By Seth Kushner
I arrived early to the first of my ten weekly writing classes and nodded to the other few students who were already seated. It was a cold winter evening and the warmth emanating from the radiator behind me felt good on my freezing, surely beet-red ears. I should have worn a hat, but I needed a haircut and a hat would’ve given me bad “hat hair” which on me would not have translated as the cool “bed head” look, but more like an uncool “Jew-Fro.” There would be women here, I surmised, or as my friend Stan has promised, “hot, brainy but damaged writer chicks.” So therefore, my ears were cold.
I toyed with the notion of taking a class in something for a while. When I saw the newspaper box on Broadway with the Gotham Writer’s Workshop brochure, it called out to me. Maybe I just liked the name. I thought it would be good for me to get out and meet new people and learn something.
The class was being held at an elementary school in the West Village, where the group of mostly white 30-somethings sat in near silence waiting for the instructor to arrive. The classroom was so pin-drop quiet, when my cell phone began vibrating in my pocket, everyone turned and glared at me. I was nervous. I assumed all the people seated around me were going to be talented writers and they’d see me as just another dopey pop-culture obsessed man-boy whose work would consist of his complaints about how he couldn’t get laid. Maybe they wouldn’t be wrong. Or worse, I was afraid they would see me like the loser in Billy Crystal’s writing class in Throw Mama From the Train, who was writing about women he wanted to “pork.” Hmmm, interesting idea–I made a mental note to start working on that list when I got back home.
Finally the instructor arrived and broke the deafening silence with a brief introduction, followed by a request for each of us to briefly talk about what we wanted to write about. She called on me first. I paused, swallowed and said-
“Well, I want to write about being a nearly 30-year old guy in New York City in the new millennium, and what I have to go through with dating, family and work.”
She nodded lackadaisically and motioned for the well-dressed dude on my left share his plans;
“I plan to write about my mother’s suicide.”
The first class went relatively well…well, except for the peeking incident. On my right was a very sexy dark haired woman who appeared to be in her mid 30s. The moment I saw her I instantly added her to the top of my “pork” list. I was leaning back in my seat and she was sitting up straight and wearing a pair of tight low-rise jeans, so if I were to hypothetically look down and to my right, I would able to see the top of her lacy red thong peaking back at me. I wasn’t starring, but as a red-blooded (read: horny) American male, I couldn’t help but take a quick glance every once in a while.
Upon my 29th or 30th “glance,” I must have been looking as that ‘magical red triangle’ for too long a time, because when I averted my eyes back to the instructor, a heavy set woman in her upper-30s, she had a look of complete disapproval on her face which told me she caught me starring at my classmate’s ass, and she thought I was an ass, which was about accurate, because I felt like an one.
Now I know how Larry David’s character, Larry David must feel, just without the fame. Or the wealth. Nonetheless, I could in no way curb my enthusiasm for that red thong.
Regardless of my embarrassment, I found myself enjoying the writing class. But, by week three, I was having some trouble. I handed in my first piece for the class to critique. I wrote about my mother and her attempts to fix me up with Jewish girls. I thought my essay was funny and heartwarming and insightful. Much of the class found it offensive…particularly my use of the word ‘bitch’ in reference to a young lady who had rejected me. Somehow some of the bitches, er, women in the class felt I was calling all women bitches. My defense was, if I felt I was mistreated by a particular girl and was angry about it, calling her a “bitch” was my honest response and the best way to portray my anger. They weren’t having it. Great, now I was turning off all the women in the class.
Although many found my piece to be funny, they also found it sophomoric and superficial, in regard to how I was judging women. I couldn’t really argue with that. One of the students, Phil, a middle-aged guy who looked like Kevin Spacey, told me he had his wife read my piece and he informed me that she was mortified and said she never wanted to meet me. Man, that was harsh, I thought. I didn’t want to meet his wife anyway. His daughter maybe.
After the discussion, we had an assignment to write about a piece of music and a memory it brought to mind. I decided I needed to win back the audience, so I wrote a sensitive, melancholy piece about how the song With or Without You by U2 reminded me of being at a concert and holding my first girlfriend Stacy’s hand for the very first time. I read it aloud in my most affected voice and the class did a collective “Ahhhh.”
“See, I tried to tell you I was sensitive,” I announced to the class.
Walking out the front door of the school into the dark night, I struck up a conversation with a fellow classmate, Clare. She was easily someone I could’ve met on one of my many online dating sites—a brainy, sarcastic, brunette, thin Jewish girl with glasses from Connecticut. This was one of the women Stan had promised I’d find in the class.
Attempting to talk to her, I was more intimidated than I even usually would have been in similar. This girl had read my work. I had tipped my hand so she knew I held no aces. I told her I enjoyed the piece she wrote about her deceased father. She complimented me as well, not seeming to have the same problems as the others. After exiting the building, we said goodnight and parted company. I wanted to ask her to join me for a drink, but I didn’t have it in me. I had no hutzpah.
