The Breakfast Table

Anti-Semitic Compliments

Dearest J,

I did read the Jane Smiley piece, which I thought was very good (as you say) but not necessarily right. Well, who can be good, rich, interesting, and right, as well, for God’s sake? I agree that the marital contract in this age is personal, and clearly not property-based, which makes it less sturdy by and large, but much better–potentially–for those of us who would have been the property. And, potentially better as well for the ones who were required to offer protection in exchange for services and hope that the services might include tenderness and something more than lying still and thinking of England. But when she got into all her polygamous stuff, I found myself thinking, not how cool, but what a lot of work to have to affect such coolness or what a lot of work to have such mild and apparently uncompelling (whatever the right word is) relationships. And, then, she came back to the joys of cozy, wrinkled middle-aged intimacy (which is, in fact, what I enjoy) and the way in which it requires commitment, which is true, even if it’s not in the form of a state-sanctified union, which I think doesn’t matter much. I think marriage–the piece of paper–does matter with children, and after that it seems a flourish of love, an extra fillip, like a huge bouquet of flowers or a “Beth, Moosie Loves You” banner, waving from a blimp over Jones Beach. And I still don’t understand why same-sex couples can’t marry in the eyes of New York state, or the state of Iowa, or wherever, since it is a state, a civil union, and not a religious one. The religious institutions are free, of course, to withhold their blessings and their halls and their priests, but I can’t quite figure out why the state is allowed to say we only perform unions between men and women, any more than we allow the state to say that only people of the same color may marry, or of childbearing ability (with the health certificate and fertility work-up to match). I don’t know. The state would allow Jeffrey Dahmer to marry but not Barney Frank or Greta Cammermeyer? Seems peculiar to me.

As for anti-Semitic compliments, one used to hear them all the time (now people are more careful–or to be more accurate, they have moved on to the Chinese, the Japanese, and the even newer waves of people coming to our country whom they can insult with compliments about the entire group: speed, good manners, ability to make money, do math, carry a tune, hold their liquor, whatever) I’m going to think about goodness some more.

Off to tennis. I hope this time, I beat the 70-year-old.

xo Amy