From the day I showed up to the humid, bug-filled air of Opelousas, Louisiana for rehab number two, the ‘Jew’ jokes had flown across the room like a volleyball.
Nobody knew I was Jewish and I was determined to keep it that way.
I celebrated my fifteenth birthday at New Beginnings and was the youngest by at least a few years. The average age was about nineteen or twenty.
It was a rough crowd. Even my counselor Wayne, a wiry cajun cowboy with dark leather-like skin, a cowboy hat, aviator sunglasses, bolo tie and a Marlboro red never not hanging from his mouth could break a man in half with his fearless stare.
My name quickly became ‘yankee’ as I was the only northerner there except for one other kid— but he was leaving in a few weeks and had already been there for six months so his seniority kept him safe from all the shitty nicknames that were distributed daily. He was also a black belt in Judo.
The routine at New Beginnings was quite different than Hazelden, my last rehab in Minnesota.
First of all, it was outside. The entire rehab was outdoors except for the bunks we slept in. We went to two AA meetings a day and had to attend Catholic church every Sunday. There were about twenty dudes and twenty chicks in total and we all woke up at 7am, did our morning ‘walk’, a fifteen minute walk up and down some dirt pathway until we were all officially ‘woken up’ then headed over to the meditation room for an hour.
After meditation we had our chores, which were done three times daily and each bunk member had a different chore every day. The only difference from the last rehab was the seriousness of inspection. We really had to clean the shit out of everything at New Beginnings cause if we failed inspection, we were all assigned hours of PWD… Pre-longed Work Detail…
PWD hours were worked off many ways, from raking leaves to picking up pecans and throwing them in a garbage bag to collecting cigarette butts from the ground to taking the trash out to the dumpster to wiping the windows clean. Whatever needed to be done, PWD assigned the task.
One day, after I had been there for two months…
“hey Greg, there’s a lotta Jews up there in New York right?”
“You’re not a… a… a jew… are you?” the word jew dripped out of his mouth like it tasted like vomit.
“well, my mom’s Jewish— but… My dad’s Italian Catholic—“
“YOU’RE A JEW?!?!?!?!?!”
That’s how my cover was blown, and from day day forth, life got really hard.
Any time anyone was having a bad day it was my fault cause I was jewish. I had been the cute yankee that all the girls thought was handsome, but once word got out I was a jew, none of them would even talk to me.
Even Wayne grew accustomed to calling me my newest, and stickiest nickname to date: Juden, German for ‘Jew’.
I don’t think I heard my real name for the entire six months I was there before I finally ran away.
One day a pickup truck wrapped in confederate flags pulled up to the rehab and two bald-headed men exited the truck.
Pete and his father, two skinheads from Lake Wales, Florida.
When Pete and I met, there was tension from the start…
I said nothing for a few weeks. But the day he walked out of his counselor’s office after some bad news of some sort, while I was sitting on a bench smoking a Newport waiting for the next AA meeting, he looked right at me.
he screamed like an uneducated hick.
“YOU, YOU FUCKIN KIKE FAGGOT JEW BASTARD!”
and he marched toward me like he was gonna take a swing.
“better do something Juden” a white nineteen year-old from Tulsa, Oklahoma with third degree burns covering his arms and gang tattoos all over his body said.
I dropped my cigarette and walked inside.
“Where ya goin Jew?!” Pete shouted.
I looked around the living area, saw a broom. I grabbed it and left the bunk.
Everyone was watching.
“Dude! Juden’s bout to get wild on Pete’s ass!” Jake shouted.
Pete looked at my broom like it was a joke and said
“whatchyou gonna do kike? Huh? Sweep me? Sweep the dirt off your dirty jew face?”
So I swung the stick right into his face.
Then I cracked it as hard as I could over his back.
He charged me.
But I kept slamming the broom stick over his head and shoulders and back again and again and again until we were both on the ground and a crowd had formed.
Finally… after watching the fight, a staff member broke us up.
“break it up Juden” The staff member said to me.
Then Jake told me
“Didn’t know you had it in ya Juden”.
Finally I had stuck up for myself. After all these years. I had found my answer. Just throw a punch at everyone who made fun of me. Every punch I threw was another ounce of respect around the rehab I earned.
I lunged at every single person that even mouthed the word Jew and by the fourth or fifth fight, Wayne shoved me in a small room and put on a 20/20 special about Paradise Cove, a juvenile camp in the Samoan Islands. He made me watch the whole thing and made it clear that was exactly where he was sending me if I had even ONE more writeup.
“ya hear me Juden??? this where you gon you don’t quit that bullshit. Now git out”.
So when Lisa from Lawrence, Massachusetts showed up later that day in her tight black pants, lip ring, purple hair and bright red lipstick and blew me a kiss as she walked into the intake room, I knew exactly what to do.
Make her mine and get the fuck out.
It was October 30th, 1999.