Monday, September 28, 2015

SUKKOT / BET ON CRAZY

Two years ago the Diamond District on 47th Street was dead on the high holiday of Sukkot.

All throughout the shetls of Williamsburg families were commemorating the Hebrews' wandering in the desert after the Exodus in Egypt by setting up sukkahs or outside dwelling to symbolize the tents on that decades-long journey to find someplace to call their own.

The Hasidic diamond dealers abandoned the Diamond District for the week. The day before Chol HaMoed Gabriel our broker left our store ten big diamonds in hopes that a goy might buy one. Richie Boy and his father weren't so religious and saw the holiday as a time to operate with less competition.

On the first day of Sukkot I opened the safe and put Gabriel's rocks in the window. They were in individual diamond boxes. None were under five carats and the total value of the goods was slightly over 500K. They made a big impression.

A half-hour later an over-weight gypsy in a Versace suit entered the store and asked, "How much for the big stone?"

"It ain't for sale." I had never sold to a gypsy.

"Everything is for sale on 47th Street."

"Not this stone." I had nothing against Gippos, but they hadn't earned their rep for guile by being saints.

"Show him the stone." Manny was sitting at his desk. He had dealt with hundreds of gypsies during his years on the Bowery.

"Okay, but everything has a price," I grumbled, for the Roma were a WOT or a waste of time. Worse was the possibility that they might rob you.

"Which is?" I had seen Tony around the block.

"40K."

"Can I see it?"

"Sure." I went to the front window and plucked the stone from the tray. A zaftig, but attractive woman in a matching Versace dress smiled at me. She was Tony's wife. They worked as a team. She came inside.

I show her the diamond without letting her touch it.

"I love this ring, Tony." Her fragrance was Versace Bright Crystal.

"I love it too, but I don't love $40K for a 6-carat F SI3?" He was top of the line Roma. "Would you take 20K for it?"

"Thanks but no thanks." Gabriel had memoed the diamond for $35,000. Manny said that it was a lot of flash for the cash. My boss came from Brownsville. He had never lost its touch on his soul.

"I have the money." Tony brandished a roll of hundreds thick enough to be 20K, unless the center was all $1 bills.

"Sorry, the price remains 40K. No haggling either."

"I thought maybe you would want to do some business." What Tony meant was that if I gave him the stone, I could stick the 20K and walked out of the store.

"Sorry, no deal."

I sat at my desk and the gypsy exited from the exchange. Tony had other marks on his list. Maybe he would get lucky. My boss Richie Boy showed up a few minutes later.

"Anything happening?"

"A gypsy offered me 20K for Gab's stone." Manny stood up with a groan. His hip was killing the 80 year-old.

"You didn't let him touch it?"

"Not at all." Gypsies were skilled at switching stones.

"Let me check."

I got the stone for Richie Boy.

"You're lucky," he said after weighing out the diamond on the scale.

"Lucky was, if he sold it." Manny sat back down with a grunt. He wasn't getting old, but some parts of his body were on strike.

"We were lucky." Richie Boy nodded to me and I put the diamond back in the window.

Across the street Tony and his wife were standing outside a store. They were looking to get lucky.

Anything was possible on Sukkot.

Around noon the girls working for Manny's partner wanted to order lobster rolls from the new take-out.

Coming from Maine I was eager to try the lunch special.

Richie Boy signaled that he was in too.

Lobster might be tref or unclean and unfit for consumption according to Jewish tradition, however only one member of our staff was religious. The rest were bacon Jews.

Lunch came, we ate, and then discussed the lobster rolls.

Cindy thought it was good. She had gone to UMass.

Richie Boy was unimpressed. He was nursing a hangover.

I had eaten better in Maine, but Lincolnville was an eight-hour drive from 47th Street.

A chubby hand slapped the window.

Lenny.

The Hassidic bum.

His yamakah was sliding off what remained of his greasy hair and his fingers were twitching for money.

"Fuck him." Richie Boy had little patience for Lenny.

"He's harmless." Lenny was no Don Rickles, but he made me laugh.

