I. What We Wore, Etc.
I wore my black Nikes with the big yellow swoosh. I could floor you with some offhand blather on their aesthetics and iconography, but the truth is Nicole got a good deal at the FootCentral in Bushwick. But Princeton isn’t about good deals. I had forgotten how removed the University is from the city. Ninety minutes on the train, sure, but you have to get your boat shoes a little muddy. Not that Rafael had boat shoes. He wore a pair of navy blue Adidas Samoas.
Samoas are an ironic choice for a self-proclaimed “meat-conscious Jewish male.” They’re so obviously made of leather you’d think they were peeled off a navy blue cow. It’s like putting your sins on display, a latter-day golden calf. Worse, Adidas was founded by an ex-Nazi. Adolf “Adi” Dassler. Adolf. One stretched Jews into lampshades, the other chops cows into sneakers. This was 1948, too. Holocaust refugees are kissing the soil of the new Jewish state. German athletes are buying stylish shoes at affordable prices. Sixty-three years later, some idiot yid from Long Island thinks it’s time for a new pair of kicks.
Speaking of footwear, I knocked his fucking socks off. He thanked me for coming like four separate times. I couldn’t help but return the sentiment. He gave me Eating Animals to sign. I wrote, “Rafi—Thanks. JSF.”
I should have written, “Rafi—Your shoes are an abomination. Also, get a haircut. Mr. Foer.”
The workshop was about Necessity. If you’re going to justify creating a book, I told them, it’s not enough for you to just want to write, or to be skilled at writing.
“Books aren’t inherently good,” I said. “They certainly aren’t good for forests.” They all laughed. Rafael made sure to laugh the hardest.
I told them, “If you’re going to write, you need to need to write, like Rafi needs a haircut.”
Rafael didn’t laugh so hard that time.
I wasn’t planning to do an in-class exercise. The institution of the “writing workshop” means we should be workshopping writing, not bullshit. Anything written in less than 500 days is bullshit. I gave the fuckers fifteen minutes.
The fuckers numbered twenty-four. Classic Rafael email:
“I have been given the task of inviting and organizing groups of student participants for your writing workshop (10AM-noon) and lunch talk (noon-1PM) this Thursday. Needless to say, the inviting part was very easy; my inbox was overflowing with responses for a while, and I felt very popular.”
Glad to help out. Here’s a life lesson from a friendly alum: Cut the semicolons and the friends will start flocking to you.
He goes on:
“The workshop is open to 24 students, most of whom are part of the Princeton Jewish community, with a few additions from the English and Comp Lit departments.”
Oh great, Jews and bohemians. If this writing workshop happened when I was a student, I wouldn’t have ever heard about it. I was a motherfucking Philosopher. I went to Princeton to learn rigorous analysis, not read fucking Thackeray. And I didn’t step foot in the Center for Jewish Yids once, except for Holocaust Remembrance Day. I gave a talk about lampshades. Got the whole room fucking bawling. They thanked me four times each through their tears.
Nicole says it’s not good to cuss so much.
II. What I Told Them
I told them it’s only worthwhile to put pen to paper if there’s a story inside you that needs to come out. And if you need to write it, there is someone on Earth who needs to read it. We’re talking changing lives. Do you want to change a life, Rafael?
I told them I hate when people call a book of mine “interesting.” I much prefer when they hate it. At least they were emotionally engaged. I recounted an old proverb—I’d rather get a kiss than a punch, but I’d rather get a punch than nothing at all. Have you ever been punched, Rafael?
I told them about the radio caller. Just after Everything Is Illuminated appeared on the best-seller list, I did a radio interview. Dude called in and thanked me for telling his story. I imagined some douchebag yid with bifocals and a Holocaust complex and black Nikes with a big yellow swoosh. Turns out he was a sixty-five-year-old black man from Trenton. I was embarrassed, how presumptuous I was, how arrogant, that I thought love and adventure and mistranslation and history and genocide could only be understood by a Hebrew. Could you write about love, Rafael?
I told them all to write a necessary autobiography. I told them, “Ten of you will write exactly the same thing. That’s okay, that’s expected.” I put fifteen minutes on the clock. I told them, “You should spend the first ten minutes thinking, and then write for five.” I told them they could write for five more when time ran out.
I told Rafael to read first.
III. An Autobiography in Facial Hair, by RNA
I only started shaving when I was seventeen. Not because I didn’t need to, but because I didn’t know how, or want to know how. I was embarrassed to grow up. When the sparse, disgusting wisps of mustache growing above my lip became too visible, too prominent, I trimmed them with a nail clipper. It was a crude approach, and mostly ineffective.
The summer before senior year, my dad approached me with a brand new electric razor in its rectangular plastic casing. I accepted my fate. I recalled a friend telling me about how when his dad gave him his first razor, he felt a sense of lamentation for the lost opportunity of shaving side by side with his father in front of a mirror the way gentile American children on sitcoms get to do.
This year I’ve abandoned the Biblical prohibition and switched to a blade. But sometimes I whip out the old electric to take care of a few errant hairs in a jiffy. The smell of hot, cut hair brings back memories of nail clippers and shrink-wrap.
IV. A Review, by JSF
No semicolons; good.
Addresses Judaism, the father-son relationship, adolescence, and memory in three concise paragraphs. An entire life told through the act of shaving.
V. Thoughts on Rafael
Rafael is a fucker.
VI. Dan, Etc.
We went around the room and read everybody else. No three were exactly the same. A happy surprise. Especially considering that like five guys there were called Dan.
Once, when Nicole was pregnant, I had a dream we named our son Dan. I woke up screaming. Nicole jumped awake, horrified. I explained what had happened. I got a punch and a kiss.
I named my kids Sasha and Cy. They’re gonna grow up to be little farsighted badasses. From “Authors Jonathan Safran Foer and Nicole Krauss welcome a son,” People magazine, April 26 2006: “Jonathan said young Sasha is a boob man, saying, ‘I know he loves breast-feeding. It’s such an overwhelming experience. I would really recommend it.’”
Fucking right on, Sasha. Fucking right on.
I bet Rafael names his kid Adolf. Some misguided attempt at irony from another douchebag yid. Reclaiming the German Jewish past or some bullshit. Why don’t you just smear shit all over the Auschwitz lampshades? Hitler, Dassler, Eichmann, Abrahams. I already feel sorry for the unborn schmuck.
At least he shaved for it. Last thing I wanted to see were disgusting wisps of mustache above his upper lip. I can wax revolting too, you know. I can get downright nauseating.
People mag, on changing diapers: “I have diarrhea under my fingernails. It’s all I do.” Rafi—pass those nail clippers when you’re done with your face.
VII: What Am I?
Am I an aloof motherfucker? Yes, I am an aloof motherfucker.
Am I a narcissistic cock? Yes, I am a narcissistic cock.
Am I a brilliant homedog? Yes, I am a brilliant homedog.