You underestimate yourself, Avi. But don't let us here on this forum discourage that. It must be what makes you so humble. You're a rare bird ... and a keeper!
Thanks to you and Treading Water; you're very sweet. I don't recognize the person you're talking about, though. I am not at all humble - my family members are screaming with hilarity at the very idea. I have been blessed with people who can (mostly) put up with me. It required supernatural intervention from beyond the grave, definitely. I never believed in paranormal occurrences, but now, I know
there is a g-d, for the people who came into my life, and especially, for my wife. She is, as my grandmother said, the perfect woman for me.
I really have written a book about my interactions with my in-laws and with American and Irish cultures, but I have been forbidden from publication. Nonetheless, the yetzer hara
is telling me to put up an excerpt (hee-hee):
In the years after our marriage, military assignments and educational pursuits kept us away from the home front. We’d even managed to have three children without visiting Ohio soil, but now, under heavy pressure, we had no choice. We would attend the Kramer family Pesach (Passover, or as one Jewish comedian remarked, it’s a Hebrew word meaning family argument) in Cleveland. I referred to the upcoming event as Kramer vs. Kramer
, much to Beni’s irritation.
It is also important to understand the concept of the yetzer hara
, the evil impulse, before we proceed. Oh, you are already familiar with evil impulses? Good. When it comes to my in-laws, I am riven with evil impulses. Now, I have already described the murderous impulses of my mother-in-law, so you see, it’s not just me that has this problem. But my first meeting with my father-in-law did not endear me to the Kramer clan (a very a propos term, as you will see), either. My father-in-law is an Englishman of the old school (for he himself has said it, and it’s greatly to his credit). After we had exchanged the standard pleasantries, he said, “I say, old boy, you sound rather Irish.” If only he had a monocle, he could have peered at me through it.
“Um, yes, well, you see…” I fumbled through the means by which I acquired my Irish accent.
“Indeed,” he responded coolly, as though he didn’t believe me. What will
the IRA think of next, I ask you.
He turned back to his photographic lenses. This was one of the many hobbies he pursued, I believe, in an attempt to shield himself from having to deal with reality. For years, we received gifts of his framed photographs on holiday occasions. The snake in the back yard was a real prize. Of course, at that moment, my yetzer hara
was busy humming Gilbert and Sullivan ditties. Papa was indeed the very model of a modern major-general - with an added soupcon of Disraeli. I had a very strong urge to snap my heels and salute. Thankfully, Beni appeared at that moment, and he said, “Oh, there you are, my dear,” as though he couldn’t quite fathom why we had come together in this place and time.
But here we were, ten years later, proceeding across the lawn. I felt rather like Cu Chulain, about to violate all his geasa
(fated restrictions that if transgressed, result in death).
“Well,” I asked, “Where’s the back door?”
“The little nigs and I are going to use the service entrance.”
“Avi,” my wife said in that tone. “You’d better ratchet down that Irish.”
So, it was the Irish that needed dampening, now. “But I might have need of some insensate anger, you know.”
“Avi,” tightly, with exasperation.
“Ok, I need the drugs.”
“I’m going to slip your mother a mickey.”
“Avi, I’m going to kill you.”
“Alright, but can I have a last request?”
“What?” weary and resigned.
“Do me, and I’ll convince you to let me live, I swear.” With that, I put the baby carrier on the lawn, grabbed my gorgeous wife, and laid a kiss on her with all the intensity I could muster. “Please,” I thought, “Run away with me now.” Naturally, my in-laws had opened the front door and were staring at us. My wife’s twin sister yelled, “Woo-hoo!” while my father-in-law, in his understated English way, said, “My goodness, old boy,” in a manner that, had he been an American, would have conveyed, “What a loser!” I pictured him holding an ‘L’ to his forehead, and giggled with evil. At this point, the yetzer hara
had taken total control.
Beni ran to her family and I ran after her. I touched the mezuzah at the front door, you know, to remind me to be good little Jewish boy, and kissed my finger tips. Since my mother-in-law was watching me, I felt compelled to follow up by giving them a sensuous lick. Beni hit me, hard, in the shoulder. “Get control of yourself. Now!” she hissed. I smiled.