"Tell him to go away. He's bad for business."

"Business? On Sukkot keep on dreaming."

"Do me a favor and send him away. Lenny's ruining my appetite."

I put down my lobster roll and went outside.

Lenny seemed to have gained more weight and he smelled like he hadn't been to a schvitz since before Moses freed the slaves.

"Lenny, you're messing up the window." His hand imprints were scattered on the glass like prehistoric paintings. "I'm the one who has to clean it."

"Sorry, Damian." Lenny was a slob in his filthy tee-shirt and ripped flannel trousers with sodden sneakers shaped like melted cheese. He has been living on the street for more than 20 years, but I had seen the fat bum deposit over $200 at the bank more than once. Some people say that his lunacy is an act, except his rhummy eyes told the truth.

"No worries." I liked that he called me 'Damian'. The name smacked of THE OMEN and the Son of Satan.

"Why Richie doesn't ever give?" Lenny begged everyone on the street for money. He even took small change.

"Maybe it has something to do with you calling him a Nazi."

"He is a Nazi. A country club Nazi who hates Jews like me." Lenny was fondling an etrog lemon, which someone must have given him for Sukkot. I could smell it over his stench.

"Lenny, I hear you say that to a lot a people on the street. It's not nice."

"I'll tell you what's not nice." Lenny pointed to Tony and his wife. "Over a million gypsies were killed by the Nazis, but no one ever builds a museum for them"

"The Roma are 'travelers'." That was the Irish word for them and it didn't have a nice meaning.

"And the Hebrews wandered forty years in the desert and what about the Wandering Jew?"

"That's a myth." The Goyim had created the legend of a Jew cursed with immortality for taunting Jesus on his way to the Crucifixion.

"Ahasver might not exist, but the Jews have traveled the world for centuries same as the Roma and people talk about them the same way as they talk about us."

Aren't you celebrating Sukkot?"

"I sleep outside every night." Lenny lived in the rough. He had no possession other than the clothing on his back. "Every day is Sukkot for me. Same as you, Damian. You wander the world."

"My wanderings are more like Dion's THE WANDERER than the Jews and Roma." I loved the line from that hit, 'I'm the type of guy'.

"I love Dion." Lenny knew every homeless shelter in New York. They were his world and the sidewalks were paths for his travels.

"Me too, but I wish I didn't."

"Your kids in Thailand." Lenny was crazy, but he wasn't stupid. He knew my life."

"Yeah, my kids." The four of them were halfway around the world. There was something not right about that arrangement and I felt more sympathy for the Roma than was normal for someone born on the Coast of Maine.

Richie Boy rapped on the window.

"Lenny, I got to go back to work." I had to make a little money.

"You got a dollar for the holiday?"

I handed him two bills.

He wished me luck and called for a blessing on my kids in Thailand.

"May you get home soon."

"Thanks." Seeing my kids was my greatest wish. Another month and I would have plane fare to Bangkok. I would count every day.

"Baxt hai sastimos tiri patragi." Lenny shambled into the street. His eyes were on Tony and his wife. He saw them as a soft touch.

"What's that?" I had never heard those words before.

"It's Romani for 'good luck.'"

"Sie gesund." I wished him well in Yiddish and returned inside the diamond exchange hoping to close a deal in the final hours of Sukkot, because all wanderers are lucky as long as they were heading home.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

MEA CULPA OI VEY by Peter Nolan Smith

Yesterday afternoon I rode my bike down Kent Street to Williamsburg. Scores of Hassidim were flocking out of the Brooklyn shtel. They congregated by the East River to atone for their sins and the Expulsion from Eden. Men and women were separated by a fence and I thought about taking a photo, but realized this was a private moment and continued my trip to the metal shop, where a check was waiting for me.

After all 'nimmt geld' was one of the most important tenets of 47th Street.

On the way back the gathering by the small inlet next to old Brooklyn Navy Yard had grown by the hundreds. Police were setting up barricades in expectation of a larger throng in the early evening.

Today I called up Manny to wish him 'Gmar chatimah tovah'.

