In Israel

5 July 2019

We were in Radauti (pronounced Radautz), Romania a couple of years ago, where my grandmother was born. For me it was closing the circle, started three years before, when I found the town where my grandfather was born…Medzilaborce, in Slovakia (formerly Czechoslovakia and before that Austria-Hungary). And so, Roberta and I found ourselves in Romania (near Ukraine) in an area called Bukovina…a land of painted monasteries and shuttered synagogues. My grandmother, whose family was nearly wiped out in the Holocaust, had come to America in 1900 for reasons unknown, since life in Radauti seemed to be less threatening than in other areas of central or eastern Europe. But life obviously deteriorated and by the end of WWII, most of the Jews in the region had become victims of the Holocaust or had emigrated.

Searching through pictures on the Internet, I had stumbled on a picture of a memorial in a cemetery to the Jews of Radauti on which names of some of those lost were inscribed. It seemed to us that it would be in Radauti. But no, we found, after the trip that the memorial is in Israel in a cemetery in Holon, south of Tel Aviv. Some Radauti Jews left for Palestine in the early decades of the 1900s and built a memorial to the ones who didn’t leave. It seems only right to acknowledge people who were the victims of savagery, more poignantly since there is a family connection to many of them. And so we turned through an entrance in a nondescript stone wall, blinking into a noontime, sun-scorched hillside of above-ground graves…areas separated by the narrowest of lanes for cars to maneuver…not a place to take a rented car, but we did. It is the largest cemetery in Israel, so it’s not to be trifled with on foot with temperature in the mid-nineties.

Of course, there was no one at the small entrance building to give us an idea where the memorial might be, so, Lewis and Clark-lite, we set out to find it ourselves. We were armed with a picture in memory of what it looked like…how hard could it be. After the better part of an hour, nearly skinning the paint off the car on gravesites that defined the edge of the road, we admitted defeat and sullenly found our way to the entrance/exit. But now we saw two people there, one with a hardened face of a pirate, the other a youngish ultra orthodox, who had shed his coat, but not his hat and looked the worse for the heat. The pirate, who earlier had motioned us away from a place where we idled the car, came over now offering help…but in Hebrew. English he understood only a few words, but they, luckily, were the ones needed to tell him what we were looking for. He in turn translated to the Haredi, who made a couple of calls on his cell phone and then motioned us to follow him.

So here was an ultra orthodox twenty-something presumably there to help lost visitors. Nearby was a modern electric bike, lying on the sidewalk that turned out to be his…the embrace of modernity by one whose community questions things extensively to make sure there is no biblical trespass. In this case our cemetery guide (who volunteered enthusiastically to help) had an unusual Haredi look…undershirt fringe and peyot, trailing in the breeze behind him, hand on hat, so it wouldn’t blow off…in pursuit of the elusive memorial. Even more dissonant, the bike’s motor stopped working a few times and he got off, smacked it…a true technocrat…and got it going again. I’m not sure why it worked, but it did. The Lord’s ways are indeed mysterious.

The whereabouts of the memorial still eluded him, even with the calls. So he stopped at a caretaker’s shed and in 10 minutes emerged armed with new directions and took us to a memorial that looked like the right one, but wasn’t. Some things aren’t meant to be. So I thanked him and watched as he flew off, pleased I’m sure for the breeze in his face. But two memorials from the wrong one we found the right one. We stayed for a few minutes to bask in victory and  to be respectful. We took pictures and finally succumbed to Mideast heat and sought water and a breezy beach in Tel Aviv.

So What Did You Like Best?

24 June 2019

So what did you like best? What was your favorite thing? Did anything stand out? Questions people ask after a trip. For me there is something about picking favorites that diminishes the other things, or, at least, puts them in the background. But the questions do force us to recall and keep highlights in mind longer. What’s the sense, if two weeks later the trip becomes a blur, a cross-off on your bucket list.

