These past few days have been weirdly Communist-centric for me. First, my book that’s coming out in October. Then there’s the movie I’m watching and the articles I’m editing, Fall of Communism and another one you’ll get to see soon. And then this bizarre conversation about Jews and Communism, and was it nearly as bad as the Holocaust? — and are you allowed to say anything is nearly as bad as the Holocaust? — and how we managed to flee.
And then, last night, I entered the lion’s den.
The Park Slope Food Co-Op is virtually the only place in our neighborhood to buy organic food. My wife’s been a member for a few months, but I’ve been avoiding joining, in part because I thought it was a fad, but also because my friend Saul was a member and then it started taking up his whole life, and then he started only dating Co-Op members…and, as you might imagine, he started having to avoid the Co-Op after a few too many of those incidents.
So I was apprehensive. My apprehensiveness was not lessened when the woman conducting our orientation session was both bouncy and enthusiastic at the same time as being oddly militaristic. I suppose it’s not contradictory — like a marching song, at any rate — but she was like “Good! You’re here for orientation! It will start! In one minute!”
It really did. One minute later, before I could check if the potato chip bowl RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME had a kosher mark, she shut the door (and locked it) and we were launched, head-on, into a 2-hour multimedia presentation of what was supposed to be instructional videos but actually seemed a lot more like a proclamation that Co-Op food was BETTER! and CHEAPER! and MORE SUSTAINABLY FARMED! than normal food (true…especially our local Associated Market. Yeech.) and that Co-Op people were FRIENDLIER! and HOTTER! and MORE INTERESTING!, so much so that they even publish their own newspaper. The whole time, I felt slightly antagonized — hey, try to put a punk-rock kid of any age in a classroom, he’ll feel a little claustrophobic — but when we went on the facilities tour, and all 15 or so of us walked in a line, I whispered to the dude in front of me (an amiable, flavor-savor-facial-haired guy in an Aesop Rock shirt) that it felt like Mr. Rodger’s Neighborhood, and he burst out laughing. Whoo. Safe.
All told, it seemed like people fit into one of two categories: gung-ho, eerily peppy people (it was 9:45 P.M. before I got out of there) who loooved the Co-Op like an elder sibling (a Big Brother, one might say); and chilled-out, mellow folks who took their time doing stuff, appreciated the jokes, and didn’t mind taking a few minutes — or half an hour — to help out those of us who were new to the system, and were not particularly fast learners. I was reminded what my Gov & Pol teacher said in high school: The only Communist system which has ever worked over a long period of time, and not oppressed anyone, are Indian tribes and kibbutzes — small, self-sustainable communities where things might be governed by votes, but are more readily governed by family (or family-like) dynamics.
I have heard that the Co-Op is not particularly fond of its sizeable religious Jewish contingent, and that it’s rejected requests to rent out its meeting room for anything Jewish or Israel-related. This could be a totally false rumor. If I hear anything for real, I’ll let you know.
And I will be letting you know, because, after all that, I am now a Co-Op member. I signed the form, got the photo taken for my membership card, and paid my non-refundable dues. (My first shift is September 3. Stop by if you’re around.)
The night ended, and we all got a coupon for one shopping trip to the Co-Op and a free reusable bag that actually looks pretty hipster-cool. Hey, someone’s having a good time with the propaganda. And who says communists don’t like free stuff, too?
Pronounced: KOH-sher, Origin: Hebrew, adhering to kashrut, the traditional Jewish dietary laws.