My old boss answered the phone and asked who was this.

"Your shabbas goy and not someone you owe money."

"Thank the stars for that."

"Are you open tomorrow?" I had some gold to sell as scrap.

"No, the religious people closed the exchange, but if it was up to me, I'd be open all day." The ancient Brownsville native lived to work as many hours as there were left in his waking days.

"Aren't you going to temple tomorrow?"

"Feh, I'm going to Hudson's Bar." It was his local.

"What about a fast?"

"Not a chance. At my age I don't give up any meals, plus I have a medical condition. I need a drink to keep sane." Business in the Diamond District was brutal these days.

"What about a mitveh?" A ritual bath was a purification rite for the Hassidim.

"I'll take a shower and don't even ask me to apologize to 'God'. He ain't done nothing for me this year other than give me more problems than Job. He should be saying sorry to me and everyone else in this economy." Manny was a little bit of a commie. His son was the complete opposite. Richie Boy still believed in the trickle-down theory. "What do you care? You're a goy. You do anything wrong last year?"

"A couple of things."

As a boy I had been an altar boy.

We struck our chest saying 'mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa'.

None of us meant a word of it.

"Then you have nothing to say to God either. Forget all that Moses shit from the Old Testament. How Yom Kippur was the day he got the second set of the Ten Commandments. Moses was the same as all men. Only sorry if they got caught fucking around." Manny was an expert at that.

"No, I guess I don't have to offer any apologies to God." I was a content atheist. "I'll see you Thursday."

"I should be so lucky."

I hung up the phone and thought about the lack of religion in my life.

LA Dodger Sandy Koufax had refused to pitch the first game of the 1965 World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. His replacement Don Drysdale gave up seven runs in less than three innings and told his manager, "I bet right now you wish I was Jewish, too."

Not me, I was going to Mullane's to have a beer and I don't have to wish I was a goy to do that.

As for Yom Kippur.

Have a happy day of saying you're sorry.

I believe you, but all my friends think you're lying.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Mea Culpa Yom Kippur


Yom Kippur is the Jewish day of atonement. Fast and going to temple to privately confess your evil deeds earns a tabla rasa for another year to repeat the ways of the flesh in violation of the 10 Commandments. Personally I wouldn't go to temple, since attendance is the surest sign of guilt, then again we are all guilty of something, which is how the police justify arresting the wrong person.

"He committed a crime. The question is only what crime."

Last year I lied, denied the existence of God, and nearly killed the driver of an oncoming car, when i fell asleep at the wheel. I did not cheat on my wives, I honored my father, and I worshipped no false god. No true god either.

This omission could endanger my immortal soul. The only remedy would be an act of contrition via the sacrament of confession.

"Bless me father for I have sinned. It's been a long time since my last confession."

I can't remember how long.

Two decades? Three?

Although I did swim in the Ganges at Varanasi in 1995. That feat expiated all my previous sins. So I only have 18 years of sins to negate somehow. Good deeds. I've done a few of those on occasion. But the road to Hell is paved by good intentions, so my good deeds are irredeemable at the time of judgment.

I am sorry for a lot, but then again too little to mention, because I did it my way.

When in doubt, quote Frank Sinatra.

Old Blue Eyes won't steer you wrong.

Yom Kippur Squirrels

Yom Kippur 1972.

Syrian and Egyptian tanks swarmed over Israeli defenses on the Golan Heights and the Suez Canal. The Arab Forces initial successes were reversed by strategic blunders and Israeli air cover, however the losses to the IDF were catastrophic for the small nation. If a country the size of the USA had suffered the same casualties, the deaths would have mounted into the 100s of 1000s. Russian intervention was deterred by a stern warning from President Nixon.

DefCon 3 to DefCon 4.

Nuclear war.

MAD.

Cooler heads prevailed and prevented Mutual All-Out Destruction on a global level and Yom Kippur has resumed its position as a day of atonement for the Jewish People with Bobby Vinton leading the way by singing his hit I'M SORRY.

No holiday is without humor.

