By Seth Kushner
It was Thanksgiving at my mother’s house. In attendance were: my mom, my second cousin David, my friend/roommate Alberto, and myself.
I remember when I was a kid and we had huge Thanksgiving dinners at our house. My sepia toned memories of those dinners are of my grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins, my father, all laughing and joking and eating; it was great. My family had left those “traditional” Thanksgiving dinner behind years earlier. In recent years, these dinners have become depressing and have had a fairly small guest list because of the fact that many of my closest relatives died of either old age or tragedy. Cousin David says we’re nearly at the point where family dinners could be held in a phone booth.
The menu has changed significantly from the good old days when my dad, Cousin David and I used to give my mom a hard time about her turkey, which was always so dry and tasteless. It wasn’t until I was in my mid 20’s that I discovered a roasted turkey could be eaten without the aid of a glass of water to wash it down. By the time I was in college, my mom had had enough of our “abuse” and declared she would no longer be making Thanksgiving dinner. Since then, we have eaten Chinese food. It always seemed like sacrilege to me, but Cousin David justifies it by saying, “The pilgrims ate turkey because that’s what was available…don’t you think they would have preferred Szechuan Shrimp and egg rolls?”
We were four unattached, single adults at the table. I was alone because seemingly no one wanted me. Alberto had broken up with his girlfriend and was living with me. My mom was between putz boyfriends, and Cousin David was alone because he chose to be, claiming he didn’t want to be tied down to some woman who would make him go to the mall at 10AM on Saturdays.
My cousin David lives only for movies and food. He’s a big guy, 6’2”, and about 275 pounds. He looks like a cross between Rob Reiner, Vincent Schiavelli, and Jean Reno. He has no place in his life for women or going out and socializing. In fact, he’s been known to say the following:
“I don’t get you humans. Why do you all bother with this relationship nonsense? I am convinced that humans are indeed a silly lot, with lives filled with meaningless parties, infatuations, endless get-together and drink fests that lead to disappointment and misery.”
Sometimes I wish I could be more like him. He never feels rejection or heartache. As I already mentioned, David, then near 50, lives for movies. In fact, he toils away at a job he hates just so he can afford his 73-inch TV and an ever-growing collection of DVD, which is in the thousands.
It scares me how much I understand this guy. I’m the only one in the family who does. In some ways, I look at him and see what I’m afraid of becoming. I too love movies, but my DVD collection is modest compared to his, but my comic book collection far outnumbers his DVDs. As I see it, if I were to completely give up on relationships with women and on my career, I would possibly begin to resemble my oafish cousin. Hopefully this awareness this protects me.
Once we sat down at the table and all the white cardboard containers were emptied into our plates, my mom began her interrogation about the “Nice Jewish Girl” she found for me, with whom I recently went out on a date.
“I don’t think I’m interested in her,” I said
“What!? I thought she’s nice??” She said.
“I’m not attracted to her…she’s…you know, like you.” I knew this would elicit a reaction.
“Oh, I would marry her!” My mom said this with an ear-to-ear grin.
“She’s a nice Jewish, Brooklyn goyle, like you… simple. I don’t mean simple like simple-minded, she’s just not into interesting things.
“And you are?” (into interesting things) My mom prodded.
“Yeah, I think I am.”
“Uh-huh,” she said, shaking her head. “What is it you think is lacking in her?”
“She’s like Charlie Rose!” I said to David, pointing at my mom.
“She just needs the round mahogany table!” he agreed.
“If you’re doing exciting things–quote exciting things–then bring her…” My mom said to me.
“She doesn’t necessarily know about things that I think are interesting,” I added.
“So then you tell her about these things.”
“She may get interested.”
“She may…but actually, I have a term for that. Are you ready for this? When you meet a girl who’s not that interesting–I made this up, by the way–and you want them to get into what you’re into, you have to ‘Eliza Doolittle’ them. You gotta’ take them aside, teach them everything you know, have them watch the right movies, read the right books and everything…and maybe after like a year of that they might turn out to be a proper girlfriend. What do you guys think about that?”
I love being a jerk in front of my mom, who was laughing uncontrollably.
