My wife says that jinxing works in only one direction because bad fortune is simply more frequent and more powerful than good fortune.

The writer Shalom Auslander has a different explanation. In his recently published memoir Foreskin’s Lament (2007), Auslander attributes bad fortune not to chance but rather to the machinations of “an abusive, belligerent god, a god who awoke millennia ago on the wrong side of the firmament and still hasn’t cheered up” (7). 


I decided to read Foreskin’s Lament because I thought it would cheer me up during my convalescence. After all, it had my wife actually snorting with glee when she was reading it the week before my surgery. And I’d read the excerpt from the memoir that Auslander had published in The New Yorker last year (Personal History, “Playoffs,” The New Yorker, January 15, 2007, p. 38), a hilarious recounting of Auslander’s attempts to keep the Sabbath during the New York Rangers’ 1994 Stanley Cup run. My friend Dick Horwich had urged me to read the piece, knowing the story of my own supposed dealings with God during the 1986 World Series (recounted here in my post “The Crypto-History of the Historic Collapse of the New York Mets.”)

An additional incentive: this year I found myself writing letters of recommendation for three — count ’em, three — former students who were deciding to pursue doctorates in literature or cultural studies after renouncing the conservative religious traditions in which they had been educated before college (two orthodox Jewish, one Jesuit). I thought that perhaps Auslander’s memoir would give me further insights into their intellectual predicaments.

And it did, though I don’t think any of my former students are quite as angry as Auslander proves nimself to be across the pages of his book. I found myself snorting with glee, too, as I read passages like this one:

For the People of the Book, words, being the stuff of books, have weight. Words have consequences. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was the name of the Lord, and so the second word they came up with, immediately after the Word, was the word Holy, which described the first Word, which you were now prohibitied from uttering, even though there were only two words in total, effectively cutting the entire language in half. Soon came the words “shan’t” and “mustn’t” and “stoning” and “kill,” and then a whole lot of other words that you were required to say in case the first Word was uttered, words of penance, apology, and promise that you would never utter that Word in vain again, so help you Word. (27)

Late in the book, the anger overwhelms the comedy momentarily, when Auslander describes an episode of self-flagellation that results in testicular torsion and a trip to the emergency room (256). Lenny Bruce had suddenly become Sam Kinison, and I had a moment of thinking I wouldn’t finish the book. But the next chapter contained the wonderful Rangers’ story, and Auslander had me back.

I wonder how much controversy I would provoke if I included an excerpt from the book on next fall’s Con West syllabus! 

Shalom Auslander will be appearing on January 24 at the 92nd Street Y. Unfortunately, the event is already sold out. The front page of his website features pictures a padded cell.