Friday, August 15, 2014

The 49 Gates of Defilement, V


           She had made a unique point.  What other kind was there?  If there was a rhythm to life at all, it was that it was doomed to repeat itself.  Because of my unique history, I appeared to be caught in a cyclical dress rehearsal of its more salient moments.  
           In the first years of my marriage I had searched for a father in various Yiddish readers and writers with disastrous consequences.  In the cab ride to northern Manhattan I thought of one man I had singled out as a mentor and stamped with the impression of surrogate father.  I would rather not say exactly how the relationship was scuttled.  Expectations were high on both sides.  A degree of instability marked all our interactions.  The man was estranged from his son.   I had no father.  We tried to fill our respective voids with our own flitting projections, with momentous results.   
          I could not get out of bed at all.  I felt, once again, the shade of abandonment creep across the landscape of my psyche.  Sharon had put me into the care of a gracious and understanding group of professionals in the rolling hills of northern New Jersey.   After a month I was back in New York.  The crisis had passed, but the gulf still loomed.  There are some parts of life which, when passed by with unsatisfactory results, leaves the chasm unscaled.   Hence Sharon’s concern:  Goldfarb as surrogate father and sick and in need of nurturing.  A valid concern, warranted by time and experience.  I wanted to retrieve Goldfarb’s “medisohn” and get him the hell out of our apartment.
            I had to send the cab away, unable to afford to keep him idling below the old brownstone.  I full well knew I could be stranded here in the northernmost reaches of Manhattan.  It took me four tries to find a cab willing to drive me up here, and as a fitting accompanied to this ride north, the snow had begun to fall in layered sheets.  The essence of pure white blanketed the city.  The taxi slid along the empty streets like an untrained ice skater, searching for a traction as illusive as the Fountain of Youth. 
            When the cab was gone, I was standing in a half a foot of slush in front of a brownstone tenement scored by time and neglect.  I entered the lobby and placed Goldfarb’s key in the door, a useless gesture, because the door slid open from the merest shadow of a push.  The hall was strewn with trash and had the  tinge of old urine, like the stink of overgrown ragweed.  Goldfarb’s apartment was on the top floor and there was no elevator.
            I opened his apartment but something was obstructing the door.  I pushed with all my might but overshot the mark of resistance and found myself on the floor, amidst a pile of old New York newspapers.   I stood up and fumbled along the wall for a light switch.  Finding none I patted down the room for a lamp and pulled an old fashioned string on a fringed light found in bordellos or Victorian sitting rooms.   
           The apartment was illuminated by an oval of light.  There was the outline of tables and chairs, all encrusted with books and papers in Yiddish.  A Forvarts from 1964.  Another, a socialist pamphlet from 1935.  I found a trail through the debris and sniffed out the bathroom, acrid with the odor of sitting water and unmoving air.   
           There was nothing resembling “medisohn” in the medicine cabinet.  I opened sundry drawers and found ancient toiletries, more newspapers, even some outlines for stories, written on napkins, paper towels, old sheets of onion skin paper.  The story was about a man who married two women, in contradiction of the edict of the Holy Rabbi Gershom, who had outlawed polygamy for Jews in Western lands.  I turned the scrap over to see how the story ended, but the other side was as blank as the dark side of the moon.
            There wasn’t medicine anywhere.  Even the refrigerator was empty, warm and unplugged and the home to more stray copies of Yiddish newspapers, most of which had gone out of business for two or more decades.  Goldfarb’s apartment was like a genizah, a storage area for sacred articles with God’s name written upon them, worn out from use or neglect.  His rooms had the casual tumble of a seasoned genizah… things from great antiquity abutted more recent productions.  By the very nature of his insinuations, I began to think I had been sent here on a fool’s errand.  The notion was absurd, the jealously unearned, yet still I burned with a strange shame. 
            I looked for a phone to get some bearing from Goldfarb, that old fraud, but there was none to be found.  I knocked on the apartment next door and the Dominican woman who answered smiled with incomprehension, and even with my pantomime of using a phone, did not step aside nor lower the barricade of her smile.  I had no choice but to find a pay phone.
            I closed the lobby door against the snow and wind.  My shoes were soaked and my hands shook from the chill as the dime slid through the slot.  At first, the phone droned in a parody of a dial tone, and then buzzed like a sick fly aching for a swatter.  After an interminable number of rings, the phone was picked up.  There was a delay and laughter followed by another delay.  Finally, a peel of hellos like a volley of shot on the other end. 
            “Nate, is that you?  I can’t hear you.  The snow must have downed some lines.”
            I explained my predicament.  The stack of papers in Yiddish.  The fictional medicine.  The lack of a phone.  She was only getting a few words at a time, as if my voice was being filtered through a sieve.
            “Don’t worry about the medicine,” she said after a chorus of clicks and drones.  “Mr. Goldfarb is felling much better.  He’s positively glowing.  He's telling me stories of his youth.  They are so funny I am crying.”  In the back I could hear Goldfarb’s garbled voice and Sharon’s laughter and the waft of incomprehensible words.
            “Fine,” I said shortly.  “I’m coming home.”
            “Don’t do that Nate,” the voice said quickly, suddenly a pocket of clear air in a sky of turbulence.  “The mayor has declared a state of emergency.  All but necessarily vehicles on the road and the subway is closed down, a transformer exploded… stay in Menashe’s place for the night and he’ll…
            “Please deposit another ten cents for an additional five minutes…..”
            “Sharon?  Sharon?”  I put the ten cents in but the line went dead to spite me.  I pushed open the door of the phone booth plowing a drift of snow.  All of upper Manhattan was muffled in a cold, soundless mantle, it lay beneath a quilt of dim white in churlish slumber.

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