While Beni hugged her parents, I stood in the living room, observing the family portrait gallery. I stopped in front of an old photograph of a woman draped in plaid. “Who’s this?” I asked.
“That,” my sister-in-law answered, “is Granny Davis. She converted to Judaism to marry our great-great-grandfather.” I liked
this sister-in-law. “Oh, really,” I said with full-on Irish intonation (there is nothing comparable in the American dialect, but Disraeli got it and his upper lip lost some starch). I gave my mother-in-law, General Patton, a venomous glare. Disraeli? Patton? Who knew? Well, it was quite obvious to me that the yichus
-meter employed in this household was not a sensitive instrument at all, at all. I glanced down to the display case below the portrait, and what did I see? A full set of Highland bagpipes. The yetzer hara
began to sing a song by Wild Cherry
in my ear, but the lyrics were changed to “Play those fuckin’ bagpipes, Jew boy.” My expression was like unto Jack Nicholson’s in the Shining, I’m sure. “Heeeere’s Avi!” If only I had known, I would hae worn ma plaidie.
I picked up those pipes and pumped them full of air. I could see my wife’s face, a rictus of horror, reflected in the glass of the portrait. Without turning about, so I could avoid looking my dear wife in the eye, I gave a short wail to assess ma tunin’. The resonators were wide open. Gevalt in himmel, let the pibroch begin. Ha! You didn’t know that I was a piper for the IDF, did ye, ye auld scunners? I could see the shade of Granny Davis, step-dancing with glee, alongside. The Kramer clan were not amused, but the yetzer hara
was busy thinking of the means to upstage this little performance. My brain rapidly reviewed the Rolodex of Scottish songs most insulting to English sensibilities, but no, wasn’t the auld scunner stationed in the six counties, the dirty blaguard? Sure, ‘tis the Irish who provided me with the repertoire I needed. After a rousing rendition of Come Out, You Black and Tans
, I announced, “These are some very fine rosewood pipes. Wherever did
you get them?”
No one spoke. I could see Beni’s baleful expression of “Dear G-d, what was I thinking?” but thankfully, her sister spoke up, “Da –amn! Elijah is coming to our house, tonight, brothers and sisters!” Beni grabbed my arm, and we retired to an ante-room (actually, a laundry room). She remonstrated with me vociferously and I replied, “Kiss me, you demon!”
Instead, she slapped me (those Kramer women can get a bit physical) and burst into tears. “How could you do this to me? I begged you…I begged you,” and it was then that I heard the pain in her voice. It is said, a woman’s tears are stronger than the yetzer hara
. I realized that I had behaved like a complete boor and that the cost would be high. With a heavy heart, I left Beni sitting on a pile of laundry and I returned sheepishly to the living room.
“I’d like to apologize for my childish behavior,” I said. “It was unforgivable,” but then the Israeli took the reins. Uh-oh. Prepare for the sort of bluntness both the English and Irish agree is very déclassé. “I had given up on the expectation that I could ever make you respect me; it’s very clear that you do not, even before this spectacle. I’m afraid I ceased to care for your opinion at all and wanted to shove it in your faces. But in doing so, I hurt your daughter, the person I love more than life itself, the mother of my children-” the yetzer hara, with a final attempt to wrest the levers back into its hands, wanted me to add, “And flesh of my flesh, bee-yotches,” with a salacious wink - but thankfully, the Jew in me gained the upper hand at last. “Strangely enough,” I wore a look of wonderment as the truth of what I was going to say hit me, “I invite your ill-opinion of me, because it makes me a better man and a better husband and father - um, usually. I don’t want you to forgive me. I never want to forget that I managed to make my wife ashamed of me, and for that, I am ashamed.”
Disraeli was so uncomfortable, he was squirming. Try as he might to dismiss what I had said as a typically whimsical, Irish BS-a-thon, he couldn’t quite make the pieces fit. He finally said, with some grudging admiration, “You’re a right mamzer (bastard).” Phew! I had been picturing myself chained to a slab, my face painted blue, being drawn and quartered while I belted out, “Am Israel Chai!” as the headin’ man brought down the axe.
