Rick Edelstein was born and ill-bred on the streets of the Bronx. His initial writing was stage plays off-Broadway in NYC. When he moved to the golden marshmallow (Hollywood) he cut his teeth writing and directing multi-TV episodes of “Starsky & Hutch,” “Charlie’s Angels,” “Chicago,” “Alfred Hitchcock,” et al. He also wrote screenplays, including one with Richard Pryor, “The M’Butu Affair” and a book for a London musical, “Fernando’s Folly.” His latest evolution has been prose with many published short stories and novellas, including, “Bodega,” “Manchester Arms,” “America Speaks,” “Women Go on,” “This is Only Dangerous,” “Aggressive Ignorance,” “Buy the Noise,” and “The Morning After the Night.” He writes every day as he is imbued with the Judeo-Christian ethic, “A man has to earn his day.” Writing atones.
Even though they both worked in different stations, Jackson a server and Rambles in the kitchen, they got off at the same time, walking out the back door of Mickey’s Steak House.
Crossing from the alley to the main drag, Rambles, who was built like a tree trunk, lit a cigarette, offering one to Jackson, six inches taller who was rubbing the slick out of his has-to-be-neat-hair-for-work but now ready to explode. “No, I gave up smoking.”
“Since when?” Rambles asked.
“Since it can give you cancer-when.”
“We all die,” Rambles said inhaling with pleasure.
“Yeah,” Jackson responded as he avoided walking on a small turd of dog-shit, “But I plan to die later than sooner. How you holding up in the kitchen?”
“Hot and sometimes crazy but how many peoples hire somebody with our history? Why do you think Harrisburg took a chance?”
“The dirt is that a gang ‘o years ago he spent time in a the joint on a hummer, some swift suit got him out with a big time settlement to which he used to open Mickey’s.”
“His name ain’t even Mickey.”
“A rose is a rose...want a brew?”
Tossing his cigarette on the pavement and stepping on it, “Yeah but I don’t want to go to Barney’s.”
“Why not, it’s only two blocks away?”
“Too many Irish dudes looking to rumble.”
“Maybe it’s because you mess with them.”
“Let’s do Millhouse, two more blocks but it’s cool.”
“What makes it better than Barney’s?”
“Mostly Jews. They don’t fight.”
“Tell that to an Israeli.”
“And they got nuts, chips, pretzels on the bar no charge. How’d you do tonight?”
“Good. Hundred and fifty-six.”
“In fact I’m going for more ‘n one. For health reasons.”
“Since when are suds good for health?
“Slickers told me, before Tito popped out his left eye he told me a doctor who was dealing rushbo said a beer a day will keep kidney stones away.”
They turned the corner and walked into Millhouse, pulling up stools at the bar, Rambles immediately copped some nuts, chewed noisily and signaled to the bartender holding up two fingers, “Negro Modelo.”
Jackson added, “Chill the glasses.” He nibbled on some pretzels, “Rushbo did in Slickers.”
Almost choking on the chips, Rambles could hardly believe Jackson, “What are you saying?”
“The relevant information sliding down the pike is that Slickers o-d’d on oxy two days after release.”
The bartender placed the glasses and beer in front of them. Jackson said, “Run a tab.” Bartender nodded and left.
Jackson lifted his brew for a toast. “Here’s to Slickers.”
Rambles clinked, “I guess he won’t be missing his eye. Slickers!”
As they drank Rambles noticed Jackson staring into space, “Where are you, man? What’s happening?”
Jackson drank a few times, hesitant, took another drink and went for it. “Okay this might, no not might, this will sound strange but truth is often a tougher fit than fabrication...”
“Talk your shit, Jackson,” as Rambles grabbed some chips.
“I was playing chess on the computer and...”
“I remember yeah I recall you running a class inside the joint teaching us chess. I got the moves down you know pawn one box straight ahead unless taking down some sucker on the right or left, knight can slash your ass like a hidden shiv but you were always preaching to figure out what the dude’s next move, even five moves down, shit, I never could tweak what the man across the board was going to do one or even two but five moves from now? I mean some scram punches me in a moment before grief I clout him back to check mate his rowdy ass demonstrating that this man does not wait no five times before I get to eating pavement, you know what I’m saying? Playing chess on a computer, you say? Who wins?”