My daughters did ask, naturally, how I liked a recent trip to Israel (my first, Roberta’s eighth). I hadn’t really thought about an artful reply at the time they asked, since I was dealing with jet lag, getting reacquainted with home turf and traffic and having left a place with a healthy, daily ration of yogurt, hummus, olives, salads and water by the gallon. (It was five days of nearly 100 degrees in Jerusalem, more than that at Masada and a disqualifying 112 degrees at the Dead Sea. The pleasures of floating there, buoyed by salt, loses its appeal, when it’s nearly as hot as an exhaust pipe.) So my inartful reply to the question was “interesting”. It was a bland response…and it deflated both daughters, who thought I didn’t like it. “Interesting” is one of those words, when applied to a date, means you’ll never see her again.

Not so…I really did like it, but couldn’t put my thoughts together quickly, like a kid just back from Disneyland can. But I was bothered about the likelihood of forgetting…and wanted to remember it well. I went over each day and found I really did like it (despite the usual goose chases on every trip, since I don’t plan extensively.) But then I had to retrace each day to find one favorite thing, the most intriguing thing. Hopefully, I would find such a standout thing. And, oddly, one thing did arise, but not one the rabbis would have expected from an Abrahamic descendant (in the Isaac and Jacob branch of family ancestors).

Roberta’s son, who lived in Israel for a few years, had an Israeli friend who, at one time, was a tour guide…a luxury I have never allowed myself. But he, spinning from a storehouse of historical thread, as if he had been there himself, took us on a magical walk through the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, from the catacombs to the roof, through rotundas and Greek, Latin, Armenian, Coptic, Syriac, Ethiopian chapels, along the last few stations of the Via Dolorosa, ending at Calvary, near the Stone of the Anointing and the tomb where Jesus was buried. (There was no church, obviously, when the Crucifixion occurred. It was built 300 years later and now its domes, transept and nave enclose this relatively small area of crucifixion, anointing and burial.) Something did happen there, although the dates, the exact places might be a bit off. But it is history. The facts can’t be certified, but faith in the biblical account is real. To the  tourists,  pilgrims,  church groups the fulfillment of  just being there is real. People sobbing, foreheads pressed against the Stone of Anointing…that is real. You might not believe everything, but this is the core from which the Christian faith radiated to the rest of the world. And the rest of the world has been mightily affected by it. It’s hard to stand there and not feel the stones move.

There was a bit of humor stitched into the pathos of that fateful place. We were shepherded by our guide up a steep stairway, under an arch near the entrance of the church to a small, but ornate, domed chapel. There, with arms linked in a circle, was a visiting church group, swaying, eyes closed, in the exhilaration of being in such a place. And they were singing, believe it or not, Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah”. For that moment ecumenism was alive and well in the walled confines of Jerusalem’s Old City…in one of the most Christian places on Earth, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre…although in such a place, I doubt too many others enjoyed the irony.

It’s an Acquired Taste for Some…For Others, Nirvana

11 June 2019

The Russians showed up midmorning at the Arab market in Tel Aviv. We and they converged at the same halva stand at the same time…the halva not yet sweaty from Tel Aviv’s heat and humidity, as it would have been by the middle of the day. The older of the two Russians, head-shaved, a dead ringer for Mr. Clean, was there with a younger friend. They both knew halva. One asked for a sample of the pistachio halva, not sweet, no sugar. “No, no, no…not sweet.” He shook his head for emphasis. The vendor gave him a small taste. “Not bad”, he said to us, but he clearly was not transported by it. He aimed an explicit “take my word for it” look in our direction..schooling us neophytes, as he could tell we were…the hoi polloi, who probably wouldn’t know burgundy from sangria, lemonade from champagne.

Make sure you don’t get too sweet. He corrugated his forehead in distress at the mention of chocolate or mocha or other “inauthentic” flavors for that matter. He asked the price of a kilo. He and his friend wandered off, aware that you never buy the first house you see or the first halva you come across at the market.

We came upon them a few minutes later and a few stalls down the market at another halva stand, more substantial, with not a tinhorn hawker of halva, as at the first stand, but with a proprietor conversant in halva, displaying more substantial blocks of halva and more different kinds. But the pistachio slab was the one that had been cut into more than the others. Mr. Clean acknowledged us, thinking we must be attaching ourselves to them as the acolytes we were, conceding their expertise in halva. Since it was my first encounter with it, I was grateful.

