Copyright © 2017 Yonatan Kirby
All Rights Reserved.
One night around the
dinner table my father said, “Our neighbor Jimmy, you know him?
Well, he has been attacked.” My mother leaned in toward me,
gauging my reaction.
“But why?” I said.
“Their tree was
encroaching on another house’s yard,” said my mother.
“But they’ve hardly
even moved in!” I protested.
There was a knock at
the front door, followed by a loud barking. “Ruff ruff,” I said.
“Clover, shut up.”
“You get it, honey,”
my mother said. Just that moment, there was a loud “ftach et ha
delet” from behind the door. Apparently, someone wanted us to
open the door. Someone with a very loud, very deep Israeli voice.
My mother peered
through the hole. “Police,” she announced, and instead of
answering the door, she stood back and said “Honey, you should
probably answer it. They’re probably going to ask about Jimmy’s
Case? Jimmy’s? What
the heck? But before I could demand any more of my mother, the door
“Excuse me, could I
speak to your mother,” the policeman said.
The policeman was a
towering presence. He had to have been six-foot three. The booming
voice didn’t do anything to alleviate my nerves, either. I was
said, and bravely stood my ground. “My mother doesn’t want to
talk right now, and besides, you wouldn’t want to talk to her
The policeman ignored
this barb and focused his eyes on me. “I would like you to tell me
everything you know about Jimmy Goldgrabber.” He pronounced the
name “Jeem-ee Goldgghrabberrh,” so it was all I could do not to
laugh. “Um,” I said, covering the side of my mouth with one hand,
“Ani lo midaveret Ivrit.” I don’t speak Hebrew. I
understood it well enough, but to ask me to have a conversation with
this armored, hulking beast—a two-way conversation, at that—was
“Lo ichpat li,”
he said. It doesn’t matter. He didn’t care; he was going to get
what he wanted out of me whether I desired it or not.
at yoda’at al ha chutzpan haze Jeem-ee?”
What do you know about this troublemaker Jimmy. I didn’t
laugh this time.
“Um,” I said while
I paced on the linoleum in the front entranceway, and tried to think
Jimmy had been
introduced to me in the fifth grade, an aberration if there ever was
one. At that time, girls didn’t talk to boys (although in my little
brother’s grade, they were early bloomers and started to go out in
fifth, sometimes in forth grades), but were introduced to each-other
by their parents. By their muddling, interfangling parents if any
word could be used to describe them.
I had been
‘re-introduced’ to Jimmy (or you could say re-acquainted, because
our parents didn’t introduce us this time) on the bus last week.
Jimmy had been sitting in the front seat of the bus, and I in the
seat directly behind him. Well, I didn’t know anybody—you can’t
“Clarissa,” he had
said to me as the bus had carted down the sloping street of our
little village, “what do you know about slugs?”
What? I had
thought as I absorbed what he had said. What kind of moron was he?
What had all these years at public school done to him?
I tried to be brave and
said, “Jimmy Goldgrabber, right?”
Jimmy ignored me and
said, “Clarissa Steiner, right? You went to my school, right? And
then I left and went to a different school, but we still went to the
same shul. Remember?”
Of course I remembered,
but I was trying to pretend I didn’t. Well, if he spoke in complete
sentences like this, then why did he start by asking me the question
about the slugs? Was he a loser or not?
“Jimmy, of course I
remember,” I said, trying to keep my cool. “The question is, why
did you start by asking me about the slugs?” There. I had put it to
him. I would get my answer now.
Jimmy folded his arms
and sat back in his seat. “Because I wanted to test you,” he
Just at that moment,
the loudspeaker erupted with noise: “Yeladim!” (Children!)
Tafsiku lihishtolell! (Stop running wild!) Jimmy and I had been
almost standing in our seats, but we hadn’t noticed it. Jimmy
grounded and said, “But I just sat down!”
“Quiet,” I said,
“or else he’ll hear us.”
“Does it really
matter?” Jimmy said. “The bus’ll probably run flat on its face
before we reach school, anyway.”
I was shocked. “What
are you saying?” I said, covering my mouth with my left hand (the
one with the stars and stripes, not the one with the
balloons—Independence day happened so long ago anyway). “Are you
trying to anger the driver enough to get us killed?” And at that
point I turned in my seat and hugged the window, glad I could get an
excuse to write him off once and for all.
“I don’t think
you’re making very much sense now,” Jimmy said, obviously angered
by my refusal to engage him. “I think you need some sense put into
Some sense definitely
had to be put into me. Some sense to stay away from Jimmy.
“Whatever,” I said.
What did end up going
wrong, however, was that Jimmy drove all the teachers wild.
The classes were
co-educational for some classes, single-sex for others. And while
Jimmy didn’t take offense to the co-educational classes, he
definitely erupted at the thought of splitting each class down the
middle along gender lines.
“But Clarissa here!”
he said, pointing to me in a very demonstrative manner, in front of
the clutch of teachers that had grown very quickly since he had
started shouting, “Clarissa is my best friend! You can’t take me
away from her!”
Thankfully, one of the
teachers, who had spoken and understood English very well, had the
presence of mind to wait him out (and not enter into a shouting
match). “Jimmy,” he had said, “we are a religious school.
