Discover more from Poor Man's Feast
a letter to my dearest Kurt
On Friendship, Ignorance, and Being Worthy of Love
It’s been a long time since I’ve seen you, and although I talk to you at least a few times a week, I’d love to actually hear your voice over the phone, or see you on a Zoom call (the latter of which I think you’d find hilarious. I can hear you making Jetsons jokes as I write this). Lovely Kim and the kids are all fine, and the dogs are good too, although I last saw them when Susan and I came out to Iowa City to celebrate your life, which was so beautiful and so painfully, aggravatingly short.
I often find myself wondering what you’d tell me to do: stay, or go. You never suffered fools, and your manner and big (broken) heart allowed you to eviscerate your political and community opponents with such graciousness and kindness that they never knew what hit them until well after the fact. You also managed to do the unthinkable: you actually changed minds.
But that was a while ago, and we’re in a vastly different place now than we were back then; you always called us a nation that was armed to the hilt but you never allowed yourself to go down the conspiracy road, which can often feel so ridiculous. One of the things you missed since you left in 2018, though, was the attempted coup by a sitting president, and the likelihood that the methodical arming of citizens with no business having access to firearms and the overturning of New York State’s 111 year old gun laws was long-planned and designed to build an armed civilian militia. (I mean, you don’t have to be a genius.) So, it’s feeling a little bit like the Spanish Civil War in these parts, and so I wonder, again: would you tell me to stay, or to go.
One of the things that seems to have gone by the wayside is nuance. When you drive through the streets of any town in the country and see jacked-up trucks flying American flags like they’re the fucking cavalry, and guys buying their Viagra at CVS with Glocks on their hips, and ten year old victims of rape being forced to carry their babies or face prosecution, you know that things have changed. Maybe you left so early because you just couldn’t watch this happen to your beloved America; I don’t know.
I remember you telling me that the most dangerous people were not the loud-mouths claiming to speak for God, or even the gun-carriers, but those we least suspect. The ones with the multiple degrees and the distinguished titles who claim to have your back. I used to laugh at that and roll my eyes, and then I experienced it myself, when someone took me on on my own Facebook page to disapprove of a post I put up from John Pavlovitz —- an open letter from him, a white evangelical to other white evangelicals. This person who commented is herself not a white evangelical, nor am I; she just has friends who are, as do I, and she felt that I was lumping them all together as villainous. She missed the point entirely: that one doesn’t get to call themselves People of God on the one hand, and then be anti-LGBTQ, anti-woman, anti-semitic, anti-people of (any) color, on the other. She didn’t get that people can do excellent and great works in their communities —- feed the hungry and clothe the poor —- and then endeavor to dismantle the rights of great swaths of tax-paying citizens of this country.
Humans are such flawed creatures.
So, we had words. And while my personal social media rule is that I immediately block anyone who even mildly sniffs of any of the ISMs, I let her prattle on, because I knew she would bury herself, which she did. But when she referred to appreciating my introducing her to Judaism as a religion worthy of love — this was actually supposed to be a compliment —- I knew exactly where I stood.
Worthy of love? According to whom? Her? This is something that had to be proved?
The bigger question: who was she before I came along to somehow —- was it my words or my deeds, since I am the furthest thing from observant and identify as an agnostic —- change her perception to believe that this particular faith of millions is actually worthy of love? What, exactly, was her perception before I came along?
It was, possibly, the most outrageous thing I’d ever heard one person say about another’s faith. Any faith. Because honestly: faith, at its purest and most authentic, is, as you taught me via the teachings of the Unitarians you were raised with, based on love.
I told her that I was reminded of the time my ex’s mid-western sister-in-law found out that I was raised in a Jewish home and asked if it was true that we were all as cheap as everyone said we were. When I stammered and stuttered, she put her hand on my shoulder and smiled.
Oh honey, she said, but you’re different. You’re not like the rest of them.
Someone else you and I both used to know came racing to the Facebook person’s defense to say that the offender was a distinguished member of our work community, and I ought to be more respectful. And then came the deflection and the gaslighting: this other person dredged up my own history as someone who has written about living with the destructive effects of vitriol, as a way to not only get me to see the error of my ways, but as a sideways comment on my perceived mental health: I shouldn’t have responded to the Worthy of Love commenter the way I did. I should know better. In other words, I should be a good, obedient Jew who allows myself to be admonished by someone who believed that my faith was, in her public words, Worthy of Love. One who takes what she is allowed to have by a world that once excluded her and murdered her family. I should be a quiet member of the LGBTQ community, and thankful that I’ve been let in to the modern world through the back door, temporarily safe from the truncheons that used to beat the shit out of us because of our choice of partners, all in the name of a God they believe is on their violent, misguided side.
If distinguished members of our community believe —- honestly believe and proclaim, proudly and unashamedly —- that Judaism is a religion “worthy of love,” we also have to ask: who are the ones who don’t believe it? We know the answer to this, too.
Of course, as you know, the folks of whom I am speaking bat (hilariously) for our particular political persuasion (strange bedfellows, etc) and so I found myself wondering: what would Kurt do? What would Kurt have said? I know the answer to this, of course, and so does everyone else.
So, stay, or go? If distinguished members of our community believe —- honestly believe and proclaim, proudly and unashamedly —- that Judaism is a religion worthy of love, we also have to ask who are the ones who don’t believe it? We know the answer to this, too: until I came along, this person was one of them.
The person who made the Worthy of Love comment last night suggested that we had once been friends. To quote my beloved grandmother, With friends like that, who needs enemies.
I miss you and wish you were here. I’m still making your pan-fried chicken and gravy, and I hope you don’t mind that I’m sharing the recipe with my readers, who will love it.
Keep watch over us, my dear friend.
I love you and think of you every day.
Kurt Michael Friese’s Pan-Fried Chicken
1 young chicken, cut into 10 pieces (cut breasts in half)
8 ounces flour (seasoned with salt and white pepper)
8 ounces lard, butter, or grapeseed oil (or a mix)
Heat the fat in a large frying pan until fragrant. Meanwhile dredge the chicken pieces in flour, then place in pan. Brown lightly, then turn and brown other side. Turn down heat to medium-low and continue cooking, 35-40 minutes, turning frequently, until cooked through. Serve immediately.
Poultry Pan Gravy
1/4 cup fat from frying pan
1/4 cup flour left from dredging
Chopped giblets from the bird, if you like
2 cups boiling water (or boiling stock, if you have it made already)
Salt and black pepper to taste
Heat the oil in a new pan over medium-high heat and add flour to make a roux (a thickener made of equal parts flour and fat). Cook, stirring constantly, for 3-5 minutes. Add giblets and boiling water or stock. Simmer 15 minutes. Season to taste and serve immediately.