Monday, May 5, 2008
Mick The Kick
Place: Chattanooga, TN
I grew up in a small southern city. Being Jewish, one would assume that I encountered a great amount of anti-Semitism, but I didn’t. On rare occasions in high school, I was called a jewboy, a dirty hebe and a pinko commie (I guess the Klan elders were still teaching their redneck children to equate Communism with Judaism). However, the taunts were delivered without conviction. This was during the 1970s. All high school students were smoking weed, which induced a brotherhood of social apathy. The rednecks were too stoned to hate.
Oddly enough, just a few short years earlier, the situation was quite different at my high school. Back then Brainerd High School had gained national TV news coverage as the site of vicious race riots.
The problems started when the all black high school marched in protest at Brainerd because of the name of their sports teams. The teams were known as the Brainerd Rebels. Confederate flags were flown proudly at games. When the black students marched, they encouraged Brainerd's black students to join them, which they did. The white students didn’t approve and soon the angry, but peaceful demonstrations dissolved into fist fights and rioting.
My older brother was a student then. He enjoyed the riots -- they meant
going home early. I also enjoyed them, but for my own reasons. Mom would pick me up at the junior high school before driving over to pick up my brother. Outside of the school, white folks showed their support for preserving the status quo by waving rebel flags and shouting obscenities. I was especially delighted to see that someone had replaced his windshield wiper blades with two small rebel flags. When he turned on his wipers, the flags waved back and forth, back and forth. Since no one at the time explained to me what was going on, I thought this was part of some sort of annual celebration of the rebel flag.
The riots ended before I started school there. By the time I arrived, the sports teams had been renamed the Brainerd Rockets and the Confederate flags were banned from the games.
There was still plenty of racism, but it was subdued. Nobody wanted to stir things up. Thanks to the combination of wanting to get past the riots and heavy drug use, my school had entered a period of great social rest.
Instead of anti-Semitism, what I mainly encountered was curiosity. At least once a month some born-again junior evangelist would sidle up and ask if I aware that Jesus himself, had been Jewish - before He became Christ and all?
My favorite question came from a very attractive black girl.
“Do you people dance at your church?” she asked.
“Sometimes,” I said, “but not during the service itself. Um. Don’t your people dance at your church?”
“Oh yes,” she said. “We dance all the time.”
The one place where I enjoyed universal brotherhood was art class. I had the
good fortune to be with the same group of highly creative guys throughout my four years of high school. I spent the majority of my time drawing comic books with Dennis. We were a team- the black guy and the Jewish guy who both loved comic books. We started dozens of science fiction, superhero, and satirical stories, but somehow never managed to finish any of them.
Dennis loved giving me a hard time. Not about anything in particular, just whatever came to mind that day. Knowing this, I should have been prepared the day he turned to me and said, "It's okay to say it. I don't mind. I know you want to say it. Go ahead. Say it."
I panicked. Did he know that I thought I was a better artist than he was?
"What are you talking about?” I said. “What could I possibly want to say to you that I haven't said before?"
"You can call me a nigger," he replied. "I know you want to."
I got it then. Dennis was messing with my head again.
"I would only say it,” I replied, “if you called me the Jewish equivalent."
"The Jewish equivalent of nigger?" he asked. "What's that?"
"No, kike, with a 'k'."
"Kick'? Like 'Mick the Kick'?"
"Just forget the whole thing,” I said.
Of course Dennis didn’t forget the whole thing. He started calling me Mick the Kick all the time. When the other guys in our art class found out why, they started calling me Mick the Kick. This went on for months. I got used to the name before it petered out. Dennis and I even talked about creating a cartoon character named Mick the Kick and giving him his own comic book, but like most of our art projects, we never finished it.