Religious schools don’t have young men and women learning religious
“But I did at my
school,” I said. At once I was the center of attention. My cheeks
flushed and my ears got hot.
“We’re not asking
what you did at your school,” one of the teachers, a woman, said to
me in broken English. Her black headscarf looked menacing. “You’re
only Conservative,” it seemed to say. (Our family was only
Conservative, and not Orthodox)
“Enough,” the man
addressing Jimmy said in his American-accented English (I wonder if
the other teachers were looking on with awe or if that silent
seriousness on their faces was obedience).
“It’s okay,” I
said to the teacher as he stared at me, “he’s not my best friend.
He’s only an acquaintance.”
looked angrily at me, and then down at the floor. I could feel the
heat radiating angrily off of him. You would want to get close to
him at this point, I thought. Nor would any slug.
“You step back here,”
the tall, powerful (it seemed like) male teacher said to Jimmy,
indicating the principal’s office. He must have been the principal
“And enough standing
around,” he said to the teachers in Hebrew (this I could
understand). The teachers moved grumpily away.
“Anything you give,
you get back in return,” he said, sighing, to the two of us. “I
was like you once.”
Jimmy turned his back
and walked with the principal to the principal’s office. Fine,
Jimmy, I thought. Be that way.
The largest threat ever
facing me from the Israel end of things came from food. I’m not
kidding—food. It had been my nemesis since I had gotten to Israel
and would continue to be my nemesis even after I left. Here’s the
thing: never eat zchug on an empty stomach.
Zchug: a pasty solid
which people like to call a spread—you spread it on your pita,
lafa, whatever (I have some friends who even used to use it on
challah—I mean, talk about desecrating the Sabbath). Now, zchug
is not just spicy. It doesn’t just burn your tongue off. It roasts
I was learning to speak
Hebrew and it was like I was talking out of a coma. My tongue was put
out of commission for two weeks. I talked and talked but it was like
my tongue was wagging and flopping inside my mouth with no focus, all
that came out was spittle. Which is I guess appropriate, given the
nature of Hebrew—a guttural, spit-filled language.
At lunch one day Neelee
asked if I could try it. “Sure,” I said, trying to imitate her
spit-filled accent. And then it happened.
My tongue roasted.
“Rissa, are you
okay?” my friend Naor said to me (we were permitted to eat
“Ahhhh!!!” I told
him, and raced to the bathroom.
“Stop running!” one
of the teachers said.
“Fuck, fuck, fuck.
Shit, shit,” I whispered, and splashed water in my mouth.
It didn’t abate. It
“Shit,” I said, and
crying, retreated to the table.
Naor was laughing.
“Fuck you,” I said.
“Fuck what? I no
“Stop it,” Neelee
said. “You must eat bread,” she said in her beautiful,
then I stopped.
I ate the bread.
“Hey, Clarissa!” It
was Jimmy. He was followed by a sternly clad police officer. “You
going to jail with me?”
I should tell you now,
Jimmy is no fun in jail—or anywhere. He gets all dirty from rolling
around in the dirt in the bottom of the cell and lets out trumpet
blasts of air when he’s panting, which is often. He does it to get
my attention—I know it. But what should I do, you tell me? Should I
reject him, now that he’s so attached to me? He can’t help that
I’m so beautiful! Even my daddy says so.
Back to the present:
“What the (bleep)?” I yell, ready to throw a punch at anyone,
repeats snidely, “you are going with me. You are under arrest. I
hereby read you your rights.”
“Shtok (shut up),”
the policeman said. “You’re coming with me. And I’m sorry to
take you out of your lunch hour.”
Four days had passed
since I had started school. Now I was being arrested.
“Okay,” I said. I
said goodbye to Neelee and Naor (who gave me a thumbs up). “I no
know you can swear so well,” he told me.
The policeman pushed me
in front of him and said, “March.”
“Pretty ironic, huh,”
Jimmy said, smiling—”the pretty perfect girl from America, who
even speaks a little Hebrew, going to jail.”
“I don’t see how my
superiority has to do with anything,” I said to Jimmy.
“Oh, it has
everything to do with everything,” he said. “And it can help me
get out of this mess.”
Confused? I was.
But first, we need to
go back to a time when the sabretooth tiger still existed, when
triceratops roamed the plains, and when humans were nothing but a
dust mote in some primitive rodent’s eye. In other words, we need
to go back to when I wasn’t born yet, when my superiority didn’t
yet rule the universe.
I was a bit confused
back then, as well.
All my life, I had been
perfect: perfect grades, perfect pigtails, perfectly complimentary
friends. My daddy loved me. My momma adored me. So I suppose you
could say I was ingenious, after a fashion. Adorable. Cute. Hot, even
(well come on, even you agree). But I never knew how to love.
Until I met Jimmy.
I don’t know what it
took for me to love Jimmy, what made me do it. But I do know that it
started right there, in that prison.
“You see,” Jimmy
insinuated, hissing his face up to my ear, “I need your skills of
acting like an innocent twerp to get me out of this mess.”
“You framed me!” I
yelled at him. “You said to them I’m involved in whatever plot
you have to conquer the neighbor’s backyard or whatever ruckus you
have planned lately! Maybe you should go back to the slugs, your
friends. They like dirt. But whatever you have planned, keep your
dirty hands off me.”
