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.
The Shoes That Fit
You can’t fit facts into your comfort blanket of beliefs. The world has been, is and always will be fucked and if licking the razor makes you so terribly uncomfortable join the masses trying to escape from a lifetime of human regret.
Me? Anita you don’t need my last name. I am a Jewish woman at the ripening age of thirty-six, single, no children, many lovers most of whom I eighty-sixed after sixty-nines. I’m beginning to feel like I have waited too long for far too little.
I’m not sure what being Jewish means to me. Of course born and ill bred from a Jewish mother who loved me but not as much as she found wrong with me. And an ex-hippie long haired father who had a lifelong mission searching for his righteous path of meaningful moments having little to do with me other than the soporific “You’ll be fine baby, just be yourself.”
I am not a religious Jew nor do I participate in any specific cultural events yet there is something which transcends definition like an inner tattoo on my soul of a sandpaper’s oxymoronic comfort within the Jewish stasis of a worried optimist, and if that strikes you as a polarity you’re right because within this world’s toxic confusion there is the ever-present shadow, right Carl? I don’t want to be the one casting shade but it was Mr. Jung, who said “...there is no coming to consciousness without pain...” Ahhh, pain, an imposing shiver seeking a spine to run up, only to be clogged with “You’ll be fine baby,” contrapuntaled by a prevalent invisible throbbing, an inherent challenge to “be fine” knowing that things actually can go profoundly wrong.
I tip-toe the plank of my survivor’s ability to adjust in reluctant acceptance of never feeling at home. Most times ignoring the incessant inner tremor of a dark clawed beast wanting out to commit maim which I keep on a tight leash. Even now. Very tight. I own it all as a badge of survival, which is the Jewish way... blues.
Perhaps I inherited Daddy’s calling spending a good part of my life searching for authenticity. What’s authentic? Total isness. You don’t understand that? Because you’re not authentic.
An orgasm is authentic. But an attached side-effect is what the French call le petit mort leaving me with the contradictory orgasmic expulsion of stored negative energy to an inertia of sadness. No, not sadness, melancholy. “Just be yourself.” But some fucking times the act of yourself beingness sucks.
I kept hearing those fix-it books saying that every human being needs to belong and believe in something that gives their life meaning. So I checked out a synagogue with a Rabbi...not just a Rabbi but this particular Reb Aaron Blumenfeld, in his late 30s, handsome in an old-fashioned way as if he incarnated from a movie star before it became fashionable to be grungy. And to make things worse or better actually he had a low sexy semi-hoarse voice with deep brown eyes that smugly said I am enough, an innate sense of comfortable power. Yes, he was looking good enough to eat. No, I didn’t. Even when he counseled me, ignoring my flirting he said, “Anita, you have to wear the shoes that fit.” Whatever the fuck that means. The shoes that fit! A banality promulgated in a bass voice of importance ending our session with a smug self-satisfied, “Bashert.” Fate. Destiny. Helpful? Not!
The synagogue was unique because it wasn’t set up like the orthodox which separated the genders. Ugh, there is a tyranny in the womb of every religion but then again I didn’t consider my attendance as religious. Just a kind of hanging out and lusting for the Rabbi who was already married and had three children, competing with the Catholics: who will populate our dying planet earth more, Catholics or Jews? Tune in a few decades from now boys and girls, that is if we human beings are alive in the face of what we euphemistically call “climate change.” Change, a cautious word evading the element of happily ever after may just have an ending. But then again we may be relieved of this challenge due to our penchant for wars which is mankind’s unkind pervasive way of life. Rather death.
Is this getting morbid enough for you? Fuck it, it’s my dime so live with it. Since when does a woman need permission to be...to be what? If a man is angry he is often deemed as a righteous warrior. If a woman is pissed it must be her time of month. Or that she needs a man in her life. Or how about she needs to get laid. Why does the world relate to women as a connected artifice to a man? Too many conversations have always been question-marked about hook-ups with a substantial other; seeing somebody? does he treat you good? when are you going to get married? commit or are you afraid of intimacy? Intimacy! What bullshit. All it means is that superfluous ego ridden into-me-see.
I have done it all. Done them all. Lived-with, loved-with, fought-with, exculpated issues of stultification affording me opportunities of lowering my expectations which devolved into settling, compromising, adjusting to the verities of the contradictions a-k-a the human condition which is mortally contaminated. I think I should move to Holland. They have proposed a law that would allow people who are not suffering from a medical condition to seek assisted suicide if they feel they have “completed life” and end their lives with dignity when they choose. I’m not making this shit up.
