Chosen, A Jewish Joke
“Arise, go to Ninevah…and proclaim against it.”
It’s an unlikely story, I know, but history is full of the unlikely. Look at David and Goliath. Look at Jonah, the reluctant prophet, ferried to his destiny in the belly of a whale. Look at Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe, for heaven’s sake!
Why I of all people was chosen as an emissary, a special envoy to once and for all times have it out between us and them, this I cannot tell—I, Henry Lieberman, a lapsed believer, near-sighted, overweight, an able attorney I grant you, a diplomat of the heart, but hardly a Henry Kissinger!
Them, I might as well tell you right off, are the swastika set, the grand high dragons and wizards, neo and old fashioned Nazis. Us, in case you haven’t guessed, are the original Bible Belters, the Children of Israel, revered and reviled, sanctified and stigmatized, heralded and hounded. This business between us has been going on long enough!
I’m a troubled sleeper, a blanket kicker, a rocker and roller of bed sheets. Many a night my beloved Sharon has fled to the living room sofa or curled up on the carpet in the nursery to escape the tumult of my unrest. Oh how I used to delight in nightly revery, to nod off any- and everywhere at will, a happy-go-lucky dreamer! But now that I’m a respectable family man, a provider for my flock, sleep is a hard-won victory over worry.
So one night, following the loss of a long drawn-out case, a nasty custody battle in which my client (who never paid up, may he choke on his spittle!) was denied visitation rights with the couple’s pedigree poodle on grounds of suspected bestial abuse—I come home beat, my eyelids heavy as proverbial lead!
“Honey,” I say to my wife, my precious Sharon, “I’m a tired man, boil me up some beef bouillon and make my bed!”
“First off,” says Sharon, “I’m no French chef! And second, I’m not your chambermaid!”
“Listen, sweetheart,” I say, “these are the times that try men’s souls! At least, open me a can of condensed Rokeach, will you, and turn back the sheets—that much you can surely do without compromising your principles!”
Hardly have I swallowed a spoonful of broth when the spoon drops from my hand and my head hits the pillow. Such a deep sleep I have not known since boyhood, a total repose so profound you could put a shrieking baby within earshot and its holler, filtered through invisible layers of muffling Id, would come out sweet and soothing as a bird song.
And suddenly in my blissful slumber, I hear a voice calling out to me. “HENNOCH!” She says (employing my Hebrew name)—It is a She, I’m certain, an invisible feminine presence, a little pushy maybe, at once beguiling and imperious! “RISE UP, HENNOCH!” She commands. “GET THEE TO IDAHO, AND HAVE IT OUT WITH THINE ENEMY ONCE AND FOR ALL!”
So I open my eyes, and behold, there on my night table is a plane ticket, one way to Boise! And on the floor beside my bed, my two-suiter and attaché case are packed and ready. Even my shoes, shined to an eery nocturnal shimmer, are laid out before me. I pinch myself hard on the cheek. The sting is real alright and oddly reminiscent of the nasty childhood tweak of a Polish cousin twice removed. I think about rousing Sharon whose counsel I value in tight fixes and sticky situations, but she lies there so sound asleep all rolled up in bedclothes like a human herring in aspic, it’d be a crime to wake her. On the night table, next to the ticket I notice a sharpened No. 2 pencil and a legal pad I don’t remember having left there, but which have, no doubt, been provided, compliments of Herself on High, for me, Her chosen emissary, to leave behind an epistle to my loved ones. Dear Sharon, I hastily scrawl…
I have been chosen to do God’s bidding and I dare not refuse. In case I don’t come back, the car, the condo and everything in it is yours. (Don’t forget the monthly payments!) My insurance should provide for the children’s college.
Your loving Henry
P.S. Call my mother and tell her that we won’t be able to make it Friday night!
So I lay the note on my pillow and slip into my dark blue, pin-striped, three-piece suit, double-threaded for extra strength, my worsted armor against the slings of fortune and fat. And grasping my wingtips in my hands, careful not to make a sound, I kiss Sharon gently on the cheek, and tiptoe to the nursery, where I likewise give both my beloved offspring, David and Bathsheba, a goodbye peck, and wipe the tears from my eyes.
