Hanging up the Badge

by Nicholas Jacobson

I glance at my watch. How much longer must I endure this crime against humanity? The repulsive noise tortures my ears. The simultaneous sound of Jewish prayer at Temple Emanuel cannot relieve the pain. I am the Serpico of gum, the chief of police of lip smacking, a ruthless tyrant in upholding this simple yet all-important law: “Thou shalt not smack thy lips when thou chewest gum.” The people even call me “Nick Castro” as I enforce the edict with an iron fist.

The time has come for me to fulfill my obligation to bring justice to this holy temple. For all I know, I am at a stable observing the cattle during lunchtime. Everyone knows that mastication obstructs tradition!

“Brian, for heaven’s sake, what are you doing? You sound like a damn mule. Try chewing like a normal person,” I whisper with the rage of a Trojan Spartan.

The eyes of my good friend Brian fix on me as he tries to incite fear. The duel begins. Silence prevails in the breathless vacuum that is the synagogue. The hostility of the showdown rivals that of a bout between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier. However, in an instant, tension breaks as we both erupt into laughter, disregarding the Haphtarah in the background.

I once hated going to temple for the High Holidays with my family or to a bar mitzvah. It was easy for my attention to drift to my duty as the sergeant general of silencing horse chomping noises. I dismissed biblical stories as anecdotes with literary value, but was skeptical when rabbis imposed them as truth. It was mysterious to me that the members of my congregation turned to fairy tales as the guideposts of morality. I seemed to be the only one dumbfounded when my outrageous rabbi once tied a story of Moses to losing his car keys.

Despite my impatience with my rabbi, I can’t escape the influence of Judaism in my own life. My rabbi’s message struck me during his Rosh Hashanah sermon in 2009. “Religion and tradition are the backbone of discipline,” he said.

My subconscious immersion in Jewish culture instilled much of my discipline to achieve goals. I tamed myself to sit in services without looking for gum chewers. At 15, I forced myself not to bend my finger while playing a bar chord on the guitar. After six years on the football team, I no longer bit on play action calls as a linebacker. I now study Spanish vocab everyday for ten minutes instead of cramming for two hours before a test in my toughest subject. My discipline stems from the strong role of tradition in my life.

For years, I trained myself to endure the tradition of my family’s Sunday night dinner. The ritual includes my grandparents coming over for my mom’s home-cooked meals. My survival required the discipline to sport manners and respectful responses rather than go ballistic at times. The night begins with small talk about my sister’s horseback riding and my football team. Chat escalates to chaos in a matter of minutes. Conversation becomes a hazardous war zone. My grandpa asks me to play backgammon while my grandma interrupts to tell me about the seven different types of dipping sauces for the artichokes at Elio’s. “Excuse me” and “pardon me” are more infrequently heard than Mel Gibson’s blessing over the candles. Some people believe chivalry died in the twenty first century. I know it was murdered with an ice pick. Eventually, real debate ensues, ranging from Michael Vick to Rick Perry.

A few weeks ago, my sister was chomping the brisket at Sunday night dinner. The meeting of her lips created an earthquake with a loud sonic blast. Would I really allow my sister to distract me from the conversation over the debt ceiling? No, Nick Castro hung up his beret and put away his New York Gum Patrol badge a long time ago.

Nicholas Jacobson is a Freshman at Northwestern University and a 2012 graduate of The Dalton School.

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