The policeman shoved
his hands in between the two of us.
“I know you like
each-other,” he said, “but this is not the time.”
“What did he say?”
“He said that you
should get down on all fours and do twenty. Knocks to the head, that
“Oh, very funny.”
policeman said. “This is the last time.”
We were walking down
the path to the car. We passed a couple of olive trees. Jimmy took
one and began to chew.
“Can’t eat that,”
the policeman said. “Too bitter.”
“Huh?” Jimmy said.
“He said you gotta
chew them real hard,” I said.
“Shut up, Clarissa,”
After a couple more
steps, Jimmy started retching. “Clarissa!” he gasped.
policeman said. “Get into the car.”
We reached the car; the
policeman had a friend in the driver’s seat. He was bearded and
looked sort of like a rabbi. (Of course, you wouldn’t be able to
distinguish which religious sect he’s from.)
“What are you doing
here?” The Bearded Man accosted me suspiciously. His Hebrew was
“What?” Jimmy said.
“OK, American,” the
bearded Rabbi said in barely coherent English, turning to Jimmy: “You
tell me now, in English. Vat is going on?”
Jimmy looked confused.
“What is he saying?” he said.
“He’s saying you
have a small penis.”
“Clarissa, fuck you,”
he said. “What exactly are you saying to me?” he addressed the
policeman. “Please say it again.”
“He ees saying,”
said the first policeman, who was balding (either intentionally or
not, we didn’t know) “that he vants to know ha-wat is going on?
Zey do-not tell us a lot from ze intelligence. Eet is important zat
we know, zo, because we are eenterested, you see.” He peered at us,
alternating from Jimmy to me, until he was satisfied. He winked.
“Yes, you know,” he said to me. “You know what I
with the prisoners,” the bearded policeman said.
he said to the religious man in Hebrew. “Always trying to tell us
what to do.”
We rode the rest of the
time in silence—until we got to the police station.
“But wait!” I said
to Clarissa. “Are you sure you’re not making anything up?” I
smiled at her. “Drug ring?”
Clarissa said to me. “Do you think I’d be making up something
“Well, no. Probably
Clarissa laughed like a
hyena. “Seriously, Samantha, you really think all that is fake?”
“No,” I said. I
opened the window a crack. Sounds of students talking filtered in: it
was a nice warm day out, people would be playing frisbee.
“Want to go out?” I
“What, to those
morons outside?” That’s classic Clarissa for you.
“No, for your own
“Fuck health. Booz is
I sighed. Clearly this
wasn’t getting anywhere.
“Listen, you want me
to tell you the story or not?”
“Fine. Go on.”
“I haven’t gotten
to the drug ring part yet.”
The stay at prison was
pretty dreary. The accommodations were suitable for high-class
prisoners at Alcatraz—except for the fact that they made us wear
white shirts and blue pants. I know that the stereotypical American
zebra suit is what people usually have in their minds… and our
outfit was definitely more stylish. One prison guard actually
commented on how good I looked in it.
“Thanks,” I said.
“Ah, Eenglish?” he
said. “You are American.”
“Ah, nice!” he said
in Hebrew. “You come and make aliyah?”
“Yes,” I said.
“Ah, you come to my
house, you eat schnitzel!” he said. “You meet my wife!”
“Sure!” I said. I
was reasonably interested in getting away from my parents, anyway.
We unpacked our bags
(which had probably been packed just before), which consisted of one
set of everything: pants, undies, shirts, white pants, a blue dress,
and a toothbrush for brushing teeth and fungus of your limbs, which
resulted from the seat of a corroded toilet. For a backwater prison
in the North of Israel, however, the facility was definitely pretty
See, these guards had
brand new fountain pens, and I know this because they twirled them
when they were bored (which was always). They were all hairless on
the top of their heads, and had bad attitudes. And the guard let me
have a cigarette.
It was a faded,
slightly dry, slightly brown sort of cigarette that blended in with
the prison walls. Jimmy wanted it but I didn’t give it to him. The
cigarette brought back memories of such innocent experiences… like
whiffing marijuana for the first time on a blustery spring day in
seventh grade, when we thought the Rabbis weren’t looking, and then
almost getting caught for it! Thank goodness some rabbis are
susceptible to the cute flirt. But some rabbis don’t even
know what marijuana is, or looks like.
Scratched on the prison
walls was some mantra which involved saying some Rabbi named
Nachman’s name over and over again… if you said it enough times
out loud, it might bring messiah. I said it a few times, and then
scratched my name on the wall. I thought of what message to write,
and then thought “this is fucked up.” So I wrote “this
is fucked up.”
I sat down to think. It
seemed like I hadn’t done much thinking in the past few days—with
my first day at school, dealing with my parents’ worried
blusterings about how they’ll fit in, dealing with Jimmy, the
principal, the teachers. It seemed like the only people I could trust
were my friends.
Neelee I met when we
were both talking about how we weren’t familiar with the language,
and how many tests they were going to force us to take this year.
Turns out her parents are Russian, and although I thought of her as
Israeli, she had moved there only three years before.
“But your accent is
so beautiful!” I said to her at lunch, the day we met.