“Most times I lose.”
“Then why play a bandit if you know you’re gonna’ get ripped off?”
“Mental gymnastics. Keeps me on top of my game.”
Rambles downed and finished his drink. “You ready for another?”
“One more and that’s it.”
Rambles signaled to the bartender for two more. “Me, I do solitaire on the computer and play until it runs the deck and that is satisfactory. After that I’m into porn. You lose today?”
“I was about to make a move that even the computer could not undo, I was three moves away from mate and I got...” Jackson was dealing with his resistance to share but he also needed to check his sanity so he went past his reluctance. “Okay, Rambles, just hear me out..Jesus, how can I say this...okay,” Jackson hesitated again, then blurted, “I had, god what is the word, okay I guess, a visitation.”
“Don’t tell me the parole officer dropped in unannounced. They do that shit trying to catch us as if we’re about to hustle on the bleak side. Come on give us a break, We did the crime served our time don’t make one grape into wine.”
“No, I’m not on parole. I’m clean out.”
Bartender brought them another round.
“What was that word you used, vistatation? Sounds like what you put on sandwich to make it taste better.”
“Oh yeah, okay, visitation. Sure, like a visit, like someone dropping in on you, right?”
“Fill in the blanks Jackson.”
“So I’m playing chess about to move my knight and lock in the king when I hear a voice...almost like a rebound echo bounce.”
“A neighbor somebody?”
“Inside where? Somebody, some voice, right? I ain’t the slickest eel in the pond but a visit is someone from the outside coming inside. That’s what you mean, right?”
Rambles took a long slurp of beer, wiped his chin, glared at Jackson,
“You playing me?”
“No, I’m telling you straight up. I know this sounds off-the-wall but
like inside my head, the sound, it was almost visible, physical, like it was, it’s hard to delineate, it had a kind of...”
“Delineate, specify, you know, nail it down, I couldn’t...it was a kind of...an energy, reverberating, like a ricochet in a deep cave.”
“I don’t know if it’s the brew or what, but you are giving me a headache trying to understand what you’re putting down.”
“No explanation, man, just happened. Freaks me out too.”
“Okay okay...so some kinda’ visitation inside your brain, is that what you’re what was that word, delineating?”
Rambles tossed a fistful of peanuts into his mouth and mumbled while chewing, “I’ll play...all right, what did the visitation do or say.”
Jackson drank some beer, hesitated, shrugged, “What the hell, it said, and I’m not making this up, Rambles, it said...You Will Know.”
“And then it said, and this is really weird...
“You already gone way past weird. What you been smoking, Jackson?”
“Weed doesn’t work for me. I’m clean enough for the health department.”
“Just don’t tell ‘em you’re hearing voices.”
“Then it said ...loud and clear...it said...Bodega.”
Rambles tried to make sense and ground the conversation to a trace of familiarity. “Okay,” he said as if he hit the lottery, “Bodega. Yeah, Rodriguez’s grocery on the corner from where my crib is. We walked by five six weeks ago when you came to pick me up.”
“Right, yeah,” Jackson recalled, “You popped in to buy some cigarettes.”
“There’s your Bodega. Ignacio told me he was losing business faster than the rent which was raised. He was eating it big time from when Ralph’s Supermarket opened across the street.”
Jackson, “Maybe we should check it out.”
“Check what out?” Rambles asked.
“The Bodega. In your nabe.”
“Waste of time. Sign in the window, for lease. Bodega gone, brother. Your voice sending you on a hummer. What else did it say?”
Jackson shook his head, not understanding but feeling it. “You Will Know. Bodega. That’s it..”
