John Denver sang, “Thank God, I’m a Country Boy,” written by John Martin Sommers. Whenever I encounter a typical New Yorker, I am reminded of that song, but with my own lyrical twist, “Thank God, I’m a Southerner.”
What follows will probably offend just about anyone from New York City, especially Jews. It will also offend a lot of other people.
As you know, I was born in Newport News, Virginia. Some claim that does not make me a true Southerner, and I always argue that Newport News is an hour’s drive south of the capital of the Confederacy. My mother was born in Baltimore and raised in Washington, DC. Her mother, Nana, was born in Russia, and when she was two years old, her family settled in Newport News – the year was 1905. In the 1920s, she moved to Baltimore to go to secretarial school where she met Milton Summers. Being blond and blue-eyed, Nana had to read The Forward backward to his neighbors to prove she was Jewish.
My father was born and raised in Brooklyn. His mother was born in Brooklyn, and his father in Budapest, Hungary.
I enjoyed eating in restaurants with my mother. When eating in a restaurant with my father, I always feared the chef was putting Visine in our food. For years, I thought his rudeness and how he treated waiters was just a part of his personality.
There was a time when I really didn’t like being a Southerner. After watching the Godfather, I really wished I had been born a New York Italian or is the correct term, an Italian from New York? There just seemed to be something alluring about being raised in a culture so rich with ethnicity. I found my Southern upbringing to be a bit bland.
They even murdered people with class. Think about it. Which is better, choking someone with a piano wire or blowing his head off with a sawed-off shotgun? One is quick and quiet, the other, loud and sloppy.
Some say I have a bit of a Southern twist to how I talk. I don’t hear it, y’all. One day in synagogue I was chanting a prayer, and the rabbi said, “You speak Hebrew with a Southern accent.” I do say, y’all a lot. My great-grandmother apparently would say, “Vas machst y’all?”
I had a few encounters with New Yorkers while involved with United Synagogue Youth (USY). Many of them found Jews from the South to be a curiosity, but I’ll never forget Aunt Flossie’s encounter with them. Aunt Flossie was born in New York, but her father moved their family to Newport News at the beginning of World War II. He was a barber, and he found work at Fort Eustis cutting soldiers’ hair. She was thirteen at the time.
A group of teenagers from the New York chapters of USY stayed at the Newport News Jewish Community Center for the weekend, and according to Aunt Flossie, who was in charge of the logistics, they just about destroyed the place.
Whenever we visited their chapters, we left things exactly as we found them. To do otherwise would be positively un-Southern.
However, my first real encounter with New Yorkers came about when I moved to Florida in 1992. Florida is a strange place. Although it is as south as one can get, everyone speaks with a New York accent, even the native Floridians.
On the day I arrived, the real estate agent, who arranged my rental of the cottage attached to the brothel (a little nuance of the property she neglected to relay), drove me around Lake Worth to show me everything. Surprisingly, she was also a Southern Jew. While telling me about my new landlord, “a typical New York Jew if I ever met one” – as she put it, she said the most shocking thing I have ever heard, which I refuse to write here. All I can say is it was about Holocaust.
Seriously, I am almost fifty, and it was the most shocking thing I ever heard. I said that already, didn’t I?
I finally met my landlord when my plumbing completely stopped working and backed up, and I could not shower for work. She sent a plumber, who had to get a back hoe to dig up the driveway because the main water and sewer lines to the house had both burst.
I complained that this was unacceptable and I needed the use of a bathroom and to shower for work and they should provide me with a hotel room. This was Florida, where the heat and humidity are so high that plastic plants grow. I worked as a waiter at the Rod and Gun at the time, and the last thing my customers needed was a smelly server who hadn’t wiped his ass.
Her response was, “Put on some deodorant and shit in the woods.”
I almost had the vapors! Who says such things?
Needless to say, I missed work that night, which in restaurant terms means a night’s pay.
When her husband came by to replace the window air conditioning unit, he tracked grease all over the carpet. I had the carpets steam cleaned, but whatever he tracked in would not come out. After I moved from the cottage, she refused to refund my security deposit because of the grease on the carpet and because I had hung pictures on the walls. I had never before, nor since, been refused my security deposit.
That may have been my first experience, but as I mentioned, I worked at the Rod and Gun – the same restaurant where Endora was told the salmon was dry.
And that is where I soon became proud to be a Southerner. I also finally realized my father was not unique.
First off, they eat dinner at 4:30 pm in what I soon learned was something called an Early Bird. I honestly did not understand the concept until my third night working there. Soup or salad, coffee or tea and dessert for $14.95, but you eat before the sun goes down.
At 4:15 pm every night, the doors were opened, and they all arrived in groups of four, six or eight – never two!
For those who have never experienced the Early Bird crowd, let me give you some typical scenarios:
“I want my salmon broiled dry.” I deliver the salmon, and the lady says, “The salmon is very dry.” My response, “That is how you ordered it.”
If I had a nickel for every time I heard “on the side,” I wouldn’t be living in a singlewide.
“I’ll have the thousand island dressing on the side.”
“I want hot tea, tea bag on the side.” I will never forget that one because her husband said, “Tea bag on the side? You sound like a fucking idiot.”
At least ten times an evening: “I’ll have the prime rib. I want an end cut.” One night, I finally said, “How many feshtungina prime ribs do you think we have back there?”
