“I have just finished unpacking my last box of music at the new flat in Elkins Park. As you suggested, it costs way too much, and my savings are going to disappear if I can’t find more people to share it with – but that’s the idea. I like living with other people, and the potential housemates I have found seem cool. I like the psychologist a lot. I fed her my acorn squash bisque and spinach-pesto lasagna, and her response was, “Are you sure you didn’t sneak any meat into this?” I think they had the genders wrong when they said that old story about men’s hearts and stomachs. Her boyfriend is coming over this weekend. She says he wouldn’t share space with anyone unless they paid big money. “So what does he need to see the place for?” I asked. She just looked at me like I was from Mars, not Israel.
“School is OK. They love me because I sing, speak Hebrew, and think better than anyone here, but some times they just tell me they think I am ‘too full of myself,’ they call it. I would rather not be full of what some of them are full of, and being full of them doesn’t sound good, either. Who else should I be full of? They don’t know that I have already taken a trip up to Manhattan to see about conducting a youth orchestra. The youth orchestra rehearses on Saturday mornings. Shabbat! Oy, schande! Well, fuck them if they can’t hear a joke – did I say that right?
“Did you watch Rabin and Arafat shake hands yesterday? Arafat looked like a schoolboy at recess, and Rabin looked like he had already been blown up by terrorists and put back together. Look. I grew up there. Bombs fell in our orchards. Some of our kibbutzniks died at their hands. I never kicked all the Palestinians out of a village, planted European pine trees there, and showed it to foundations like he did. I should be the one that looks like a zombie, not him. Well, history has an old body and an eternally young face, I guess.
“You won’t believe who I met here this week. Remember that kid with the Russian accent I played music with on the kibbutz? Dimitri – it was him! It looks like he made a job for himself as a lounge lizard, had a fling with the lounge manager, but left for a better opportunity in Atlantic City, and then made it with a Mafioso girl. He’s in Philly now, getting a teaching degree. I think I will go ride - how do you call it – ball turret gunner with him. Just kidding. It looks like I will be too busy here.
“Speaking about busy, how’s your appeal going? Do they still think that you asked for your depression? They are threatening themselves with the loss of a good country doctor, just the kind they need. What the hell is wrong with them. Are you getting medication? What about that gym we belonged to? I really hope you can pull yourself together, Margie.
“p.s. Albert Belle hammering and Steve Olin unhittable. Go Windians!”
Actually, Rafi was going out as Dimitri’s wingman. But Dimitri was in school again, too – this time working on a master’s degree in education. The close call under the boardwalk at Atlantic City, and the subsequent guilt over leaving Samantha first for the job, and then for the girl, seemed to age Dimitri. Tonight, they were off to the Drake Tavern, but from there it was the Regal in Warrington or the Ritz Theaters in Center City, depending on the movie they chose. But first, there was some catching up to do.
The Drake Tavern sat several steps up the ladder from the normal neighborhood bar, with its highly buffed oak bar and tables turning up their brass fixture nostrils at the Sheraton bar in Willow Grove, about fifteen minutes away. The kitchen manager doubled as the operations manager of Drake Catering. The owner and head chef dueled against each other to create new five-star versions of bar food. On a weekend night, you couldn’t breathe in the Drake, but it wasn’t for the smoke – Pennsylvania bars were in the process of going smoke-free. Fifty-five year-old boomers, men and women alike, bump butts with lithe 25-year-olds looking to get laid. College students mill around, counting on older frat boys and other friends to buy the pitchers while they spent their parents’ college savings accounts on the pomegranate gruyere chicken wings and oysters provençal.
But this was a Tuesday night, and the two guys looked pretty good to the waitress, so they got a seat with a direct view of Baseball Tonight. The plan was to have a few beers, eat the lower-budget offerings on the menu, and exchange scorecards. Dimitri started.
“So if you wanted to sing opera, why aren’t you at the Seminary right up Broadway from Lincoln Center?
“You ever been to Manhattan? It’s crazy there.”
“Crazy like you?”
“No, crazy like Bangladesh. Do you know why there are no women and families begging on the street corner, Dimya?