A black limo from one of those Israeli car services is already waiting at the doorstep, its motor revving.—”To the airport, and step on it!” I say. The driver nods as if he already knows my destination. I try to make out his face in the rear view mirror, but all I can see is the curl of a crescent moon.
Next thing I know I’m airborne.
“Lieberman!” calls out a flight attendant, not half bad-looking herself, with a regulation smile, a nose like a ski jump and hair the color of Wheaties.
“Here!” I raise my hand.
“One kosher breakfast,” she reads aloud from her roster, dishing out a soggy bagel with a single slice of lox so pale and thin a palm reader could tell your fortune right through it, and a schmeer of processed Velveeta. (Truth to tell, I’m not averse to a little tref in transit, a strip of bacon or two with my eggs.)
“Better keep it covered, sweetheart!” I counsel. “A New York bagel could catch its death of a cold en route to the Rockies!”
But hardly have I poked at my food when the comely flight attendant is back with a custom’s declaration card.
“Excuse me, Miss,” I say, “but I wasn’t aware of any border crossings between the Brooklyn and Boise.”
“Mountain Time’s another state of mind,” she replies, cool as a pickle, “your kind need clearance to land.”
Only now do I notice items number 4 and 5 on the card: 4) “What is to be gassed?” 5) “Against what vermin?”
“There must be some mistake!” I cry out. “This destiny wasn’t meant for me!” But the little red sign is already flashing: FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT! EXTINGUISH ALL HOPE!
A sleek white limo with a death’s head decal on the dashboard is waiting at the airport in Boise. It’s a Ford, I notice, the company founded by another Henry whose sideline in racial slander earned him the Grand Cross of the German Eagle and honorable mention in Mein Kampf.
The door opens automatically and shuts behind me and we’re off. (Shades of Dracula’s driverless coach!) Did I already mention that I badly need to pee, but don’t dare ask, lest in so doing I slight the dignity of my mission?
So I focus on road signs and other external markers, a tried and true childhood bladder-control technique—holding tight all the way up to the northernmost tip of the state, where Idaho abuts British Columbia, and where, amidst towering evergreens and mounting bladder pressure, at the temporal juncture between Mountain and Pacific Time, the car stops, the door swings open and I am greeted by a welcome committee of hooded bulls with biceps you wouldn’t believe, who blindfold and hustle me along in perfect silence across a bank of freshly fallen snow.
Are you following me?
I’m indoors now, in what, from the gamey smell of the place, I’d judge to be an old abandoned hunting lodge.
“Wait here in the library!” somebody says, brusquely shoving me backwards onto a hardwood bench.
“Library, my left Tuchess!” I mutter under my breath, “You hoods probably still roast marshmallows over the classics.” Lowering the blindfold, I scan the premises, desperately searching for the w.c., nevertheless taking note of the ornamental Tirolean woodcut frieze on a hunting motif along the rim of the half-beamed ceiling. And there just below it is an impressive assortment of taxidermical specimens, including a hefty moose head with massive antlers.
There’s something funny about those heads. How come they’ve got no fur on their faces, no horns on their noggins? Only now do I notice a gap in the display to the moose’s left and a plaque marked Judaicus New Yorkus.
“Lord have mercy!” I gulp, caressing my neck, when an itch followed by a right elbow twitch to the rear rattles my funny bone, confirming my worst suspicion. “YOU CAN’T HIDE UNDER YOUR BED SHEETS FOREVER!” I cry in defiance. “COME OUT AND FACE ME LIKE A MAN!” And tearing off my blindfold, what I see reduces me to a quivering mass of Jell-O: Not some brawny storm trooper or shrewd ideologue, but a blond bombshell, a sultry cross between Marlene Dietrich and Eva Braun, with legs like sculpted sticks of butter and blue eyes like glacial lakes in a virgin snow.
“NAZI VIXEN!” I hiss, losing bladder control.
Feeling a sharp jab in the ribs, I wrench my eyes open.
—“SHARON?!,” I gasp, sitting up, spurting shame all over the sheets. “You won’t believe this, honey,” I try to explain, “I had a vision, a message from God!”
Ever the pragmatic realist, Sharon shrugs:
—“Better see a urologist, Henry.”
Sharon’s right. Better to put this whole meshuganeh business out of my mind, I tell myself on my way to the bathroom. But God speaks to me again in the shower and this time I swear I’m wide awake. At first I think it’s Sharon.