Does it disturb you when this women expresses herself with banal vulgarity? Do you admonish and judge me as lesser than you, certainly not highly educated, correct? Wrong. I have an MBA majoring in English literature. Ever try and get employment with that degree? How do you want toast with your eggs, sir? Wheat, Rye, French fuck it when some good-looking asshole who grinned at me as if he threw a rolled up wad of paper into the basket across the room. And it was difficult to ignore his overabundance of eau de toilette. Of course he had an earring on his unattractive lobe. He tried hard but was without originality, no individual style. I doubt if he heard of the word élan. A man has to have something other than his two day old unshaven face and intentionally messed up black hair.
He signed for his credit card and asked beyond his smug, “What time do you get off?”
What an arrogant assumption. “Not in your life time.”
“You just aced your way out of a tip.”
I reached over to get his signed receipt and oh so accidentally knocked the glass of water onto his crotch, to which he responded, “Bitch!”
The boss came over, Greek accented Mister Galianakos, apologizing profusely, told cherished customer the meal was free, “She will pay for it.”
I walked towards the door mumbling, “Fuck this,” hearing Mister Galianakos, “Where you going, your shift is no over, I will report you.”
I held up my middle digit, “Report this!”
People work. And get paid for work. Ergo I became a sex-worker. No, I will not indulge your prurient fantasies with specifics involving my work. As an intelligent, educated woman with generous breasts, a butt that looks like and upside-down heart, a generous mouth without a trace of collagen, a face men and two women have called beautiful, I was in a position to choose conditions to best support my vocation within parameters of safety and comfort. Yea ‘n verily an escort (best word of all) has preferences and rules.
Rent a two-bedroom apartment, in a small 3-story building, top
floor, I cannot live with someone over me, in an edifice of upper-class tenants, most of whom have small apartments when they have to remain in town. What do they call ‘em? Pied a Terre or something. I was failing my French class in High School until I gave Mr. Backenstire a blow job. Why two bedrooms? One for business and the other sacrosanct, for ME ONLY.
They must have...say the code when they call. It is a Bulgarian
word a client taught me, “Tzigane 9.” I think it means gypsy. Sometimes I’m into numerology. The number 9 is universal love.
Have a balancer available near bedside and in the small ante-
room. My balancers are two Barak SP-21 Israeli pistols. Not the best
looking but practical. An Israeli client, let’s call him Ori, who is now a regular and a kind of a friend...scratch that. He is a friend. In between smuggling diamonds and other goodies Ori insisted on teaching me the flexibility in functioning because of the double action trigger which is cocked and locked with a separate decocker button. Interesting word, decocker. Would be an apt job description for yours truly. I detest that third person reference “yours truly.” Forgive. My Barak SP-21 (Barak means “lightning” in Hebrew), was, for my profession, a package deal. Ori was, is a dangerous, wonderful dude whom I offered a discount to which he schooled me, “You work, you set a fee. You save your money for one day to no longer work. Under no circumstances do you reduce your fee.”
He took me to the gun range on his motorcycle. A Harley-Davison low rider he boasted and taught me how to lean into the turns. It was an exhilarating ride. At the gun range he ensured that I operated the mechanism appropriately. He had a way of talking, Ori did when he said, “If in a moment that khah Zeer,” [pig or swine in Hebrew], “There is a breaking of your agreement be it financial or behavior that is unacceptable, be simple and firm. Hold the gun steady, make clear it is a matter of life and death. Your life, his death. Warn once, if the schmuck does not do what is required within three seconds, shoot. Three seconds.” The Israeli way.
I asked if he utilized the three second rule. His eyes which usually were a cool neutral transformed to emotional heat. He breathed deeply a few times, then, “Me and Miryam...she was my superior, a great fighter, an even better lover.” He shook off the personal and continued, “There was an old woman in a burka, she approached slowly with what appeared to be a painful limp, shoulders turned inside as if the world’s burden was too heavy. She approached. Miryam spoke in Arabic then Hebrew. She told her to stop. The woman behaved as if she did not understand and kept walking slowly and yet with a purpose as her heavily rounded body limped toward us. Miryam warned her again, holding the rifle aimed at this stumbling old lady in a black burka. In a second that haunts me forever the burka ceased stumbling and ran into Miryam exploding their lives. I still have shrapnel in my shoulder. Since then, three seconds, no discussion.”