“Duh?! In SCHOOL?”
“No, you Amerikanetz, it’s because they’re pushed off to less desirable spots by the men. It’s psychic water torture. Beside, the Seminary is run by the mitzvah police. I couldn’t get out to rehearsals.”
“So what the hell did you do? Last time I checked, you were starting a full-time concert career!”
“Yeah, I was the only lounge lizard in A. C. who took requests for Chopin and Liszt among the usual jazz standards. You’d like my fake book.”
“Your what book?!?!” responded a startled Rafi.
“FAKE book, durak! It’s a book that has one-page versions of jazz and pop repertoire, with the melody and chords, and any big changes. I copied my Liszt and Chopin material, and just punched the copies and stuck them in the binder. Voila – fake book, multicultural style!”
“So you never told me what happened.”
“Yeah, I’m embarrassed. The chick that had set me up as a pianist fell in love with me. So when I needed her to get me out of that Atlantic City jail, and she wanted to know what happened, what could I tell her? “
“Right, Ouch. Do you still talk to Margie?”
“In fact, I just sent off a letter this morning.”
Dimitri adopted his most laughable affect, one that could have been plucked from Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard. “Dearest Margie, I think nothing but thoughts of you from morning to night. Does your heart tremble for me so that you can feel anything through that fat-filled breast? Do you cry your tears uphill over those chubby cheeks? Do your thighs, wobbling like lard-filled water mains…”
“Mamzer! Shut up or I’ll…”
It was too late for Rafi to threaten what he would do to Dimitri – he had already spun Dimitri out of his seat and was in position to execute a jiu-jitsu hip throw.
“Let me down, you gorilla!”
“OK, but no more about Margie. The poor girl doesn’t get that I’m here as much to escape her as to get back into music full-time. So we’ll take it that Stephanie, (was it?) didn’t like you fucking around on her. Were you living with her?”
Dimitri explained that he never was, but after the success of Second Tuesdays at the Red Lobster, Samantha kept taking him home. When Dimitri got the offer from the Mafia wise guy, Samantha even helped with the apartment search. Yeah, they were kind of going steady. Not quite living together, but wasn’t it too much to ask him to stay celibate for weeks at a time, there in the glitz and glitter of the Boardwalk?
“Clear, no,” agreed Rafi. “You would have to know you love the woman to stand the separation. Also, it’s too easy for you.”
“What? What’s too easy?”
“Women,” continued Rafi. “I have never met a woman and gone home with her on the same night. Remember on the Kibbutz, you just took the leading lady, put her barefoot and braless on the baby grand, and lit up her cigarette.”
“I remember. You went running, didn’t you? Why didn’t you find a chick out of the chorus? Rafi-man, when you have the baton, you have the same power. Why don’t you use it?”
“I try. I fail. I just don’t know how. Women like me, but they don’t love me. That’s probably why I didn’t leave Margie faster.”
Rafi paused. Dimitri, for the moment, respected Rafi’s silence. When Rafi continued, he returned to Dimitri’s situation and Dimitri’s woman problems.
“So what ever happened to Sabrina, any…”
“Samantha,” Dimitri interrupted, with a hint of annoyance in his voice.
“Samantha. Do you still talk to her?”
“Well, I lived with her for a few months after the A. C. fiasco, but you can imagine that it was uncomfortable. She booked me for two evenings a month at the restaurant, and helped me get a job with a competitor. We even tried couples counseling, but I couldn’t connect to her that way.”
“You’d slept with her a lot of time, before, yes?” Every now and then, Rafi’s grammar would slip into word-for-word translation from Hebrew.
“Yes, she was hot. Smoking hot, and flirty as well. Everything I could want. But I’m just unable to think about settling down right now.”
“You’re a man of twenty-nine fucking years, Dim-bulb! You haven’t grown up a bit since Hovevei Tzion. That was ten years ago. What do you think, Madonna is going to walk in here, and want to fuck?”
“No, actually I still sleep over there at least once a week. We had to settle for an open relationship, because the sex is too hot for either of us to give up, but she wants to meet someone who will marry her and…”
“You’re an asshole American man who can’t commit.”