Again, one asked for a sample of pistachio, evidently the standard for judging all halva. The proprietor sliced bigger samples for each of them. The Russians lit up, they had breached halva nirvana. They nearly collapsed in ecstasy. I could only think how constricted their lives must have been, if it was halva that sent them into ecstasy. One pursed his lips in a smile and nodded to us that this was the good stuff. He asked the price, finagled a bit in English (this was an Arab market, so there was a little bit built into the price to make a bargain). Satisfied, he had the Pasha of Halva cut a half-kilo slab…pistachio only…and had it adorned with a few different types of baklava. He and his companion parted, quick-footing it off to a halva debauch on Aeroflot, winging it back to the Federation that afternoon. His parting goodwill gesture was to ask the proprietor to extend the same price he had negotiated to us halva hayseeds. We, too, not wanting to appear anything less than connoisseurs, we had him slice a half-kilo of the same good stuff that would be on the wing to Moscow.

Russian-American relations reached a post-Soviet high-water mark that morning. Agreeing has to start someplace. Da?

Also Known as the Huckleberry Lady

7 May 2019

The huckleberry lady, bough-bent and weary, walked carefully on well-used feet…a mysterious woman, who must have seen and done things well beyond our tidy experiences. She hobbled slowly up the driveway, up to the house overlooking the lake, a gypsy, perhaps, hidden under a babushka and shawl and a long peasant skirt, a woman who knew intimately fields somewhere in the world…from kneeling on them and working on them. She, no doubt, did more labor from wherever she came than we’d ever know…until, of course, she came to America for an easier life. Wherever it was, there was likely a horse-drawn wagon and harvesting potatoes and onions on her knees, picking and hoisting full burlap sacks of them onto the wagon. But in this late afternoon of my youth, she stooped under the weight of two buckets of huckleberries balanced on a crossbar over her shoulders. And during huckleberry season she showed up three times a week…a walking one-commodity market…picking berries in the morning until the buckets were full, then lugging the day’s harvest like a Sherpa around the lake, up long driveways…one blue-stained hand on a tree branch fashioned into a walking stick and the other on the crossbar, holding her cargo in place.

She’d suddenly materialize in the afternoon and knock softly on the screen door, oddly, as if she didn’t want to disturb anyone. Then, using hand gestures instead of language, she’d push a basket forward with a questioning look, instead of asking, “you want huckleberries?” And sometimes even more embarrassed, she’d come upon us already at dinner outside…a slight bow of forgiveness and a slight smile hidden mostly by the babushka. Business would have to be conducted during dinner, but it would be conducted, because summer was not summer without the berries. My aunt held up four fingers and the huckleberry lady tipped four cups of berries, enough for two pies, into a bowl set aside for her visits. Money was exchanged quietly as well, an amount agreed on during her first visit of the summer season, although always a little more given than asked…not noblesse oblige…but to make up for her discomfort at asking a fair price for herself. Then two slight bows of thank you and she was gone. In silence she came and in silence was gone…a wraith cowled like the Grim Reaper. A second later we’d look after her, but, like a figment of imagination, she was gone. But she was gone briefly. Two or three days later, the babushka would reappear. At some point, though, she did vanish like shadows into night. And that year a sentence in the book of any who remembered her…all those who knew the huckleberry lady…came to an end.

In a sense she was never gone, because all these years later, questions about her still linger…always wondering who she was and where she came from…a stranger dropped off at a lake in Pennsylvania. It is something that will have to remain a mystery, but also a pleasant memory.

The Idyll of Eighth Grade Afternoons

4 April 2019
The asphalt beneath my feet felt strangely reminiscent of the decades-gone, after-school basketball games we played in 8th grade on a friend’s driveway court…a court that had a slight downward slope toward the basket, so driving for a layup meant having enough control to shoot and stop before running or stumbling into the unforgiving heft of his garage door. Most of us opted to shoot from the outside to avoid swooping in for an easy basket and hoping to brake in time to stay clear of the door.

