Watching Who Trump Has Emboldened

Match Day 10 — June 23, 2018

The Match: Germany beat Sweden 2-1 on a game-winning goal off a simple set piece play.

The Venue: Gottscheer Hall in Ridgewood

The Vibe: Tarnished by a white supremacist


Here’s a 10-second clip from Donald Trump’s America:

“We have the good genes,” a wasted, pot-bellied, bald guy stuffed into a tight green Germany jersey slurred to Drew, the young, German-American carpenter standing next to me.

The guy with good genes pointed to his pink forearm. “See. Good genes.”

“Don’t talk to me about that,” Drew said and turned away. “You’re racist.”

I wasn’t paying attention to their conversation until I caught the “good genes” comment and noticed the guy point to his skin. Drew later told me that before claiming the “good genes,” the German guy said his wife was from Tonga and so he couldn’t be racist.

The notion that a fat, bald, pink alcoholic has “good genes” is clearly illogical. It illustrates the absurd assumptions that inform racism, a weapon wielded to assert power and control.

Racism is everywhere, in every interaction, every institution. It was rare, however, to hear it pronounced so brazenly in a cosmopolitan bar in New York City.

Or maybe I’m imagining that. Maybe in the past I chalked it up to a worthless person saying fringe shit, but now, every snippet of overheard racism serves to reinforce my perspective that white supremacists feel emboldened.

Last Saturday, it was the “Speak English” barfly. Today, the “Good Genes” guy. Get white people drunk in a bar and stand back.

So it was good that Drew the carpenter confronted the guy. No more, “Oh, don’t listen to him, he’s just drunk.” No more of those sly “Just Between Us” exchanges.

Miss Gottschee

I decided to start this entry with that anecdote because, to stick it somewhere down in the body of this entry would be to bury the lede. The white supremacist overshadowed an otherwise pleasant afternoon with my wife at the fun beer hall down the street. It remains my dominant memory of the day.

But I don’t want it to tarnish Gottscheer Hall, a social club founded by German and Austrian immigrants in the 1920s. Back then Ridgewood was the “city’s quintessential German neighborhood,” as the New York Times put it in a 2003 article:

“Not long ago . . . residents would flock on weekends to the nearby Metropolitan Oval for soccer matches between teams with German names, follow up the game with sauerbraten, dumplings and beer, and end the day with polkas at a German social club.”

Back then, the area was home to several German breweries including Rheingold and Schaeffer. Germans made up 70 percent of the Ridgewood population through the 1960s.

But by 2003, the German population had dropped to about 5 percent. Fifteen years later, it’s likely lower.

While most German businesses closed down, Gottscheer Hall was saved, according to another New York Times article from 2014, by hipsters who embraced its ‘authentic’ kitsch. For example, framed photos of “Miss Gottschee” adorn the wall near the staircase leading to the upstairs event space, where members were having a party.

When my wife and I arrived twenty minutes before the game, there was only a handful of people sitting at the first-floor bar. The nearby tables were empty.

We sat next to Drew the carpenter and started chatting. He was German-American and grew up in a predominantly German area of Northwest Ohio. He moved to Ridgewood only a few weeks earlier and said the bar reminded him of his hometown.

As kickoff approached, the place filled up with a cosmopolitan crowd, including hipsters of German descent, Asian American women, a guy from Spain who talked with us at halftime and a blonde guy in a Sweden jersey who kept a low profile. The big crowd posed a problem for the lone bartender in a white Germany jersey. He was really just a lawyer who belongs to the club and agreed to serve drinks during the match.

For the next two hours, the swarm of mostly young people pressed against the bar and ordered Spatens and Radebergers, sausages and potato pancakes. The stand-in bartender performed admirably and maintained a good attitude even though our persistent orders kept him from focusing on the televisions behind him.

He did, however, get to see Toni Kroos’ game-winning goal and feel some relief. Germany won, we closed our tabs and the guy with “good genes” stumbled home clinging to his delusions and exhaling the death rattle of a racist worldview.

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