The ProsenPeople

10 Ways to Win Big Like a Bohemian at Sports, Love, & Life

Thursday, February 20, 2014 | Permalink

The Jewish Book Council is delighted to launch a new blog series in partnership with Ask Big Questions, an initiative out of Hillel International aimed at getting people to talk about issues of heart, soul and community. Each month, Ask Big Questions will feature a JBC author on their blog, shared here on the JBC ProsenPeople blog page, and in campus programming reaching over 10,000 college and graduate students.

Slash Coleman is a 2013-2014 JBC Network participant and author of The Bohemian Love Diaries. Read more of his writing for the Jewish Book Council here.

Hanging on my father’s studio wall is a newspaper clipping, ripped from the 1973 Richmond News Leader. The headline reads: “Freaks vs. Pigs.” In one of my earliest sports memories, the sculpture department where my father attended college—a.k.a. The Freaks—beat the City of Richmond Police Department— a.k.a. the Pigs—in a fundraising softball game.

My father scored the winning run, his plumber’s butt became famous, and a celebration ensued that lasted months.

Underneath the article a photo shows my shirtless father and I standing beside his freaky, shirtless artist friends on the softball field. To his right is Frank “Half Man” Creasy, a painter who shaved the hair off the entire right side of his body. This included the hair on his head, face, eyebrows, eyelids, armpits, chest, arms, legs, and big toes. To my father’s left is Britta Garrison, a tiny printmaker who rode a pink miniature horse to class. I’m nuzzled into her elaborate softball uniform (an ornate gold and silver Elizabethan gown) basking proudly, romantically (and shirtlessly), feeling like I’ve just won big at Bingo. A moment after the picture was taken she kissed me on the lips. I was instantly in love with winning.

Unfortunately, this would be the closest I’d ever come to winning at sports again. Yet, the hook sank deep. Girls liked winners and as a five-year-old batboy Casanova who liked being kissed by girls (especially ones in Elizabethan gowns), the syllogism seemed logical. Play sports. Win. Win the girl.

Finding (and winning) the girl of my dreams set my subsequent quest for happiness on a hapless course that included a long and risky sports career, scores of painful trips to the emergency room, and plenty of broken hearts. Along the way, I learned a thing or two about winning. Mainly, that I was an artist trapped in a jock’s body who probably wouldn’t live his life as a professional athlete.

Whether your intentions are to win a heart like Don Juan, win a game like Peyton Manning, or win big with personal success, my list below is sure to help you feel like a winner:

1. Win the “Emulate Your Hero” Award

My grandest romantic obsession involved winning the affections of my beautiful and single third grade teacher, Ms. Ottenbrite. For an entire year, I dressed in a white denim pantsuit with a red pillowcase tied around my neck and imagined myself as the infamous daredevil Evel Knievel. I’d see myself flying through the sky in slow motion and into her arms as John Phillip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever” played in the background. Win this award with your best iTunes playlist.

2. Win the “I Won by Losing” Award

I joined the varsity wrestling team to win the heart of our homecoming queen Savannah van Houten. As a result, I became the only wrestler in the history of my high school for two years straight to lose every match within the first five seconds. Yet, Savannah never knew I existed. This was the ultimate personal homage to the wrestling uniform—an outfit tailored to resemble a girl’s one-piece bathing suit with strange ear protectors that remind me of a yarmulke thong. Win this award with a big slice of humble pie.

3. Win the “Fashion Forward Podiatry” Award

Jewish mom’s are famous for their guilt, especially when it comes to leaving the house wearing clean underwear. “Just in case you’re in an accident,” they always say. Take it from a guy who’s accident prone, undergarments are way overrated. Let’s be honest. The first accessory anyone notices about a man is his shoes. My dad won that softball game in a pair of Chopines, a lace-up boot made of wood and covered in deer skin. Win this award by downgrading from boxers to briefs.

4. Win the “Wet Straw and Stale Horse Smell” Award

I started wearing Brut by Fabergé at the age of ten. This is the cheap cologne that comes in a plastic green bottle made famous by Muhammad Ali, Wilt Chamberlain, and James Bond. This is the smell that screams, “Go where no man has gone before!” Follow your heart to the men’s personal grooming products isle at Walgreens and then follow your nose. Win this award exclusively at Walgreens.

