Arts & Culture

A Hero for Our Times

Seth Greenland, author of Shining City, is guest blogging this week as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch bloggers.  Greenland’s novel is about an average, married-with-children, Los Angeles man who transforms into a Mercedes-owning high roller. In the year of my … Read More

By / December 8, 2008

Seth Greenland, author of Shining City, is guest blogging this week as one of Jewcy‘s Lit Klatsch bloggers.  Greenland’s novel is about an average, married-with-children, Los Angeles man who transforms into a Mercedes-owning high roller.

In the year of my daughter’s bat mitzvah she attended at least thirty others besides her own. While the services tended to have a certain sameness to them – whose idea was it that the parents givespeeches? – the celebrations ranged from the modest and down home to the garish and absurd. Each week I would pick her up from another party and perform a debriefing. For pure excess, my favorite of her stories was the Winter Olympic-themed bat mitzvah of the girl whose father owned the patent to a Velcro-like substance that, I promise you, is somewhere in your home right now.This dad had rented a ballroom at the Four Seasons, flooded it, froze the water to make a rink, and gave everyone ice skates. It was a long way from Anatevka.

But the most piquant detail from my daughter’s B’Nai Mitzvah Tour circa 2005 was observed at – where else – a country club. It occurred during the cocktail hour, somewhere between the canapés and the cocktail wieners, when the bar mitzvah boy made his entrance. The lights dimmed, a spotlight hit a pair of gilded doors on a balcony above a sweeping staircase.  The music kicked in: P.I.M.P. by 50 Cent. If the bubbes and zaydes present were aware of or concerned with the lyric content (No Cadillacs, no perms that you can’t see,that I’m a  motherfuckin’ P.I.M.P.)  they gave no evidence of it.  The doors burst open and there was this most recent addition to the rolls of Jewish manhood, all five feet three inches of him in his shiny shoes and bar mitzvah suit, flanked by a pair of motivational dancers – professional let’s-get-this-party-started girls hired to move the more funk impaired guests toward the dance floor – in spandex and spiked heels. The three of them gyrated down the staircase to the primal thump of the hip-hop and into the roiling maw of the celebration. 

No further comment is necessary.

At the time my daughter related this, I had been cogitating on the assault the idea of the pimp had recently made on mainstream culture. Snoop Dogg was selling a cuddly version. MTV had a show called Pimp My Ride. There was a cartoon on television called L’il Pimp. The pimp, previously a gamy, night world kind of meme – even the word pimp was not something said in polite conversation -  had clearly moved from the margins toward the white hot center. Know this: if something is happening at a bar mitzvah, it has reached its cultural apogee.

Around the same time, while reading the Los Angeles Times one Saturday morning,I noticed an article about a local couple. Both of them had moved to the west coast to pursue the show business grail and, as is so often the case, it had not worked out for them. In the meantime, they had had two children who needed food, clothing and the other accoutrements of childhood, all while the economy was beginning to sputter. What to do? Being enterprising sorts, they started an escort service (!) out of their home (!!). That caught my eye. I pictured Mom picking up a kid at pre-school, while on her cell phone arranging an assignation between "Brianna" and "Stu from Tarzana" in the shadow of a wall festooned with finger paintings. According to the article, it was working out nicely for the couple until the inevitable happened and then it wasn’t. They were arrested,tried, convicted and sentenced.

The economic news became worse. Jobs were moving to China and Mexico. How were Americans going to survive the downturn?If the parents down the sideline at the soccer field could be pimps, did that not make for a compelling answer? Jean Valjean, the hero of Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables, steals a loaf of bread to feed his family. Marcus Ripps, the main character of Shining City would be his literary descendant. I only hope that no one tries to turn it into a musical while I am still alive.

Pimp my book? Not me.

See the video here.

Seth Greenland, author of Shining City, is guest blogging on Jewcy, and he’ll be here all week. Stay tuned.