Thursday, April 5, 2012

Not a Famous Jewish Athlete

There is a television commercial I cannot stand about a once-a-year osteoporosis medicine called Reclast. A middle-aged woman in a garden shop pushes a wheelbarrow, goes swimming with her friend, buys a tacky, lavender sequined dress, and wears the dress for dinner that evening. The part that annoys me more than anything is how it begins with the woman saying, “Hi, I’m Jane, and I’m an on-the-go woman. I’ve been active all my life.”
The reason it annoys me is that I am Jane! I have even bought a tacky dress and worn it to dinner, but in my defense, I never wore lavender sequins.

Although I have been active all my life, I am hardly an athlete for two reasons. Guess what they are? Having trouble? What is the title of this blog? Now, you got it.

When I was nine years old, Mrs. Kroskin, my friend Suzanne’s mother (and I have known Suzanne since infancy), decided to produce a show for our Rodef Sholom Temple Hebrew School about famous Jews in show business. The first draft had the show going on for forty days and forty nights. She and I butted heads over creative differences. I think Mrs. Kroskin was not used to such an opinionated and obnoxious child, who had a flair for the dramatic. I was such a diva. However, she did recognize talent and asked me to impersonate Al Jolsen singing “Rock a Bye Your Baby.” I did sing it on one knee, but I refused to wear black face.

Her first inclination was to produce a show about famous Jewish athletes, but that program only lasted ten minutes.

Now, whenever anyone discussed the lack of famous Jewish athletes before 1972, someone was bound to mention Sandy Koufax, who refused to pitch the first game of the World Series in 1965 because it fell on Yom Kippur. My argument was you only mentioned one Jewish athlete, and although my first pet was a Repenomamus,* the esteemed Mr. Koufax was before my time.

Currently, Sandy Koufax serves as a member of the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to helping former Major League, Minor League, and Negro League players through financial and medical difficulties.

After 1972, we had Mark Spitz, a great athlete, who was also blessed with good looks and a pre-Tom Selleck, porn star mustache, who did more for Speedos than anyone else in history. But, he suffered the curse of all Jewish athletes – a Jewish mother. Although accepted to dental school, he decided to pursue other options after the Olympics. To this day, his mother says about her record-breaking son, who made Jews everywhere proud, “He could have been a dentist.”

This reminds me of the joke my friend Bill told me years ago. The first Jewish President of the United States invites his mother to the White House for the weekend. His mother tells her friend about the invitation.

“My son invited me down for the weekend.”

“Your son the doctor!?!”

“No, the other one.”

I was born with a Jewish body. Jewish bodies are not designed for tossing balls, running laps or hitting things with sticks – except rocks if you are Moses and you’re angry. They are designed for sitting in a room and studying. As the late Totie Fields said, “All Jews have bad eyesight and bad feet.”

Do you know the boy who hits puberty, fills out like Tarzan, and is blessed with natural athletic abilities? He isn’t Jewish. And if he is; he’s adopted.

I was born with the least athletic body God ever created. I know what you’re thinking. But Milton, you are so sexy and hot and a vision of health and vigor, how can that be? Oh … you weren’t thinking that?

By the time I reached puberty, I had a body like McLean Stevenson’s, who is also dead – narrow shoulders, droopy boobs and wide hips. A classmate said of me when we were getting weighed in ninth grade, “You are built like a girl.” She wasn’t lying. I was built like my Nana, whom I have mentioned I look exactly like in drag.

In spite of my Venus de Milo shape, I was determined from an early age to work with what I had. I played football, but due to poor eyesight and lack of coordination, I played center. All I had to do was hike the ball and mow down whoever was in front of me. Since I was a foot taller than everyone else, I excelled in this position. They tried making me a receiver, but I couldn’t see the ball until it either smacked me in the face or flew over my head.

With the mention of football, I have to say something about little league football. Why is it every little league coach makes his son the quarterback of the team regardless of his abilities? My little league coach’s son was named Dookey. I am not kidding; that was his name. And, you doubted my Southern roots. By the coach’s own admission, Dookey had more penalties than any other player in the league, and he sucked at football! But in every game, he was the first-string quarterback. I cannot begin to estimate how many balls I hiked to him that he dropped. As a result, the South Morrison Vikings lost all but one game.

I liked football because my father was so far away from the action that you couldn’t hear him criticizing me on the few occasions he was sober and came to a game. Basketball was another story.

Playing center in footbll is an easy way to hide one’s lack of athletic ability. Unfortunately, in basketball, this is impossible. Hating basketball was also a factor. Buy me tickets to any sporting event, and I’ll go. I don't like to watch them on television, but I do like live sports. Buy me tickets to a basketball game, and I don’t care if the seats are next to Jack Nicholson, I will pass.

