“When I was born, my mother gave me the Jewish name Chena,” says Jonathan Goldstein, “but the thing is, Chena isn’t really a Jewish name at all. It’s just crazy talk.” Nextbook invited Goldstein, a regular contributor to This American Life and author of the novel Lenny Bruce is Dead, to the Washington DC Jewish Community Center, where he read “A Dozen Things You Should Know About Me,” adapted from his journals.
Goldstein’s surreal stories often pivot on childhood memories. When his father takes him to a school for the gifted, a young Goldstein imagines himself “among a race of beings who, as a function of their incredibly superior intellects, were reading my mind,” he says. “They knew my little awful lonely brain was no match for their huge terrific brain.”
A sense of loneliness lingers for Goldstein, who years later wonders how he’d hold up under alien abduction: “Your spaceship smells so weird, I’d cry.” On his eventual return home, “There would be parades, and I’d probably even get some TV appearances, but in their hearts, the people of Earth will have renounced me.” In Goldstein’s world, other people can be as scary as space aliens.