Zeke’s Mystique: Introducing myself and an encounter with a stranger

My name is Zeke. Not Ezekiel, just Zeke. I’m from Melrose, Massachusetts, a suburb just North of Boston. My dad is Israeli. My mom is American. I like to dance, especially in public and embarrassing ways, although I’ve been told I’m not always the best. I’m also the youngest of three. And, of course, there’s Lila, my ten year-old labradoodle.

Several other things one should know about me: I’m loud, I enjoy giving and receiving hugs. I like words, and lots of them. I play soccer and my religion is the Boston Red Sox.

I’ve also said plenty of words and phrases that I realize are hurtful in more ways than I can comprehend. I tell you this to explain that I have made and make mistakes and try my best to learn from them. I fear mediocrity and worship heroism, and always respect honesty and integrity.

I’m a fan of the underdog, largely because I’m not usually the underdog and have a lot of guilt about feeling like I always get things easy. Yet, I’m white. I’m male. My preferred pronouns are he, his, and him. I’m Jewish, but I struggle with my identity, wondering why I was born Jewish and not Christian or Muslim, or any other religion. My hometown is predominantly upper middle class and so is my family. I’m very skeptical of a lot of things, many of which I’ll talk about in the weeks to come. I don’t mind arguing, especially over things about which I care.

I’m laying this all out now because I want everyone to understand that my writing is my perspective. My perspective is developed from my upbringing and the people, places, and things that I have been involved with through my life. I don’t intend on speaking for “my” people or any people in general, only me. If I write something someone finds offensive or hurtful, tell me, and let’s talk about it. My articles through this semester will range from international topics to American cultural topics to Macalester politics to my inner thoughts about the meaning of life to why I love Good Will Hunting topics.

To begin, I’ll start with a story explaining my encounter with a guy who I’ll call “Joe.” This past summer I worked as an intern in Boston at Massachusetts General Hospital. Every day before and after work I would sit down at a table in front of the Whole Foods next to the hospital, reading a book and drinking a chocolate milk or Dr. Pepper.

On one of these mornings in particular, an older guy, Joe, sat down next to me. Joe’s face was reddened and wrinkly, and his arms freckled by the sun and covered in several blotchy tattoos. He wore a collared shirt a few sizes too big and pants a few sizes too small. He must have been in his 60s or 70s. By his side, he had a shopping cart containing some other shirts, shoes, newspapers, food and lighters. As he sat down next to me, Joe asked me if I wanted a cigarette and if he could roll one on my book. I told him I didn’t usually smoke cigarettes and it might not be great if my boss walked outside and saw me smoking. He got the gist, but I told him he could do as he pleased.

As Joe rolled his cigarette, he asked me about myself: the usual how old are you and what are you doing with your life stuff. He had been a theology teacher at a private Catholic school in the area for 30 years. He started the first class of each year by telling his students he didn’t believe in God, but was open to discussion. Throughout the year, he told the students he wanted them to pay attention to readings, to videos, to art they saw and talk to him about how it made them feel about God and religion. Essentially, he was honest and wanted his students to be honest and feel comfortable as they went through his class, especially in light of how uncomfortable religion can make a lot of people, myself included, feel.

Joe talked more, about the voices in his head and the drugs he took with his buddies to help quiet those voices. After talking for about an hour, and having rolled a few more cigarettes on my book, Joe asked me if I wanted to go smoke some other stuff with him at a park nearby. I told him I had to get to work soon, and he got the gist again.

Joe was a guy I could have avoided and we both probably would have gone about our days being just fine. However, I chose to stay and talk. I didn’t necessarily change the world or even anything in his life. I didn’t really want to or feel like I could. I just listened and talked. And it was an incredible morning.

On this note, I’ll end with a quote from Jack Black and School of Rock that my brother shared with me and I’ve shared with some others recently. “Those that can’t do, teach, and those that can’t teach, teach gym”.

I’m not sure I can save the world and I’m not sure I can be a doctor or get a Ph.D. in Economics. But, I can always have a conversation with someone, listen to their story and share my own. For me, that feels pretty cool, and who knows, it might feel the same for you.