Rambles swigged some beer. “I think somebody dropped a pill in your drink, man, ‘cause hearing voices, I mean that’s on the other side of a jacket with straps. Back then, which I do not plan to visit ever again thank you, I was put in isolation for three days after kneeing Wheels in the soft spot but I’m telling you Jackson, alone all that time with nothing but walls I heard voices, sure. No big thing. You got to get out, man. Join the peoples in the nabe because you sure don’t strike me as certifiable three dog night time.”
“Come on, Rambles, everything is not always what you see is what you got.”
“If I can’t see it, feel it, suck it or fuck it, it ain’t worth a worry.”
“You don’t think there’s...how can I put it...an energy that you can’t see or hear but you feel loud and strong? I mean when you walked out in the yard...bam, across the way, you turn your head and you know, you know fifty feet away Tito’s ready to rip somebody a new one, or the other side of the yard tatted Jimmy-Two-Shoes ready to make thunder, you know that how? You feel it, you sense it, you know what I’m saying?”
“Mos def. My sensin’ the scene has kept me, outta’ harms way . Yeah, okay.”
“So that’s my experience, man. No pills. No isolation. Just those deep resonating words: You Will Know. Bodega.”
“I don’t know whether to buy in or wish you a good breather as I distance myself but then again you did me a solid or two in the joint so pay the man and let’s make a move.”
Rambles and Jackson finished sweeping the floor, unfolding used chairs when Rambles started to take the sign, Bodega, out of the window, Jackson said, “Leave it, Rambles.”
“But this ain’t no longer a Bodega.”
“Okay...so you paid rent for three months. These rickety chairs may not last that long. Now what?”
Handing him a sign he lettered in big black magic marker, “Put this sign in the window.”
Rambles reading the sign, Come in & figure things out. He looked at Jackson. “From the get-go I can’t figure out what this means.”
“I’m not sure either.”
“But you wrote it.”
He walked to the window and put the sign facing the street. “Okay, sign’s in the window. Now I wanna’ figure something out.”
“What are we doing here?”
“I don’t know yet.”
“But you said that voice said You Will Know.”
“It didn’t say when though, did it?”
“Just You Will Know and Bodega. That’s it.”
“If you weren’t so smart and on top ‘o things in the joint you might consider me absent but as you appealed me out I gotta’ have your back but I don’t know for how long before nothing happens.” He looked around, inhaled. “This joint smells like three week old socks. We gotta’ clean up this place,” kicking aside some used grocery cartons, a worn bat rolled on the floor. Rambles picked it up, “I’ll bet this wood could tell some stories.”
The door to the Bodega opened admitting a man and a woman. His scowl was so etched in his face it could have been a tattoo. She was gripping his hand as if to keep from drowning. “We saw the sign,” she said with an insouciant smile trying to deflect any impression of concern, although she couldn’t cover the edge as if she was checking the canary in a coal mine. She glanced at her man looking for confirmation but he said nothing although his creased forehead was statement enough.
Jackson nodded, “Sure, pull up a chair.”
Jackson heard that inner voice – You Will Know – “My name is Jackson,” he pulled up a chair facing them. Rambles just laid back in a preferred shadow.
“Jackson!” she said as if winning the bingo game. “My brother in law on my sister’s side is named Jackson. I am into names. Google them. You are Jackson, huh? That means God favors you. All right. Isn’t that cool, Wilbur?”
Wilbur of the etched forehead just grunted.
“I am Rita Thursgood,” she said, “My name Rita means a pearl, a good-natured person.”
Wilbur broke through his darkness, “She’s a name-freak. There are days when I tell her about some scram at work and she Googles his name.”
“Which is accurate information if you ever gave me credit, Wilbur.”
“I got your credit. What the fuck are we doing here?”
She tried her smile to ward him off as she turned to Jackson. “And this is my husband, well not legal-like but we have been together for over almost eight years now. Isn’t that right Wilbur?”
“Well plus is closer to eight than seven wouldn’t you say?”
“What the fuck are we doing here?”
“Well the sign said, come in and figure things out. Isn’t that accurate, Jackson?
“Yes, Rita, exactly. What do you want to you want to figure out?”