A small town had two churches, Presbyterian and Methodist, and a Synagogue. All three had a serious problem with squirrels in their buildings. Each in its own fashion had a meeting to deal with the problem.

The Presbyterians decided that it was predestined that squirrels be in the church and that they would just have to live with them.

The Methodists decided they should deal with the squirrels lovingly in the style of Charles Wesley. They humanely trapped them and released them in a park at the edge of town. Within 3 days, they were all back in the church.

The Jews simply voted the squirrels in as members. Now they only see them at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

Of course my late father hated squirrels. Not so much hated them, but cursed them during his visits to my mother’s grave. The town cemetery was overrun with the tree rodents. They scrambled into the paved roads before cars.

A game for them.

An accident waiting to happen for humans.

My father swerved away from a daredevil squirrel and crashed into a gravestone almost 100 feet from the road.

“Damn Squirrels.”

He drove over the next squirrel brave enough to play ‘chicken’.

And he was a Convert to Catholicism.

No Yom Kippur for him.

For him the only good squirrel was a dead squirrel.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Yom Kippur Ahead

A priest and a rabbi are discussing the pros and cons of their various religions, and inevitably the discussion turns to repentance.

Rabbi Shimon Ben Gamliel explains Yom Kippur, the solemn Day of Atonement, a day of fasting and penitence, while the Father John tells him all about Lent, and its 40 days of self-denial and absolution from sins.

After the discussion ends, the rabbi goes home to tell his wife, Deborah, about the conversation, and they discuss the merits of Lent versus Yom Kippur.

Deborah turns her head and laughs.
The rabbi says, 'What's so funny, dear?'

Deborah's response, '40 days of Lent - one day of Yom Kippur...so, even when it comes to sin, the goyyim* pay retail.....'

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Cross Country 1996 by Peter Nolan Smith

In the late summer of 1996 I left Bali for America. My good friend Slim met me at LAX in her Studebaker Lark. On the way to Hollywood the native Californian told me that she had fallen in love with an artist in New York."

"That's good news, except it's 3000 miles from here."

"I know and that's why I'm driving there next week."

"In this car?" The '61 Lark was a classic with a V8 engine.

"Yes, you want to be co-pilot?"

"Are we in a hurry?" I hated the soulless interstates.

"Not really?" The tall ex-model was looking forward to the trip. We knew each other from Paris. The summer of 1984. We were simply friends. I wasn't her type.

"Then count me in."

I had a hankering to see Monument Valley in person rather than in a John Wayne movie.

"When was the last time you cross the country?" This was starting to feel like an interview.

"1975." America had been a different country.

"You old hippie." Slim smiled and stepped on the gas. The 289 was tuned for speed.

"You got that right." And I still was a hippie in many ways.

"I really like this guy." Slim extolled the sculptor's virtue. His family came from Cape Ann. Their last name was known to New Englanders. They didn't speak to people from the South Shore and that was alright by me.

"When are we leaving?"

"Tomorrow night. I'm having a good-bye party. We'll leave when all the beer is gone."

"Then you start the trip." I liked my drink.

"I wouldn't have it any other way."

The next morning I went surfing with her brothers in Ventura. They were eight of the brothers and sisters.

They were members of the White Watusi and had known the Pacific since they were children. The waves were bigger, thicker, and colder than Bali, but the brothers didn't let me drown.

Friends and family came to say good-bye. Slim said that we wasn't leaving forever, "Only a real long time."

She had no intentions on coming back to LA, but I knew that no one born someplace else than New York would ever be a New Yorker. We were just passing through same as I was passing through Southern California, because I came from the South Shore of Boston and had even lived in shack on a wooden pier jutting into Gloucester Harbor.

It didn't get more New England than that on the North Shore of Boston.

We ended the night early. Slim kissed, embraced, and caressed the guests, then call her beau once more. I carried out our bags to the Lark. The trunk was packed to the rim. Slim got behind the wheel and started the car. She gave a last wave and five minutes later we were on the highway.

Night traffic was light heading east. I was glad to not be driving.