“Don’t trust the
accent. Thank you, also. I trust you don’t think your own accent is
beautiful as well?”
“It sounds like I’m
crapping through my mouth.”
Neelee laughed. “Not
“Yeah, not so much,”
I said. “Only when you’re listening really closely.”
On the first day of
school, she had saved me from embarrassment when I pissed off the
menacing-looking woman in the black headscarf.
“You see,” Mrs.
Rothenberger had said, as she was polishing off a class on
Isshiut—the science of being a good Jewish woman—”a
woman has to anticipate the needs of her husband and make herself
available to him.”
I looked around at
everyone else: taking notes as if nothing had happened. I raised my
hand. “You think you can just say that, without worrying about how
it’ll make us all act—as slaves to our husbands!”
A few girls gasped. A
couple of them smiled at me.
“You were not called
upon, but I will address your comment,” she said. Neelee elbowed me
in the ribs; I sat up straight.
“If you were paying
attention to the whole lecture, we were talking about behavior in the
context of the bedroom,” she said, a bit snippeshly.
So I was supposed to
understand the entire lecture now? “Um,” I said. “In America,
it might be different.”
“Really? Please tell
us,” Mrs. Rothenberger responded.
“Um,” I said. I
looked around at everyone else. The students all looked at me
expectantly. “It just is,” I said.
“I don’t know how
‘it just is’ constitutes an answer,” she said.
“Um,” I said. I
felt myself turning beet red. I decided to strike back. “Well,
we’re not tied-down all the time, you know… long skirts…”
I paused, to see their reaction, and continued: “worrying about
pissing off the men…you know” I paused, and breathed in again.
“We’re not scared.” I stopped talking. Mrs. Rothenberger stared
at me. I stared back.
“Okay,” she said.
“Good. Let’s move on.”
That whole time, Neelee
had been pulling on my knee with her foot. If she hadn’t been, I
don’t know what would have happened. Perhaps it would’ve went
I waited for Mrs.
Rothenberger to insult me, or to somehow just get back at me.
“Well,” I said.
A couple of the
“What did you just
say?” the teacher said, astonished, her eyes narrowing.
“Um,” I said.
Neelee says quickly. She always covers for me. “It’s just how she
“We do not swear
in this classroom,” the teacher said, her black headscarf drooping
a bit over her eyelids.
Conclusion: I am sent
to the principal’s office and suspended.
Thank the Lord I just
politely shut my mouth and let the lecture stream on uninterrupted.
Thank God for Neelee. She saved my skin, but—I could have left a
lasting impression on those young minds. I left them to their
Samantha asked. “It sounds like you’re the miserable one in this
“Watch it, fuckface,”
I told her. “You could be next.”
“What, in the parade
of never-ending stories about Clarissa Steiner? I don’t fear,
they’re all about you anyway!”
“Anyway, the point
is, if Neelee hadn’t been distracting me, I really would have
started on one of my rants. One of my epic rants.”
Samantha agreed. She paused; then she said: “Where’d you learn to
swear like that, anyway?”
“Never mind that,”
I muttered. It actually was my older brother.
“I guess I’ll just
have to do my own independent research.”
But I never told you
about our time in prison. So let me do that.
Jimmy was all full of
these obsessions and loathings that had to do with me. He absolutely
detested me, As if it was my fault we ended up in that place!
clear,” he said. “Remember when we got to first know each-other?”
I did. “And it was good, right? Uh-huh? Yeah? You know?”
“And didn’t that
mean anything to you?” he repeated.
“What?” I said. I
was confused. Mean what? What should it mean? What does it mean? You
tell me, Samantha. You tell me what all this shit means. I am invited
over to his house. We smoke some weed downstairs. Everything is good.
And then I leave with my family! I mean, goddamnit! Why is God so
evil? Jimmy has to rail on how he is all hung up over me not calling
him ever (like I ever did), and my not returning his calls, the
horrible bitch that I am. Although I was too young to be a bitch at
that time. Maybe just a cunt. But poor little Jimmy. He goes into the
drug business, after that. He’s a pusher. He be a pusher. El habla
espanol. He’s multicultural.
Globalismo, in the Spanish. I’m very educated, after all.
And a pussy. I mean,
why didn’t I give Jimmy a call? I suppose I’ll never know.
So we parted ways, me
and Jimmy. I continued on doing what I do best, and Jimmy started his
“I became a king,
Clarissa,” he said, contently, like a fat cat with a cigar in his
mouth. He leaned his back against the grimy wall and let it absorb
the scum which had been festering there since G-d knows when. His
back was probably full of the porous stuff by now. We’d been here
for two whole hours.
Mostly, he’d been
humming popular tunes over and over again while the other prisoners
yelled at him to stop or asked him what song it was.
“Ever hear of
Beethoven?” one prisoner asked.
talking, then frowned.
“No, don’t listen
to him,” another prisoner said. He was a bearded Rabbi-type who
looked like he hadn’t eaten bread or water for two full days. “Want
to hear a niggun?”
“My name is Jimmy,”
he told the prisoner. “Nice to meet you. And this here,” and he
pointed to me in the cell across from him, “is Clarissa.”
“Very nice to meet
you,” the Rabbi-Figure said. He let us keep talking.