Wilbur harpooned, “Figure out what the fuck we’re doing here, how’s that!”
Rambles eased out of the shadows feeling an unsaid threat from Wilbur.
Jackson eased his voice, “I’m not sure either, Wilbur, but I get from Rita that she has some concern, something to figure out.”
“There you go!” Rita affirmed with that coverage of a smile which did not match her eyes. “Go ahead, Wilbur, tell him, tell Jackson like what you told me this morning, go ahead.”
Wilbur wasn’t buying in. “Jackson over here has nothing to do with what I said this morning is between me and you. Just shut it, give it a rest!”
Rita was resolute. “What you said this morning needs some figuring out. And this sign in the window is a sign, yes, a sign more than the sign, if you just open to signs. Tell him, go ahead.”
Wilbur looked at Jackson as if he was a cobra ready to strike a possum.
Rambles moved closer to the scene.
Jackson motioned to Rambles that he has it covered. Rambles stopped. Jackson said to Wilbur, “Look man, I’m just here listening. Not making you or anybody else wrong or right. Just listen and maybe I can tell you what I hear.”
Wilbur looked at him. Looked at Rambles. Looked at Rita. Decided. “You’re here to listen okay. What I said to Rita this morning was and it still stands, you want to get married and I want a baby but you can’t give me a baby so why should we get married, that’s what I said.”
One tear slowly filled Rita’s left eye and seeped down her freckled cheek, “We can always adopt a baby. A beautiful little baby. Any sex, even they got tests which tells you lots of things like...”
Wilbur slammed the door on her with, “But it won’t be my baby.”
Rita retorted with surprising energy, “If we love it, it will be our baby. That’s what makes a baby yours, isn’t that right, Jackson?”
Jackson wanted to agree but his head tilted as if hearing a new voice. He waited for the You-Will-Know but nothing came. The silence in the room was palpable in bulk sadness. Rita looked at Jackson and in a voice closer to a child’s plaint, “The sign said figure things out.”
Jackson looked at each of them, not knowing what to say or do but somehow something in him resonated with You Will Know, as he took out a pad and pen from his pocket, tore off two small pages and gave each one to Rita and Wilbur. He turned to Rambles, “You got a pen or pencil?”
Rambles dug down his pocket and pulled out a pencil with a worn nub. “Here you go.”
Jackson took it, gave his pen to Rita and the pencil to Wilbur. “Here’s what I want you to do. On a scale of one to ten write a number which indicates how you feel about your partner. Not about a baby. Not about marriage. Just how you feel about your partner. If it’s a ten that means you love her, love him, no matter what. If it’s less than five, not so much. Then give me the paper. Your partner will not see it now or ever.”
Rita took it anticipating that this will help figure things out.
Wilbur threw the paper and pencil on the floor. “I don’t know what the fuck I’m doing here?”
Jackson picked them up, offered the paper and pencil back to Wilbur, speaking in a hopefully soothing voice, “Look, man, some things take time to understand, to figure out. Give the home team a break and just write a number about how you feel about Rita. She won’t see it. Only me and you. Our secret.”
Wilbur stared at him a few seconds to check if he was being conned by Jackson, finally shrugged, took the paper and pencil, “What the fuck.” He looked at Rita, “I’m going to write a number. Just don’t fucking forget, this whole thing here is your idea, so what I write is what I write so don’t forget that I would not be here writing a number if you didn’t make a scene outside, just don’t forget all this bullshit is your fault!” And started writing a number.
