Dispatches from the Garbage State

AMIRI BARAKA: "Who knew the World Trade Center was gonna get bombed 
Who told 4000 Israeli workers at the Twin Towers 
To stay home that day 
Why did Sharon stay away?"

For a short time, poet Amiri Baraka and I were neighbors. When he was a visiting professor, teaching writing at GWU in 1979-80, he lived in my dorm, and we’d exchange hellos from time to time.

Everyone loves a celebrity and he was ours.

Baraka’s appearance at GW generated quite a bit of controversy. To its students, we were known as G-Double Jew. It was an urban setting for the sort of rich Jewish kids who weren’t smart or ambitious enough to get into the Ivy League or Brandies; a place where the upwardly mobile sent the academically crippled.

Because the setting was so Jewish, most of us rarely thought about things Jewish. If I’d gone to school somewhere in the Midwest, I’d probably have hung at the Hillel house to feel at home; at GWU, there was no need to do so. Home was everywhere you looked. Why bother with religion, when you could get your Jewish fix smoking weed in your room and eating lunch in the cafeteria?

Being Jewish without Judaism; it was sort of like being in Israel.

And that’s where Baraka ran into some mild trouble.

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