“I guess you’re right.”
Damn, thought Rafi. This wolf had better introduce me to Samantha.
Rafi switched the subject. “So what has you going to education? For the same money, don’t you think an MBA would bring you more money?”
“You forget. The program in Israel is only accredited as an associate’s degree in the US. I still need an undergraduate degree in order to do anything professional. So I’m going for Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages.”
“Hables tu en español?”
“I don’t think you do. But you’ll have to teach Russians, Chinese, Vietnamese, and you can’t learn all those languages. But you’ll learn.”
“Rafi, did you ever teach in a classroom?
“Both here and on the Kibbutz. All Jewish kids, though. They all like my accent, and besides, I don’t have to prepare.”
“You’re no help. I’m guessing that I’ll wind up in the Barrio. But like you say, I don’t speak Spanish. Anyway, they have to learn English. I don’t have to learn anything except how to teach them. I just worry about what it will be like in the classroom.”
“I didn’t know that kids would be so disrespectful. In religious school, they mostly don’t want to be there. At Agnon, they had to take Hebrew seriously.”
A woman walked by, clutching her purse. Her strawberry blond hair swirled down her back, acting as a cape for her bare shoulders. The dress itself was vertically striped. And cinched in at the waist like business clothes. A beige belt with an oversized circular brass buckle held the assemblage together. Though strapless, the dress looked from the bust down as if it could have come from an office cubicle. The flip-flops and bare shoulders suggested that the office shoes had been kicked off on the way to the bar, and the matching beige jacket was draped over a chair in the bar area as a placeholder. Both men recognized this as the bathroom walk. The difference was that it was Dimitri who suggested the approach.
Rafi thought back to the volleyballers on the beach during the Haifa Interzonal. He mustered his courage, approached the table with the beige jacket, and seeing that two of the four seats were empty, he sat down at one of the seats and addressed the cute, casually dressed brunette in Hebrew.
“Ah habibi, zocheret oti (Ah, sweetheart, do you remember me)?”
As Dimitri suggested, the brunette looked confused, but pleased.
“Ani mazkir otach me-Haifa.”
The brunette looked confused now.
“Lo makirah oti?” Rafi switched to Italian. Abbiamo giocato il pallavolo insieme sulla spiaggia. Lei era con un gruppo da Italia. No?”
A flash of emotion crossed the brunette’s face. I am under her skin. Why isn’t the expression ’under her clothes?’ More fun, less bloody.
“Don’t you speak English?” the brunette shot back.
“Don’t you speak anything else?” replied Rafi, with a smile. OK, what would Dimitri do?
Rafi reached out and tapped the brunette’s left hand. “
“No, I guess not. You’re hands are soft, not like volleyballers’ hands. I thought I met you at the beach in Haifa. That girl played for hours every day. She also spoke Italian and Hebrew.”
“It’s OK. I live here now; I’m used to Americans. You take four years of language in high school, and you reach 25, you can’t speak it a word.”
“You’re a sabra?”
“I was born on a kibbutz that used to be a shooting gallery for the Suryans until we took the Golan.”
Rafi and the brunette, whose name was Deborah, were chatting away like old friends. Rafi wondered how Dimitri was making out with the blonde. That answer walked up to the table, with Dimitri guiding her.
“Rafi, this is Chris. It looks like you found her friend. I’m Dimitri.”
Dimitri offered his hand, Deborah took it. Rafi exchanged handshakes with Chris, and rephrased his approach to provide context. He thought he had met her on the beach, playing volleyball, in Haifa. And Chris, you look like Salman’s Mermaid, too. Good thing I prefer brunettes.
Over the next fifteen minutes, Dimitri and Rafi managed to get Chris and Deborah to buy another round of drinks and nachos with shredded white cheddar, olives, and jalapeños. Rafi suggested a film. Deborah suggested Philadelphia. Dimitri countered with Jurassic Park. Chris had seen that, and Deborah didn’t much want to. They settled on The Wedding Banquet by Ang Lee. Perfect date movie.
Perfect choice. Perfect non-double-date. The night concluded perfectly. Each man drove a lady home.