Thursday, April 3, 2008

Rafi Ellenson: Featured Writer of the Week IV!!

Today's Profile: Rafi Ellenson

I don't know what Rafi loves more: making people laugh or inspiring people to think. Please celebrate Rafi's regional gold key by reading his memoir:

Mini-Coopers and Philosophy Shampoo
By Rafi Ellenson, 13

Let me just say this to get it out of the way. I am not a masculine guy. Not feminine per se, but certainly not masculine. My friend Zoe, who I’ve known since I was three months old, sites as proof my love of feminine things, particularly Mini-Coopers and Philosophy Shampoo. She believes that Mini-Cooper cars exude femininity and, in fact, Rolling Stone magazine would agree with her. In their review for the Mini they said the car was for “Anglophiles, club kids, hipster girls,” and of course “dudes in touch with their feminine sides.” That was clearly meant as a cruel low blow for all men who love Minis. While I don't take offense at it, it’s hardly what a thirteen-year-old boy wants to hear.

And concerning Philosophy shampoos, their femininity in no way stops me from loving them. Who couldn’t resist shampoo that smells like brownies and cinnamon buns? I mean seriously. True, it is found in women's stores like Sephora, but what’s a guy to do if his sister and friend drag him in there in his first visit to his home city in two years?

You see, I lived in Los Angeles for the first eight years of my life so me and my family sometimes go back for vacation. You know, to see old friends and just be there. Zoe was a part of these old friends. So, my sister took me and her to a mall just to hang out and be with each other; to do fun stuff like that.

But it was when we got to the parking lot of the mall that the gender division first started to occur: I surprisingly showed myself to be manly. namely by not caring about clothes, if that is in fact manly. Zoe was gushing with excitement over her dress for her Bat Mitzvah, let me just say it was about five months away at the time, and my sister was very much excited too. I was entirely indifferent as you might guess but then Zoe told me,

“Rafi, you have to care it’s Mark Jacobs!”

“Who?” I responded

“Rafi, think of it as the Anti-Target.” My sister Ruthie explained.

I didn’t understand what that meant but I nodded as if I did because I really didn’t want to delve into the subject further. So we continued walking to the escalator to leave the parking lot I saw a car I had never seen before but was struck by its beauty and exclaimed,

“I love that car! What kind is it, Ruthie?” I asked my older sister. I was going out of my mind.

“It's a Mini-Cooper, Rafi,” she said.

“I've decided... That's my favorite car.”

Zoe, fully aware that I am not a big car guy, interjected: “Rafi you can’t like that car... It’s a girl car.”

I had absolutely no clue what that meant. First off, that’s a relatively sexist comment that I wouldn’t have expected from Zoe. Secondly, I don’t believe there can be something that’s a girl car. And thirdly, why should it matter if it is a girl car? I was totally befuddled by this. And even more importantly, why did I even care so much? I was offended and I didn’t even know why.
What made this whole conflict worse was that my sister agreed with Zoe that it is slightly girly. However, she did say one of her good male friends, Adam Rubin, owned a Mini-Cooper.

On the way up the escalator we continued to argue. I used every tool in my arsenal to get them on my side: I said that it’s for men so in touch with their manliness that they can drive a car like that (which, come to think of it might have reinforced their original point). But this defense did not yield a truly satisfactory response.
I basically, then, let them talk among themselves until they said the dreaded words: “Let’s go to Sephora.” I immediately argued virulently against them but they convinced me with a bribe: Philosophy Shampoos, my one true weakness.

See, I usually stay with my sister and her husband when I’m in Los Angeles and in their shower they always have these shampoos. So I went inside but became bored in about five seconds; I couldn’t find the shampoo. But when my sister guided me in the right direction, I was thrilled: I discovered there were even more wonderful “flavors!” Kiwi, Fudge, Gingerbread--it was the holiday season--what more could someone want? But of course, once I found the shampoos and the girls found me, Zoe again went into her mad tirade that in a nutshell sounded like: “It’s a girly thing! You can’t and shouldn’t enjoy it!”

Feh, what does she know?