In respect but curiosity I quietly asked if he subsequently acted on his three-seconds rule. He nodded and mumbled, “Too many times.” He walked to the door, turned, “I have commitments,” and left but I still felt his presence. Ori is extremely good at becoming quietly powerful.
I hear your question. Have I ever used it? Most times I just had to brandish the beauty aiming the barrel at the crotch of the offender reminding said gross-man I know how to use it and if he does not disappear himself AFTER leaving the substantial fee he will subsequently be at a severe dick-loss. It always worked. Except twice.
Once a beautiful South African. You immediately assume he is black, yes? No, this South African was a white male, deep blue eyes, skin tanned from awarded prizes as a professional world surfer. He didn’t think I would use it as he reached out to grab the piece. I pulled the trigger and knocked him across the room with a gaping, bleeding hole in his shoulder. The choice was to call the police and both of us be busted including his marriage to a famous high end fashion model, or call Manny.
Another time when playing past it was not an option. A new client tried to...I do not do anal...he would not accede to...things got difficult...he tried to rape me...from behind...I broke his grip and got the Barak aiming it not at his naked dick but his heart, panting I warned him, “No more!” He grinned like an evil jackal, “Yes, more,” he uttered as his dick bobbed in his advance. Three seconds.
Ori and Manny came, did a prayer, Kaddish I think, their intoning respect---even for this dead swine of a man---was hypnotic as they reached into their pocket, retrieved and put on yarmulkes rocking back and forth:
“God, filled with mercy, dwelling in the heavens' heights, bring proper rest beneath the wings of your Shechinah, amid the ranks of the holy and the pure, illuminating like the brilliance of the skies the soul going to his eternal place of rest Amen.”
Ori made a call, told me to leave and not come back for two hours. When I returned the body was gone and all traces of blood and refuse were not to be seen. Out of the chaos, order. The Israeli way.
Ori had introduced me to Manny. Manfred Emanuel Shwartzman, a defrocked doctor because he prescribed too many feel-good Oxycontin and other don’t-worry-relievers, although, he assured me in his charming East-European accent that he still had access to what he called, softening-the-edge-relievers. He is also in profound love with me. I, too, in my way but not his, love Manny, thirty-two years older than me and lives two stories down. His voice often implored, pleading...contradicted by his saddened humorous eyes knowing my answer to his importuning us to move to a big patch of land in Big Sur which he owns along with guns, gold, potassium iodide, antibiotics, batteries, water, gas masks from Ori’s contact with the Israeli Defense Force, just in case the world decides to implode. “Come bubby, let me take care of you. I’ll get a monstrous big TV that connects with the world and even give you the remote. Talk to me, bubbeleh with your yes of course.” As if a deliberate break for a sitcom commercial his cellphone played an old fashioned song, “Let me call you sweetheart.” Manny smiled apologetically, looked at the cell, nodded in obeisance, swiped and, “Yes, Ori...” As he listened his demeanor changed from that sweet loving man to a chilled being of purpose. When he ended his call he said, “Ori wants to meet with us.” Not as an invitation or explanation but a simple statement of no choice.
Manny and Ori sat facing me in a somber silence. Their deportment, demeanor, bearing was of such import I felt as if something profoundly secretive or dangerous was about to take place. I was not wrong.
They looked at each other and then nodded. Ori started, “How do you feel about being Jewish?”
I was startled by this question and inadvertently broke out into giggles only to see their faces were not amused. I stopped in respect and shrugged, “Come on guys, what’s up?”
Manny intoned, “Ori asked you a question. What does it mean to you to be a Jew?”
“God,” I nervously uttered, “I’m a Jewish woman because my mother and father are Jewish so I am Jewish. What’s going on guys, come on, this is some serious shit so clue me in.”
They looked at each and nodded again.
Ori talked. “Last month, on a Tuesday afternoon in Tel Aviv, two murdering suicide bombers destroyed a children’s school murdering 32 children, 6 to 12 years of age, four teachers, Moishe, a Janitor I went to school with, seriously wounding 18 more, six of which are on the critical list, four will never walk again, and three blind for life.”
Manny mumbled, “The village from where these son of a bitch bastard child murderers are from...they celebrated their martyrdom as a holiday. A holiday! 32 Jewish children for God’s sakes!”
Ori put his hand on Manny’s shoulder as an expression of empathy, “We destroyed the village.”
