Protected by Viper, Stand Back.
[Drawing of the young Fischer by Alex Roland - more here]
On erev Rosh Hashanah, mini clusters of Hassidic youth—all male—blanket the streets of Crown Heights, Brooklyn. With shofars in hand they huddle where the public is most concentrated—atop the stairs of subway exits at rush hour (before sundown), or around Grand Army Plaza, about a mile from 770 Eastern Parkway, site of the world headquarters for the Chabad-Lubavitch movement, and close to Bobby Fischer’s childhood home at 560 Lincoln Place, which, as luck would have it, is located two short blocks from my current abode. They approach with a simple question: “Are you Jewish?”
Sometimes, I’m caught in the right mood. I’ll smile and feel special, wanting to grip that rustic rams horn into my own hands and trumpet the Judaism my mother gave me unto the sundried masses along Franklin Avenue. One time, having already participated in the mitzvah, I rode my bike around Prospect Park shouting “chag sameach” to Jews and non-Jews alike, welcoming all within earshot into the newness of another year. Later, covered in sweat, and with my bike parked for a breather, three black-and-white clad boys with sunburnt faces and wide eyes walked my way, their payot swinging like slinkies. “Are you Jewish?” they asked from underneath the arch of the Brooklyn Quadriga. Who was I to deny this interaction? (And two times in one day?!) To experience a ten-year-old clench utmost his lungs and rip into a shofar like the health of the next 365 days of my selfish life depends on it—that’s a privilege.
Sometimes though, I feel embarrassed or vexed. Ad nauseum, it’s self-conscious inducing: Am I Jewish? What’s the tell? (Of course, I do know). And what if I weren’t? Am I not Jewish enough? Until these junctures, my Jewishness feels pretty sturdy, unchallenged and comfortable in its lox-and-post-grandparental-Floridian glory, save for when romantic relationships press at its seams, or during moments of what can feel like in-proselytizing, offers of comeuppance like this.
It’s the way I imagine Bobby Fischer—a Jew if only by birth—must have felt in his youth, even partly, as he would ascend the same MTA staircase I use daily, each step ever closer to escape. For Bobby, “Jews”, who he’d also call “absolute pigs,” would become the default nomenclature for anyone within his ire, whether Chosen or not. Leave me alone, he must have thought. I just want to play chess. [Read on…]
A small critter named Carl, then Carlton, and finally Carlos, died this past week. Listen: it had a good run. Like a really good one. Bread, Pringles, all types of bourgie peanut butters. Now, finally, it has reached its end.
Today is November 1, 2012, three (give or take) days since Hurricane Sandy pummeled New York City. Duty called on the Upper East Side of Manhattan today, so I decided to bike from Crown Heights, over the Manhattan Bridge, and up the east side of Manhattan to Grand Central. And back. The following is a photo essay of the ride:
(Below): Heading north on 1st Ave, between 4th & 5th.
(Below): The view up 1st Ave, mostly powerless, little traffic.
(Below): You know the circumstances are difficult when the golden arches aren’t lit. Along 1st Ave.
(Below): Bike lane foliage.
(Below): Deez pizzerias, can’t hold ‘em back.
(Below): Approaching midtown. Man rifles through days-old trash as bikers ride by.
(Below): The trees are electric! New York Citians power up along 42nd, near GCT.
(Below): From GCT, only the 4/6 trains are running local (GCT is the last stop heading downtown) when I was there ~3:15. The trains were packed, though not so unlike most days there.
(Below): Upper East Side now, along 3rd around 80th. Poor little sapling. UES, to note, is business as usual, the status quo of therapists-row, specialty grocers, and possible Woody Allen sightings.
(Below): NY’s Finest. Really, though, bless ‘em. Traffic would be at a standstill without them out there right now.
(Below): Piled-up trash along 94th between Park & Lex.
(Below): MTA is gratis today, and seemingly, for the foreseeable future. This is GCT around 6:40. On the left, passengers enter for free.
Question: Do monthly cardholders have their passes extended, so that the time they purchased isn’t penalized?
(Below): These are shots heading south on 2nd Ave. Once I hit, say, 34th, the city went numb, black. Stuy Town, East Village, Chinatown—fugetaboutit. It was a terrifying ride through sheer blackness. There are no lights, street or signals. Zero. For bikers, I suggest a front and back light, along with a flashlight for turns. And a helmet. Saw a woman downed, shell shocked. This was/is no time for show-offs. Really. It was invigorating, but extremely dangerous. We’re talking everywhere. The City has plenty of issues on its hands, but this has got to be climbing up the list. Halfway over the Manhattan bridge, the lights turn on. Before that, it’s a clattering of “on your lefts” and bike bells and taking it slowly. Good luck.
(Photo credit: Bob Adelman/Corbis, 1984; via Guardian.co.uk)
I lifted him out. I held him. I held that half of him. (Nobody Said Anything)
“God,” she said. “God, will you help us, God?” she said. (The Student’s Wife)
The next day he was gone. He didn’t leave any forwarding. Sometimes mail of some kind or other shows up for him or his wife or for the both of them. If it’s first-class, we hold it a day, then send it back to where it came from. There isn’t much. And I don’t mind. It’s all work, one way or the other, and I’m always glad to have it. (What Do You Do In San Francisco?)
His heart turned. He blinked and kept staring. He leaned over to look for something to throw. He picked up one of his shoes. He sat up straight and held the shoe with both hands. He heard her snoring and set his teeth. He waited. He waited for it to move once more, to make the slightest move. (What’s In Alaska?)
He did not answer. Her voice seemed to come to him from a great distance. He kept driving. Snow rushed at the windshield. He was silent and watched the road. He saw the very end of the story. (Put Yourself In My Shoes)
Thank you for writing. I wanted someone to know. I am very ashamed.
I also wanted to ask how you got my name and knew where to write, I have been praying no one knew. But you did. Why did you? Please tell me why.
In this too, she was right. (Gazebo)
She would have it, this baby. She grabbed for the baby’s other arm. She caught the baby around the wrist and leaned back.
But he would not let go. He felt the baby slipping out of his hands and he pulled back very hard.
In this manner, the issue was decided. (Little Things)
She kept talking. She told everyone. There was more to it, and she was trying to get it talked out. After a time, she quit trying. (Why Don’t You Dance?)
I could hear my heart beating. I could hear everyone’s heart. I could hear the human noise we sat there making, not one of us moving, not even when the room went dark. (What We Talk About When We Talk About Love)
But as I said, Pearl Harbor and having to move back to his dad’s place didn’t do my dad one bit of good, either. (The Third Thing That Killed My Father Off)
I was thinking today about the calm I felt when I closed my eyes and let the barber’s fingers move through my hair, the sweetness of those fingers, the hair already starting to grow. (The Calm)
Judging from the angle of the sunlight, and the shadows that had entered the room, he guessed it was about the o’clock. (Careful)
We’ll clean it up tonight, I thought, and that will be the end of it. (Chef’s House)
She kept her hand on my leg. We drove home like that from my friend’s house. (Feathers)
They talked on into the early morning, the high, pale cast of light in the windows, and they did not think of leaving. (A Small, Good Thing)
The line goes dead, and I can’t hear anything. (Whoever Was Using This Bed)
I look both ways and then cross the street. (Menudo)
Good-bye, my darling. (Blackbird Pie)
Holly Golightly on same-sex marriage:
“Why not? A person ought to be able marry men or women or—listen, if you came to me and said you wanted to hitch with Man o’ War I’d respect your feeling. No, I’m serious. Love should be allowed. I’m all for it.”
(pg. 83, “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”)
(Photo: 1947, Harold Halma)