“Moshiach is Coming”

There is a young Hasidic Jewish man who weaves frenetically through the pedestrians on Broadway in the Garment District—I see him usually after 6 p.m.—with a stack of used paperback books forming a pilaster on his chest between his clenched hands at his waist and his neck.

He swivels his head from side to side, looking for people to whom he might give a book. He is choosing from among the crowd of Germans, Scandinavians, Japanese and commuters who traipse north and south on the Great White Way. In front of my office building at 36th Street and Broadway, there is occasionally a parked 40-foot RV with “Moshiach is Coming” painted in plum and teal on the side and music playing from a loudspeaker. Next to the writing there is a picture of a man in a black hat and long white beard, with a slight smile, which invites in passers-by. He looks kind, and serious. People enter by a five-step staircase toward the front of the RV and exit 25 feet or so toward the back. On a recent Monday, I saw a man from my floor coming out of the vehicle, smiling and talking to someone behind him who remained in the RV. He’s a businessman, and from my albeit brief exchanges with him I would not have guessed he was very religious. Young men, somewhere between 14 and 21 years old, wearing black hats and suits with white shirts open at the collar, the fringe of the tallit katan falling to their thighs, stand a few feet apart facing opposite directions in front of the RV handing out tracts, directing people to the entrance steps. They first ask, “Are you Jewish?” They don’t ask everyone. They ask me this. Over the summer a young man with red hair and fair skin asked me multiple times on different days. One time he asked me on my way to the gym and again on my way back. I always answered “no.” He was undeterred, moving on to the next person, letting me walk by without a second glance or visible trace of disappointment.

photo: ashi

Feeding time

The Central Park Zoo yesterday was packed with families, like our own, who had small children off from school for the week.  The Hassidic families were out in their sartorial splendor, this being Passover week, the men in long black silk coats and robes and women dressed in sensible skirt suits, their children often dressed in matching shirts or sweaters.  The Lovely K was getting overheated just looking at all of them in the 75-degree+ sun.  By 4:00, the entire visitor population, it seemed, was congregated around the sea lion tank, where the three pinnipeds put on a show swimming around their small home and sticking their heads out on cue in anticipation of feeding time.  Around the outer glass wall of the tank – there were two walls with a drainage “moat” in between – people of all ilk hung their arms over the edge and waited:  Hassidic and gentile children whose heads barely cleared the wall, Hispanic teenagers in sparkly blue NY Yankees ball caps, parents hanging back on the top step of three, chatting with each other and letting the sun warm their faces.

 

photo:  nikographer

Mrs. Spaghetti

Susie Scott was my pre-school girlfriend.  Except in the 1960s it was called “nursery school.”

This is her real name, since there is nothing in this post but admiration for her and because there are many Susie Scotts out there:  I Googled her, and – believe me – her anonymity is secure.

Susie and I attended Park Avenue Christian.  I had graduated at age 3 from Miss Brown’s school, which was on 95th Street between Madison and Fifth, and where I recall singing songs and wetting my pants.  Park Avenue Christian was a full 12 032108anissat2.jpgblocks south of us, at 84th and Park, and most mornings Dad used to walk me and Stuyvie Wainwright, who lived across the street.  Stuyvie’s dad would walk us other mornings.  Sometimes I walked alone with Dad, my two steps and skips trying to keep up with every one of his strides.  I am also using Stuyvie’s real name because, one, it’s a pretty darn cool Upper East Side name – short for Stuyvesant – and he is most likely related to some serious old world celebrities (check out his ancestor’s wikipedia page) and, two, I owe Stuyvie an apology.

In 8th grade, I wrestled him when he was at Buckley and I was at Trinity.  I think I beat him in the end, but I used some unnecessary roughness at one point and made him cry.  Or so I remember it that way.  His dad saw the match and was probably not featuring me.   In any event, Stuyvie, I’m sorry.  I beat you fair and square, but I probably inflicted more pain than needed.  There, my conscience can rest, and I have done my Ninth Step with you, in an e-sort of way.

There’s a picture my parents had of Susie and me sitting on a rock in Central Park, not far – perhaps 50 yards or so – from where I used to make mud pies with glass in them for the Jewish men who sat on park benches and fed the pigeons bread crumbs.  We are holding hands:  I on her left.  Her black hair is pulled back around her ears, and she is smiling like Annette Funicello.

Our teacher was Mrs. Pascetti, whom we all called Mrs. “Spaghetti” since that was either easier to say or a whole lot more fun.  Each afternoon we’d take our naps on our “blankets,” which were usually small pieces of shag carpet.  Mine was yellow with blue trim.

My mom kept it for a few years after nursery school ended.

photo:  anissat

Round trip to Alpha Centauri

China Fun’s fortune cookie’s fortune said, “Today brings out the performer and humanitarian in you.”  I doubt the first, and my success in relating that fact to you will determine the second.

