[Author’s Note: This chapter of Orchid was initially scheduled to go up on October 28th. Nic and I decided to delay publication of this part of our story after the shooting at the synagogue in Pittsburgh out of respect to the victims and family of that horrific tragedy.
If you’ve been reading Orchid from the beginning, you may remember that one of our heroines, Robin Goldberg, is a young Jewish woman living in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh’s historically Jewish neighborhood. This chapter was going to be our first return to Robin’s part of the story since the second chapter. Like myself, Robin is a secular, non-practicing Jew who still takes great pride in her cultural heritage. However, as this chapter deals with contemporary anti-Semitism and how white nationalists use the internet as a platform to intimidate Jews and queer folks and people of color, Nic and I felt it was appropriate to let ourselves and others continue to grieve over the loss in Pittsburgh before we told a story about our own experiences with modern anti-Semitic violence.]
Robin brushed her hair as she got ready for her fourth date with Virgil. A relationship had not been in Robin’s day planner for that summer. She was done with school. Robin had a summer to herself before she started teaching full time. She had thought maybe she’d make another movie. Robin had an idea for this low-budget home invasion thriller. Robin still wanted to talk to some friends about financing, but the only part of her life she seemed to be able to think or talk about anymore was Virgil.
Relationship… Jesus. You’ve hung out three times.
Robin stopped brushing her hair. Her futile attempts to straighten her mane only seemed to be making it curlier. Virgil and Robin had danced their second night at Jardin. Virgil ran her hands through Robin’s hair, lavishing attention on seemingly every curl as they danced and leaned against each other on the dance floor. Virgil had signed to Robin how beautiful her hair was. Virgil massaged Robin’s scalp as Robin danced with her back to Virgil’s chest and Virgil’s other hand traced endless, icy circles on Robin’s exposed midriff.
Can you remember that touch now?
Robin closed her eyes.
Not today, you motherfucker.
Vol. 1: Overture
By Dawn Saas and Nic Frankenberry
Powered by the Apocalypse and the work of D. Vincent Baker
as well as
Urban Shadows by Andrew Medeiros and Mark Diaz Truman
Microscope by Ben Robbins
Content Warning: Depictions of Anti-Semitism, Addiction, Drug Use, Anxiety, Depression, Cyber-Intimidation
Robin opened her eyes and her phone buzzed in her pocket. It was Todd. He said he could drop her off a quarter. Just needed to know when he could stop by. Robin said she was free now, and Todd said he’d be there in fifteen minutes. Todd always delivered to Robin and never charged extra. Robin was grateful for her weed dealer… although she also knew that she could rely on Todd in a pinch for the harder to procure wares.
Robin was dry, and more than anything on the planet, she wanted a quick toke before she called a cab to take her to Kohler’s. Robin had barely smoked since her first evening at Jardin. She hadn’t felt the constant need. A puff or two before bed and that was it. Robin was just coming to terms with how much she had been smoking that final semester at Hodges. She’d started going to some of her classes high. Not the ones she taught. Never. But her lectures and discussion courses were attended through at least two powersmoked bowls of fresh sativa as often as not. Robin hadn’t bought any grass off of Todd for a month and let the grass she had last as long as she could. Robin thought maybe she’d finally not have to hate herself for texting Todd just to buy his dope and not instead to hang out like he’d offered her half a million times. Maybe she was finally ready to give it up cold turkey.
Instead, Robin had texted Todd if he was holding. Her usual buy.
Robin’s internal vow of sobriety was shattered when she had checked the comments on her YouTube channel. Robin had all of her student films on Vimeo and YouTube, streaming for free. Robin had received an e-mail the night before she texted Todd telling her that there had been a sharp uptick in views for Monongahela Steel.
Monongahela Steel was the film Robin had promised to show Virgil during their first date. The film’s lesbian heroines, Magda Schoenberg and Toni Davis, had been played by Robin and one of her sisters in OED. The leads were an Orthodox Jewish woman ostracized from her family and a young black woman taking her brother’s place in the Oakes mills while he went to war. Robin had received a grant from the Hodges Endowment for the Arts for the production. One of the film’s auterist conceits was that their love story played out as a two person play in the ghostly shell of an abandoned Oakes Steel mill along the river in Hazelwood. Monongahela Steel got some play in film festivals in the tri-state area but nobody actually wanted to distribute the film commercially. It was too experimental/minimalist/gay.
Robin had been shocked to see hundreds of new visitors to the film in the last twenty four hours. The film had gained a devoted following of young lesbian hipsters, but that traffic had died off six months ago once the film had been sufficiently devoured by lesbian Tumblr. Robin was used to a couple dozen views a week and here were six hundred views in the last twelve hours.
Robin pulled up the YouTube link and immediately regretted her decision to check if there were any new comments on the video.
“Look at this fucking kike and…”
Robin wasn’t sure if there more anti-Semitic or anti-black slurs in the comments section.