—“Whaaaaa!?” I yell back over the pulsating water jet set to extra strength massage mode.
“HENNOCH!” says the voice, sounding a bit miffed and muffled this time, like it’s coming from inside the shower head. “DO NOT TARRY!”
Ashamed of my nakedness, I fall to my knees.
“NO FALSE MODESTY, PLEASE!” She chides.
“Dear God,” I tremble, “Thou didst surely tempt me with that blond and I fell for it, hook, line and sinker. Verily I am not worthy of Thy sacred trust!”
“TRUST!?” Sharon barges in.
“RUST!” I reply, turning the water off. “The shower water’s rusty again.”
“What are you talking about?!” she says. “The plumber was just here yesterday!”
“Well,” says I, “I guess he didn’t do such a good job.”
All morning I’m off kilter, unable to concentrate.
“You don’t look so good, Mr. Lieberman,” my secretary Shirley, a bleached blond from Long Island well beyond her prime, worries aloud when I waver in my normally fluent dictation.
Is it really Shirley or an angel in disguise? I wonder, peering deep into her blue contact lenses.
“Shame on you, Mr. Lieberman,” she says, “you, a married man!”
“What’s the matter, Heny boy, too much action!?” asks my law partner, Sammy, at our weekly working lunch at a downtown deli. That’s Sammy, my oldest friend and confidant with whom I’ve been through thick and thin, two pimple-faced losers catapulted by Chutzpa and Schwitz into high-priced professionals, Sammy who changed his name from Hirshfeld to Houston to expand our client base and make it with the Mary-Janes.
—“It’s not what you’re thinking, Sammy!”
—“Too little action, huh, here’s my prescription, Boychickl!” He slips me a card marked Liberty Escorts.
—“What’s this Schmutz, Shimmy!? I’m a married man!”
“Precisely!” says Sammy.
“Get your mind out of the gutter, you Ganef!” I grin, fingering the card on the back of which a nearly naked Statue of Liberty flaunts her statuesque assets. “Must be the job pressure getting to me, the heavy caseload of divorces!” I fret. “Why, I wonder, can’t people resolve their differences amicably?”
“Bite your tongue, Heny!” Sammy, himself recently split up with wife number two, a Gretchen from Greenwich, almost gags on the tip of a sour gherkin. He spits out the pickle, and poking around with a tooth pick, triumphantly picks a resistant red shred of corned beef like a trophy from between two molars.
—“Divorce is our manna in the wilderness, our bread and butter, Buster,” he declaims, “and don’t you forget it!”
“Confidentially, Sammy,” I ask in a whisper over cheese cake and coffee, “do you believe in paranormal phenomena?”
Sammy looks momentarily puzzled.
—“I never knew you had such inclinations, Heny!”
—“Not that kind of paranormal! Voices, Sammy! Voices commanding me to do…risky things!”
—“Kinky telephone sex with dominatrixes?!”
—“Sammy, listen! What would you say if I told you I had a call from…on high?”
Sammy solemnly bows his head.
—“No kidding, Boychikl, a call to the bench?! I’m gonna miss ya, old pal,” he gets all emotional, “but hey, better let’s look at the bright side: I’m not losing a partner, I’m gaining influence!”
—“We’re not talking judiciary, Sammy!”
Crestfallen, he quakes:—“Not another law firm!?”
—“Celestial, Sammy, a call from God!”
—“Person to person, or collect?”
— “Seriously, Heny, I’d recommend my former brother-in-law, Irwin, the shrink, only he charges an arm and a leg, and personally, I believe, there’s nothing that a good blow job can’t cure!”
—“Listen to me, Sammy, please!” I lean across the table, toppling his coffee, dipping my elbow in what’s left of the cheese cake. “I’ve been chosen, selected to…to have it out with…Them!”
—“Shush, they might hear you!”
Sammy raises a skeptical brow.—“You think they lunch at kosher delis?!”
—“Does Sharon know about this?”
—“I tried to tell her. She thinks I should see a urologist!”
“You want my advice, Henry?” Sammy gets serious. “You’ve been working too hard. Leave this Nazi business to Wiesenthal, Wiesel & Partners! Go ahead, take the afternoon off, have yourself some fun for a change!”
—“I may just step out for a breather.”