My all time favorite was when a group said, “We are all diabetic, so we need to be served quickly.” After dinner, I brought them sugar free Jello for dessert without asking. “What is this? We want cheesecake.” To which I replied, “I’m sorry, you are all diabetic, so you can only have sugar free Jello. Here is your check. Have a nice evening.”
And, more times than not, I heard, “This is ridiculous! I want to speak with the manager! I want compensation!” or “I am not as happy as I thought I would be.”
But my all time favorite was, “I was in the restaurant business.” Really, how many delicatessens are there in New York, since every goddamn one of you owned one? I thought it; I never said it.
I became the manager of the restaurant (big surprise since I am a number eleven), which was when the real fun began.
We never took 5:45 pm reservations because the Early Bird ended at 6:00 pm, and the rule was one had to be seated by 6:00 pm. So, 5:30 pm was the last time one could make a reservation for the Early Bird.
I don’t know how many times I heard after saying to someone over the phone, “We do not take 5:45 pm reservations and one needs to be seated before 6:00 pm,” “Well, we are going to arrive at 5:45, and we expect to be seated for the Early Bird.” I always felt as if I were talking to a wall.
The most hilarious was “We drove all the way from Boca to have your cheesecake.” The restaurant was in Delray Beach, one stoplight from Boca. I replied, “I drove all the way from Lake Worth to tell you we are out of cheesecake.” Lake Worth was five miles away.
My all time favorite was Mrs. Posner, a little one-hundred-forty-five-year-old pain in the ass who once dated Moses. I was at the host stand, and she came barreling through the door at 5:45 with her party of six yelling as her foot crossed the threshold, “I have a 5:45 reservation for six for Posner, and we expect to be seated immediately for the Early Bird.” All before she made it to the host stand, which means she was rehearsing her speech in her Crown Victoria with the left turn signal on the whole drive to the restaurant.
I looked right at her, and I said, “Really? We don’t take 5:45 reservations.”
“Well, I called today and made one.”
“Whom did you speak to?”
“A man or a woman?”
“Mrs. Posner, I am the manager, and you are lying. I am the only one who answers the phone here or it goes to voice mail. You did not make a 5:45 reservation. We don’t take 5:45 reservations. I will seat you when a table opens up.”
She was actually speechless. I did seat her at 5:55, and when her waiter took sick, I actually took over her table and served her and her guests with the utmost efficiency. Needless to say, no one in her party gave me any shit that night. They didn’t even tell me the salmon was dry.
But, I have to say something in their defense. New York Jews ALWAYS tip! I will never forget the waiters complaining about only getting fifteen percent tips. Obviously, they had never waited on Southern Baptists from North Carolina visiting Williamsburg, Virginia, as I did for more years than I care to admit. They leave one dollar for every check on the table. Whenever I approached a table of Southern Baptists from North Carolina, even a family, I would ask, “Separate checks?”
I finally left Florida and my cousins from the North, hoping never to wait on them again. But in our world today, which brings people from all over closer together, I was bound to have another New Yorker encounter – this time a Gentile.
And, you Goyim thought you were off the hook this time. Ha!
I am president of the Straight Eights Gay Car Club, and this year we are hosting the Lambda Car Club International (LCCI) Grand Invitational. That means we won’t just get a sprinkling of members from all over the country, we expect more than three hundred people from all over.
We had an Early Bird registration period that ended recently, and as always whenever one approaches any kind of deadline with an inviational, the nasty people come out. One of my fellow chapter presidents, a New York Gentile, complained about the price of the invitational and made the following statement: “Just want to mention that a number of my members find the price of $180 per person a bit high during these hard times. I hope the food and activities justify the cost!”
My first inclination was to reply “fuck you.”
Just so you know, our invitational covers four days and six meals and two snacks along with every other expense that goes into planning such an event. In addition, his chapter has a reputation for being the snottiest in all of LCCI. They do not let anyone who doesn’t own an antique luxury car participate in their events. Not only that, they have NEVER held an invitational (we hold a regional every year), let alone hosted a Grand Invitational. And one more thing, this is a car club filled with people who will spend thousands and thousands of dollars on “classics” some would consider used cars, yet they are the first to complain about a $5 increase in a fee. I am not kidding.
So, I found his complaint about the price to be a bit nasty. Using my Southern charms, I responded to him about what is involved and how we calculated the registration price based on expenses divided by the maximum number of attendees, and we still offered the discounted Early Bird price to help people out. I did not display any offense or anger; I just laid out the facts. I ended by telling him that I found his statement, especially from a fellow president, to be a bit nasty.
He responded that I should not get offended and angry and then proceeded to insult our hotel, Rehoboth Beach and the last two Grand Invitationals which were hosted by chapters in Detroit and Arizona. His response was ten paragraphs about how we were doing this wrong and that wrong. Did I mention, they have never hosted an event!?! He ended with this: “I am a tough Native New Yorker and I am right to the point. It works!! Trust me!” (copied directly with no change in punctuation).
My response was just the following: “I was not offended or angry. I am from the South, and we are not condescending and nasty. Trust me. It works.”
Thank God, I’m a Southerner!
If you are offended by what I just wrote, buy my book, The Gay Jew in the Trailer Park; it is available on Amazon Kindle by clicking here. Hard copy release in September.