To Old Friends

To Old Friends July 21, 2004

I would like to introduce my readers to an old friend that I have had the good fortune to get reacquainted with recently. His name is Aaron Dworkin and he is the founder and president of the Sphynx Organization, a non-profit group that helps black and latino students find a place in the world of classical music through the funding of outreach and educational programs, scholarships and internships. I lost track of Aaron and have been out of touch with him for the past 10 years or so and I’m very pleased to find him again, and to see that he has followed through on his extraordinary promise.

Aaron is a unique person. As a black man who was adopted and raised by a white family, he has viewed race relations from a vantage point few of us have experienced. He has expressed his vision in music and poetry, including one book called They Said I Wasn’t Really Black. He has also recorded a couple of CDs that blend together classical music with spoken word and poetry into a new form he calls Classispeak.

I first met Aaron in the late 1980s when we worked together for an environmental organization in Michigan for a summer while I was in college. He and I became friends, along with his future wife, Carrie, and another guy there named Chris. I could regale you with stories of the fun we had, but one sticks out in my mind…

In the early 90s, Aaron and Carrie had moved to Pennsylvania. One weekend they came back to Michigan and Chris and I got together with them for an evening. We went to dinner and then to the comedy club, which had a special show that night called the Nasty Girls (they still tour as the Untamed Shrews, I believe) – 3 female comics who were about as raunchy as it gets. Well I decided that I was going to make this a memorable experience for them. One of the Nasty Girls had a bit in her act where she would bring a man up from the audience, and she would proceed to spank him for everything men do wrong. Women in the audience would yell out what men do wrong and she’d take it out on the poor “volunteer” who didn’t know what he was getting himself into. Since I knew the woman who did this, I hatched a plot.

I called her at the “comedy condo” and told her the plan. I said, “When you get to that spot in the show, I want you to take my friend Chris up there. He’s got curly brown hair and he’ll be wearing a brown leather jacket. I’ll make sure we’re sitting to the left of the stage, just look for me and I’ll point to him.” She said no problem. So it gets to that point of the show and she says, “I need a volunteer from the audience. How about…..CHRIS”, and she pointed right to him. His eyes got really big as he wondered, “How the hell did she know my name?”, but he slowly began to move toward the stage with a look on his face of utter fear. About halfway to the stage, it suddenly occured to him that I was a comedian and probably knew this person and I must have set this up. He stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and mouthed the words, “I’ll get you for this”.

Well, she took him up on stage and she beat his ass like a redheaded stepchild. She had him over her lap and the audience was really into it. She’d say, “What do men do wrong, ladies?”, and the women would yell things out. “They lie to us”, one would yell. “Yeah, they do”, she’d yell back – WHAM – “They say they’re gonna call and they don’t” – WHAM. Poor Chris took the brunt of this fevered, angry group of women in the audience, who did everything short of scream, “Give us Barrabas!”. I’m not sure what was more red by the time it was over, his behind or his face.

When Aaron and Carrie moved back to Michigan, they started a small, independent literary magazine called The Bard, and they asked me if I would be interested in being the only monthly columnist in it. I was just getting out of the comedy business at the time and this was a good way for me to continue to rant and rave without living that nomadic and poverty-stricken lifestyle, so I quickly accepted. To bring this story full circle, that column was called Dispatches from the Culture Wars.

P.S. Chris never did get me back for that. And in case he reads this, I’d just like to say it’s because he’s just not clever enough and as a result he is now, and will always be, my bitch. 🙂

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