—“You do that, Boychickl,” Sammy gently slaps my cheek. “Make you feel like a million, I guarantee it!”
Are you still with me?
By now it’s going on 3 o’clock, the sleepy elbow of a wet gray afternoon, and yours truly is headed on foot to the southern tip of Manhattan island. Ever since childhood, when Dr. Gold recommended the salt sea air for my asthma, I’ve found the ocean soothing.
It’s raining, just a light drizzle. Battery Park is shrouded in fog and practically deserted. The only other holdout is this dame in a hooded black trench coat seated alone on a double bench at the water’s edge, a regular Mata Hari.
“Some weather we’re having, huh Miss!” I observe.
“I took the afternoon off ‘cause, well, I wasn’t feeling so good,” I continue, audience or none. “Nothing contagious, just a little under the weather, working too hard, I guess. And now that I’m out of the office, I don’t know what to do with myself. I’m a lawyer, matrimonial. What line of work did you say you were in?”
Still no reply.
“Hope I’m not bothering you, Miss!” I press on. “It’s just that I’ve got the rest of the day to kill and, well, it looks like I’ve forgotten how to relax.”
“A word to the wise. Get lost, Mister!” she says, leaping up abruptly, clutching the handle of what appears to be a folding umbrella in her trench coat pocket.
“Listen, if you’re in some kind of trouble, lady,” I reply, “I’m a lawyer, I can help.”
Catching the buckle of her trench coat belt on the rail of the bench, she tugs at it frantically, like a fox with its tail caught in a trap, when all of a sudden the hood falls back and blond hair cascades forth.
“It’s you,” I gasp, “the Nazi of my dreams!”
But she’s gone in a blitz.
“Hold it, Liebchen,” I shout, “your ideology is showing!”
Better to notify the proper authorities and let them handle it, I figure. Only thing is, I let my cell phone battery go dead, there’s no public phone in site and I left all my silver to tip the waiter at the deli.
“You got change of a dollar, sonny?” I appeal to a pimply teenage hotdog stand attendant inside the Staten Island Ferry terminal building.
—“Not unless you’re a paying customer!”
—“But I’ve already had my lunch!”
—“Sorry, Mister, customers only, company policy!”
—“Alright, so I’m a customer! Gimme a hotdog!” I slip the kid two bucks and wait for my change.
—“Kraut? Onions? Mustard? Chili?”
—“Anything, just make it snappy!”
He takes his sweet time slathering on the fixings and finally hands me the hotdog.
—“How about my change?”
—“But I need the change!”
—“What are you, a Jew or something!?”
Speechless, I spot the blond in the crowd, jump the barrier myself and leap aboard the departing ferry.
Upper deck, lower deck, down in the hold among the parked cars, I rush from bumper to bumper, peering in through tinted windshields at startled strangers. The last place left to look is the Ladies Room. In my nearsighted haste, I grab for the dark sleeve of an emerging female Salvation Army officer.
“Pervert!” yells the scandalized soldier of Christ, brandishing her umbrella.
“It’s not what you think, lady!” I ward off her jabs as the ferry pulls into port, while through the scuffed glass of a portal I notice the Nazi rushing ashore, blond hair flapping in the wind.
Striding before me like an ideal Aryan specimen straight out of Leni Riefenstahl’s “Olympiade,” she casts an occasional glance behind. Winded and weary, I give chase, barely managing to keep her in sight as she dashes into a disaffected public library in the dilapidated shell of an old Victorian.
There she is, backed up against an empty book case at the far end of a great wood-panelled reading room.
Closing in at last, I can’t help but feel a certain sympathy for her plight, along with—Dare I admit it?—a cocktail of inappropriate hormones careening through my cardiovascular system, my condition as blatant as the torch in Liberty’s raised right hand. Hath ever a prophet been in such a pickle!?
“Cool your jets, Jack!” she cautions, reaching for what I now suppose to be a pistol in her pocket.
“Don’t do anything rash, sister,” I counter, “remember Ruby Ridge!”
“Ruby Who!?”—She innocently flaps the wet nylon folds of folding umbrella, a shrewd ruse.
“No use pretending, sweetheart,” I counter, “I’m onto your tricks!”
“Anything you like—for a price!” she quips with a coy pucker.