“So anyway,” he
said, “I became a king. And I reveled in my kingship. I was
glorified in it. My honor was a garment for me; my enemies fell
before me. Because my honor told the older thugs to do it. And they
didn’t know it was me.”
“What are you talking
Clarissa-pie,” he said with pointed acerbity, “I enacted this
enterprise with the Internet. Chat rooms, Myspace, anything you can
name. I did it. I spread myself all over, made myself an
entrepreneur. I was a creative shit. A creative little shit.”
“You are verifiably
“So I am. Kill me.”
“No. I can’t. And
even if I could, I’d go to hell and have to be with you.”
Jimmy stared back. “Ah!
So you do like me! What a nice surprise!”
I eyed him. Didn’t
what I say have the opposite connotation?
waved his hand. “Let me proceed.”
“Fuck that,” I
said. “You’re just wasting time. Just get to the part where you
get arrested, for whatever… it was you were doing. And why I’m
also suspected of aiding you in your latest ploy to take over the
“Ah, resorting to
clichés! This I like!” He was definitely getting annoying.
“Too much,” I said.
“Fine, fine. I’ll
get to it. But first, do you want some prune juice?” He offered me
something from his tray.
“No,” I said.
“Fine, be that way!”
he said. “Anyway…
“They took me to
prison first time in eighth grade. Juvie, they called it. In Juvie,
there were many different kinds of kids. Being a New-York Jew and
all, and then a Los-Angeles Jew, I didn’t have much opportunity to
branch out. I met people from all across the world. Among them:
Swiss, Kurds, Mexicans, Americans, Iranians (well, Iranian Jews) and
Circassians. And, bum da dum bum: Israelis! Of all stripe and color:
blond Israelis, brown-haired, etc… I can tell you’re getting
bored from all this cataloguing, so I’m going to stop. Besides,
you’ve seen them all anyway.”
“You’re a good
storyteller. Surprised I said that, though.”
“You’ve always been
sweet under your bristly skin, Clarissa-pie.”
“Fuck you. You’re
the one who got me here. And I still don’t know why I’m
Jimmy stood silenced
(or rather, sat). After a minute or two, he whispered, “I’m
sorry. Honest, Clarissa, it was just an error. There should be
someone else in your cell.”
“5 minutes to lights
out!” yelled a warden.
“Who?” I demanded.
“Look,” he said. “It was my idea to have our families move to
“I met some pretty
cool Israelis in that L.A. jail,” he said. “We started a drug
enterprise… spanning the glove. Along with the Pakistanis, Mexicans
and South Africans. You know, globalism. You know, Jews and Muslims
work together pretty well when it comes to defeating the
establishment. In fact, anyone who’s not American is like that. As
long as you’re an outsider, then it’s okay, as I like to say!”
“So you started this…
enterprise.” Fucking Jimmy. “And why didn’t you bring someone
else’s family instead of mine? You could’ve brought anyone! Any
one of your drug buddies!”
“Bedtime,” spat a
guard. “No more talking.”
Jimmy leaned in closer
once the guard had gone. “So I subliminally convinced my parents to
go to Israel, Paradise of Drugs, so I could build up my empire. I did
all that anyone would expect. You know, I bought them Israeli
products and such, and when they asked, I said I found them on the
cheap, or nonsense like that. Or a friend had given it to me (which
was true in some cases—Israeli pickles stolen from the pantry of
one of my drug buddies (stolen from his parentals)). When my
parentals came into contact with yours on the Sabbath, it was a
simple matter of me inserting the topic of food, and watching them go
off the rails! They move to Israel, and take us with them.
were a sad little footnote. I accidentally wrote your name on a
government form, saying that you were my first contact in any case of
“Um, you were the
only contact I had at the time, I had to put someone.”
I was really angry.
Stewed, in fact. “Then wait a bit, till you meet one of your
“Don’t call them
that!” Jimmy snapped. “You might as well be insulting me.”
“I guess I am.”
Jimmy sighed. “When I
get out of here, I’m getting me some nice Crackerjacks.”
The lights went out.
Jimmy and I were in
jail for six days. I guess we were lucky, because we should’ve been
in there thirty. Maybe it was because they knew they had nothing on
me (or maybe they had asked the U.S. about my various 6th
grade misdemeanors—I don’t know). Maybe they had averaged my and
Jimmy’s sentences; but then, wait, it’s impossible to average
zero and infinity! No one told you I was a math major, huh, Samantha?
Give us time—it’s only the fourth day of college.
Where was I… oh, so
we got out. I was prancing around school telling everyone about it.
Jimmy was tagging along, thirsty for some attention, like some
uncared-for dog. I mean, I know he couldn’t understand Hebrew, but
at least he could have looked a little more dignified…ah, you know
I’m kidding, Jimmy!
We even got a reception
from that old meanie, Mrs. Rothenberger.
“So I see you’re
back. Welcome!” she said when she saw us in the hallway.
“Yes!” Jimmy said,
proud to be saying something.
“So this is Jimmy?”
said Mrs. Rothenberger.
“Yes!” I said. I
didn’t know why my volume level was up. After all, I did
famous!” she said. “All the boys are talking about you.”
“Hopefully I can
understand them,” Jimmy muttered.
“I’m sure you
will,” the teacher said.
