sipping expensive coffee drinks and making up stories about strangers walking by. That’s what I had in mind last week, the Saturday during Passover, which this year also happened to be the Saturday before Easter. It didn’t turn out quite as relaxing as I wanted it to.

First, I went to the medium-priced café in town. It’s where the students hang out. It’s not the fancy coffee-and-wine-bar where the professors go to “network,” but it’s not a truck stop either. While I waited for my espresso, I gazed longingly at the pastries case. Of course I couldn’t eat anything, because it was Passover. But they were there, so I looked.

To my surprise I saw a dish of chocolate-dipped macaroons. At first I felt excited, and actually flattered that the baker had thought to prepare a kosher-for-Passover treat. Then I took a closer look. The macaroons were …not normal. For one thing, they weren’t “dipped” in chocolate so much as drizzled with stripes of chocolate. But that’s neither here nor there. The real issue was that they were so cakey, I could tell the baker must have used flour to help the coconut stick together, and that automatically makes them chametz – not KP. On top of everything, the macaroons were embedded with pastel sprinkles. They looked like Easter eggs. Polka-dotted, striped Easter eggs. I thought, “Nice try, but, I guess you don’t really understand about Passover.”

After an hour or so of people-watching at the café, I went to get my hair cut. There’s a place downtown that does $10 haircuts that aren’t bad, as long as I’m lucky enough to get one of the people who understands about curly hair. Believe it or not, even a “zero fade, five on top” can be screwed up by someone trying to do something to curly hair that curly hair just doesn’t do. This time I was lucky, and my mood lifted just knowing I’d get a good, hassle-free haircut. I walked back to the sinks, where the hairdresser was waiting for me. She watched me take my yarmulke off and stuff it in my coat pocket. She washed my hair – which I love, having someone else wash my hair in a sink, even though I feel awkward getting that intimate with a stranger who I’m paying – and a minute later I was sitting up in her swivel-y barber chair. Her first question was, of course, “What are we doing today?” and once we got clear on that she asked, “So do you have any plans for Easter?”

I was flabbergasted on the inside, but I think I stayed pretty flat as I answered, “I don’t celebrate Easter.”

“Right,” she said, “I knew that. But isn’t Easter still a day to have a party, or dye eggs or something?”

I said, “For me it’s just another Sunday.” I thought, “You don’t really understand about Easter, do you?”

My Easter Saturday adventure wrapped up with a trip to the grocery store. I had to buy butter. Like most Jews, and most adult humans for that matter, I’m somewhat lactose-intolerant. But I hadn’t been able to find any KP margarine, so I figured I’d survive cooking with butter for one week. There was Easter paraphernalia all over the place, and anxious last-minute shoppers carting around hams and plastic baskets and other unfamiliar holiday accoutrements. I was wearing my yarmulke over my new hair-cut, and I felt like I must stand out like … well, like a Jew on Easter.

I found the butter, and moved toward the registers. I tried to maintain my calm, restful, Shabbos-y feeling as I waited in line. Finally it was my turn. And that’s when it got weird. I noticed the clerk noticing my yarmulke, but that’s okay, I’d probably notice too. I handed her my butter and my Big Y card. With one hand on her keypad and her eyes fixed in the middle distance over my left shoulder she asked, “Do you want to buy some Brand A bacon? It’s two for one today.”

For real? For real. I could not make this stuff up. “Um, no, thanks,” I said. And then I remembered that she’d noticed my yarmulke and I said, “So, just for future reference, if somebody’s wearing a yarmulke, chances are they don’t want to buy bacon.”

“Well!” she spat out, “I don’t like to stereotype people, or make judgments about them.”

I did not know what to say next. I was torn between thinking of all the Jews I know who do eat bacon, proudly, and thinking how dare she use good social justice language to legitimize her ignorance? And then, was I sure it was ignorance, or was she actually trying to be an ass? I mumbled out, “It’s not a stereotype, it’s, like, a rule.” She didn’t respond. I left the store.

I came home and made myself a great big pan of matzo-brie, with butter, no bacon, and the dregs of last season’s maple syrup. At least I got a good story to tell for next week’s panel talk on contemporary U.S. experiences of antisemitism.

Happy Passover. Pesach Sameach. Gut yuntuf.


Dane said...

So, as a Jew who *does* eat bacon, I'm confused about what to think of BigYGirl. Because I don't wear a kipah in public, but I do wear my magen david - and I've never had anyone assume I keep kosher. Then again, she might have not understood the kipah either - given more time, she might have asked you what the little beanie was all about.

It's a bizarre thing, that cultural insensitivity and ignorance and hilarity get all mixed up in one check-out clerk who was probably taught not to judge people by what she sees on their heads (turbans, kipot, scarves, or whatever).

Not to mention the fact that she probably had to ask everyone if they wanted to buy the stupid bacon.

In other news, KP margarine? Are you serious? I think about my pesach this year, in a country where they don't label anything as kosher, or even as vegetarian, and how the only way I got protein was by eating pork and eggs and very occasionally, cheese.

Davey says ... said...

i think wearing a yarmulke in public is a different degree of public jewishness than wearing a star. lots of people wear stars. the only people i know who wear yarmulkes in public on a regular basis are orthodox, or rabbis, or want to be rabbis.
i wouldn't assume somebody keeps kosher based on their wearing a yarmulke. i would assume that they /might/ keep kosher.