“Ain’t there laws against bestiality in Pittsburgh.”
“Get out of my city, you fucking Jew dyke.”
“Movies like this make me wish we still had gas chambers for you Yids.”
“You make movies like this again, and we’ll find you, Juden rat. We know where you live.”
Robin’s Squirrel Hill address, short her apartment number, was posted below. Someone had responded with a gif of Schindler’s List which was followed up by a racist frog meme.
Robin was no stranger to anti-Semitism. When she was eight, she had visited her grandmother’s grave in Troy Hill. Her grandmother had been the city’s first Jewish woman doctor. It was the one year anniversary of her death. When Robin’s family showed up at the grave site, there were fresh swastika’s on her headstone and twenty others that were nearby. Robin had found out which of her friends’ parents didn’t like Jews when she knew which friends came to her bat mitzvah and which ones didn’t even though they’d been to all of her secular birthday parties before. A boy in high school at the Pittsburgh School for the Deaf had told Robin she’d be so much prettier if she didn’t have such a Jew nose. Robin had broken his nose and had been suspended from school for a month.
But seeing her home address layed out there on the Internet with those personal, specific death threats sent Robin into a justified, anxious spiral. She had never been doxxed before although she was familiar with the intimidation tactic. Robin possessed competent internet research skills and found the source of the hate mob that had been directed her way. A far right talk radio show had brought up her film in a piece about taxpayer money being wasted on decadent, pornographic media. Monongahela Steel had been funded by a private university endowment and there were no sex scenes in the film, but the show’s host hadn’t cared. The story had been picked up by several white nationalist and neo-fascist message boards, and the cavalcade of hate had steamrolled from there. Robin saw with forensic clarity how they had tracked down her address from various unintentional clues she had left on social media, including some Instagram shots of her neighborhood and the view from her apartment window. Robin watched the rabblerousers of the various groups coordinate a time to spam her accounts, and Robin dreaded the thought of opening her Twitter or Facebook accounts later in the day.
Robin was just staring at her mirror, barely aware of the passage of time and her brush long since dropped on the floor, when she saw the reflection of a bright purple light flashing behind her. The flashing light was connected to Robin’s bedroom door and could also be easily seen from her bed in the other corner of the room. Robin’s room was a barely controlled mess. Clothes sprawled across the floor. Papers strung across desks. Half-finished screenplays bursting out of drawers.
Robin stood up and left her bedroom. Her hair was as tamed as it was going to get. Robin’s bedroom was directly connected to the living room of her one-bedroom apartment which was only slightly less of a mess than the bedroom. There were shelves overflowing with books and films. The coffee table was empty except for a half-drank can of Dr. Pepper and a photo book of stills from the silent film era. Robin was a devotee of Fritz Lang’s early work and wished she could deliver a performance half as powerful and raw as Maria Falconetti in The Passion of Joan of Arc. There was another bright purple light flashing above Robin’s fifty inch television and another light flashing in the tiny kitchen.
Robin’s calico cat, Lilian, was hissing at the door.
“Sorry, Todd. I’m coming,” Robin said, hoping she was loud enough.
Robin opened her lilac door and stared out at an empty hallway.
Robin put her hand over her mouth and slammed the door shut
We know where you live.
Robin ran back to her bedroom as Lilian continued to hiss at the door. Robin grabbed her phone from her computer desk and started to dial 911 before laying the phone back on the desk and shaking her head in exasperated disbelief.
Robin had lived at this apartment for the last two years. Every now and then, a solicitor would “ring” her “doorbell” and when they never heard a chime or any immediate movement inside the property, they’d assume the doorbell was broken or no one was home and they’d go their merry way. It had happened nearly a dozen times. Her neighbors’ children would play in the halls and sometimes ring her bell on accident or for a gag and then run off before she had a chance to answer.
Robin chided herself for always jumping to the worst conclusion. Robin had seen the Nazis’ social media sites. They had only talked about scaring her. No one had mentioned actually showing up at her home.
That doesn’t mean one of them won’t decide to be the cowboy.
Robin picked her phone back up just as the purple light started flashing again.
Robin stormed back to the living room. Lilian looked feral as she grimaced and screamed at the door. Robin pushed her face against the peep hole.
There was no one there.
Robin’s heart was racing. She flipped the switch next to the door that turned the lights off without having to open the door first. Robin put her hand back in her pocket where she had stored the phone and then pulled her hands right back out.
You can’t call the cops. Your drug dealer is going to be here any second now.
Robin slid down to the ground, with her back against the wall, next to the door. Lilian was still hissing and clawing at the air. Robin was desperately trying to hold back tears when the lights started flashing again.
“Leave me alone!”
Robin stood up and flipped the switch off. The lights started flashing again.
“You Nazi motherfuckers! I said leave me alone!”
Robin opened the door, and Virgil was standing outside.