That reminiscence limped back to mind (yes, I had some scrapes with that garage door), triggered by my grandson who wanted to shoot some baskets on his driveway backboard, before going to baseball practice. The pleasure of past afternoon idylls rose to the top of memory…in spite of missed shots, turned ankles and the run-ins with the door. I was curious to see, if any of those past pleasures could be resurrected. Besides no one wants to think that skills are gone and he can’t light up the court again. Memory’s a wonderful motivator.

Of course, the muscle memory that allows you to improve one day to the next had relaxed its sway over improving my skills, since I had taken a hiatus of decades between basketball appearances. Among other things, it’s easy to forget how big a basketball is…and how small the rim. And the rim from my verticality seemed extraordinarily high. The clouds were never my basketball playground. Well below the rim was where I worked. But with a few shots…adjusting the angle of incidence, the angle of reflection and generating enough propulsion, I was certain to be back in the zone again.

Well, a few practice shots turned into a few dozen, but like recalibrating high-arching mortar rounds, shots began hitting the rim, then some bounced around the rim and then some fell in. Self-satisfaction, that old feeling, began to return…I can still play this game. My grandson, all of ten, who had been draining two, three, four outside shots in a row, began to take notice. The long-ago idyll of driveway basketball began to have a sultry hold on me again. Suddenly the basket seemed within reach, not that I could touch the rim or even the net without a ladder…but it wasn’t as daunting.

But then the myth of Icarus, flying too close to the sun, showed once again, that a quick fall from the heights of hubris teaches us never to forget humility. An errant short shot bounced past the backboard. I retrieved it and threw it to my grandson. Walking back to the court, a label on the adjustable upright, holding the backboard caught my eye. It showed the height of the rim…ten feet I was sure…normal height. Except the indicator bar, sadly, told a different tale…nine feet. I was praising my quick return to form a bit prematurely.

As an aunt of mine once said…self-praise is no praise. We shouldn’t be too quick to put on a swagger.

Congregants in the Pews of a Schvitz*

21 February 2019

I sit in a sauna, focused on enduring the steam, but panting like a husky would in the noontime sun of the Amazon. I’m in the midst of this ordeal in a Turkish/Russian communal bath with its choking heat, gazing sadly at old-timers’ bodies of fallow flesh…that have been tended to…but not too well…naked, sweaty, some sumo-large that terry towels of spacious size can’t cover well. (Truth, though, younger schvitzers are proudly in shape.)

It’s supposed to be healthful, this cleansing that feels far better when you’re out of it than when you’re in it…a rack of far more torment than reciting over and over confessional prayers. For make no mistake, though absent a cleric, the steam room bench (without the confessional’s anonymity) will focus the mind on all your sins, so you can quicker atone and escape the self-imposed hell of the schvitz.

The heat embraces you and the oxymoron…the pleasure of pain…becomes weirdly apt, even moreso when offered with the option of flagellation, should you want to be scoured with a broom of oak leaf branches to expand a bit more the exquisite discomfort of this resurrection of the soul. The schvitz, a miracle of purification, comes with a touching connection to the past thousands of tucheses that sat where you sit, who suffered in this purgatory of perspiration, trying to catch a breath, convinced that survival…you should be so lucky…will somehow make your life sweeter, your burdens lighter, your psyche as perfect as surgical steel.

Like it’s not hot enough, some imposing mound of muscled flesh with the menacing smirk of a torturer, who, you’re convinced. can’t be gently reasoned with, ladles more water on the hot rocks, creating an even more stifling sizzle of steam…like it wasn’t already hot enough. And, self-satisfied, I can hear the echo of his laughter, reverberating down the tunnels of time, happily showing how much more macho he is than the rest of us.

I sit until I can’t anymore. My pores, however much cleansed, will have to be satisfied. My lungs will thank me. The pucker of my reddened skin will turn normally smooth as it was before. And I, having suffered, will reward myself at a nearby Polish restaurant with a bowl of borscht and a plate of blintzes, the thought of which does make the schvitz endurable. From pain to pleasure and isn’t that what it’s all about.