“Huh? I didn’t ask
you,” Jimmy said.
“I know. But I’m
sure you will,” she said, and left.
“Jimmy, Jimmy,” I
said, and almost took him by the arm (I saw another teacher rounding
the corner who was staring suspiciously at us). “Jimmy, we almost
haven’t talked about classes. Tell me about your classes, Jimmy.”
I was surprising even myself.
All the students were
staring at us as we walked past. Neelee waved as we walked past.
“I have no friends,”
“What are you saying?
I was asking you about your classes, stupid.”
“Shut up,” Jimmy
“You didn’t seem so
morose in prison,” I said. Please lighten up, Jimmy, I
“Well, this isn’t
prison! Clarissa!” Yes, he said my name.
“Hey, it’s Naor,”
I said. He was jauntily walking down the hall in that
not-quite-strutting manner that many Israelis of the Middle-Eastern
variety possess. I.e. shaking your hips and hoping someone will
notice you. Ah, well. I happen to do that, too.
And so does Jimmy.
But he didn’t do it
“Jimmy,” I said in
the manner of one who instructs, “You must do like Naor. Naor will
show you how to jive-walk.”
“You kidding me?
“Hey, guyz. Vassup?”
“Hey, Naor,” I
said. “Want to take a walk with us? We’ll show little Jimmy how
to walk. You know, like a Sephardi.”
said, with his little accented “r”. “You must know my name.
That is it; That is what people call me.” Ars meant poison in
Hebrew—why young middle-eastern Jews with spiky hair got to be
called that in Israel was beyond me.
“How’d you get such
good English?” an amazed Jimmy asked.
TV,” he said. “Want me to show you around the school?”
“OK!” Jimmy said,
even though he had already seen the school multiple times.
“Have fun!” I said
to the two of them, and wished them on their merry way. As they
turned to leave, Jimmy leaned in close to me and said, “He likes
“Of course he likes
you, you idiot,” I wanted to say, but didn’t, because I know. I
know, that learning Hebrew can be hard.
Israel is a different
culture. It’s easy to get lost in the fact that you’re different
from everyone else. You think you’re stupid. You think everyone
else is ignoring you. The truth is, you probably are at least a
little stupid, because you’re still learning how to adapt to a
foreign environment. But if people are ignoring you, then you’re
not the idiot. They are. You just remember that if you ever go to a
foreign country, Samantha.
“Okay, mom,” says
continue, “Naor goes off with Jimmy and they have a good time. Yay.
And I’m left to deal with some more illicit teachers. What are they
up to this time? Well, ‘no good’ is an excellent way of putting
That is the sound of me jumping on the bleachers in the city soccer
stadium, just a few kilometers from our little grouping of houses on
a hill. A dirt hill, I should add. But that’s irrelevant.
What’s relevant is
that I was seeing Jimmy practice with his team of pals. They had
graduated to two-word phrases like “that’s cool,” “chase it,”
and “high-five” (a favorite among the Israelis—it’s not just
Borat, you know). Jimmy was getting a real education, what can I say.
Harvard-esque. They should make Legally Blonde 3 and have it be about
him. I’ll be his girlfriend.
Okay, enough of that. I
was there to see him and in exchange, he would come to see me. You
see, he would quiz me on my shit, from these little wonderful
colorful cards that we had, and I would come to his games. And, of
course, his practices.
I had my shit spread
out all over the three benches adjacent to me—Deuteronomy, Exodus,
Genesis, Kings, Judges… you name it. I’d gotten the best of the
Conservative authorities to combat that awful Orthodox arrogance,
with a capital A, that this school has to offer.
You see, the Orthodox
bigots with their black hats and streimels and their not-so-Orthodox
cousins with their knitted colorful hippee yamulkees really want to
monopolize G-d and religion in the name of the black coats and the
segregation. Of women, I mean. Women can’t sing in public, women
can’t pray in public, women must obey the male authorities. Meaning
The rabbis have their
own G-d. He is an old man in a long black coat.
“Is that Clarissa I
see?” said a voice with a long black coat and a circular furry hat.
I tried to ignore him.
said. “Turn around so I can see you.” I reluctantly did so.
one stunning beauty,” he said. Well, no, he didn’t actually say
that. He said, “Clarissa! Not often I see you outside of class!”
No shit, Rabbi.
“Um, Rabbi, so you want to sit down?” I asked him, with a forced
cheerful smile on my face. A smile is worth a thousand A’s.
he said. “As long as you can tell me if it violates the laws of
Yichud. The set of laws
which tells me when/where I may be with a boy and therefore designed
to regulate fucking.
“No, no!” I said.
“It doesn’t violate the laws.”
“That’s what I
thought,” he said, and sat down. “So, Clarissa, tell me what is
going on in this game. Who is winning.”
“Well,” I said, and
looked at the field. They had started a scrimmage. Fuck me, I was so
engrossed in my studying. I started to cup my hands to my mouth in
order to cheer on Jimmy, but… I hesitated. And stopped. As I sat
there with my hands in my lap, powerless to act, I wondered, why am I
being stopped by this itinerant rabbi? Could it be that I am actually
No, it couldn’t.
So I put my hands to my
mouth and yelled. “Hey, Jimmy! Go score a goal!”
