Friday, March 14, 2008

Freakishly Ordinary

We (meaning Modern Ortho folk living in NY Metro) are a funny, funny people. We live in perpetual fear of being deemed weird. We follow the crowds, want to go to the in-places, the events that "the whole world" is going to, the popular shul, wear what everyone else is wearing, laugh at the stuff that everyone else thinks is clever. We don't want anyone to think we're weird or different.

And yet,

we also don't want to be ordinary. We want to be superlative, but more than that, we want to be "other." We want people to think we are the best at our professions. We want to stand out, get noticed, honored, recognized. We don't want to be just another yid in the veldt, another cog in the machine, another plain old Joe. We want to be different. We want to be extraordinary.

I have always suffered from a bad case of simultaneously wanting to fit in and wanting to stand out. It's the stupidest damn dilemma in which to find yourself. Most of my choices in life have led me closer to the freakish path rather than the ordinary road. I did not go to Brooklyn College, Baruch, Stern, Barnard, Rutgers, Kingsborough or Touro. I did not become a doctor, lawyer, accountant, speech/physical/occupational therapist, computer programmer, administrative assistant, bookkeeper, teacher or psychologist.

But I did grow up in New York, I did attend a mainstream yeshiva and my entire family is frum. I may not be any of the above, but all my relatives and most of my friends are. My array of "other" friends are probably what give away my freakiness first to the unsuspecting frum world. I have a good friend who is an environmental activist in Northern California, one who is a member of a Republican think tank in Colorado, one who is married to a Rosh Yeshiva in a prominent NY institution, a close male friend who is both Shomer Shabbos and gay, etc. My "other" friends are all over the map.

Once, at one of those insufferable Upper West Side Shabbos meals that I attended when I was single, we were doing one of those things where we went around the table, said our names, where we went to college, and what we did for a living. I was going to be around number 8 in turn. After listening to what everyone else was saying, I suddenly got the cold sweats that I would stand out like the color red if I told the truth about myself. When it came my turn, I said my name, that I graduated from Touro, and that I was a school teacher. My roommate at the time, (who had graduated from Stern and was an accountant) who was sitting across from me and was the one who had dragged me to the meal, just stared at me with her mouth open. When she picked her chin up from off the floor, we had a little private conference in the corner of the room, where I told her that I was never going to see any of these superficial UWS people ever again, they would never remember what I said, and I just couldn't deal with telling them what I did and all the "really?" comments that inevitably would follow. I just wanted them to think I was another Brooklyn babe who was one of the tribe, and after all, that was how they probably labeled me anyway.

Yes, I do realize the irony of the situation, now that I can look back.

These days, being divorced, older, and childless in a sea of young married mommies, I tend to be more of a freak anyway, so I pretty much go with that. I'm used to it.

We are a funny people.

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