Happy to see that my article on Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, for the Oxford American, is now online. Those interested in obscure fan films and cautionary tales should check it out. My personal favorite from the story has to do with a fan of the film that I encountered online:

 

I’ve followed Chris and Eric’s progress over the years on the Internet, so I know that after the Vanity Fair article, they quit their jobs to focus full-time on their movie careers, though they returned to work later. (I tried to interview them both for this story. They agreed, but asked me first to send them a list of questions via e-mail. A few days after I did, I received a short e-mail response from Eric. “We’re not sure what your real agenda is,” he wrote, “but, respectfully, we’re going to decline to participate.”) They founded a production company, Rolling Boulder Films, and are at work on several projects unrelated to Raiders, but no movies as of yet. In a sense, they have become professionals at being the “guys who made that movie as kids.” They’ve done hundreds of interviews, put together the book, and traveled the country giving lectures and showing the film. They have loyal fans, including one woman I came across online, who, when I told her who I was immediately wrote back, “Eek!!! Mini-Toht! I must begin stalking you immediately!” Once she learned that I was no longer friends with Eric and Chris, however, she said no to an interview. “What is your story about and what is your intention on how it is to be portrayed?” she asked, adding before I could respond, “Whatever you answer, YOU WERE AMAZING AND ADORABLE as Toht! And you can print that!!!”

And, with her kind permission, I did.

Took a while to get this one finished, but it just came out tonight, on Buzzfeed: “Is Thomas Matlack Bad For Good Men?” I’ll let you decide:

Navigating this dizzying range of subjects, you begin to wonder if perhaps you have discovered Matlack’s something, his particular need or existential wound. This insatiable determination to share, to expound, impress, lead, cajole, atone, and instruct: Is it only to be expected of a high-function, always-on-the-clock, type-A corporate killer at play in the unbounded fields of his pet project? Where does that energy go without that pet project at his disposal? Is he a dude-visionary, salvaging workable male archetypes from the debunked, discarded, and disgraced slag heap of the old machismo? Or is he an addict, happily in possession of a new thirst that can never be slaked?

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My childhood friend, Jayson Lamb, posed as me–Toht–in this photo for Vanity Fair in 2004.

 

My book tells the story of my life as a hidden Jew growing up in Mississippi. Now, in the Fall issue of The Oxford American magazine, you can read about another artifact of my childhood: I was a child movie star! I jest (a little), but I was in Raiders of the Lost Ark: The Adaptation, which some people consider the best fan film of all time. In my story, “The Adaptation,” I use the publication of a book about our movie,  to tell a story of small-town fame and failed Hollywood dreams.

Many thanks to Roger D. Hodge for the edit and publishing it. Everyone should subscribe to the Oxford American, by the way, and not just to read my story, but because the magazine is fantastic. I’ll link to it when it’s online.

Attention people who, like my wife, tend to say that I’m not as funny as a I think I am: read this review in Jewish Journal. An example:

Ross is a writer comfortable with humor, much of it grounded in self-deprecation. Writing effective humor is a rare gift. Devout Jews might not appreciate the author’s light touch, as when he shares what he calls an “old joke, which goes “The history of Judaism can be summed up in nine words: They tried to kill us. We won. Let’s eat.”

Who’s funny now? Me!


Will be on NPR’s “Tell Me More with Michel Martin” today to discuss “Am I a Jew?” and what to do for the high holidays (like I know). Very excited. Apparently I have a face for radio! In NYC, it will air during the 2-3pm broadcast on 820am, and during the 9-10pm show on 93.9fm.

 

UPDATE: Here’a link to the interview. And here’s a link to the transcript (which is kinda fancy, I think). Many thanks to Michel Martin, the host, whose questions were smart and fun.

Penguin, the mothership of my publisher, Hudson Street, asked me to file a blog post in advance of the upcoming Jewish New Year. Given my predilections, I suppose it’s no surprise it included, among other things: Maimonides, perplexity, meditations on the curvature of ram horns, serial qualifications, and bad jokes. A taste:

I’m not a fan of this term, by the way. I have faith in a great many things—death, taxes, the futility of man and the Mets, the rain in Spain falling primarily in the plain—but “faith,” strikes me as an indeterminant word used in service of a vague state.

Better instead to say only that we believe in the God in which we believe, in the way we believe in Him (or Her or They or Buddha or the wind or a circle of stones in England), be the godhead’s proper name or pronoun capped or no; that we locate or adopt or adhere to our belief in the manner that seems to us most sincere or reasonable or likely or unlikely or inarguable or scientific or hereditary or miraculous or brave or foolhardy; that that we do so in cooperation with or resistance to or in dismissal of different or competing beliefs and modes of beliefs and motivations for belief—and leave it that.

Perhaps we should go with faith at that.

I had an interesting reaction to something that I posted on the book’s Facebook page. A woman who I don’t believe I’ve ever met in person, but whom I interact with regularly online left a comment about a reading I have scheduled at the Pacific Standard bar in Brooklyn, on the fateful date of September 26th.

Pacific Standard happens to be one of my favorite local bars, and not only because they cater to the beer snob in me. They also take an active role in supporting the literary scene in Brooklyn, with regular readings, including a monthly series hosted by my other project, the parenting website DadWagon (“Proudly profane”–that’s us, according to the New Yorker), which is, in fact, hosting this reading (for those interested, by the way, we’ll be GIVING AWAY FREE BEERS TO THE FIRST 36 PEOPLE TO SHOW UP that night–plus an extra freebie to whoever can figure out why we chose that number).

Anyway, the 26th happens to be Yom Kippur, the day when good Jews skip bagels, forgo coffee, and even head to temple to atone for their sins. It was this scheduling quirk that my Facebook friend noticed and posted about: “I see that one of your readings is sept 26th,” she wrote. “Did you realize that date is YOM KIPUR!!! WHAT KIND OF JEW DOES A READING ON YOMKIPUR.”

I didn’t. And, basically, this seems the sort of statement anyone reading my book could put forth to me in just about every context. What kind of Jew…add your complaint. Now, I’m not speaking ill of this person, whose is very nice and completely right–it’s insensitive to schedule a reading for a book about Judaism on a day of religious significance.

In my defense, I scheduled the reading way in advance, quite without checking a calendar, Jewish or Roman. And in a case of post-factual alibis, I have decided it’s no big deal. The reading isn’t set to start until 7pm that night, and in all likelihood, won’t get going until 7:30pm, after the introductions and whatnot. According to Chabad.org, which has an online candle-lighting and holiday times device on its website, Yom Kippur ends at 7:26pm. I should be good, and if any observant Jews want to come on the late side, it’s no skin off my nose. Either way, I won’t raise a glass (or take a bite) until 7:26pm.


Yes, I know this was cheesy, and yes, I know I’m supposed to be exclusively supportive of my local independent bookseller, but screw it–the book was just out the day before and I headed to the Barnes and Noble down the street to see if I could find it.

Here was my plan: I would walk in and look for it; if I didn’t immediately spot it on the shelf, I would head to customer service and make an innocent title inquiry; if said inquiry yielded no joy for Am I a Jew?, I would inquire as to why, given the dramatic demand for the work, it wasn’t to be found in the store; at no time would it be necessary to mention that I was the author of the work–what for?

The book was not stocked at the Barnes and Noble, but when I launched into my routine at the desk, the manager interrupted me, pointed to several large stacks of the book, and said “We were just getting it out. You want one?”

Rather than buying them all, I told them who I was, and several minutes later found myself signing them for sale. At one point, the manager told me I could stop signing if I got tired.

I told her, “I haven’t been doing this nearly long enough to get tired of it.”