* A schvitz is a steam room…to schvitz is to sweat.

My Dependency and Me…Back Together

30 January 2019

Not a terribly keen observation, but iPhones have become ubiquitous, intrusive, demanding…and necessary. We’d like to think we’re not dependent on them but, truth is, we are. No more vivid proof is needed than this…my phone over months, slid into impotence. I’d plug it in to recharge it, come back hours later to find it had only a small charge. I knocked with a knuckle on the front panel of the phone, hoping to wake it up, hoping it would come to life. I shook it, as if two loose wires would touch and the magical elixir of electronic life would course again through its digital brain. But nothing. An hour of recharging yielded but a 5% charge. A week later it was 3%. A week after that 1%. Then nothing…no calls, no Times, no Amazon.

When my car didn’t work (before cars had computer brains) I tinkered with the carburetor, changed the spark plugs…got it to work. But this nanotech system can’t be tinkered with. It’s as complex as DNA. It needs…my tinkering self says in defeat…a techie at the Apple store to work some voodoo magic or to declare it’s beyond repair.

The nearest Apple store in White Plains was getting a facelift and was closed for months. In desperation, now that I was dealing with a phone in constant slumber, I went further afield to a mall in Yonkers…on a cloudless Saturday…from whence a call to the consuming public must have gone out, since a sea of humanity had converged…a hadj of the shopping faithful, convinced that accumulating more stuff would secure a place in heaven. Seeing a World Series crowd, I knew I wouldn’t find a parking space and fled. My ailing iPhone’s destiny imperiled by a closed store and crowds. But all was not lost, since we were New York City-bound, where we parked uptown and took the subway to the Apple store on 66th Street.

Four steps into the store an Apple greeter, solicitous as a candidate, asked if he could help. I told him my iPhone wouldn’t charge. Resuscitation seemed unlikely to me, I speculated, hoping to get a new phone out of the deal. Nothing I don’t see everyday, he said. Usually some lint in the opening, where you plug in the recharging chord. Can’t be, I’s been getting more feeble in the last few months. I jiggle the plug and it connects for a second or two, like static on a ham radio, but can’t lock on. Now it’s totally unresponsive, no contact at all…useless as an empty fraternity beer keg..

Well, said the greeter, I had someone here not five minutes ago with the same problem. He took a small screwdriver-like tool on his Apple keychain and probed the opening a couple of times, magically loosening some lint. Three, four, five more times he went back in…each time, more lint. He blew into the opening, handed me the phone and said, triumphantly, it’s cured. That’s it? I asked incredulously. That’s it.

Sensing my suspicion that a fix should more resemble the complexity of the phone itself, he told me to check it with a recharger chord on a display table of iPhones. Sure enough the lightning symbol lit up and a charge started coursing through the phone…a quick 1, 2, 3 percent. Unbelievable. I’m now pleased to be back to my dependency. Amazon and I are very happy.

Just Another Weekend in the Life…

8 January 2019

Of course, there’s a story about why we found ourselves sitting in the second row orchestra at a Broadway theater in New York last Sunday. The headwaters of the story started with a trickle, naturally, and the trickle grew in to a stream of coincidence as many stories in New York do, simple because in the shoulder-tight crowds you come across here, there are more folks to find a connection to and, sometimes, coincidence flows from that. Here’s the trickle that started it.

Three weeks ago Roberta and I went to see The Other Josh Cohen, a very enjoyable off-Broadway show. Roberta managed to get second row seats (no connection to the above second row seats) and her seat was next to a young woman. They both looked at each other commiseratingly, since a woman sitting in the first row in front of them had a hat the size of a pheasant’s full fan of tail feathers. They smiled and wondered how they’d handle l’affaire du chapeau. But they didn’t have to. The woman, aware of her hat, removed it.