"You mind if I sleep for a little?"

"Not at all." Slim was glad I wasn't driving too and turned on the radio catching a Mexican station from the desert. I laid my head against the glass and closed my eyes on LA.

By dawn we were in the desert.

The road was empty.

Slim was driving the Lark at 80.

"I thought we weren't in a hurry."

"You really want to go slow through this?"

"Where are we?" The scenery was a landscape of sand, brushes, and rocks.

"South of Victorville."

"Damn, I got stuck there hitchhiking in 1974. My friend and I took a bus and ended up in Needles. It was 117 in the shade."

"It gets like that out here."

"Then step on it."

Slim did just that and the Lark kept pace with the fast-moving traffic.

We gave Las Vegas a miss and continued onto Zion Canyon.

There was nothing like it back in the East.

Awesome cliffs soared into the heavens, dwarfing me and Slim. I wanted to take a hike up the trail, but Slim voted for moving on.

"We might never come this way again."

"You're right. A small hike on the canyon floor."

Thanks."

We walked into the canyon. The water was low in the narrow defiles. Slim took photos.

That night we stayed on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The room had twin beds. We fell asleep fast. It had been a long day and after dinner we walked out to the edge of the expanse.

"I was on the South Rim in 1972."

"A hippie?"

"That's me, although I cut my hair in 1975. Some girl said my head looked like a thatched roof."

"Not an attractive look."

"You got that right." I thought I looked like Jimmy Page. No one else did.

In the morning we continued east through the entrails of the Grand Canyon. I posed as 'the thinker' on a rock.

I liked the weird rock formations.

They were everywhere.

At noon we approached the Vermillion Cliffs and stopped at a historical marker, stating that the Spanish explorer Francisco Coronado's expedition had come this way in the 1500s.

"I wonder what they did for water."

Sucked stones until they reached the Colorado."

"Only an hour behind us."

It was getting hot and there was no water in sight.

"By car. By horse or on foot three days. We could be in New York in three days."

She got back behind the wheel. I sat with the map, plotting the route.

The Lark was running good. Slim drove faster.

"This car wasn't built for speed." She still hadn't let me drive.

"It'll go as fast as I want." She was deeply in love and wanted to see her man, whose name was Chris.

I thought about her desire to be with someone. I had just circled the globe. I had seen millions of people. None of them were for me.

The evening sky was going purple, as we arrived in Kayenta, Arizona, capitol of the Navaho nation. The windblown town looked like Mars 100 years after a failed terra-forming experiment. Slim wanted to stop at the hotel. I said that we could a room nearer Monument Valley.

Darkness dropped like a stone. The purple was underscored by orange.

"Are you sure there's room up ahead?"

"Monument Valley is a destination. The motel there has to have rooms." This was the end of the tourist season.

I was wrong. Everything was booked for miles.

We returned to Kayenta for gas and food. Slim was not happy. She got out at the pump and call Chris from a phone booth. We barely spoke during our meal.

"So what's the plan?"

"We sleep in the car."

"Where?"

"Out in the desert or we keep driving until we find a motel."

"I don't like it, but I want to see the valley in the morning."

"Okay." I paid for dinner and we got back in the Lark.

After dinner I drove out into the valley and pulled off the road on hard-packed sand.

"Do you think this is safe?"

Safe as anywhere else." Even I was spooked by the high plains blackness. "I don't think I've ever seen so many stars."

"Please don't ask if I think we're the only ones out there? I'm not in the mood for a talk about ETs."

"Sure."

Slim folded down the driver's seat. I followed her lead.There was only one blanket. The temperature dropped into the 50s.

Thanks for this." Slim broke her silence.

"You think I wanted this? I'm coming for Asia. There are motels everywhere. Here there's no one."

"You got that right."

She was speaking of me and pulled up the blanket. I shivered myself to sleep, but I woke in the middle of the night and got out of the Studebaker. I needed to pee.

A billion stars spread across the heaven and I went back to the car, happy to be alive. Slim was sleeping in a bed. I tried to do the same, but nights were cold in the desert.

