Well, the Nazis have noticed us. Okay, not lots of Nazis, just one. We were finishing a soundcheck for our San Francisco show at the Great American Music Hall, the sixth of thirteen cities on the Good For The Jews national tour, when the lighting guy shouted, “Well boys, you’ve made the big time. You have a protester outside.” We’re two guys who sing funny and profane songs about being Jewish. Who would protest that? My family’s not impressed, but I don’t think they’d follow me to San Francisco and picket.
So we went outside to find a surly, nervous man holding a sign that said “I WANT YOU TO DIE FOR ISRAEL.” He’d spelled the S with a swastika. I asked him if he was affiliated with any group. “Yeah,” he growled. “I’m a Nazi. And you can publish that.” Sure, I knew Nazis existed, but I never expected to see one up close. It was like standing in front of the Great Wall of China, or the Mona Lisa – it’s startling, no matter how many times you’ve seen the image, to confront the real thing, in three dimensions. His sign had small plastic skulls dangling from the top, and he was dressed as Uncle Sam, in a red, white and blue hat, though in truth he looked more like Apollo Creed. He cooperatively posed for pictures, even when I asked him to raise his arm a little higher.
The Nazi identified himself as Joe Webb, a retired corrections officer in his 60s, and he told us he’d been looking for movie listings in the newspaper—he wanted to see No Country For Old Men—when he read an article about Good For The Jews. Since the film would still be playing after we’d left town, he put on his best patriotic costume, Xeroxed some pamphlets and came down to the Tenderloin to protest the worldwide Jewish conspiracy. If there is one, how do I join? I’d like to be staying in nicer hotels. “I bet you’d like to punch me in the face,” he said to me. “Yeah, that sounds pretty good,” I agreed.
Soon, a squad car pulled up outside the club – summoned by Mr. Webb himself, who insisted the police a) protect his First Amendment right to protest, and b) arrest me for threatening to assault him. The two officers—a woman of color and a man I’m pretty certain was gay—were not sympathetic to his cause.
My friend who grew up in San Francisco, and is the daughter of two Auschwitz survivors, says that when her family went to Jewish events in the early 1970s, there was often a small group of Nazis outside, jeering at the Jews. San Francisco is famous for its permissiveness, so I guess it’s a good place for a Nazi to live. The weather’s better than Idaho or Montana, and there are lots of freelance Web designers to help you build your white-pride web site.
The Tenderloin is home to every group Nazis revile, and pretty soon, Mr. Webb was being heckled and jeered by blacks, gays, Asians and even a few trannies. Another police car arrived, then a few more, until there were five cruisers with their red lights running. One of the club’s security men, a half-black guy in cargo shorts, tossed his cigarette butt into Mr. Webb’s burlap bag. By the way, the San Francisco Weekly reported this story on their blog, adding, “Nazis give the best PR.”
Our Nazi’s pamphlet listed sixteen things he’d dubbed “NOT GOOD FOR THE JEWS,” beginning with “Jewish behavior” and “Shiksas who figure it out” and moving on to “5 million Palestinians who want their land back” and “Jewish ownership and/or domination of almost all the media.” The name of our band, he wrote, typified “the Jewish categorical imperative,” as well as Jewish racism. “How is that old Jewish sense of humor doing?” he asked at the end. “Are you laughing yet?”
And no, I wasn’t laughing. Any Jew, when confronted with a Nazi, is going to feel a mixture of fear and rage. I was wondering how many other people also thought six million dead Jews wasn’t enough. The police insisted he remove the plastic skulls, which kept hitting pedestrians as he marched in front of the building. He tried to pull off the string that attached the skulls to the sign, but couldn’t do it. “Officer, can I borrow a knife?” he asked. “Unfortunately, sir, I’m not allowed to hand a weapon to a civilian,” the cop said. “Especially not a civilian who’s a Nazi,” I added.
Right about then, the cigarette butt did its work, and his burlap bag began to smoke. He complained to the officers, emptied his bag onto the cement and began beating the bag to put out the spark. The Jews who’d come outside to gape at him laughed, and then, en massed, we went back inside the club, relieved that this particular Nazi posed no imminent danger. In fact, he’d kind of unified everyone there: As comedians say, our show killed.