Roberta and the young woman continued to chat, though, about shows they had seen. The woman glowed about just recently having seen Hamilton. Roberta asked how far in advance she had to buy tickets. She didn’t buy them, she said, she won them in a Hamilton lottery…a lottery run by the theater. And her lottery-won ticket…if you’re going to gasp, gasp now…was ten bucks. Roberta put down her knitting (she doesn’t knit, she just got real interested) and started to ask questions in earnest. Somewhere on the Hamilton web site, the woman told her, there are instructions to a lottery check box. Just check and that’s it. Each entry lasts the one day, so each day you enter anew.

So part of Roberta’s routine each morning upon waking was to check the Hamilton lottery box. And last Friday, after a mere three weeks, hardly a burdensome labor, Hamilton delivered a bouncing twosome of tickets to her for Sunday’s performance. First time I ever won anything, she grinned. If it wasn’t for the coincidence of sitting next to that young woman…well, you get the idea.

So yesterday on a line for the royalty of lottery winners, we were ushered to seats in the first two rows. The sightline was just about at stage floor level, which, I guess, the high priests of the theater didn’t think was suitable for the king’s ransom pricing for the rest of the house. But we sat on our jackets, straightened up and saw just fine. And the people sitting next to us…they had checked the lottery box every day for three years before they won. And, you don’t need me to say it, the show is sensational.

As if that wasn’t tour de force enough for one weekend, Roberta, before winning the Hamilton lottery, had found a bit of exotica for Saturday night at the 14th Street Y in New York. It was Samuel Becket’s play, Waiting for Godot…in Yiddish with an English translation on a screen…from French to Yiddish with nary a blink. Waiting for the theater to open, I asked a fellow playgoer…why Yiddish? Well, he said, I’ve read it and seen it a few times and considering how irrational and foolish life can be…why not Yiddish? He caught up to me after the show and asked what I thought. I told him he was right, it did work well in Yiddish. As a metaphor for Jewish life in Europe with its precariousness and uncertainty. it had more meaning than for most others…like a fiddler on the roof, which we also saw in Yiddish. But that’s a story for another day.

The Tomato Can Packed a Punch

5 Dec 2018

Holy Krause is a boxer whose name came about because of his mother’s quandary about picking a name. So, she said, look, the first word I hear after the baby’s born…that’s what’s going to be his name. And that word managed to emanate from her husband’s table-banging shout of joy, Holy____, it’s a boy! True to her word, Holy became his name.

Holy, now a journeyman boxer, lives third floor in a boxy, tan-brick, six-story opposite the station on 125th Street and Broadway near where the subway rolls out from underground and noses up to become the elevated. Actually, he lives on the downtown side, so he sees riders getting on, before they disappear into tunnel darkness.

After his morning run, Holy works at his stovetop on the window wall…so he can scramble his morning eggs and watch commuters peering down the tracks trying to see the next train coming. And they can see him in satin boxing trunks and a red hoodie with a spatula making eggs. Same faces each morning look at him as he looks back at them. Soon, recognizing each other, they were hand-waving greetings across Broadway.

Holy had a three-year boxing career…a quick rise because he lucky-punched a middle-weight contender, when he was a last-minute fill-in for the scheduled opponent who was on a subway going to the fight, when his train got rear-ended. Nothing serious, but for three hours the electricity was off and the opponent was trapped on a dark train in a dark tunnel because equipment had to be rolled in to separate the trains and lift two of the cars back on the track. And that was right after he got stuck between floors for an hour in an old Otis Elevator in a factory building  after his shift, sewing flags. Hey, Chucky, he said to the elevator operator, you gotta get me down. Two things I can’t stand…needles and being stuck in elevators. Besides, I got a fight at the Garden tonight and I need the payday. As usual someone’s bad luck is someone else’s good luck, because now a warm body was needed to fill in for the main event bout.

Fortunately, the fight’s promoter knew a boxing trainer, Jesse Nuvitz. whose fighters trained at a basement boxing gym, named appropriately, Cavalcade of Spars, but whose stable of no-names was long on courage, but short on skill. And that happened to be the promoter’s sweet spot…a no-surprise pinch-hitter, more pinch than hitter. I don’t want to have to chew on Xanax, he told Nuvitz, The most promising of his fighters was Holy Krause, a boxer of reliable mediocrity.. As luck would have it, Holy was available and now Nuvitz had to get to him, before he had dinner.  Don’t worry he told the promoter, he’s always in great shape, not an ounce of fat, has a good chin. And I just got him a new satin robe, still in the box. I told him, hey, good things are going to happen…who knew?

