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Asshole, Part 1

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What happens when you befriend your bully

Dana Rhodes, her Sweet 16 . . . eh, not so sweet  

I coerced my dear friend " Irving " into writing a story with me about how he used to be my bully. I told him he had to get off his lawyerly ass and write something creative about himself being an asshole a long, long time ago. That's exactly what I told him.

Yes, you have five kids to schlep to Sunday school. Five kids, a goddamn migraine, impatient clients and a mouse on the loose in your twice-flooded, newly finished basement. No, you haven't written anything since high school other than legal briefs, checks to your plumber and a shitload of email to me. Yes, this will require you to expose to the universe the fact that, once upon a time, you were not very nice. (Okay, a complete dick, prick and otherwise schmuck.) Yes, you may use a penname, if you insist, wuss.

At first he said, Whatever . But when I pulled out the big fat guilt card, the one that read: This will be your payback for 23 years ago when you were my bully , he surrendered. And I quote Irving Flashman, at 8:46 PM on 9/18/08: I will not let you down .

That alone should have signaled that this was about more than Oy!Chicago. But no, I - in my bionic stoicism, in my blinding blindness, in my astounding short-sightedness -- just thought this would be our funny little story with all of our favorite swear words. He was her bully and now he's her friend, how sweet.

Let's face it, folks. High school sucks, even for the most well adjusted among us. Try transferring to  Highland Park High School  your junior year with an Indiana twang, a chip on your shoulder, and your own private asshole seated one desk to your right in Mr. Larson's fifth period creative writing class.

We both liked to write. We both had a serious amount of respect for  Holden Caulfield , we both hated trigonometry, and both our dads were doctors. But the similarities seemed to end there.

How ironic that he was the son of a cardiologist and I was the daughter of a pulmonologist. He had no heart. I held my breath.

His asshole friends jumped on his bully bandwagon and the next 15 months passed in a blur of spit. Spit, insults, threats, lies, a Ford Bronco coming straight at me in the school parking lot. You get the ugly picture.

Or maybe you don't. My Oy! editors say you don't - they want me to delve deeper into my painful memories for the sake of art. Fine. Join me for a little walk through the halls of HPHS in March of 1986. There's Irving, blocking my locker with a desk as he's done every day for the past two months. When he comments on my chicken legs, don't answer. When he asks if I really had sex with J.S. in the school library, just stand there and stare at him.  Eventually the bell will ring and Irving will leave, we'll grab my books for U.S. History and on our way to class, his dumbass friend will punch me in the arm hard enough to throw me off balance. Don't blink.

One hour later, if you retrieve the crumpled up piece of paper that I've tossed in the trash can of room 212, U.S. History, it is probably says something like, Corners, hunched shoulders, take up less space. Tremble, voice tapers, keep a stone face. But this isn't a fucking poetry blog.

As my colleague and fellow Oy!ster Aaron Cohen so eloquently recounted, if someone slaps you in the face with a rotting fish, you may come to hate  fish . But let's expand the list of options. Maybe you'll hate the guy swinging the fish. Or maybe you'll hate yourself.  If someone slaps you in the face with a rotting fish, maybe you'll smear the fish guts back in his face or maybe you'll run in the opposite direction, in search of a place where marine life does not exist.

For a longer time than I care to admit, I wondered what was wrong with me . And for a longer time than I care to admit, I chose neither fight nor flight. I chose silence.

It was a silence I didn't break for 13 years. Until one random day I had some downtime, and I Googled Irving without thinking, and I emailed him without thinking, and he wrote right back.

>>>"Rhodes, Dana" 12/15/00 04:17 PM >>>

So Irving Flashman. All I can say by way of introduction is things get slow here on Friday afternoons. You start playing around on the Internet. You plug in the name of some schmuck from high school, for no apparent reason. And you find yourself writing an email to an associate at The Law Offices of Blankstein, Blankberg, and Blank, fully aware that there is no client who can be billed for the time it is going to take to read this. . .

For the record, Mr. Blankstein, Mr. Blankberg and Mr. Blank, on December 15, 2000, I wasn't swinging rotten fish nor was I fishing for an apology. But 34 minutes later, I got one.

>>>"Flashman,  Irving" 12/15/00 04:51 PM >>>

Of course I remember you. Before tapping in one more word, in case I haven't already done it, I apologize for the torment my degenerate friends and I subjected you to what seems like so long ago. The touching use of the word schmuck in your e-mail suggests to me that perhaps I failed to do this before. In any event, for future reference, I prefer the term asshole. . .

Can an asshole grow up to be a mensch? Can a misguided mensch behave like an asshole?  It seems the answer might be yes, because from that day on, we were friends. And like any friends, we share our silly observations, our dreams and disappointments, and our crazy antics which reveal how similar we actually are. After all, in times of quiet desperation, don't we all make into a toilet that which otherwise appears to be a Pringles can, the Governor's lawn, the back stairwell of the Hyatt Regency?

The profane and the sacred. The profound and pathetic. The prophetic and prolific. That's us.

In a noble but unsuccessful last ditch effort to get out of writing Asshole with me, Irving asked what our story had to do with Living Jewishly and Oy!Chicago .  It's not a D'var fucking Torah, I told him. Enough with the scripture, I told him. We are just two Jewish Chicagoans with a story to tell. We are two imperfect, potty-mouthed 39-year olds who - besides swearing - leave a lot unsaid. We are two writer wannabes and devoted parents with unanswered questions swimming around in our heads as we type away on our computers at ungodly hours, hoping our own kids do better than we did. Hoping they learn to look past people's differences. Hoping they learn to forgive - themselves and others.

After 15 months of torment, 13 years of silence, 986 variations of the word asshole, and 8 years of friendship, Dana coerced Irving into writing a story with her. He didn't let her down. See  Asshole, Part 2 .
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