They looked at me expecting something, some response other than the cliché of which I was guilty, “That’s horrible. Insanely horrific. But what does that have to do with me?”
Ori, “He is here. In this city. Planning to inflict harm on American Jewish children.”
“How is that possible?” I asked. “If he, whomever he is, is here why not...”
Manny, “There is no proof that the Americans will accept even though the Israelis have definitive information because Ori’s crew intercepted...”
Ori interrupted, “Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan...”
Manny interrupted, “Read what he said to his followers.”
Ori nodded and as if it was etched inside his forehead closes his eyes and spoke, “Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan’s edict: This war is yours. Turn the dark night of the infidels into day, destroy their homes, their schools, their children and children’s children, make rivers of their blood.”
There was a thundering silence in the room. I felt the impact as they each looked at me with an expectation beyond my comprehension. “But can’t you share that with what, FBI, CIA, whatever so that son of a bitch is either arrested or thrown out of the city, our country?”
They said nothing for too long. And then Ori looked at me, his eyes were what...cold, humorless, actually frightening.
“We do not want him out of the country.”
Manny, “32 children murdered by that...”
Ori put his hand on Manny’s shoulder into silence. Manny nodded and acquiesced.
Ori said simply as if calling for a check, “We intend to kill Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan.”
I looked at each of them, knowing that somehow I was to be involved in this...this what? Kill someone? Yes, I would not be upset if Abdul what’s his name disappeared from the planet but...this was not going down well with me.
“Okay...okay...kill that motherfucker, yes, but Ori, Manny, obviously you are calling on me for something that I don’t know if I am not only qualified for but emotionally equipped. So talk to me in very specific words and either I will say yes or no and we will make like this conversation never took place.”
“Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan,” Ori said as if his name was a heinous poison, “He is a man. With a man’s needs. He will be given your phone number and code: Tisgene 9. He then will...”
“Wait wait, hold up, cease and desist. Please guys, what that son of bitch pig of a man did...”
Manny, “And intends to do...”
“Was, is...look Ori, Manny, yes I am a Jew but I mean, what I’m trying to say is that I hate, deplore what he did but...oh God, my English major just popped, Thomas Jefferson, ‘The tree of liberty must occasionally be watered by blood.’ I feel like I’m losing it. This is not working for...look, I am close to the edge, guys, so if you expect me to...I am not the one to...Jesus Christ guys, listen to me a Jew calling on Jesus...I’m just an escort trying to get over...I have never been political, religious or anything resembling...what the fuck are you guys talking about?”
Ori talked as if he was going over a to-do list retrieved from a magnetized note on the Fridge. “He will come with two men. At 4:30. They are very prompt.”
I blurted. “4:30. Perfect. Forty-three is literally a terrorists number, fanatic doctrines will create religious wars and chaos. Unquote. Ori, how do you know this?”
“We have a way.” He continued, “ They will first inspect your
apartment. Look in closets, under bed. Then they will leave you alone with him but they will stand outside your door in the hallway.”
“You’re talking as if I agreed to this which I most definitely have not, Ori, Manny, please... I don’t believe I am up for this.”
Manny reached into his pocked and took out a series of photos, handing them to me. They were shots of the school blown up. Children dead. Bleeding. Crying. It was more than I could stand. I pushed them aside. Manny spoke very quietly, “He plans to do this in America, darling.”
I threw the photos on the floor. Manny retrieved them. I walked around the room feeling like I was miscast in a bad crime movie. I looked at Manny who continued to hold up the photos. One particular was of a little girl maybe 9 years old, blood pouring out of her ear, tears streaming down a blemished cheek. “Put that away, god damn it, Manny!” I burst into tears not able to eradicate the little girl’s bleeding image. I turned to them in anger, “What the fuck do you expect me to do?”
Ori said, “They will insist that your door be unlocked.”
“Which is good,” Manny said.
Ori continued, “Entertain him until we enter and do what has to be done.”
“And the two guards outside?”
“You do not need to know the details.”
“You’re goddamned right I need to know every fucking detail to something I have not agreed to and doubt that I will...”
Manny put a hand on Ori, his way, “Yes, you have a right. Before they even come there will be equipment and signs about walls to be painted in the hallways. We, Ori and me will enter wearing stained workers’ uniforms, with paint cans and brushes...”
Ori slammed, “We will quickly kill those two and...”
Manny, “Enter and kill him. You have to do nothing.”
