Jeff Gandell is a Montreal writer, comic, storyteller, and teacher. More of his essays can be found at Testifiles.com.
I LIKE SPORTS RADIO. This is one of the unfortunate traits that I’ve inherited from my father. He always has some talk show or another on in the car, and as a kid I would always appeal for music, but he was too wrapped up in its incessant chatter to hear me. Who wants to hear men just say words?
But now I listen to sports radio, and I hate that I do it.
There is nothing more inane than sports analysis. Sports does not need to be analyzed. There are scores. There are clear winners and losers. If only life were always this easy.
It gets worse. Not only do I listen to sports radio, but I listen to sports radio and fantasize about being on sports radio. Who doesn’t dream about being a part of their favourite broadcast? People who are on TV or radio are on TV or radio because they have interesting things to say. I don’t have interesting things to say, but I fantasize about having interesting things to say. There’s one local radio sports show in particular that doesn’t talk exclusively about sports, but rather has musicians, comics, and writers on from time to time. Mostly musicians, but sometimes comics, and rarely writers. I dream about being on this show and discussing a book that I’ve had published. Not that I’ve published a book, or even written one. But if I did, it would be the type of book that this radio host would like, and he would want me on the show to talk about it. It’s not such a crazy fantasy, really.
One night a couple years ago I was watching a French television sports talk show. Oh, after listening to sports radio during the day, I watch sports talk shows on TV. No wonder I haven’t gotten that book written. It was, precisely, the day that Pierre Gauthier, who was recently fired as general manager of the Canadiens was hired as general manager of the Canadiens. I was watching a show called 110% and former Habs coach-turned analyst Jean Perron said the following about Mr. Gauthier’s thin, emaciated-looking appearance:
“Ça semble qu’il vien de sortir d’un chambre a gaz.” (It looks like he just got out of a gas chamber.)
His cohorts on the show were quite taken aback by the comment, laughed awkwardly, and moved the conversation along. I wasn’t sure that I had heard what I thought I had heard correctly. Did he just make a gas chamber reference? Isn’t that really bad?
I did a quick Google search to see if anyone else had picked up on it. There were a couple tweets about it, which confirmed it as real enough. He had just said that Gauthier looks like he walked out of a gas chamber. And I did what any aspiring writer with dreams of grandeur and a lazy resolve to make himself heard no matter how petty the means would do.
I lost my mind.
I transformed from dude on a couch watching sports talk show because he can’t face his life to indignant custodian of Holocaust references. (Never mind that saying “gas chamber” is not necessarily a Holocaust reference. Never mind a lot of things.) I immediately emailed my favourite local talk radio show host, as well as another host that I admire at the station. I informed them of this heinous crime against Judaism, and that I fully intended to launch a smear campaign so greasy that it would end up with nothing less than the dismissal of racist M. Perron.
The thing is, I was actually pissed off about this. But, more than that, probably, I just wanted to get on the radio. Screw writing a book. Who’s got time?
Then I did something that I will forever regret. Something that I will never be able to erase from the world, no matter what. A permanent testament to how low my pretend importance can go.
I started a Facebook group.
I called it “Make Jean Perron Apologize”. Catchy title, huh? And I wrote an insane, delusional blurb about how Jean Perron’s actions were desecrating the memories of those who perished in the Holocaust. (I made sure to use the words “desecrating” and “perished”. Maximum emotional torpedo.) I wrote that Perron’s reckless words were endemic of a racist nationalist Québécois mentality that clearly differentiated between the “pur laines” and “les autres”. (I made sure to use the words “endemic” and “mentality”.) I stopped short of suggesting that M. Perron should lose his job, but indicated that nothing less than a public apology on the tainted airwaves of 110% would do.
I sat home all day, refreshing the page every ten minutes, desperate for allies. I got a few. Mostly Jewish friends who probably didn’t read my diatribe anyway, but are always at the ready to defend the faith, no matter what.
Shortly after, I received a response from one of the hosts. Then the other. They both said basically the same thing. Perron has worked for a prominent Jewish family in Montreal for decades. He has many Jewish friends and coworkers. He coaches the Israeli hockey team, for Christ’s sake.
Okay, well, still, he shouldn’t have said what he said. It was a shitty thing to say. Wasn’t it?
Sure, it was. But, as the days passed, I found out that not only does M. Perron fly to Israel often to teach Russian immigrants how to cheat on faceoffs, he actively lectures in different synagogues on the relations between the Québécois sports community and the Québécois Jewish community. He goes to Jewish symposiums and conferences. He shmoozes with rabbis. He probably knows how to put on tefillin.
The truth was being slowly revealed to me: Jean Perron was a better Jew than I was.
I toned down the rhetoric on my Facebook page, but a page called “Make Jean Perron Apologize” is not really something that can be toned down all that much. And if you know anything about Facebook groups you know that they can’t be deleted. There is simply no way to get rid of them once you don’t want them anymore. They are like scars, or traumatic, painful memories. They are built to last, monuments to our fragility, and the overarching cruelty of the universe.