The Valley was even more desolate with the daw.

The road north was devoid of traffic. We made good time.

Along the San Juan River.

Past Mexican Hat.

Up 191 to join 161 and head east towards the Rockies.

A Mercedes had been totaled outside Bluff.

I slowed down to asked, if the driver needed help.

"No, the tow truck is coming." He was a middle aged man with a cowboy hat.

"Suit yourself." I couldn't see what he had hit or how.

A half-mile farther Slim asked, "How you think that happen?"

"Certainly not another, so I'm thinking driver error." Nothing else made any sense.

"Please try not to do the same."

Slim loved her Lark, although not as much as Chris.

That afternoon we stopped at the Ananazi cliffside ruins. This site had supported over 2000 inhabitants. They had been abandoned the canyon a century before Coronado's expedition. Now there were only tourists.

"Where they all go?"

"No one knows. There are no native legends about the tribes. Modern historian think there was a long drought and the people migrated to a river." I felt no ghosts. After an hour we were ready to go. Slim wanted to drive. "I'm hearing something in the engine."

"I didn't hear a thing."

"It's not your car.

Heading into the Rockies it was obvious something was wrong with the Hawk's carborator. A mechanic fixed it in Durango. Slim called Chris. They spoke on the phone for a long time.

"I wish we were on the highway."

New York was about 2000 miles from here.

"We'll be on one as soon as we're out of the mountains."

"Tomorrow?"

"Yes."

My trip around the world was coming to an end.

We stayed the night in Durango. The snow pack had lasted through the summer.

The next day we cross the Continental Divide.

Rivers flowed to the Atlantic from here.

We passed old mines.

I thought about swimming in a stream. The water seemed clean, but a sign warned of chemicals from the mine tailings. Very dangerous to human life.

Mining had been its life blood.

Now the quaint town struck gold with tourists.

"We kept going.

We reached I-80 outside of Vail. Slim was ready to make time and we were in the Great Plains within the hour. Everything from here on in was basically downhill.

People honked at us. They loved seeing the Studebaker. We waved back.

Slim's foot remained heavy on the accelerator.

"No stops."

"What about food and gas."

"That's all we need." Slim was living strictly on love.

I fought to take the back roads.

Slim was having none of it. We listened to radio and she asked about my trip to the Orient. I told her about London, Paris, Nepal, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Hawaii.

"All around the world." I took a photo of a drive-in. No one went to them anymore.

"My fourth time."

You think you will ever settle down?"

"I guess this is just my way of settling down."

"The Wanderer?"

I had an apartment in the East Village. I called it home. The road was someplace else.

Truck stops were the only civilization in the plains.

Long-Distance trucks were drivers by kings of the road.

We crossed the Mississippi stopping only to put our feet in the Father of All Waters for good luck. Slim's mind was set on 'go'.

Meg wanted to see the Studebaker Museum in South Bend, Indiana. It was out of our way.

I convinced her to skip it and instead we swam in Lake Michigan.

The Ojibwa considered Mishigami as great water. They had no word for the ocean.

Slim and I didn't have one either.

We had no reason to stop in Detroit and continued across Ontario to Niagara Falls.

We would have kept driving, except the Studebaker had a flat. The mechanic told us to wait in the diner. Slim entered first.

The patrons had never seen someone as tall as her and their eyes followed her every steps of her flipflops slapping against the floor on her way to the Ladies room. We slept that night in a hotel on the Canadian side of the Falls.

Twin beds.

New York was across the river. We had run out of states.

The Lark had done its job.

We were in the Catskills.

New york was less than one-hundred miles away.

We arrived in Soho in the evening.

"Happy?"

"I will be soon."

Chris met us at Lucky Strike. He took one look at me and figured the worst. He was wrong. Slim and I were just friends, but the two were in love.

I thanked Slim for the ride and left the restaurant to go to my apartment on East Tenth Street.

My key turned the lock.

I sat in my living room and shuffled through six months' of mail.

None of it was important and I turned on the TV.

Sometimes this place was home and tonight was one of them.