The rest of the players
turned to look at us. After a moment they started laughing. The rabbi
must have had a dangling booger or something.
“Is that your
boyfriend?” the rabbi asked.
Were rabbis always this
“Um,” I said as I
tried to come up with an answer. “So, rabbi, how are you doing?”
“Good, good!” he
said and rummaged through his briefcase. “I have to give you
something. Did you know that you were summoned to compete in a
debate? About holy studies?”
I knobbed my nose down
in distaste. “Debate? About Bible?”
“No, about holy
studies in general. Thought, morality, Bible, Talmud, anything and
everything. It’ll all be there. In your head. Should you choose to
participate, of course.”
Should I choose to
participate. Sounded like a guilt-trip to me.
“No,” I said
promptly, and finally, and as Israelis said it, happily.
“Are you sure?” he
said, wagging the papers in the air and arching his eyebrows. “You
friend, em, Neelee, is participating. You could say, she is the main
Neelee? It all left me feeling confused.
You see, Neelee was a
very quiet person. Studious, yes. Not loud. Very quiet. She was an
immigrant like me, I guess that had to play into it. Her family
immigrated from Russia when she was nine. Her and her blithe,
friendly Russian parents who didn’t know a thing about Judaism. Who
didn’t want to. I didn’t blame them.
I guess that made
Neelee all quiet. Maybe she was just patient. Or maybe Russian people
are just quieter. Have you ever seen a Russian yell? Except for those
old men with huge beards, I mean.
So Neelee was an
interesting choice for contestant.
“Why’d you pick
Neelee?” I blurted. It wasn’t that I was jealous. I just wanted
“Neelee is a dynamic
candidate with a working knowledge of all facets of the Bible,” he
understand. Who decides this? Who knows this?”
“The teachers, for
one. Listen, Clarissa, you’re being impertinent. For one, it’s
not your decision. And two, she picked you. Are you going to turn her
down? Don’t waste this opportunity!”
I thought. I already have all the opportunities I need. But I
was confused. “She picked me? For what?”
“Each team has three
members. And each school has one team. Neelee was chosen for her
knowledge. She applied, as well. Didn’t you?”
“For what, the test?”
“Oh, right, you
weren’t here last year,” the Rabbi said. “Right. Sorry. Well,
she picked you, and the final candidate is picked by the two of you.”
“What?” I was about
to say wtf, but I stopped myself. “She picked me? Couldn’t
she have done better than pick an American like me?”
I waited while one of
Jimmy’s friends made a corner kick. It caromed off one of the
posts, and Jimmy headed it in.
One thing I knew: Jimmy
wasn’t coming to Jerusalem or Tel-Aviv, or wherever this thing was
being held. He would spoil it. I mean, we’d been out of prison for
what, two days? I wasn’t going to allow him to start telling prison
Oh, wait, he can’t
speak Hebrew. But I’m sure they would understand gesticulations and
Fuck fuck fuck! I
couldn’t do this! Now I’d have to choose who comes. Along
with Neelee, of course. That kind of pressure…makes me piss
myself. I mean, I’m a tough girl, right guys? But playing
picky-choosy with a bunch of other tenth-graders… what am I, a
queen? I’d never be able to do that, I thought. I didn’t know
anyone. What if we picked someone and then we got along horribly? And
then we did horribly and flopped and then everyone blamed me?
Fuck me. And my life.
“Clarissa, so what if
you’re American? We’re all just a bunch of motley immigrants,
anyway.” He pointed to himself. “My grandparents were from Poland
and Czechoslovakia, and I’m a mutt of that plus Moroccan and
“I don’t care about
“I know,” he said.
“But you know, we’ll forgive you if you’re American. If you’re
a depressed American, I don’t think we’ll have the guts. Or a
“Do I look nervous?”
I checked myself and saw that I was shaking. “Fine. You’ve got me
on that one, but you’ll never make me go.”
“It’s up to you,”
he said. “But think it over. I’ll see you tomorrow morning for
If I survive the
night, I thought.
“So any news on
Jimmy’s verdict?” my mom asked me as we were sitting at dinner.
“Um… no,” I said.
“I think he should be
pardoned,” my father said. “For not making a ruckus.” We all
“The kids didn’t
make fun of me today,” Chris said. I still thought of him as Chris,
even though his real name was Caleb.
honey,” my mom said.
“I finally got a hang
of the Arabic swear words and then shoved the leader against a wall,
and that’s why,” he said.
shove people, Caleb,” Dad said.
“Daddy,” I said.
“Don’t you think it’s better to let him handle things himself?
I mean, it’s not like you’re the one going to an Israeli
said. “I think he’s handling things fine. I don’t know what I
would have done if I was in his place. I was just informing him of
the kneejerk moral abstraction which I was reacting to him with.”
That left me silent.
Mother said. “Why don’t you go up to your room now for that?”
I giggled. But I
wouldn’t be calling Daddy “Daddy” for quite a while.
“So, how was your
fabulous,” I responded. I wiped the lasagna from my mouth with my
duck-colored napkin (the ones we had brought from the States). “Give
me some more lima beans, will you, Dad?”
Daddy grimaced and
He will always be Daddy
“My day was actually
amazing,” I said to them in spite of myself.