5. Win the “Big is Small” Award

I once bought a one way ticket to Alaska (with my remaining bar mitzvah money) and lived like a caterpillar in a tent without poles (I’d forgotten them) for nearly a year in an attempt to woo my very first girlfriend. I thought my larger-than-life gesture would win her heart. Instead, she left me for the curmudgeonly, wrinkled manager at the fish cannery in Nikiski. Win this award by crying on your best friend’s shoulder.

6. Win the “Small is Big” Award

As a southerner, I was raised with a certain flavor of manners that has always translated into small gestures of kindness towards others. These days kindness has become some sort of radical mitzvah that needs to be added to a to-do list. Be nice, period. Win this award with small, kind gestures.

7. Win the “I Really Feel it” Award

Coach Monday called what happened during the competition an “anatomical enigma.” I would be the only gymnast in competitive history to be knocked out of my tights during a Big Ten Conference competition after slinging myself off the high bar and knocking myself out on one of those halogen lights on the gymnasium ceiling. I woke up in the arms of the lone female judge and then threw up on her blazer. Win this award with your sensitive side.

8. Win the “Power Through Patience” Award

On my honeymoon, my wife and I shaved our heads to prove that love was based on more than just physical appearances. I’m ashamed to say I realized the very next day the depths of my shallowness. I felt like I’d married a big bald man! It took Raleigh's hair nearly two years to grow back. By then, I’d won my superficial freedom back and lost my wife. Win this award with patience.

9. Win the “Boring Excitement” Award

Every day after school and on weekends until dark, I’d lay in the garden behind my parent’s house under a huge stack of old car tires. I thought if I distributed the weight of the steel-belted radials in just the right way I could get my leg to break. You see, I craved wining the kind of personal attention that might only come with a leg cast and a set of crutches. Grappling with my personal issues like a modern day Don Quixote became a metaphor for grappling with life. Ultimately, many more obstacles will stand before me and my dreams, but only I can ever prevent myself from achieving those dreams. Win this award with your next dream.

10. Win the “Change Your Story” Award

Ultimately, our words create our beliefs, our beliefs create our actions and our actions create our reality. What do you want your story about winning to be? You’re the writer. Change the words and you’ll change your reality. Win this award by writing inspiring words on the back of your hand.


Slash Coleman is the author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash). He wrote, produced, and starred in the PBS Special The Neon Man and Me which also won the United Solo Award for best drama and is creatingThe New American Storyteller for PBS. He is the February 2014 featured author for Ask Big Questions as part of a new partnership with the JBC,

The Rise of the Gluten-Free Jews

Friday, August 30, 2013 | Permalink
Earlier this week, Slash Coleman wrote about love karma and the bruises of life, the first Jewish superhero in his family and being a "Walking Jewish Exhibitionist." His memoir, The Bohemian Love Diaries, is now available. He has been blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

In my late teens, when the Air Supply song “Making Love Out Of Nothing At All,” was popular, I developed an allergy to wheat flour and white flour. Although it’s not as restrictive as a gluten allergy, it gave me a legitimate reason to pass on most of the foods that define us culturally. Matzo, matzo balls, latkes, challah, kugel and bagels were all out. My sisters joked that I got to “eat food out of nothing at all.”

As a result of my allergy, I’d spend most of the Jewish holidays as a young adult sitting around lightheaded, thinking about Farrah Fawcett in her red bathing suit, and wondering what the big deal was about Jewish food. My aunt Ernestine tried making me a charoset birthday cake with parsley icing one year, but it just made me feel more strange around my friends.

And so, I got to suffer through the dark ages in terms of gluten-free products. From the Middle Ages when everything had the consistency of corrugated fiberboard to today when everything tastes like a synthetic rubber automobile floor mat combined with a Ralph Lauren pillow case. (Actually, today, most if not all GF products, actually taste like the odd assortment of things in the discount bin at Urban Outfitters.)

All of this got me thinking about a theme snack for my future book club appearances. Since I’m southerner and I’m Jewish and I’m wheat-free, I’ve decided that the preferred food for my book club should be wheat-free vegetarian matzo ball soup and sweet tea. To help you host wheat-free authors like myself, here are the recipes for both the soup and the tea.