Rita’s countenance was visibly changing under Wilbur’s assaultive don’t forget. She was fuming, gritting her teeth, trying to hold on to some semblance of reason, which was not working. She broke expectations when she threw down the pad and pen, exploding in Wilbur’s face, “Don’t forget? You telling me not to forget? I will never forget, Mister Wilbur Macintosh, that after eight years of me loving you, serving you, rubbing your back when you came from work even though I was tired from serving stupid customers all day, when I cut the hairs growing over your lips because they scratched me when we kissed which was not all that often as you are not prone to express affection but just the same I never did anything less than being good to my man who comes up with I can’t marry you if you can’t make a baby. Well fuck you and can’t-marry because Wilbur, I would not marry you if you were the last man on this planet. And in case you were wondering, Wilbur means boar. Wild pig. A swine, Wilbur Macintosh, you are appropriately named after a swine!” She walked towards the door in a controlled steady pace and stopped. Turned to Wilbur, “For eight years I thought I was in love with you. But that was a lie. I was in habit with you, not love. And in this very moment, Rita Thursgood is kicking the habit.” She turned to face Jackson, “How’s that for figuring things out!” She smiled as if she slayed the dragon and left the Bodega in a victorious strut.
Wilbur’s head swiveled as if he thought it could do a 360...stopped, stood, glared at Jackson. “Who the fuck are you and see what you done!” Taking a few steps towards him.
Rambles moved between them. “Don’t even think about it!”
Wilbur looked at Rambles, sizing him up for a knock-down. Rambles extended his arm which was holding the old, scarred baseball bat he quietly picked up earlier. “You really want to try me, man?”
Jackson stood, “Just ease your ass out of here, Wilbur.”
“Fuck both of you, motherfuckers.” He walked out trying to appear triumphant but it didn’t work as he slammed the door which was on worn hinges, no slamming sound available.
Rambles and Jackson looked at each other and broke out laughing. After their laughter died down Rambles asked, “What are we laughing at?”
Jackson shrugged, “The human condition.”
“Is this what your You-Will-Know number meant, I mean Rita-baby surprised my ass by reading Wilbur the riot act. Made me hard. Nothing like a woman standing up for herself in the face of what did she call him?”
“Swine,” Jackson closed.
“This is it, the You Will Know numbers, you think? This kinda stuff people coming and doing whatevers?”
“Surprises me as much as you, Rambles. I’m just playing blind.”
“But so far,” Rambles said, laying down the bat, “it played out nice, though I wouldna’ minded crushing that chump's ribs for having such a bad ‘tude, I wouldna’ minded.”
The door creaked open as an old man with a limp and a cane entered. He walked in slowly as if he was in pain from the movement. He looked around in shock as his European accented hoarse voice rasped, “What happen. What is this? Where is Ignacio? I do not understand. Who are you persons?”
Jackson whispered to Rambles, “We’re on,” and then to the old man, “My name is Jackson. I leased this space for a few months.”
“How can this be? I turn around Bodega is no more and someone named Jackson replaces Ignacio? This is not good. How could this be?” He leaned heavily on his cane with almost visible audible breaths.
“Would you like to sit down, sir?” Jackson offered.
Emanating a noticeable sigh, he slowly walked to a chair Jackson was holding and sat down with a grunt. “Yes, I would like to sit and I would not mind an explanation because this is totally unacceptable.” He looked around for the missing shelves. “This emptiness. I am sorry Mister Jackson but I do not make such an adjustment after all these years every morning I come here, Ignacio introduced me to the good taste of Cubano Coffee with a Danish of course. Danish!” He made a dismissive sound. “You would think a Danish comes from Denmark but no, Ignacio at six in the morning no matter cold, hot, rain, weather meant nothing to Ignacio who said there is no bad weather only inadequate clothing he would go every morning to Feigel’s bakery and buy two dozen. At a price. Then he sells two dozen at another price. Capitalism is better than where I come from. But where is he, what happened to Bodega?”
Rambles jumped into the conversation, “Well, the supermarket across the street...”
Chaim annoyed, “Who can find anything in such a big ugly too many lights, stupid music, what is your name, when I speak to someone I want to know who the someone is?”
“Rambles? Hmmm...interesting name. Rambles. All right, Mister Rambles.”
“No Mister. Just Rambles. And your name?”
“Chaim, Chaim Mandelbaum. My passport says I came from Poland but do not call me Polish. I was born in Lithuania.”
Rambles surprised both of them, “I knew a Jew from Lithuania. Serving big time. Siegelstein, he said he was a Litvok. Are you a Litvok, Mr. Mandelbaum.”
