I.

The word rang in my ears like a loud bell,

So painful it was, I couldn’t even bear,

Like the word “stupid” that became my cell,

Both locked me up in self-doubt without care.


It pained me more than I had imagined,

Maybe because it’s true. Maybe I am.

Maybe I am a wimp whose gone maddened,

Maddened because I can’t deny goddamn.


These harsh words tear me down from limb to limb,

For I can’t forget these dark words that ding,

Constantly, dinging in this cell that’s grim,

These words laugh and mock me like they are king.


As the cell narrows itself around me,

A stupid and wimp me is all I see.


II.

I’m not perfect, which is certainly true,

Not even renowned credibility,

Nor even the best and the greatest too,

Yet I hope you see potential in me.


To say those words I yearn to hear from you.

To be loved in all body, mind and soul,

To not give up despite what storms may brew,

But why didn’t hearing those words make me whole?


It is a wildflower I must become,

To care and grow myself, I must be brave,

No matter how withered and deep in slum,

I will feel the rays in the life she gave.


Thus, may I be a soul or a flower,

To learn self-love comes with blooming power.


-

Illustration by Melanie Tran

The arrival of spring they come again,
The stubborn green that flaws his very land.
So with his hands, cleansing has now began,
Who knew what the near future had in plan.

A year later a major crisis struck,
Equal to what is known as the dark plague,
It sought death and brought unfortunate luck,
For its cure remains unknown and vague.

Unemployment and depression returned,
Returning the stubborn weeds with them too,
His yard’s pretty image now burned,
For his hands were sold to make revenue.

All reflected in his garden of weeds,
Chaos, fear, loss and sadness supersedes.

-

Author’s Note: This sonnet is about my father. He is known for having green thumbs and constantly taking care of his plants and yard. Unfortunately, when his workplace began laying off employees during the spread of COVID-19, my father became consumed with work, which resulted in the negligence of what he loves to do most. During the springtime, I witnessed how long and unruly the grass became, along with the growing abundance of weeds. In that moment, it was as if the yard was mirroring the feelings I felt, my father, and the impact of COVID-19.

Illustration by Melanie Tran

“We are the dreamers; we are the music makers” - Willy Wonka

As children, we are awarded many stickers and participation awards. These come in varying sparkly colors and shapes, telling us that “We’re awesome!” and that "We can do it!" I think about the millions of affirmations printed every year, promoting the same message to thousands of kids who actually got tricked into believing we were all equal, and wonder who the sucker was. However, there was a difference between me and the kid next to me getting that same sticker: I threw mine away. I didn’t need validation because telling myself these messages proved far more effective than reading the glittery labels on the back of my hand.

I attended a small Montessori school from grades 6-11 before I was homeschooled. After that, I attended community college from ages 16-17, and then college again from 17 onwards. In short, I was your stereotypical socially awkward, “Too Young to Want to Befriend” kid, “Not Quite an Adult Yet” adult.

I received an interesting education from a parent that was never satisfied with the amount of work I completed or the level at which it was don seo. If you think of Miss Hannigan asking for her apartment to "shine like the top of the Chrysler building," you thought right. My parents worked during the day while I attended online lectures, which, as you can imagine, was difficult for a child between the ages of 11-15. My mother got off work in the late afternoon and would lecture from a textbook for the remainder of the evening. The first book I was assigned in middle school wasn’t “Animal Farm;” it was “The Idiot” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Perhaps this was her way of telling me I might turn out to be like the title, should I veer from her curriculum.

My dad was never much into homeschooling, but my parents are divorced, and he never really had a say in my primary education. My mom is a psychotherapist and must have analyzed the "local population" before deeming that the public-school atmosphere would hinder my "mental development and aid in my moral destruction.” She also voted for Trump twice, so I’m not 100 percent sure her judgement was completely sound, but I seem to have turned out alright.

I graduated a few days after my Sweet 16, but there was no party. I celebrated my birthday by taking the last available entrance exam to a local college so that I could soon enroll there and begin my higher education. Did I get a car? No, but I did get my mother paying my entrance exam fee and a boxed-up mound of buttercream from Walmart. I drove myself to school every week after that for the next year (in her car), positively hating my existence and waiting for the day I would move up and out to a different school.

In the midst of all this, one could inquire as to my pursuits after this year of college. It was simple. My older sister aspired to be an actress, so I, of course, wanted to be an actress too. The perks of being a homeschooled student meant that I could have a semi-flexible travel schedule. If there was a part to audition for in Los Angeles, I could be there for a couple of days. Georgia? Same deal. I figured, in my young brain, that if I could get enough parts before graduation, I might establish the foundation of a career and have enough credits to get into a reputable drama program. The difference between my older sister and me, however, is that I did not want to weigh a career as a movie star against that of a waitress. So, after spending a few years as a child chasing these fantasies, I settled on journalism, which I deemed to be a practical job path.