Then and there a flashing red light goes on in my befuddled brain.—“Liberty Escorts! Sammy put you up to this, right!?”
—“The Texas hero?”
—“The Wall Street Ganef!”
But seeing as Sammy has obviously gone to great length and expense on my behalf, I figure, what could possibly be the harm of playing along? Strictly a blowjob, no risk of microbes, Sharon need never know.
“Two hundred,” she licks her lips, “and I can make it…memorable.”
Stuffing the greenbacks into her trench coat pocket, I tremble with anticipation.
Next thing I’m surrounded by a ring of uniformed operatives leaping from behind movable bookshelves with hardware pointed at various parts of my anatomy.
“YOU HAVE THE RIGHT TO REMAIN SILENT.” a bullhorn blares.
Whereupon the blond personally applies handcuffs.—“Bondage, Buster, at no extra charge!”
Frisked, photographed and fingerprinted at the station house, I am finally allowed to place a call. Under the circumstances, I figure, I’d better not bother Sharon.
“Houston & Lieberman!” the office answering service comes on.
—“Put me through to Sam Houston, pronto!”
—“Mr Houston is unavailable.”
—“This is Henry, Henry Lieberman.”
—“I’m sorry, Mr. Lieberman, but Mr. Houston said under no circumstances was he to be disturbed.”
—“Never mind, I’ll try his cell phone.”
Exceptionally, the sergeant at the front desk permits me to place a second call.
A woman answers.—“Whaa?”
—“Can I speak to Sam Houston please!”
Sammy grabs the receiver.—“Gimme that and don’t stop! Z’at you, Heny boy! Harder! Harder! Faster! Faster!”
—“I’m in trouble, Sammy, I need your help!”
—“Look Henry, I’m kind o’ tied up at the moment. Gimme your number, I’ll call you back!...Don’t stop!”
“Hey, what’s the phone number here?” I shout into the din of the station house.
“What do you think this is, your personal answering service!” the sergeant shouts back.
“I’m a lawyer,” I insist, “I know my rights!”
“I’ll give you rights, and lefts too,” the sergeant balls his fists. “We’ve arranged for deluxe accommodations with a gentleman of quality like yourself!” And turning to the night guard, he says: “Show Counselor Lieberman to the VIP suite.”
Will Sharon ever find it in her heart to forgive me? I fret, tossing and turning, finally drifting off to sleep, when I feel the tickle of hot breath on my left ear. “Sweetheart!” I whisper, a bit disconcerted upon opening my eyes not to be greeted by my wife’s familiar smirk but by a swastika tattooed on a shaven head hanging upside down in my face.—“Will this nightmare never end!?”
—“You got a problem with my body art, Lieberman?!”
Call me lily-livered if you like, even Flavius Josephus chickened out at Massada. “It’s L…l…Liberman, minus the e,” I lie, “an old Connecticut family!”
—“You don’t smell like Stamford!”
—“I sweat under stress!”
—“Pig’s ass! That’s how come your kind invented deodorant. Why do you think they call it Ice Blue Secret?”
—“Marketing’s not my line!”
—“Don’t get smart with me, Liberman minus the e, you know what I’m talking about! The same holds true for hair relaxant and plastic surgery: instruments of racial camouflage!” Pressing a fleshy proboscis flat against his face for effect, my bunkmate flashes a menacing grin.—”They call me ‘White Pride,’ former heavyweight contender of Staten Island, maybe you reco’nize me from the posters?”
“Sorry,” I say, “I don’t follow sports!”
“What do you follow,” he says, “isometrics!?”
“Back in your bunk, Moose, before I enhance your beauty mark!” the night guard punctuates his command with the resounding crack of a nightstick against the bars.
“Moose!?” I unwisely exclaim.
“Anything the matter with my Christian name!?” he snaps.
“Oh no, not at all, it’s a terrific name, very virile,” I assure him, “and may I add, it suits you to a T!”
It’s a long way to morning. Better keep him talking to avert violence.—“So tell me, what are you in for, Moose?”
“‘JEW PIGS MUST DIE!’” he snorts. “Spray painted it with swastikas dotting the i’s all over the Verrazano Bridge.”
“Classic First Amendment case, no sweat, just call Norm Seegal at the A.C.L.U.,” I feign nonchalance, inadvertently focusing on his nose. For all his bravado, there’s something fishy about his face, a nervous sensitivity.