Yet, there was still Beni. “Dear G-d, please don’t let her leave me,” I looked up and I prayed harder than I had ever done in my life, tears in my eyes (and not for the last time that evening, I might add). I returned to the laundry room, but she turned away from me. I ran forward and buried my face in her lap, “I’m so sorry, Beni. I’m so sorry,” I cried. There was no humiliation too low for me now. That’s when I felt her belly quivering. Her hand came down to caress my head, and I looked up to see she was laughing.
“Avi,” she said, “Do you think we ought to get the baby off the lawn?”
I dashed onto the front lawn and made a bee-line for the bassinet. My sweet little baby girl was being comforted by a handful of judgmental neighbors.
“Forget something?” one asked pointedly.
“Yes, well, it was difficult to hear the child over the bagpipes,” I answered gamely. The neighbors continued to stare at me dubiously, probably wondering if they should notify the authorities.
“He has a smart mouth,” my delightful mother-in-law proclaimed to the world, making a big production of taking the child away from me. Between Mama and the neighbors, I had no legs left upon which to stand, so I surrendered, I thought, gracefully – considering that I had created a scandal bigger than Portnoy and his chopped liver. My redeemed first-born son, an old soul from birth, remained with me as everyone cleared off.
“Yossi, why didn’t you say something?” I asked, sotto voce.
Israeli through and through, he shrugged, “Nu, Abba, you were busy.” He smiled, the light of revelry in his eyes. No, this child was not merely 9 years old – couldn’t be.
Tensions only slightly abated, the sun had set, the candles were lit, darling Yossi had recited the Four Questions, and I was coping with my bitter herbs and bread of affliction. Knowing I was a vegetarian, Mama had slammed down the platter of lamb shanks right in front of me, and dealt them out like a deck of cards, waving each under my nose.
Beni’s sister said, “Mom, quit being an a-hole,” shaking her head.
“Listen, I should care, the way he behaved tonight?” she pointed at me with a greasy shankbone, nearly dropping it on my plate.
I supposed I had to take the high ground. “Avital,” I said, “I appreciate it, but don’t talk to your mother that way.”
“He speaks,” Mama intoned, by way of thanks.
Avital wasn’t going to go quietly. “It’s just because she wanted Avigail [author’s note: I call her Beni] to marry that Seymour Shapiro.”
What! Had I really been in the running with some eejit named fucking Seymour, of all things? The thought of any man having any part of Beni’s heart was a crushing blow. Mama saw it and went in for the kill.
“He’s a doctor.”
“So what?” Avital battled on, “He’s a doctor with a stick up his ass. Anyway, Avi’s a doctor, too.” Well, I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be inducted into the stick up the ass club.
“Doctor-shmoctor! What kind of doctor is a doctor of music?” contempt riddled the Fifth Question.
I burned with jealousy. Ten years, and she never thought to mention this childhood betrothal, meaningless as it was? I turned a hurt look on her and I felt Beni’s hand on my leg, inching slowly upward. I jumped, tried to grab her hand, and Mama said, “What? He’s having seizures, now?”
Did I mention how much alcohol accompanies the Seder? Yo-ho, blow the man down! Mama was a mean drunk, no surprise. Beni was now tipsy, yet deftly rubbing my crotch, as if to reassure me where her loyalties lay. G-d help me, I was still a young man, and I knew the second I got an erection, Mama was going to ask me to get something from the kitchen.
“Beni,” I warned, giving her a stern look.
“Quit calling my daughter Beni, you…you gonif (thief),” Mama slurred.
I believed the yetzer hara
had been defeated through the spirituality of the rituals and blessings, but it rushed back with a vengeance. I envisioned pulling Beni’s pants down and having my way with her, right there on top of the shank-bones. Take that, Portnoy! Then, I felt Beni lower my zipper.
