He wouldn’t stop.
And I — the target of his sophomoric, disparaging, ‘anti-semantic’ spew — wasn’t the only one in the cigar shop more than a tad ‘not-amused’.
After a couple of months a couple of others who were finally wincing at his constant barrage of childish humor would privately mention to me that: ‘Gene just goes on and on. You ought to say something to him.’
Hmm… And why didn’t they?
‘It will run its course,’ I would reply.
But, of course, it didn’t.
At my favorite smoke shop in South Philadelphia the owner, Anthony, has only one rule – that you can disagree, but you can’t be disagreeable. And I, being the only Jew in regular attendance among mostly Italians, take a lot of ribbing. And give. But on both sides it is mostly a burp here and some gas there.
But not with Gene. He is a tall, middle-aged, successful heating and air conditioning boss with lots of flash and dash and cash. And with him the gas passed and passed… and the stink always lingered.
And finally I got weary.
So one night in the din of Grumpy’s crowded neighborhood bar and loud music, as we were about to part the barstools, I shook Gene’s hand and tugged him in closely. He must have thought I was going to offer the Italian kiss on the cheeks and the wiretap, pat-down hug. But instead I whispered close to his ear:
‘Please stop it.’
Actually I don’t remember if I said ‘please,’ but I’m sure it was in the tone of my voice.
Gene smirked, then studied my sincere expression for a sobering moment before bleating: ‘What?!’
So I stared back with the patient countenance of a teacher waiting for his pupil to get it.
Finally Gene demanded: ‘Who says so?’
‘I do,’ I said. ‘And right now I’m the only one that matters.’
‘Well, you say things!’ Gene insisted.
But to placate him I said: ‘We all do. And if I’ve offended your sense and sensibilities I’ll stop. But right now I am asking you to stop it. It’s getting tiresome. And impertinent.’
At that Gene – perhaps for first time in his solipsistic life – apparently didn’t know what to say. Only his eyes widened. Then he spun on his heels and left.
Well, I thought, that went about as smoothly as a doctor giving you fatal news. Actually I was surprised that Gene took such virile offense. I merely tossed him a private request. It was no more than a baseball catch.
Hmm… I guess some folks always have to do the pitching.
Yet, while Gene is really rather likeable, I’ve long learned through assiduous observation that no rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.
Sounds a lot like the Washington ‘Redskins’ brouhaha of late, doesn’t it? And I’ll scalp that vitriol in a moment. I mean, isn’t a public discussion supposed to be an exchange of knowledge — not an argument exchanging ignorance.
And whether you realize it or not, I understand the American Indians have nothing to gain out of all this – except a little dignity. And isn’t that a right the powerless are always fighting for. Including the Jews, Italians, Chinese, Koreans, Blacks, Hispanics and so forth…
Anyway, two minutes after Gene stomped out Grumpy’s door he stormed back in and approached with his index finger wagging. His voice went from tenor to falsetto.
I‘ll tell you what I’m going to do!’ He was downright adamant. ‘I am never going to talk to you again!’
Hmm… Being a Jew and a journalist I figured that ought to bring the tally up to… oh yes… 6 billion and one. And that’s not even counting my ex-wives.
My bad. I mean I always thought the aim of argument, or of discussion, wasn’t intended to be a victory – but only progress. And, I thought, that perhaps the next day Gene and I would progress.
I mean, doesn’t truth spring from arguments amongst friends?
But of course – not!
The next noon Anthony greeted me, in front of a couple of curious smokers at his Twin Smoke Shoppe, with: What did you say to Gene?… He says you yelled at him. Called him names. Made a stink at Grumpy’s… etc… etc… etc…
I must have taken a wrong turn on my way to a brothel… where they always greet you with a smile. Because I always thought an argument was meant to reveal the truth — not to create it. And at that moment I actually got to thinking about an old geometry teacher who taught me that without assumptions there is no proof. Therefore, in any argument, examine the assumptions.
So, I said, to Anthony: You’re assuming – for some incredulous reason – that what Gene said is absolutely true.
At that Anthony began apologetically vacillating.
So I offered that we make some other assumptions.