“A lot of excitement there,” David drolly interjected while taking yet another serving of Ginger Chicken.
“That’s what I was doing with the guy I was seeing,” my mom added showing us all where my tendencies originate.
“I do this! I get all these guys and I make them people,” my mom said while laughing.
“People?? She forms them out of clay! And, you think I’m crazy?” I said.
“Yes, then I put them out into the world and I go on to someone else,” she added.
“See what I mean, what chance did I ever really have?” I asked the room, while my mom was laughing so hard Lo Mein were falling out of her mouth.
“I’ve got only one thing to say: you humans are funny, let me tell you,” David said finally lowering his fork long enough to form a complete sentence.
“Yeah? Who are you seeing, David?” My mom asked turning the questioning now to David.
“I’m simply an observer of the human condition,” David answered, going into his usual shtick.
“Mom, tell us why you don’t like gentile girls?” I asked, changing the subject to start up with her.
“I didn’t say I don’t like gentile girls,” she answered defensively.
“So, what was the problem with my last girlfriend then?” I asked probing further.
“Would she have converted?”
Holy Moses, here we go again.
“Look, say things would have worked out we were going to get married…” I pushed.
“I would’ve been thrilled,” my mom answered sarcastically.
“She had no religion…she didn’t follow anything except for the American holiday of Christmas. What would be offensive to you?”
“Because if you had children, they would not have been brought up Jewish.” This was a familiar topic.
“But she had no religion at all!”
“Then she might’ve converted!”
“Why would I have wanted her to convert?” David and Alberto were wisely keeping out of this.
“Because we are a very proud culture…”
“You have to be proud of who you are!”
I turned to David & Alberto and said:
“Thanksgiving? I say thanks-for-nothing.” I turn back to my mom-
“If a person has no religion, it should be no big deal.”
“It IS a big deal, the children would not be brought up Jewish!”
David then said to Alberto:
“Here’s the deal–She wants them to convert so they should share the common misery of us wretched people who have suffered for 5000 years. So they can sit here and eat orange marinated beef on Thanksgiving.”
“We are a proud people!” my mom exclaimed.
“She doesn’t want them to have a good life, and have good food and enjoy things…”
“Sure I do!” she insisted.
“She wants them to be miserable like everyone here is.” Dave was pushing it now.
“Dave’s a self loathing Jew,” I added
“Alright Alberto, what culture do you want?” My mom asked turning her attention back to Alberto.
“What do you mean?” He asked.
“What are you looking for?”
“I’ll take anyone who will have me,” Alberto answered half jokingly
“That’s not a good thing to say–Oh my God…what do your parents want for you?”
“I don’t think they care, as long as I’m happy.”
“See mom, not everyone’s rigid like you,” I said.
“I’m a very proud person!” She said.
“It’s already so hard to meet anybody and you’re trying to limit me to such a small part of the population.” I said, reiterating something that’s always been my argument.
“Are you proud to be a Jew?” She was serious now.
“Sure, I wouldn’t convert for anybody.”
“What if everyone in your generation said ‘I’m proud to be a Jew, but I’m gonna marry whoever I want’…I got news for ya, we’d die off.”
She ALWAYS uses that argument.
“I gotta be happy.”
David turned to Alberto again:
“I always wanted to be a Rastafarian, but I could never work it out with my hair,” he said while rubbing his balding head.
“If I meet someone of another faith, I can’t help that,” I added.
My mom was angry now.
“Everyone always tells me, why don’t you go out with this guy, he’s a nice guy. I say, because he’s not Jewish. They say, ‘you’re not having children, what’s the difference?’”
“You’re not having children?” I asked my fifty-something mom and everyone laughed. “I just want a girl who will go see Lord of the Rings with me. This girl you set me up with said she fell asleep during one of the movies, and she couldn’t even remember which one!”
David raised his finger as if he had something important to say.
“To that Jewish girl, her concept of Lord of the Rings, (pause for effect) is the best jeweler in town,” he said with pitch perfect delivery. Everyone laughed.
“I need a Valium,” my mom said.
Read past installments of SCHMUCK and THE SCHMUCK DIARIES
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. 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), Leland Purvis (Resistance) 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.