Between theater and journalism, I had another passion that drove my academic pursuits: fashion design. I participated in several programs at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, where I crafted garments out of reusable materials  and costumed a local theater company. I went to a portfolio review day for design programs at various art schools with high hopes and came out with them crushed. Due to a less traditional education, I didn’t take art classes or have an academic advisor to help me cultivate a portfolio. Confused and deterred, I abandoned the idea of art school altogether. Over the course of submitting applications, though, the idea of art school still danced around in my mind, spurred on by emails I received from schools like Pratt, stating that there was “still time to apply!”

I took my practical career theory to my mother in my sophomore year. She was thrilled and sat me down to my first SAT at age 14. I was too young to take it, so we bribed the local high school official (apparently, you can do things like that in wild and wooly southern Virginia). After that, I tested twice more before I got a score we were happy with. I had also been provided a list of writing programs to apply to: New York University, Annenberg at USC, Boston University, Emerson, American University. Being a homeschooled student also meant I had a lot of extra time on my hands: time to work on essays and get my volunteer hours in to make these applications look complete.

I remember taking a tour of the Smithsonian Art Museum in DC the day my decision letters came in from USC, Boston, and American. Afterwards, I sat in Sprinkles in Georgetown, contemplating this newfound major choice while deciding whether or not to take out my retainer in public to eat my cupcake. In that moment, I weighed my age against the practical plan I had laid out for myself and realized I just wanted to do what would excite me.

So why am I here, writing for The Prattler? Because, for once, I made the choice that would make me happy. Because one day, I received an email from Pratt Institute granting me an extension on my application. I had stumbled across Pratt in an internet search for art schools and had given my email address. They were the only art school not at that portfolio review.

That’s how, after reading the application extension email, I knew I needed to do something for myself. For most girls, that meant a day at the spa. It meant getting a haircut or going shopping. For me, it meant buying a grande black cup of coffee with one pump of peppermint and sitting down to fill out one last application. I got it in with less than 15 minutes to spare, and it was in that moment that I pledged to myself, no matter how few scholarships I was given or how many extenuating circumstances surrounding my acceptance there were, if God willing they accepted me, I would go.

I got into Pratt on my 17th birthday, and I had never felt more elated. It was as though I was suddenly showered in those sparkly stickers saying "I did it;” only this time, it actually felt that way. That was the day that possibilities opened up for me and I finally felt a sense of freedom. I looked at the opportunity to attend Pratt Institute as something new and exciting, and, like I promised before, no matter if I loved or hated it, I would see the four years through.

So, I’m doing that right now.

-

Illustration by Tien Servidio

The weeks leading up to the election were fraught with embittered discourse, stirrings of unrest, rampant increases in COVID-19 infections and rises in hate-based crimes that included the defacing of Jewish cemeteries with swastikas and MAGA graffiti. This sense of dread was compounded by the devastating loss of the patriarch of the Golden family, my grandfather Donald. This marked the second time in a stretch of six months that my family sat shiva, the Jewish period of mourning, through a Zoom screen. With my work-life balance constantly in flux, and my own sense of being trapped on an infinite treadmill of bleak reality, I asked myself, “Is it okay to laugh right now?”

Then two Jews walked into a bar...

And said, “Fuck yeah.”

This could only be the work of two eccentric comedians whose manic energy belies a nuanced sense of zen control and genius: Sacha Baron Cohen and Eric Andre. Of the duo, Andre is more of a cult favorite, lacking a massive mainstream hit like “Borat” but winning the late-night viewers of Adult Swim with his truly bizarre eponymous “talk show.” A hybrid interview/surrealist torture program interspersed with man-on-the-street pranks, “The Eric Andre Show” premiered its fifth season in October. It’s been four long years since Andre took a hiatus after the 2016 election, and the strength of the election-centric bits left fans like myself clamoring for more.

Andre’s ability to expose the latent anger below the surface of some of his marks is secondary only to his willingness to say and do the most banal thing possible in any given situation. At the 2016 RNC, he fought his way through a rally of Hell’s Angels for Trump to get onstage with right wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones. Mistaken by Jones for Trevor Noah of “The Daily Show,” a “left-Wing Pentagon weapon,” Andre stood beside Jones and his fervent crowd of armed supporters, who expected an impassioned liberal argument from a political pundit. Instead, Andre cast his eyes downward and muttered in a plaintive tone, “I want you to have sex with my wife.” Instantly eliciting boos and slurs from the throng, Andre was shoved offstage and pushed to the ground. A disgruntled MAGA-hat-wearing man spat in his face, shouting, “You’re not Martin Luther King!” Andre’s response: “Coachella sucks this year.”