“You think it’s bogus, don’t you!?” Moose snarls, massaging the cartilage.
“No, no, not at all,” I insist, “it’s very…Raging Bull!”
Moose turns wistful.—“Every Christmas, carving knife in hand,” he muses, “Daddy played Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas,’ and we all sang along as he carved the wild turkey him ‘n me killt. ‘Look out the window, young’ns!’ Daddy said. ‘The snow ain’t pure no more! It’s speckled and stained, just like the rainbow on the trout, just like our air ‘n rivers are.”
—“I concur with your father one hundred percent, environment is everything. I’ve been thinking of taking out a membership in the Sierra Club myself, pollution is killing…”
“Shut up!” Moose cuts me short, returning to his reminiscence. “’Everywhere you turn, you see the evil hand of the Mud People defiling God’s country!’ Daddy said. ‘Who’re the Mud People, Pa?’ I asked. ‘Mud Man’s a cross between a vulture and a monkey. He’s ugly as sin ‘n wily as a fox! I’d sooner waltz with a grizzly than have any trek with them critters.’ ‘What’s he look like, Daddy?’ ‘Mud Man comes in all shapes ‘n shades: chink yellow, tan, tea colored, redskinned ‘n nigger black! But there’s a kind that looks as white as you or me and that’s the cunningest critter of all!’ ‘How can you pick ‘im out, Daddy, if he’s white?’ ‘Well, first off, the nose is a dead give-away, it’s hooked like the beak of a vulture. And then there’s his smell, it’s worse’n a pig—which he don’t eat, and that’s a joke!’ Us young’ns laughed. ‘Someday, son,’ Daddy said, ‘Christmas is gonna be all white again!’ And poor as we were, Daddy always left the dark meat to the dogs.”
“What a Mensch!” I imprudently let slip.
Moose lunges. But fortunately, the din of my imminent demise rouses the guard. A well-placed swing of the nightstick at the crux of the swastika sends my assailant flying back to his bunk, howling like a baby. After a while, Moose falls silent. I figure he must have cried himself to sleep when out of the blue he blubbers in between sobs:—”So what if my old man was one of your kind!”
“A lawyer?” I ask.
“A Sheeny!” he blurts out, face torn between merriment and torment.
“Scout’s honor!” he shakes his head. “You’re maybe wondering what lead to my ‘change of heart,’”
“The question did cross my mind!” I admit.
“So listen up, Liberman minus the e, listen and learn! My mother was Maltese and a lot of good it did me!” he says. “On Staten Island when I was a kid, you were either 100% Grade A American or you were dead meat. ‘Your Papa’s a Sheeny!’ the other kids taunted me when I was knee-high. ‘What’s a Sheeny?’ I asked. ‘Sheenies use Christian blood to bake their buns,” said Brian, the red-headed ringleader, ‘they’re too cheap to use shortening. My Dad says your Old Man’s made of dough, probably got plenty o’ bread buried away some place!’ Which rings a bell. Didn’t I once hear him remark to my Mom with that greenhorn accent of his, ‘Tanks God, I escaped the ovens!’—? So I lift my T-shirt, pinch my skin to prove I’m no Pillsbury Doughboy. ‘Look, Brian, I bleed!’ But that didn’t satisfy them. So they pulled down my pants. ‘There’s the proof,’ said Brian, pointing between my legs, ‘Sheenies got part of their wienie missing!’ ‘Wadaya mean, missing!’ ‘Sheeny rabbit comes ‘n bites it off!’ said Brian. ‘Rabbits like carrots, not wienies!’ I said. ‘The Sheeny rabbit buries it in the garden, stupid,’ he said, ‘to make the roses grow thorny for the crown of thorns!’ I spent the whole day digging up the garden. The old man comes home from work ‘n he sees the ripped up garden bed.
—‘What you been up to, Moses?’ he says.
—“Don’t interrupt! So I said to him, I says, ‘You know what I’m doin’, Dad!’ He says, ‘No, what?’ ‘I’m lookin’ for the piece of my wienie the rabbit bit off and buried in the garden to make the roses grow thorny, that’s what, you dirty Sheeny!’ My father’s lips tremble and he starts foaming at the mouth. ‘You’re made of dough, Dad,’ I says, ‘better climb back in the oven where you belong!’ He gripped his chest and dropped dead on the spot with his eyes wide open. I hid out on the garage roof till the Old Lady stopped bawling and they came for the body. ‘Awful shame!’ said Brian’s Dad, who came by to offer his condolences and scour the yard for buried treasure.”