I pushed my plate aside, dropped my head to the table and said quietly, “Beni, you must stop. Please.” Something in my tone must have made the right impression, because she patted my leg and removed her hand. Now, I had to figure out how I was going to zip up my pants. Surreptitiously, like.
“Avi, will you bring in the coffee?” Mama asked innocently.
“Mom, will you quit calling him Ay-vie?” Mama had been pronouncing my name like aviary, instead of with a throaty Aah-sound.
“Well if he calls you Beni, I can call him Ay-vie,” Mama replied. “Coffee?”
Still waging the Battle of Tumescence, I was thinking of Talmudic disputation and cold showers, interspersed with visions of Beni’s body under mine, eye to eye and lip to lip, in ecstasy. Not only should I have drugged Mama, I should have put saltpeter in the food.
Beni stood and said, “I’ll get the coffee.”
“What, he’s too good? Why can’t you go?” Mama demanded of me, still waging the Battle of Querulousness.
I put on my best American accent and said, “I’m sorry, Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that,” in that classic, coaxing tone.
“So I’m Dave now?” Mama was building to a whole ‘nother level of outrage. The Yiddish was low-down and dirty. I have no idea what she said to me, but I know it was low-down and dirty. Beni intervened.
“Mother, come into the kitchen and help me. Now!” A tense, whispered conversation ensued, giving me enough time to grab hold and zip up my pants. First Seymour, and then a brief (as in boxers or brief) raid. I felt a little off balance.
“So, Avital, tell me about this Seymour,” I said, somewhat stridently.
“Seymour?” Disraeli stirred to life. “Fine chap. Fine chap,” he repeated, in case I hadn’t got the message.
“Avi, you have nothing to worry about. Never did,” she laughed. Was she just humoring me? I was going to get to the bottom of this damned Seymour business!
“I never should have mentioned him, but mother, you know, can be just too much. You should have seen who she wanted me to marry. He kept asking me, ‘Can I get your sister, too?’ “ I supposed it was a crudity to which twin girls were often subjected, but the yetzer hara
asked, “So, there was yet another interloper in the past?” Some other
callow youth had raked his eyes over my wife’s coals? I saw the mysterious Seymour and another anonymous male strumpet doing the can-can. Boy, oh boy, were we going to have words tonight.
“Oh, Avi,” Avital grabbed my shoulder, “She loves you and only you.”
I looked down and said, “She’s so smart and beautiful and…she’s my whole world.” I should have just launched into “There’s a tear in my beer ‘cos I’m cryin’ for you dear.” Hell, they’d surely enjoyed my piping, why shouldn’t I sing, too, I mused in an intoxicated fugue.
But then, the strangest thing happened. Probably, the naked devastation on my face - due to the imposition of Seymour and his loutish unknown sidekick - somehow reached my father-in-law. He actually seemed to thaw a bit. It couldn’t last, for out came the coffee service.
As Mama proceeded to slosh coffee onto the table cloth, and inexpertly into coffee cups, she stopped directly in front of me and asked sweetly, “One lump or two?” Recalling her previous assault on my person, was she proposing a re-match?
“Black is fine,” I said, holding my hand over the top of the cup.
“I knew that’s what you’d
say,” she sank down in the chair across from Beni. “Black is fine,” she mimicked.
“Yes, ma’am,” I riposted. “Hybrid vigor, ma'am,” I had returned to military address. What I was really longing for was the leprechaun from Finian’s Rainbow
to give Mama a good zap. But here was my opportunity at last. I unleashed my devastating tenor on How Are Things in Glocca Morra
Mama burst into tears and zig-zagged from the room. Disraeli heaved a huge sigh, and said, “Well, I’m glad we got that out of the way,” and, wonder of wonders, he raised a glass loopily in my direction.
“Mother always cries…eventually,” Beni informed me, but I found that the winsome nostalgia of the song was doing a number on me, too. I thought of Pesach
back home, the people on the kibbutz I’d grown up with, my father singing, the mis-matched crockery collected over the years and stored away for the Seder, even the silly arguments about who was going to do what – and I did what any Israeli tough-guy would do. I put my head down on my arms, and bawled.