Slash’s Special BohoXO Wheat-Free Vegetarian Matzo Ball Soup

Stock:

2 boxes of organic vegetarian stock (or make your own)
2 cups of water
3 stalks celery (finely chopped)
2 TB of salt (more to taste)
1 cup parsley

Matzo Balls:

2 cups crushed up rice crackers
1/2 cup crushed up rye crackers
2 TB wheat free tamari
¼ cup of water
2 eggs or egg substitute
1/8 cup of rice flour
1/8 cup potato flour or other wheat-free flour

Directions:

Bring stock to a rolling boil for fifteen minutes and then lower to medium heat.Combine all matzo ball ingredients in a bowl except the flour and stir well until it becomes a glob-like mass. Add flours and stir until the balls become a bit dryer. From the mass, form into testicular-sized balls (or golf-sized balls) and drop them gently into the broth. Your little globlets will be done in about 30-40 minutes. Don’t stir them too much or they will break apart and disintegrate into nothingness. Serve in costume, preferably with a lot of hot, barefoot Jewish friends around.

Slash’s Special BohoXO Southern Sweet Tea

2 cups of white sugar
1 Lipton Tea Bag
1 ice cube
1 large glass

Directions:

Fill a a large glass with white sugar. Place an ice cube on top of the sugar. Place the glass in a warm room without an air conditioner for 10 minutes or until the ice cube melts. Put a Lipton tea bag between your teeth. Swigging the whole concoction down. Enjoy!

Slash Coleman is the author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash). He wrote, produced, and starred in the PBS SpecialThe Neon Man and Me, which also won the United Solo Award for best drama and is creating The New American Storyteller for PBS. Visit his website here.

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Love Karma and Escaping the Bruises of Life

Thursday, August 29, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Slash Coleman wrote about the first Jewish superhero in his family and being a "Walking Jewish Exhibitionist." His memoir, The Bohemian Love Diaries, is now available. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

When I was writing my memoir, which is sort of a chronicle of all my failed love relationships, each morning when I sat down to write it was like spinning “The Wheel of a Shtuken Nisht in Harts.” (This is a Yiddish phrase that means a painful, miserable memory that stabs the heart and hurts like hell.)

It was a literary smorgasbord of cupid’s failures. For instance, when I sat down, I’d think, “Do I write about the time my wife and I shaved our heads three days after our wedding and I no longer found her attractive? Or the fact that my cousin ended up marrying my old girlfriend so now she’s like a bugger on the finger of my life? Or my unusual courtship ritual that involved giving girls I had crushes on elaborate and large cardboard boxes that only ever ended in eventual and awkward singledom?”

I assumed that once my book was published that I’d have purged myself of those memories and the subsequent need to write about failed love. Instead, my book has given me even more opportunities to partake in this ritual. I now blog about relationships for Psychology Today and write a dating advice column at howdoidate.com.

Hence, I get to continue to push on all my relationship bruises - usually writing about one experience until I am too overwhelmed and then moving onto the next - sometimes having as many fourteen miserable memories open at once in my browser window. Such misery is my quintessential stereotypical Jewish experience.

It reminds me of when my grandmother, who was temporarily living with my family, decided to get off her prescribed meds – about 22 of them in all. She had to get off them because they were destroying her body. She was a Leo and she took them so she wouldn’t remember the bad parts of the Holocaust. (Leo’s are ruled by the heart, but it was ironic that the first thing the meds destroyed was her heart.)

The doctors ended up replacing one of her heart valves with a pig’s heart valve – which says a helluva a lot about karma. Well, the pig valve didn’t like her meds any more than her old valve and so she started going to Narcotics Anonymous meetings. She would sit around with a bunch of crackheads and heroine addicts and she eventually endeared herself to them. She had friends that wore leather and had deep profound scars just like her.

“I only took the meds the doctor prescribed,” she would say.

Eventually she kicked her meds, but the memories came back. One night, an imaginary Chinese man in a cape flew down into her room and took her hand. She called him “The Yellow Goy.” TYG led her to the edge of the staircase. He told her to fly away with him. I imagine it was all very romantic.

She ended up crumpled at the bottom of the staircase, bloody, crying, and wondering why all the love in her world had suddenly evaporated.

I think about her flight sometimes when I write. How, for at least a few glorious seconds, there must have been some magic in being propelled through the air with a Chinese Superman without the aid of a mechanical motor. How, letting go of such a great restraint must have allowed her to feel true freedom for the first time in her life, no matter how short the duration of that freedom actually was.