Moses, alias Moose takes short sucking breaths, holding back the floodgates.
“The statute of limitations is lapsed, stop punishing yourself,” I say. “Your guilty conscience won’t bring back the dead!”
“What guilt!?” he grunts. “His death set me free! The old lady kicked the bucket soon after. Didn’t find no dough buried in the garden, but he did leave behind a little nest egg in the bank. I changed my name and moved away.”
“You need professional help,” I protest, “you can’t keep running from the truth.” And sensing a crack in the psychic armor, I cut to the quick:—“Face it, Moose, Moses, whatever you want to call yourself, you’re nothing but an imitation Nazi!”
“The Jew’s a human virus,” he harangues, “the source of TB, HIV/AIDS and the Y2K bug planted by ZOG-KGB infiltrators in the FBI.”
—“Aren’t your forgetting something, Moose?”
—“HDL cholesterol’s clearly a JDL plot!”
His scowl twists into a grudging grin.
Patience! I’m getting to the end of my tale.
Multiple tirades, tousles and tantrums later, the glacier of self-hatred finally melts, we’re swapping memories of Hebrew School mischief, platzing with laughter and kvelling with tears. It’s a real soul-searching, Iron-John experience, the kind that’d cost a pretty penny at some rural retreat in the Rockies.
“Where will you go once you get out?” I ask with a catch in my throat.
“I don’t know,” he says, “I might just look up my old man.”
—“At the cemetery?”
“In a manner of speaking,” he says, “unless you call Alzheimer’s in a nursing home overlooking the Fresh Kills garbage dump living. You think he’ll ever forgive me?”
“With his condition and a little luck,” I assure him, “your father’s forgotten all about it!”
So, to make a long story short, I arrange for Moses’ release on my cognizance and suggest Dr. Zizmor, the dermatologist who advertises on the subway, to excise his tattoo. As to my own little pecadillo, Sammy comes through with a generous contribution to the Staten Island branch of the Policeman’s Benevolent League. The details take a while.
Not a sound in the house by the time I get home. Sharon and the children must surely be fast asleep. I tiptoe across the threshold, wingtips in hand, and head straight for the bathroom, where I shed my sweaty clothes, and standing under the jet of hot water, cast wary glances at the shower head. And then and there, through the rising steam and the frosted glass door of the shower stall, I have another vision, misty and ethereal, distant yet undeniably enticing, a celestial figure girded in a Biblical garment, an angel from on high. My knees buckle under as the shower door flies open.—“I have failed Thee, Oh Lord—Lady,” I correct.
—“Hurry up, Henry!”
—“Is ‘at you, Sharon?!”
—“No, it’s the Queen of Sheba!”
“It’s a miracle!” I cry out, clasping her knees, distracted from righteous contrition by the sight of her shapely figure in the flimsy gown I bought her last Valentine’s Day from Victoria’s Secret.
“Shush, the children!” Sharon puts a finger to her lips. “So long as we’re talking miracles, Henry,” she whispers, the strap of the gown falling suggestively off her right shoulder, “how ‘bout a little shared connubial bliss!”
I stare in stunned amazement.—“Never in the history of this marriage have you ever actually asked for it!?”
“Herstory…,” she winks with a coy toss of the head, leading the lost lamb home to pasture.
Peter Wortsman's recent works include a travel memoir, Ghost Dance in Berlin (Travelers' Tales, 2013)--for which he won a 2014 Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY); a novel, Cold Earth Wanderers (Pelekinesis, 2014--a finalist for 2014 Foreword Reviews' Best Science Fiction Book of the Year--and an anthology which he selected, translated and edited, Tales of the German Imagination (Penguin Classics, UK, 2013). Forthcoming are a book of short fiction, Footprints in Wet Cement (Pelekinesis, 2017) and a translation, Konundrum, Selected Prose of Franz Kafka (Archipelago Books, 2016). He was a Holtzbrinck Fellow in 2010 at the American Academy in Berlin.