Look, said the promoter, I’m not looking for some high octane fight here. Just 4 or 5 decent rounds will do. This is a tune-up for a title fight for my boy. If this goes well, your boy will have more fights than he’ll know what to do with. What’s to worry, said Nuvitz, I’m bringing a tomato can to the fight, you’re bringing a sledge hammer. What could go wrong?

So the fight started and the anointed contender flicked a couple of jabs to get respect and then, arms down, danced around, sticking his chin out, daring Holy to hit him and, likely, deciding when he was going to deliver the hearts and flowers. So he danced and darted and flicked, but Holy decided, if he could help it, he wasn’t going to bleed for this showboat. So third round he jabbed weakly. It was flicked away contemptuously. But Holy found the anointed’s chin with a right that knocked him into Pleasantville. His knees buckled, he pitched forward and stayed respectfully unconscious until he was counted out.

On Monday morning, back to his routine…and his stovetop… Holy made eggs, waved across Broadway to his subway friends and pretended it was a normal Monday morning. Except one subway friend, who was at the Garden shouted, ‘Hey, Champ.’

Forget Your Name, What’s in Your Sandwich

20 November 2018

(note: Any resemblance to anyone, living or not, in this blog is purely coincidental)

“So tell me,” I said to a fellow standee at a bar during happy hour, “what kind of sandwich did you just get?” Leaning in a little too close to me, he said, “what do you have to know for? What concern is it of yours what kind of sandwich it is?” There were a couple of empty pints of beer in front of him, so I figured it was lager room talk and nothing I should take seriously.

“Tell me or not?, I said, “it doesn’t make a difference.” “Then why do you need to know?” “I don’t need to know…just a friendly gesture, trying to start a conversation…but I’d say we’re done here.” “Well, I’m not ready to be done,” he said. “Okay, then,” letting a few seconds elapse, “let me ask, is your name Dave?”

‘What are you, a magician?”

“Well once I asked someone in this same bar what was in his sandwich and he said, like you, what difference does it make?” I told him it looked good and maybe I’d like to have the same.” Well, okay,” he said, “My name’s Dave”…but still he didn’t tell me what was in his sandwich. So now I see, when I ask you what’s in your sandwich, you’ll probably tell me your name. It’s an odd way to start a conversation, but maybe, it’s the local custom. And maybe, once you get comfortable telling me your name, you’ll tell me what’s in your sandwich.”

“Well, some things we here just like to hold back.” “But why,” I asked, getting a little pesky, “is your sandwich such a closely-held secret that you can’t just tell me what it is, but your name isn’t?” So I asked him again, “what’s in your sandwich?”, thinking, perhaps, the second time would break through this local peculiarity, but making a note to avoid drinking the local tap water. Anyway, as if on cue, he said, “My name is Burt. But asking what’s in my sandwich…that’s uncomfortably intrusive.” He smiled slightly, letting on that he too was operating ironically.

“Just in case you hadn’t noticed, folks around here have an odd habit of telling you their names in response to what’s in their sandwiches.,” he said, relishing a little irony of his own. “It occurred to me,” I said. “Somehow I thought that what’s in a sandwich is a little easier to divulge than a name. But maybe that’s true only where I come from. If that’s the major local oddity, it’s not so bad.”

Now, I’m speculating, but if things are consistent, gender-wise, and you ask a woman what’s in her sandwich in this town…does she tell you her name? If true, it would save a lot of men a lot of time not having to circle around, trying to find out a girl’s name. “Hey, can I ask you what’s in your sandwich?” What difference does it make, what’s in my sandwich,” she’d likely say, following the town’s script. “Just trying to be friendly. Looks good…no offense meant.” “Well, okay, then…my name’s Carol.”

And just like that, I’d have broken the Enigma Code.