I think often about the ritual and rigamarole I put myself through to avoid the painful parts of my life. I’d like to believe that one day I’ll have purged myself of all my wonky love karma and at the end of my own staircase there will be my own Chinese Superman waiting to whisk me away with the ultimate reward - a few moments of flight without mechanical motor. Until then, I spin the wheel and purge and dream about flight.

Slash Coleman is the author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash). He wrote, produced, and starred in the PBS SpecialThe Neon Man and Me, which also won the United Solo Award for best drama and is creating The New American Storyteller for PBS. Visit his website here.

The Walking Jewish Exhibitionists

Thursday, August 29, 2013 | Permalink

Earlier this week, Slash Coleman wrote about the first Jewish superhero in his family. His memoir, The Bohemian Love Diaries, is now available. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.

A few weeks ago I was asked to give a keynote address at a middle school. My ever-proud Jewish mother insists on attending. As I’m waiting to be called to the stage, the principal and I start talking. He finds out my mom is in the audience. She’s been a teacher in his district for over forty years. He asks if he can go on a tangent before he introduces me. His eyes light up when he says the word tangent.

During his introduction he asks my mom to stand up and then he announces that she’s a Holocaust survivor. People applaud. This is the worst thing ever. It’s like pinning a bull’s-eye to my mom’s forehead. (If you don’t know, she’s the one in my book who reminds us each Hanukkah just as she wraps our menorah in an old rag and hides it in a mop bucket underneath the sink, “Don’t tell anyone your Jewish. They will find you. They will kill you. You will die.”) In some way, I know this is my fault. I’ve breached not only our family contract, but something more - I’ve put her survival at risk.

From backstage, I imagine my mom hunching over and figuring out how to make an exit. Finally, she stands up and runs out of the school.

When I call her afterward she says she’s sorry she couldn’t stay.

The problem with being Jewish is they make you do stuff,” she says. I've heard this before. She's quoting her favorite Jewish author, Eliezer Sobel. Whenever she wants to prove a point she turns to a certain page in his book Minyan: Ten Jewish Men in a World That is Heartbroken.

To make matters worse, Sobel is my friend, so whenever she quotes him it's like she's spooning on the Jewish mother guilt. "Eliezer says there are prayers for everything - upon rising, upon going to the toilet, upon eating fruit, upon smelling a new smell, upon seeing a deformed person, for baking challah, for building a sukkah."

I mostly tune her out and this gets me thinking about the 614th commandment that was added to our already long list of commandments that reads, “Jews are forbidden to hand Hitler posthumous victories. . . . They are commanded to remember the victims of Auschwitz, lest their memory perish. . . . They are forbidden escape into either cynicism. . . . and a religious Jew who has stayed with his God may be forced into new, possibly revolutionary relationships with Him.”

My mom says she doesn’t care about doing stuff anymore. She says she’s leaving that up to me and my nephew, Cody. She calls us The Walking Jewish Exhibitionists.

She refers to me in this way because of my first solo show, Slash Coleman has Big Matzo Balls, which debuted in 2007. In it, I attempt to come to terms with my mom’s surplus of perplexing social behaviors. During the show, I give birth to a matzo ball, have sex with a Jewish Fairy Godmother, do a stand-up routine dressed as Jesus, and talk to a sock puppet named the Super Cock.

The show manages to offend just about everyone. Many Jews said I didn’t have a right to tell the story because it didn’t belong to me. Christians threatened me. The reviewers hated it. Members of my synagogue dismissed my work saying, “He’s one of those (meaning a 2G). Let him do what he wants.” And, my mom hid in her room. She had spent a lifetime hiding her connection to anything Jewish and I was outing our family in the most public of ways.

When I hang up the phone, I call my nephew, Cody. He tells me he’s gotten another tattoo. This one, on his wrist, a Hebrew inscription - one of the most famous translations from the Torah. Moses asks God for his name and God answers “Eh-yeh Asher Eh-yeh” It means "I am that I am" or "I am what I am."

I think that things have come full circle now.

A generation of silence. A generation that questioned that silence and a generation that refuses to be silent.

When my mom finds out about the tattoo she calls and jokes that she needs a cootie shot. I think about holding her hand and drawing a circle and a dot on the back of it and repeating the phrase, “Circle. Circle. Dot. Dot. Now, I’ve got my cootie shot.”

“The problem with being Jewish,” I say to her, “is they make you do stuff.”

There is, as expected, only silence on the end of the line.