“Do not you dare! I am Ashkenazi, never a Litvok. And why this empty and where is Ignacio?”
Rambles explained, “I was trying to explain, Chaim, that when the supermarket opened across the street Ignacio lost most of his business. And then they raised the rent on him.”
“Oy vey,” Chaim intoned.
Jackson added, “Then Whole Foods three blocks away didn’t help either.”
Chaim made unintelligible sounds, wiped the spittle from the sides of his mouth. “Look at this neighborhood. I live for twenty three years, denks God in a rent-controlled apartment but everything is changing. Whole Foods. Fancy shmancy coffee places. Even jigamajigs to park your bike. The entire wherever you look is becoming gentlefried.”
Jackson gently corrected, “Gentrified.”
“That too. Every morning, for six maybe eight years I would come and talk facts with Cubano coffee...”
Rambles, “And a Danish.”
“Yes of course what else? We would talk Ignacio and me, we would shmooze, discuss the problems of the world and even how to solve most of them but who listens.”
Rambles said, “But how come you didn’t notice before? Store’s closed three weeks now?”
“First a hip operation. Recover in Israel with my daughter and fakakta husband, not a mensch but my Rachel chose him so what can you do but they made me a zeida with my grand-daughter Hannah who is smarter than both of them in that mashugana country. I come back with a cane an Arab made for me to no Ignacio. Totally unacceptable.”
Rambles, “I know what mashugana means. Siegelstein said it a lot. Crazy, huh?”
The door swung open and like a gust of bluster, Bubu, wearing rimless glasses, a bandana covering his forehead, tall and thin enough to worry about a big wind entered, refusing to be ignored with an aggressive voice demanding to be heard in a rhythm of its own creation. “So I see your sign and being kind I ask is it benign or a sneaky shame by doing a game on an unsuspecting lame but like it said to this swiveling head come and figure things out which is a most relevant shout so to whom do I talk or maybe balk as long as there is no chalk outlining my torso Bubu which is my tag and I ain’t no fag not that I have an against a gay no way but I gotta’ say a butt is a butt and I ain’t no slut but there’s nothing juicy Lucy not o.j. either but let’s take a breather and to whom do I groom my worthless pout to figure things out.”
Jackson, Rambles and Chaim were in a stunned silence. Finally Jackson offered his hand, “My name is Jackson.”
Bubu took his hand, shook it twice and spun around as if performing for them all, “Son of Jack get back lest you hack with the pack in the dark abyss of Satan’s kiss tasting the lack on a rack of lies which you can surmise as the boys in power inundate a shower of do this do that while they get fat and we go to lean on a plate of demean if you know what I mean.”
Rambles enjoyment was obvious, “Go on with yo’ bad self, Bubu!” and offered him five to which Bubu slapped his hand against Rambles.
Bubu said, “Five’s alive my brother but another reward would board on ten so let’s do it again.” And Rambles with Bubu slapped both hands in a discovered beat that solidified their bond.
Jackson smiled, “You rap up a storm, Bubu...that is your name, right?”
“A nose ain’t some toes which everybody knows so what’s in a name ‘cept a blaming game as the Man got a file which I revile as they keep in reserve to serve a high degree of a misery but just the same we’ll do our name game for now anyhow as Bubu will do for me ‘n you so who all am I to be talking to in order to border and figure out no doubt?”
“Like I said my name is Jackson, and you just connected with Rambles over here, and sitting to your right is Chaim, Chaim Mandelbaum.”
Chaim nodded, mumbled, “Please to meet you Mr. Bubu but the truth is I did not understand most of what you said in fact all of it I could say.”
Bubu looked at him and said, “What I’m sayin’ ain’t prayin’ Chaim. I know what Chaim means between the seams, Chaim means to life even in strife it’s a name for a Jew and I got a question for you.”
“So ask,” Chaim said.
“Why does a Jew always answer a question with a question.”
To which Chaim slyly responded, “Why not?”