In the interim between seasons of the show, I saw Eric Andre perform live in September of 2019; the set was captured in the “Legalize Everything” standup special, but no filmmaker can truly capture the manic energy that seized the room. For the first time in my life, I laughed so hard that I started choking on my tears, and the crowd seemed to agree with my response. Andre called up two audience members to chug entire bottles of ranch, demanding that the winner initiate a freestyle rap only to pull his pants down midway through to unveil his entirely waxed body. He explained this “new look” was designed for an as-yet-unannounced fifth season of his show.

After a year of anticipation, Andre does not disappoint; his revamped show features a glitzy new set, a new house band and a set of new pranks that evoke an earlier time in New York’s history, turning familiar city locations into surrealist hellscapes. Nearly every bit is a winner, but Andre has devised a set of new pranks centered around his Jewish upbringing. Clad in a typical Hasid outfit and fake beard, he whispers to passerby, “It’s my last day as a Hasid. I don’t care anymore,” as he eats a bagel with cream cheese and pantomimes injecting the mumps vaccine. In a similar vein, he builds a scale model of a park bench and paints his face white as “the bench mensch,” who offers unhelpful advice to city movers and struggles to remain mobile. It’s a refreshingly self-deprecating, cartoonish look at some of the staples of Jewish life in the city, and it doesn’t punch down. Andre always makes himself the butt of the joke, humiliating himself and redirecting anger towards his outlandish costuming and persona. Taken by this approach to street-based, hidden camera comedy, I decided to explore the work of Sacha Baron Cohen, who revolutionized the genre with 2006’s “Borat” and repeated the trick in 2020’s sequel, “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.”

I was late to the “Borat” parade and decided to watch both films as a double feature. A proper review of both would entail an in-depth look at the Bush years, the touchy politics of Cohen selecting the real-life nation of Kazakhstan as the scapegoat for many of his punchlines, the evolving state of media and political correctness between the Bush and Trump years and the bizarrely touching feminist subplots of the sequel. Instead, I’d like to emphasize Cohen’s somewhat undersung role as an advocate for Jews through the ironic lens of his character Borat’s rampant antisemitism.

In the “Borat” sequel, the protagonist must infiltrate a synagogue to track down the whereabouts of his daughter. The character dons a ludicrously anti-Semitic costume, with a long, red nose, prosthetic horns and dollar bills dangling from his fingers on marionette strings. An elderly woman in mid-prayer, Judith Dim Evans, receives Borat with empathy and a wealth of understanding. She points to her button nose and says, “Look at my nose. I am Jewish. Is my nose long?” When Borat questions the existence of the Holocaust after consuming right-wing Facebook articles, Evans points to the concentration camp numbers tattooed on her arm. Borat is terrified of this woman, but she disarms and eventually embraces him, giving him the strength to continue his journey. In the context of the film, this scene is played for laughs, but I found my eyes welling with tears. In an era where Holocaust denial is stunningly prominent and anti-Semitic hate crimes still ravage local communities, Borat’s interaction with Evans (who has since passed) offered a moment of catharsis. It also reminded me of my grandparents.

Baron Cohen was instrumental in bringing attention to Facebook’s implicit allowance of Holocaust denial and Nazi-centric content on the platform. His scathing indictment in a rare non-comedic speech targeted Mark Zuckerberg as a traitor to marginalized people and one of the most dangerous men in the world. Cohen argued, "If a neo-Nazi comes goose-stepping into a restaurant and starts threatening other customers and saying he wants to kill Jews, would the owner of the restaurant, a private business, be required to serve him an elegant eight-course meal? Of course not. The restaurant owner has every legal right—and indeed, I would argue, a moral obligation—to kick the Nazi out, and so do these internet companies." His later ridicule of Zuckerberg’s appearance and Julius Caesar haircut did little to dull the severity of his barb. In the aftermath, Facebook eventually banned Holocaust denial content; Twitter has yet to follow suit. Andre has similarly “broken character” to chat with fellow Jewish comedian Ilana Glazer of “Broad City” fame to advocate for voter registration and protest police brutality in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. That’s nothing to laugh about.

But somehow, both Andre and Baron Cohen appealed to my sense of Jewish identity, the most banal and shameful crevices of their depravity, and both the best and worst that humanity has to offer when faced with insanity in the streets in real time. Somehow, in the midst of a bleak era of misery, Andre and Baron Cohen still brought their A-game. They’ve been a huge help in easing the period of sheloshim (mourning) as I try to focus less on the absence of my grandfather’s presence and recall happier times we shared. Times like risking an hour delay in his commute home to talk to an eager Hasidic man, or his recitations of his favorite Rodney Dangerfield bits and firm protocols on how to properly consume Nathan’s hotdogs and fries we shared. I remember his toothy grin and his insistence that in spite of any number of tragedies, our lives could and would be joyous someday.

And I start to laugh again.

-

Illustration by Aidan Moyer

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