When you’re tall, everyone wants you to play basketball. Ucccchhhhhhh. I played two seasons for the Jewish Community Center team. I was forced to play the first season and tricked by my mother into playing the second. I forget what our mascot was – maybe a gefilte fish. What’s worse is that on a church league, which this was, the basketball courts are only a few feet from the bleachers. My father, who was usually drunk, would sit courtside and scream at me to pay attention, go this way, go that way, do this, do that, the entire game. He was obnoxious and relentless. Other parents would tell him to calm down. Then, he would scream at me the entire ride home about how bad I was. I had to take a Milltown after each game. Did I chain smoke then?

I often wonder how I didn’t turn out to be a serial killer.

Ironically, Grandma, his mother, would relay stories about how he couldn’t even make a team because coaches would laugh at his lack of athletics or ability. But, my issues with Mr. Macho and my masculinity are between me and my pharmacist, bartender, and kick shield.

Interestingly, every team I ever made, not just the South Morrison Vikings, was always the worst in the league. Without fail, the season would end with our losing all but one game. I think we once lost to a school for the blind in a blowout. My high school football team had the worst record in the entire state.

At the age of fifteen I began my quest to turn this Dodge Aspen of a body into an Imperial. I did what every gay boy did back then. I bought a weight set after the Charles Atlas program didn’t work.

I have never quite made it to Imperial, but I have managed Chrysler Newport a few times in my life.

With discipline and training, I transformed my pear shape into one that on Manhunt would be described as athletic and on Girlhunt would be called big boned. Unfortunately, what I ended up with were gay muscles.

For those of you who prefer the opposite sex, gay muscles are only for show. They look great in a tight T-shirt, but they are useless when it comes to sports and most day-to-day tasks. This is why gay people never rent a U-Haul; we hire movers. Have you ever asked a gay person to help you move a couch? If he says yes, film it. You will see a guy who can bench press 250 pounds for reps having trouble picking up one end of a sofa. It is a phenomenon that scientist cannot explain.

These shortcomings have not stopped me from pushing my body to do things it was never designed to do. In my twenties, in spite of Jewish bad feet, I took up powerlifting, and I joined a volleyball team. When I spiked a ball, people got hurt. In my thirties, in spite of my lack of coordination, I learned modern, ballet and tap dancing, and I became a long-distance runner, while starring in my own cable-access talk show – The Milton Rose Show, filmed in West Palm Beach, Florida. Did you catch it when it was on?

In my early- to mid-forties, I wrote five books and more than four dozen short stories, all of which were published. I had to prove I was still Jewish and preserve my spot in the afterlife by having intellectual pursuits for awhile.

When I first began any of the above activities, I wasn’t just terrible, I was a disaster waiting for a place to happen. But I had a few things going for me, determination and a pushy personality, and even though I love being in charge and barking orders, whenever I am trying something new, especially something athletic, I assume I know nothing and listen and take directions very well. It's OK that it will take me longer than everyone else to get it. That is how I became a good center on the football team, an experience I always draw from when pushing this body that was made for drag to do something only a straight guy would do. Also, my previously mentioned demographic, straight men, love helping me succeed at sports – it is the strangest thing.

As if Krav Maga wasn’t enough punishment for me (and by the way, the instructor says I am doing really well – or he likes the fact that I pay my monthly dues on time; I don’t know), I decided to do something I had not done in more than a quarter century, join a team.

It would have made sense for me to join a volleyball team or a swim team (I did that, too), or even a flag football team, but for some weird reason, I chose a sport I have never played – softball. I have not swung a bat since … seriously, I can’t remember.

So, I bought a glove, a bat, cleats, and batting gloves (Walmart has a great sporting goods department), and wearing a color coordinated outfit with my hair perfectly coiffed as usual, I showed up for my first practice. Was I good? No, I sucked lemons, but the coach, who is one of those guys you know was born with a naturally athletic body, worked with me, and I was able to hit the ball – twice! I actually caught it a few times, too.

After our first practice, we had lunch and a meeting to discuss the season and uniforms. The uniform discussion took up most of the meeting. Did I tell you it was a gay softball team in a gay softball league? Thank God! The uniforms will be both tasteful and flattering.

Being a gay team means at least half of the players across the league, especially the ones with gay muscles, will probably suck as much as I do!

Do you suck at sports? Follow me, join me, tell your friends – I need my own reality show!

* A three-foot long, thirty-pound dog-like prehistoric mammal that roamed the earth with dinosaurs and was known to attack them in packs and eat them. As a point of reference: Esmeralda weighs 26 pounds.

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