The following week, I portrayed myself as a jackass again when another young lady was reading her very touching piece about battling an eating disorder. All the talk of food made me so hungry, that I started munching on a Kit Kat bar I had in my jacket pocket. I received some angry stares from pretty much the entire class. It hadn’t occurred to me I was acting insensitively. I hadn’t had a chance to eat dinner before class–what was I supposed to do?
Not wanting to illicit any further ire, I did my best to avoid looking at the thong woman, who that week was wearing a super snug top, allowing for slight nipple protrusion. It took all my force of will, but I made it all the way through class with only a quick glance or two.
On the way out, I managed to make some more small talk with Clare. I was definitely interested in her, so I read the piece she submitted as soon as I got home. Reading it, I could see she was a quality person. She again wrote about her father, and she did it in a way that was eloquent, touching and funny. I was jealous of her way with words. I was also infatuated. At the end of the piece, Clare revealed she was afflicted with the same disease that took her father’s life. I was shocked and upset.
The following week, it was strange seeing Clare, because I had been thinking of her and how I wanted her to be all right. We barely spoke that night, but she did hand me back my most recent paper with her criticisms. I read it as soon as I got home, even before taking my off my shoes. She made lots of notes in the margins, and they were all intelligent and well thought-out. Regarding the dating misadventures I had been chronicling, she wrote that she too was single and she thought I was brave by putting myself out there because she was too scared to do that herself. This chick was cool. A few days latter I received an e-mail from Clare –
just checked out your site- verrrrrry cool
your love of comics/superheros/pop culture comes through in all the shots. i dig it.
clare (from memoir class)
I was right, this chick was cool.
I responded and I thought maybe we were beginning a dialog, but she didn’t write again. I should’ve asked her a question of some kind, and given her something to respond to. Moron.
I never really made much of an attempt with Clare. I felt I had no game in that venue. The class was an interesting experience though. It was a room full of strangers, but because we were reading portions of each others memoirs, we were privy to the intimate details of each others lives. I didn’t manage to form any real connections with any of them, but I felt as though I knew them all. I missed the last class because I had previously committed to doing a photography lecture on the same night.
At the second-to-last class, I considered letting everyone know I wouldn’t be attending the next week. So, I nodded to the guy whose wife was afraid of me, smiled to Ms. Thong and watched the back pockets of her jeans go up and down as she walked away, and simply said ‘goodnight’ to Clare.
Maybe I feared they saw me as an insensitive lout and would treat me coldly if I actually said Goodbye? I pulled my hat down over my ears and walked off.
It was easier to say nothing.
Read past installments
Whenever Seth Kushner did anything foolish growing up, his mother would call him a “Schmuck,” that beloved Yiddish term of not-so-endearment. So, of course, it’s the title of his new comix semi-autobio on TRIP CITY, an online multimedia arts salon. Renowned for his The Brooklynites book and CulturePOP Photocomix, photographer and author Seth Kushner now throws his hat into the comics arena. SCHMUCK chronicles the period after his being dumped by a girlfriend, and the ensuing cascade of blind dates, Internet hook-ups, and comically tragic situations he endured with the hopes of finding “true love.”
SCHMUCK sheds a brutally honest light on 20-something relationships. Adam Kessler, our “hero,” is based on Kushner, ten years ago – a pop-culture-obsessed photographer torn between pleasing Mom by finding a “nice Jewish girl,” and figuring out what he really wants. His internal monologue is filled with the standard inane, perverted and self-deprecating thoughts we all have but are ashamed to admit. Meanwhile, his shit-talking, sex-obsessed Brooklyn boys stand by with their own, often wacky, advice.
Chapter One “Beer, Babes and Bowel Movements,” illustrated by Kevin Colden, (with “Photocomix” by Seth) debuted on Monday, January 9. From there, a new chapter will appear on TripCity.net every second Monday for one year. Every fourth Monday will see the release of a prose piece, “THE SCHMUCK DIARIES,” which will act as supplements to the comics. 2012 will see the release of 12 SCHMUCK comix and 12 SCHMUCK DIARIES.
SCHMUCK is an anthology series with different artists illustrating short “schmucky stories,” which can be read individually, or together to tell the complete narrative. Some upcoming SCHMUCK artists include; Sean Pryor (Pekar Project), Bobby Timony (Night Owls), Omar Angulo (Hurricane Wilma), Shamus Beyale (The Grimm Fairy Tales), Ryan Alexander-Tanner (To Teach), George Schall, (Dark Horse Presents) Nathan Schreiber (Power-Out), and more TBA.
What to expect: heartbreak, diarrhea, painful STD removal, rejection, Kung-Fu, Natalie Portman, vomit, boobs, self-loathing, unkempt genital regions, sex with an ex, drunkenness, sexual dysfunction, depression, misogyny, and somehow, hope.
Influences on SCHMUCK include; Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison, Bob Fingerman’s Beg The Question, Dean Haspiel’s Street Code, Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, Curb Your Enthusiasm, works by Nick Hornby, Jonathan Ames, Woody Allen, Adrian Tomine, Jeffrey Brown, Chester Brown and Joe Matt.