“Nothing,” I mumbled. “Just entertain until...Oh God, are you for real? Suppose, I mean suppose those two don’t go down easily...suppose while I entertain which is a good a word as any...he hears something and you know that son of a bitch pig fuck will have a gun or something to kill me and...”
Ori silenced me with a gesture, “Under your pillow will be taped a gun, barrel free, trigger free, you can pick up the pillow and without trying to detach it, just aim and shoot.”
Manny entreated, “That is just a precaution, darling. We will have silencers. Ori is experienced. Ori will be in your apartment before Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan is even aware that something is awry.”
“Awry,” I murmured, “...quaint word for...oh God I can’t even think, talk, say...a gun taped to the underside of my pillow! Where did that come from?”
Ori smiled, not a smile of joy but of cognition, “Elmore Leonard. A great American crime writer. It was in his book of...”
I exploded, “From a book! Elmore Leonard was a great writer, I know, I read him, his work has been done in movies, TV but it’s fiction. Help! Fiction. Are you guys crazy! From a book you expect me to...”
Ori snapped, “Enough! Either you agree or do not agree. We will find some way to stop Jewish children being murdered. Believe me, we will find a way. With or without you.”
Manny uttered, “In honor of his murdering 32 Jewish children and ruining the lives of countless others they named an Arabic school Ahmad Abdul Al-Hamza education for Arab children.”
Their silence was like a suffocating device demanding what I could not fulfill. I was freaking out.
“I am an escort, not a killer. Men can fuck their way to oblivion on my body but I...I am not one to arbitrarily just...listen, Manny, Ori, please, I am not what you’re looking for, I am an escort, a prostitute, a hooker, a whore who turns tricks god damn it I do not have the balls to outright kill someone who is not threatening me and yes I know about those children but...I’m sorry. You got the wrong girl. I cannot do it. No, please, I just can’t.”
Their silence was almost accusatory. They looked at each other, nodded, and left without a word.
I cancelled appointments. I did not sleep well. Knock on my door. I opened it to an obviously distraught Manny. “Are you alone?”
He entered, “Turn on the TV. News channel.”
I did as he asked...no, not asked, directed. Knowing something awful had...
TV COMMENTATOR: We are facing the Al Nafoorah restaurant where you see two dead bodies and one wounded man. The dead person in a grey suit, which is now covered with blood is Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan, an overt agitator whom Israeli’s claim heinous crimes, alongside one of two dead body guards. The other body guard is wounded and as you can see being attended to by paramedics. Jimmy Allisford is on the scene. Jimmy what can you tell us.
Thanks Glen. The guard and other witnesses said a man on a motorcycle, no description just a helmet and dark glasses, allegedly shot these men. The guard says he is sure he wounded the alleged assailant on what he thinks was either a Honda or a Harley...
Hold it Jimmy, I am just getting information, we will cut to Carla Hernandez outside a 7-11 three blocks from Al Nafoorah. Carla can you hear me?
Yes, thank you, Glen. This is Carla Hernandez outside the 7-11 where witnesses tell me that the body you can see lying next to the Harley Davidson, looks like a low rider to me, my boyfriend has one. This motorcycle that crashed...he...allegedly the assassin of Abdul Hassan Al-Hamdan, he is not identified and carrying no i.d’s but we can tell y you that he is seriously wounded and...I am just getting information that he is dead.
Manny turned off the TV and just stared out into the agony.
“Oh God,” tears streamed down my face, nose started running. “Oh, God, Manny, Ori is dead, Oh God.”
“Yes, Ori is dead,” Manny somberly droned.
I felt as if...”I am sorry...I just...you can’t blame me, I had no way to...oh, God, Manny.”
“My teacher, Rabbi Herskowitz in Poland said no matter the path of your choice it will culminate in death so while you are alive, choose wisely.”
I grabbed a tissue to wipe the tears and snot and just sat on the floor in my desperation. “But losing Ori...”
“They will know that killing Jewish children has consequences.”
I barely whined through my grief, “Ori is dead. Was it worth it?”
He spoke, “Yoter tov hameeta me’hakalon’.”
“What does that mean,” I quietly asked as if I was intruding.
Manny said, “Death is preferable to dishonor.” He stood, walked very slowly to the door, turned to me. ““I am leaving this city.”
“Want some company?”
“I’m afraid not, darling.”
“Are you sure, Manny. I think I, we could make it work.”
“No. Too much baggage.”
For some bizarre reason I recalled the handsome Rabbi’s words, “Anita, You have to wear the shoes that fit.”