Slash Coleman is the author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash). He wrote, produced, and starred in the PBS Special The Neon Man and Me, which also won the United Solo Award for best drama and is creating The New American Storyteller for PBS. Visit his website here.

A Southern Jewish Superhero

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 | Permalink
Slash Coleman is the author of The Bohemian Love Diaries, the personal perspectives blogger for Psychology Today, and an advice columnist at howdoidate.com (Ask Uncle Slash). He wrote, produced, and starred in the PBS Special The Neon Man and Me, which also won the United Solo Award for best drama and is creating The New American Storyteller for PBS. He will be blogging here all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning.
 

The call comes in the middle of the night.

“Your nephew’s got it in his head that he wants to have a bar mitzvah,” my mom says. “And you’re going to have to make it happen. Your sister wants no part of it and I’m too busy.”

“I’ve got this,” I say.

Cody is my sister’s kid. He’s one of two nephews I have that are half-Jewish and half-descendants from the great Southern war hero Zachary Taylor, the twelfth president of the United States and the last president to actually own slaves. You don’t get any more “good ol’ boy” than Zach.

Cody is being raised in a low income apartment project without a father a few miles from where I was raised in Richmond, Virginia - the capital of the confederacy. Like me, he’s groomed on bacon sandwiches, NASCAR, and chicken on the bone. His mom did what my mom did. She intermarried. But then she took it a step further and became Baptist. Cody wouldn’t know a Jewish star from a rock star.

If you’re familiar with my book, then you know I had a very unorthodox introduction to Judaism. I was taught Hebrew from a rent-a-rabbi out of a Volkswagen bus located in the middle of the woods. The rabbi and his orange bus are long gone and so I send queries to all the synagogues in the area asking how someone like me can help someone like my nephew become a bar mitzvah.

Rabbi Schmuley is the only one who writes back. A week later, I’m sitting in his office telling him that I don’t understand why a kid who’s successfully assimilated would want to embrace something that’s caused so much pain to so many people in our family. I flash back to the time in middle school when I’m beat up in the empty lot by the Stromboli sisters for being Jewish.

“Inside the hearts of all Jews,” he says, “there is a self-activating-randomly-firing-super-Jew-fuse enabling our personal path to Heebdom. If we did not have this, we would have been diluted in half and in half and in half and into nothingness by mixed marriage long ago.”

He says the fuse, in Yiddish, is called the “Pentele Yid.”

“The mysterious Pentele Yid is a tiny Jew ember that is carried through the Jewish blood line - it holds our passion, our rituals, and our world famous matzo ball recipe.”

He explains that Halfies - those with one Jewish parent and one non-Jewish parent - like Cody and I, encompass over 80 percent of the entire Jewish population. For guys like us, who barely connect to the meaning behind what it means to be Jewish, our Pentele Yid is but a tiny, cold, blackened seed, passed along to future generations. Cody’s Pentele Yid is like my own - a cigarette butt stuffed in the bottom of a Pabst Blue Ribbon can.

“Yet, for whatever mysterious reason,” the rabbi continues, “the Pentele Yid can and does ignite into flame, sometimes skipping one generation and hitting another one many years down the road.”

And it’s true, in less than a year, Cody’s Pentele Yid not only mysteriously ignites, but the heat is so intense that it singes my entire family. In less than a year, the little no-Jew sprouts into a sort-of-Jew and then blossoms into the first Jewish superhero in my family. He conquers Hebrew with a southern twang, starts Shabbat services in his mother’s house, and brings dates to the synagogue (young red-neck girls who smell like honeysuckle, shellfish, and pork rinds) who laugh with him in the back seat of my car on the way to shul. He not only wants to re-convert our entire family, he wants to convert his entire apartment complex as well.

At his bar mitzvah the two sides of my family reunite for the first time in many years. The super Jews beside the sorta Jews – my sister in a halter top beside my uncle in a thousand dollar suit and a yarmulke. It’s inspiring, heart wrenching, and profound.

How does a descendant from a slave owning good ol’ boy blossom into the first Jewish superhero my family has ever seen? Because like a heart that has been forgotten or a soul that has been misplaced, our Yid has been ignited and with it the heart and soul of my family returns.

“The Jewish soul is always inside the body,” the rabbi whispers to me after the service, “it is the individual who must follow the yearning to return to that soul when the time is right.”

Read more about Slash Coleman here.