For instance: Have I ever publicly rebuked, attacked or condemned anybody in the years I’ve been smoking here? If I have something to say, don’t I always do it privately? Take you aside? Have I spoken badly about anyone – even Gene and his crossing a line that you should have put a stop to? And then you’ve got to ask yourself: What would be in it for me to do or say such a thing as Gene has accused?
Hmm… At that I posed: Isn’t it possible that Gene is the one being pusillanimous and mendacious?
Anthony seemed sort of confused. He tilted his bald pate like a puzzled dog.
‘That’s spineless and untruthful,’ I explained.
‘But that isn’t really the issue, is it?’ I added, a tad sternly. ‘Because all I privately and quietly asked Gene was — to stop it.’
Hmm… And, meanwhile, isn’t that what the American Indian activists have been asking for years. And both — former Redskins’ owners Jack Kent Cooke and present owner Dan Snyder — have rebuked them with: Never! That is, in spite of the seismic grass-roots support the Indians have received from politicians, comedians, young voters, the government, and most anyone who hasn’t spent more on his Pickup truck than his education.
The Indian activists shouldn’t have had to appeal to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board of the United States Patent and Trademark Office. Last week it finally canceled 6 federal trademark registrations owned by the NFL team because they were ‘disparaging’. In fact, the government bureau now admitted that the team’s Indian logo has always been disparaging since it was first trademarked in 1967.
Like they say, bad karma and a lack of social conscience do work their shotguns down to your gonads — eventually.
That is despite what some fools’ contend — that it may not be disparaging to all American Indians. Or even today’s majority. But that’s because many Indians are undoubtedly much like most of the rest of their fellow Americans – dumb, stupid and ignorant of our own sad history.
As that great man from England once said: The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.
Even if the word ‘Redskin’ doesn’t offend ‘everybody’ it offends enough people to be brazen. And when are those brazen, shameful acts committed upon the Indians suppose to finally cease and desist?
Don’t you remember that our colonists robbed and killed and pilfered their hospitality? Our government never managed to keep one treaty with them. The derogatory term ‘Redskin’ is from the days when a bounty was sanctioned on them. And any degenerate could make quite a ‘killing’ from not only killing an Indian man, but also a woman. And also the kids. And that’s how scalping began. Bounty hunters hauled in scalps to collect the rewards.
Changing the name of a football team in an organization worth more money than at least 90% of all the American Indians, collectively, seems like such a small price to pay for a person’s dignity.
Admittedly I wasn’t as convicted on this matter until my grand friend, USA TODAY sports writer Erik Brady, got to regularly kicking the Redskins ass the past couple of years. And after endless conversations with Erik I finally investigated the history myself. And I have garnered much more than just an opinion.
I mean, what can you do against a lunatic, like Erik, who is more intelligent than yourself, who gives your arguments a fair hearing, and then simply persists in his lunacy?
Meanwhile, Gene has grimly maintained his closed-minded way to maintain his vow of silence — even when we pass on the sidewalk, drink at Grumpy’s and smoke in the Twin Shoppe.
It’s rather amusing, actually. And it prompts me to chuckle at the thought: There’s one more argument for birth control.
But there was that time about a year ago in Grumpy’s after Gene had been standing beside me talking to someone else, before moving on down the bar. And just as I was sliding off my barstool to leave, a tad less than sober Grumpy approached. Apparently he was acting as an emissary. He said that Gene would like to buy me a drink. And he wanted me to follow him to his and Gene’s end of the bar.
Hmm… Obviously I hadn’t been drinking enough.
I simply declined. However, I noted that Gene, himself, is always welcomed to approach my open mind. He doesn’t need an air traffic controller to enter my air space. He just needs to man-up and fly on in. After all I have long ago forgiven him.
Grumpy is big and strong enough to throw me over his shoulder and proceed with whatever he is determined – sober or not. But people’s minds are usually influenced by observation – and less so by argument. And I take it Grumpy observed that I too have a past of some pretty tenacious moments.
But of course!
And like the king’s jester joked: As long as the world is turning and spinning, we’re all gonna be dizzy… and we’re all gonna make mistakes.
And dats yDrewIS on dis penal colony…