As we joined the check-out line, our simple argument turned into an all out feud with me finally having to resort to asking people their views. My first victim had the right idea: “I don't think Philosophy Shampoos are girly! In fact my boyfriend uses them.” I immediately started rubbing her answer in Zoe’s face. Since I thought I had found a friend, I of course asked for her thoughts on the Mini-Cooper.

“Well yeah, I guess they're kind of girly.” Damn, filthy traitor. I felt stabbed in the back, and what made it worse was Zoe rubbing it right back in my face.

But suddenly a big black guy who seemed to be in his 40s or 50s appeared with Philosophy shampoos in hand. I though to myself: This is a man who will definitely further my point. I asked him if he was buying those shampoos for himself and he responded with a: “Yes, I do really love them.”

I was quite content at this and took it upon myself to follow up with a question about his opinion on Mini-Coopers.

“They are quite nice looking... I do like them... My friend even owns one.”
Feeling ecstatic, I went the extra mile and asked him if his friend was a guy.
“Well, no,” DAMN IT, “But I still quite like them.”

This guy was more help than the woman but he pretty much just shut me down. Needless to say, Zoe felt more comfortable than ever annoying me for liking “girl things.” But I just ignored it and I felt as though it is something I should show with pride-- even if it might be slightly embarrassing. (Well, maybe.) The rest of the afternoon was pretty standard: we saw a bad movie and we both went home with the argument still not resolved.

Finally, my ultimate reward came later that week when Ruthie convinced her friend Adam Rubin to take us for a drive in his Mini-Cooper. It was like a sleek jet on the inside. Seriously, the front seat was like a cockpit: it had a huge speedometer, countless switches, and an array of colorful buttons. Also, it ain’t too shabby from the outside with its bright navy veneer and and single black stripe across the hood. Even if I don’t know much about cars, I know when I enjoy one.

But one thing remained unresolved for me: Why did I care about the girls' declaration about what is inherently “girly” and my shampoo and car preferences?

First of all, let's look at how I was raised: I have a mom who is a famous rabbi who has, among other things, contributed to a book of feminist commentary on the Torah; I have three much older sisters; and I learned how to read from “Free to be You and Me.” (William’s Doll, anyone?) I guess you could say I had a “femininity-friendly” upbringing.

I don’t see myself as a particularly feminine person but I guess others do. Which in a way is fine by me because I don't want to be the stereotype of the “typical man.” Is there even such a thing as a “typical man?” I don’t know anyone in my life who is even remotely like this stereotype. It seems like an impossible and stupid type of thing. If being “manly” means you have to be gruff and aggressive all the time then count me out. (My mom always does say I am a “sensitive flower.”)

Maybe I should look at my male role models. I think every man I know is an intellectual--and that's great. I love it that they are all smart: rabbis, professors, lawyers, the list goes on and on. I have never once in my life even wanted to trade these people for a supposed “manly” role model.

I guess that's why the fact that I might not be “manly” doesn’t depress me. It doesn’t mean I feel like an outcast, unusual, or weird; In general, it doesn’t even make me upset.
Except when people use it as an insult.

It’s as though they are trying to make a perfectly fine and normal—maybe even good—thing, into something wrong. And that, dear reader, seems like a waste.

I've often heard friends--who are girls--complain that guys aren't sensitive enough, that they don't care enough about their feelings, that they're too aggressive. Now my question is: If that's wrong, how can being sensitive, caring about feelings, and not being aggressive, be wrong?


Anonymous said...

I found this to be an excellent essay.
Mr. Ellenson has a bright future in writing ahead of him.

Emma said...

This is incredible! I was cracking up. The last version I read in workshop was hilarious and in general amazing but this is even better. I love your conversational tone, and how the whole piece flowed. Congratulations!
--Emma :-)

Emma said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

This young writer shows much promise!
He seems like the type of person that probably spends endless hours strumming a guitar.
Not that there is anything wrong with that!
In order to see the side of himself he writes about, he probably is much more masculine than he lets on. In my judgement a shampoo and a car do not define someone as much as their insights do.
This is an exciting young writer, who I would like to hear more from soon.


Lily said...

I feel the same way as Emma about the last draft I read and this one--it really is so insightful and so Rafi-esq. Great piece!