Friday, May 9, 2008

My Trip to Montgomery and the White People I Saw

My grandparents spend their winters in Florida. Can you believe that? Jews in Florida. "It's the real Jewish state," my grandfather likes to tell me. "Fuck Israel. I need all that sand?"

Well, that's the kind of family I'm in.

Last December I was driving down to Fort Lauderdale for the Christmas break. I had three weeks to mark freshman essays and get some colour. White people who live in Toronto tend to look malnourished around late-December. It's just the lack of sex and natural sunlight. We call it Lisa Moore-chic.

So I was driving down through the States, enjoying the South, when I decided to get off I-95 and head through Alabama. I had enough pecans. Everything south of Chattanooga is pecan country. I wanted a Brazil nut. I wanted an orange. I wanted some strange fruit. So I turned into Alabama.

I wouldn't say there are many Jews in Montgomery. Actually, there's an old joke about that. A guy drives into town and asks where all the Chinese people are. "Ain't no Chinese," says a local, rocking on his porch. The guy asks where all the Mexicans are. "Ain't no Mexicans," says the local. Finally the guy asks where all the Jews are. "Jews?" says the local, pointing to an old, weathered poplar. "Well, there's a tree they tend to hang out at."

But it's not like that; not at all. I pulled into Montgomery around three in the afternoon. It's a big city with paved streets, telephone poles, and antebellum storefronts. The racism's all gone.

I was thirsty and hungry, so I walked into a T.G.I.Friday's. That's an American chain restaurant; a family-style place with lots of nostalgic quirk. The waitress seated me, and handed me a menu. She was a beautiful blonde with long nails and flawless skin.

"Can I get you anything to drink?" she asked.

"Just water" I said.

"OK. Sorry we don't have any blood for you?"


"You drink Christian blood, don't you?"

"Well, not usuall--"

"Because we're fresh out."

"That's fine. Just water, please."

"We got Negro blood in the back."

"Negro blood? No. No, thanks. Just water," I said.

"Well, I guess even Jews gots standards."

The water came.

"Cold enough for you?" she asked.

"It's perfect. Thank you."

"Sure you don't need no special blessing?"


"From one of those singin' hat men with the long hair."

"No, it's just water. I'm not Kosher. No rabbi needed."

"Rib-eye? You know, I'm Catholic. Oh, yeah. Don't know much about rib-eyes. Well, are you ready to order?"

"Yeah," I said. "I'll have the burger and fries. With a side of potato skins." Friday's potato skins are legendary.

"Those skins cost extra," she said.

"I know. Don't worry--I brought lots of shells."

"I mean extra money."

"But they're real shiny...What about wampum?"

"Hey," she said, pointing to the door. "Look at this." There was a young black man with his arm around a young white woman. She appeared to be pregnant. "Ain't that a shame. Now you wouldn't go and do anything like that?"

"I don't know. He's kinda tall for me." I can sense when I'm in a vaudeville skit. There was no need to let her know I was straight. And it was kind of fun.

"A queer yid! I never..."

"You mean there are no gay Jews in Alabama?"

"There were."

"Well, I'm just kidding. I'm not gay," I said. "My girlfriend's at home sewing hoods."

"I knew it. My mama taught me how to spot queers," she said.

"Who taught her?" I asked.

"My father."

"He sounds like a terrific man."

"No, he just liked it up the ass."

She left to place my order. About ten minutes later she came back with a plate of food. She placed it in front of me, I ate, and I asked for the cheque. As soon as I paid I got up and walked toward the door.

"Hey," I heard a voice behind me. It was the waitress. "You forgot your change!"

"No," I said. "That's a tip."

"I don't know what to say. Won't people like to hear about this!"

"Don't forget to tell the Pope," I said, "when you see him this Sunday."

Kind of makes Toronto seem a little dull.

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