Bubu laughed, offered five to which Chaim responded, “Five or ten is for you and Mister Rambles over here. My generation does this.” He offered his hand for a traditional shake.
Bubu took his hand, shook it, “Okay, Chaim. The sign in the window says figure things out so I’m gonna restrain my shout ‘cause I see you’re no fool but the Jews killing A-rabs is too far from cool.”
Chaim looked at Bubu and then at Jackson, asking, “Is he insulting me or does he really want me to answer?”
Jackson nodded, “Your choice, Chaim.”
Chaim sighed, leaned forward on his cane, looked up at Bubu, “I do not know if maybe you are ready to learn maybe a little or if, Bubu, you just wish to smear my people with some dirtiness which cannot compare with our history but if that is your intention, gai kaken oifen yam.”
Bubu responded, “I don’t speak Jew talk.”
Chaim sat up straighter and looked Bubu from a place of surprising strength, “What you call Jew talk is Yiddish. And if you want to hurt me with your words I say, gai kaken...go shit in the ocean because nothing you say can compare to...”
Bubu interrupted, “No man, get my scam, it’s just my way into the fray of the human condition immersed in sedition and perdition I just want to know what’s the score, there must be more to the why that so many Arabs die their life is done by a Jewish gun.”
Chaim was getting hot and on the edge of anger from what he perceived as an anti-Semitic onslaught from Bubu. “Listen here, Mister Bubu, as old as I am, I am alive enough to tell you right to your face that I do not and will not be silent in the appearance of what you are...”
Jackson felt the urge of You-Will-Know and chose to lower the temperature.
“Tell me, Mr. Mandelbaum...”
“Chaim will do. Tell you what Mister Jackson.”
“Jackson will do.”
“We do good already. So nu, Jackson, what do you want to know because this schnorrer over here has got my heated attention?”
“Well maybe what Bubu is asking and not in words that sound all that good, I mean earlier you said mashugena Israel. From what Rambles translated as crazy. Is it real crazy or just a kind of...”
Chaim looked at Jackson, turned and faced Bubu. His voice was surprisingly aggressive with a no-doubt righteous judgment, “Do you really want an answer, information that only I can give you or are you ready to insult a two-thousand year heritage?”
Bubu said, “Have no fears my opening ears want to hear the data dat mattas.”
Chaim turned to Jackson, “Is that a yes.”
Jackson nodded, “Try him.”
Chaim said, “All right. Listen good. Mashuga is sometimes a kind of crazy but in this particular time and place a real terrible crazy not-good for the Jews or Arabs as a matter of stabbing, shooting, both sides mashugana chazzerei, peoples lives ending. Israel is in serious drek and no one knows why or when or how to fix it. Yes, all kinds of talk which does nothing but fill your kishkas with oy gevalt.” He took a breath and spoke almost in an accented whisper. “I know when this hurt almost beyond a damage not fixable happened. If everybody knew when it started maybe possibly they could do what your sign says, figure out you know how to fix. I even know when, where, what. But who listens.”
Jackson said, “I am listening.”
Rambles said, “I am listening.”
Chaim looked at Bubu with demanding eyes, but Bubu was not sure what was going down.
Jackson made it clear with a kind of pre-emptive caring when he said to Bubu, “What about you, Bubu? Here to learn or just try and score on our man, Chaim, here?”
Rambles joined the fray moving closer to Bubu, “And in case you didn’t get Jackson, Chaim is a brother, if you get what I’m saying.”
Bubu gave it up. “Hey man, I got no burn I’m here to learn if you can lay it out without a pander or slander just give me the reason for the killing season.”
Jackson turned to Chaim, “Chaim?”
Chaim leaned back, looked at Jackson. “Should I believe him?”
Jackson, “We’ll find out in time.”
Chaim looked at Rambles, “And what do you think?
Rambles, “Either Bubu’s straight or we’ll show him the door.”
Chaim considered it. Looked hard at Bubu. “All right already, I will tell you a secret but you cannot, will not use this to hurt this man sitting here or any other Jew. Are we agreed, Mister Bubu?”