Between getting up at 4:45 a.m. today to catch the 6:29 train from Boston’s Route 128 station to NYC for my third week at work, and attempting to drag along my very touristy travel suitcase on the sidewalk of Broadway between 36th and 37th, which was narrowed by the hastily built wooden staircases leading to the make-shift eating areas (called Sukkahs) for Jewish people to celebrate Sukkos this week – also known as Sukkot or סֻכּוֹת in Hebrew which I pasted in from Wikipedia just to be fancy and make you think I could type that in on my own – still getting used to the pace of doing yard work for hours on end on Saturdays and kissing my wife good bye for days on end on Mondays at 5:15 a.m., somewhere in there I managed to worsen a stupid question with an even stupider question.

100107woodsy.jpgYou know:  where you say to a coworker about his air travel something like “Did you get a direct flight from Atlanta [to LaGuardia]?”  [Dear Reader who doesn't travel much:  Trust me, this is a stupid question.]  Puzzled look from my colleague, like, Is the employment contract on this guy in ink yet?  And though you could almost be forgiven for temporarily forgetting that he probably flies Delta which basically goes to Alpha Centauri non-stop, because you fly US Airways, which makes stops just to go pee, yet you answer the puzzled look with the dig-your-grave-deeper question of “Well, I must be thinking of Atlanta to Boston,” which you leave hanging in the air too long without another dependent clause to qualify that you really didn’t intend to insinuate – which you just did – that there are no direct flights from Atlanta to Boston.  You are trying to cover your steps here, and what results is a look of horror on his face.  Mixed with disgust.  Mixed with an emotion that can only be described as disbelief rooted in a quickening desire to call the authorities.  As if you just told him that you are fond of taking small pets and dipping them in hydrochloric acid by the tail first.

“There are PLENTY of direct flights from Atlanta to Boston…like 300 a day!” he snorts, deftly speed-dialing the New York City Police Department with his left forefinger on his cellphone which is attached to his belt.

You laugh it off, claiming that you are still getting adjusted to this Boston-New York-Boston commuting-dichotomized world of living, and you try not to think about how many people he will email, text, or discuss your side of the conversation with later in the afternoon.  Little do you know he has just deftly uploaded your photo, height, weight, and ethnic origin to both the Transportation Security Administration’s watch list and to John Walsh’s personal email InBox to be featured during tonight’s FOX television lineup.

This temporary moment of self-humor, where you tell yourself that, yes, well, at least your wife still loves you after ten years of marriage and your children – 8, 7, and 4 years old – are still young enough to trust that you graduated from college and can wipe the corners of your mouth without assistance from a low-paid technician, and which lasts into the evening and into dinner, comes to a screeching halt when you take too much fresh Chinese mustard on your egg roll and the sensation when you inhale is essentially the same as when you took too big a bong hit when you were a teenager and insane – your chest heaves and your lungs squeeze together like prunes, and you look around to see if the waitress is silently and deftly alerting the manager.  And the feeling of instant and irreparable suffocation reminds you of this morning and how words become watermelons that back up into your throat to cause severe blockage unless someone comes alongside to perform the Heimlich Maneuver.  But no one does, because no one can see that you are on the brink of Instantaneous Social Destruction By Virtue of Stupidity.

You think back to earlier this morning, before the airline comment, when the two of you were meeting in your office, and perhaps it was indeed the 4:45 start to the day that did it, or perhaps it was the overpriced bagel breakfast sandwich on Amtrak that stuck to your front teeth like cheap tooth whitening compound, and you recall that insane things might have escaped your lips even then, during that earlier time, for you noticed that he did in fact comb his fingers through his hair at one of your questions like he was looking for electronic listening devices on his scalp, and he did turn off the lock on his cellphone just in case.

Just in case.

Just in case you asked about his flight.

photo:  woodsy

נְשָׁמָה

There was a time when, as a five-year-old, I would make mud pies in Central Park for the two old Jewish men who used to sit on the rotting green park bench and kvetch and feed the pigeons with dried bread crumbs, and I made one once with pieces of colored glass sticking out of the top because they made my creations sparkle and was running to show my elder friends, tripped and fell on the sidewalk, slicing my left hand open on a glass piece right where the thumb connects with the palm and was taken across Fifth Avenue to Mt. Sinai Hospital, and the nurse soaked my hand in white soapy disinfectant solution which to this day I have no recollection of hurting, and afterwards they sewed me up with Mom there.  And there was the time on the uptown #6 train when I faced the gang of black teenagers who were fixing to beat up the Hispanic man, and I declared “Jesus” this and “Jesus” that, because that was the only word I figured would scare off those scumbags, and they backed down and went on to the next subway car, whether to find another would-be victim or to repent, I did not know and still do not, only God knows.

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