Bubu was silent a few beats.
Jackson jumped in, “The man asked you a question, Bubu.”
Rambles made it clear which side he was on as he picked up the bat. “Are you agreed, Bubu, not to use whatever Chaim puts down to put down his people?”
Bubu looked at each, finally to Chaim. “No put-downs from the put-down clown. Nothing to toll, just let it roll.”
Chaim nodded. “All right. You want to know when Israel, when the Jews scarred our own Jewish souls? Not you, not the anti-Semitistics, no, we Jews did to ourselves. Neshama would never be the same.”
Quietly Jackson asked, “Neshama?”
Chaim, as if in private prayer rocked back and forth slowly and mumbled, “Neshama, the purest aspect of our soul. It shines in the deepest core of our being.” He grunted with a memory as the words eased out, “In my body he has kindled a lamp from his glory. A poem by Moses ibn Ezra referring to the light of neshama.”
Jackson gently asked, “You said neshama would never be the same. Why, what happened?”
Chaim said, “A shandeh un a charpeh. A shame and a disgrace. It gives me shpilkes to this day just to think of November 4, 1955. There, I told you.”
Bubu asked, “When, what happened then?”
“The rule, the two thousand year old rule was broken.”
“What was the rule?” Jackson quietly asked.
Chaim sighed and whispered just loud enough for everyone to hear. “No Jew kills another Jew.” He moved his tongue as if it tasted of poison. “That rotten, terrible, nasty day, in Israel, a Jew for God’s sakes, that sonofabitchbastard Jew killed Yitzhak Rabin, a Jew. That disgusting ugly wicked act was the beginning of the end of the purity of our tribe. And now, now you want to know why Israel is mashuga. Now you know.”
Jackson said, “But that was what decades ago. Now, I mean today...”
Chaim interrupted, “Today what? Arabs kill Jews, Jews kill even more Arabs. What to do? Simple. Give the Arabs work, give them what we cherish most of all, education, knowledge, a roof over the head. Shoin, Fartig, genug, no more killings on either side.”
Jackson was more than impressed, “Then why don’t they do that? You can’t be the only Jew who understands a way out of the maelstrom.”
“Maelstrom, good word. Why they don’t do that? Why don’t we use our Jewish gift: Sechle, common sense? Ask Yitzhak Rabin.”
Jackson empathically asked in a soft tone, “So what’s the answer, Chaim.”
He rocked back and forth as if in solemn prayer. Then nodded, sighed, “Who says there is an answer?”
Quiet in the Bodega.
Chaim stood with effort, leaned on his cane, walking with his severe limp towards the door. “No more bodega but I still want a Danish from Feigel’s.”
Bubu walked over and put his arm around Chaim’s shoulders helping him ambulate, “I want a Danish too so let Bubu and the Jew...”
Chaim looked at him, nodded, “Good, Bubu. Me and You. See I too can rhyme.”
Bubu raved, “And that’s no crime,” offering five to which Chaim looked and slapped his hand with his.
“Tell me Bubu,” Chaim asked, “Do you know some place maybe perhaps that we can have Cuban coffee?”
Bubu affirmed, “Around the corner cross the street all the Cubanos go to meet.”
They walked towards the door with Bubu’s supportive help, “Lean on me, Chaim, it will easier.”
Chaim did so, “Bubu and Chaim. Who would have thought!” And they left.
Jackson and Rambles were quiet, each dealing with the experience of Chaim and Bubu.
Ultimately Rambles muttered, “That was somethin’, huh?”
Jackson mumbled, “Yeah. Sure was.”
Talking quietly Rambles said, “I feel like we’re in some kinda’ foreign movie with those things at the bottom.”
“Yeah. If the movie’s good sometime I stop reading and just, you know.”
“So maybe, this You-Will-Know is your movie.”
“But how does it end?”
Jackson pointed to the door where Chaim and Bubu exited arm in arm. “Maybe it already did.”
Rambles grunted in assent. Thought a while. Then, “What should we call it?”