“Jimmy came this
close to scoring a goal in practice, and I got a job offer.”
“Oh, common, babe,”
my smart-ass brother said. “You’re not even qualified to work.”
dipshit,” I fired back. “I am.”
my father held up his hands. And you wonder why I call him “Daddy.”
He gives me the creeps.
“Um, guys, you want
any dessert?” asked Mom.
…nation or ethnicity
or something else… search the web
Is Judaism a movement
or a philosophy? That’s certainly not a question I’d been asking
myself the sixteen years I’d been alive.
First of all, who
cared? I mean, I know Rabbi WhatsHisName did and all that, and
probably cared about the outcome enough to rig it so that we would
all turn into his prostrating, black-clad puppets. At least we had
freedom of choice. That we could agree on.
I know Rabbi
Klinghoffer probably knew the head of the committee which picks the
questions and so he probably rigged the entire thing himself, making
me and Neelee and Unknown Candidate #3 have to strain and sweat as
hard as we could, for our ultimate betterment, of course. He probably
picked it right after I arrived in school, so he could see me
represent the liberal elements in Judaism and thus be shamed before
the Ultra-Orthodox anti-feminist bigots which would populate the
coliseum. Let us rejoice.
So it was that I set
about this task, answering this question, along with Neelee and
Unnamed Person #3, with a heavy heart. Of course, the first task we
had was to pick our mandatory third teammate.
“Haven’t done that
since you stopped playing kickball,” Chris said the next night.
“Aw, shutup, Chris,”
said, surprisingly, my dad.
spouted my mom. “You must learn manners.”
“Who are you, his
mom?” I moaned. “Gimme a break.”
“Maybe when your
balls drop you can start playing kickball again,” Chris said.
“Fucking jerk,” I
“So how’s Jimmy?”
Chris said when we had gotten upstairs.
“What do you really
want to ask,” said I.
“Oh, you mean, did
you do him yet?” he pantomimed.
“Where did you hear
that?” I asked, horrified. You know, I can be genuinely
“Honey?” called my
mom from downstairs.
“She means you,”
“I overhear your
phone calls,” he said, licking his lips. “Sexy sluts.”
Now where’d he learn
language like that?
I suppose Rabbi
Klinghoffer must be thinking of me as quite the obnoxious slut, as by
now he will have read this book and all the materiel herein—but
perhaps his kids won’t. Perhaps his kids will hold me up as the
standard of moral behavior; their father worshiped idolatry, and now
they are free. They are free to enter the promised land.
I mean, it’s not like
I’m a total sinner. I do volunteer in some foreign
countries. Like Kenya. And I sleep on the floor from time to time.
Bet he doesn’t do
But before I hang up my
black hat on the hat stand and get comfy on the loveseat, let me tell
you that Jimmy wasn’t happy about his eventually being nominated,
either. You see, Rabbi Klinghoffer didn’t quite mean it when he
insisted that Neelee and I choose our own running mate. You see, he
would eventually turn out to be a sort of “mate”, but not of the
same kind, and definitely, definitely not at that time.
time to go to class,” Samantha interrupted.
“Ah, what? Oh,”
said my muttering mouth.
“I can’t wait to
“Ha, now that I’ve
told you all that? Don’t try to steal him from me.”
“I think he has
soccer practice today, anyway.”
“Fuck, I forgot to
turn in my chem homework last night,” she said.
Privately, I was sad
she had copied my tendency to be a sailor. I didn’t look so good in
a pirate anyhow.
“Are you alright?
What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I said,
forcing a smile. “Life goes on as usual.”
“So let us depart!”
We exited the building
and started walking down the long concourse to the Spanish building.
I said, “I’ve
always envied your vocabulary, you know.”
“Well I learned it
“No, you didn’t.”
“Yes, I did.”
“We’re reaching the
fucking building. Tone it down.”
All at once, I caught a
glimpse of bright blue engulfed in the crowd, coming toward us.
“Hey look, it’s
“No fucking way.”
Clarissa.” I smiled at him. “Want to come jogging with me?”
“No thanks, Jimmy,
we’re a little, how shall we say, weighed down,” I said.
“No kidding,” he
said, and winked at Samantha. I cringed.
“Hey, listen, you
want to come to Rabbi G’s tonight?” he said. “Plenty of good
Samantha and I looked
at each-other. We burst out laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“Oh, it’s not you,
Jimmy,” I replied, although it was. Rabbi G was the resident Chabad
practitioner, which was a sect of black-hat. This sect of black hats’
aim was to convert all other people into Chabad practitioners.
“Spreading Chasidus,” they called it, which meant spreading a
vague eighteenth-century philosophy designed to bring people together
under the control of one charismatic leader, or “Rebbe”.
We had just spent the
last hour reliving my experiences from Israel. That’s why it was
“Listen, Jimmy,” I
said. “We’re sort of busy. You know, girl things. But we’re
still going out, right?”
Jimmy looked baffled.
“Right,” he said.
“Fuck me,” I said,
looking at my watch. “We’re late. Love you.” And I gave him a
little peck on the cheek.
Perhaps it was my
imagination, but Jimmy seemed to recoil a bit when I touched him.
tengo! Tu tienes! Usted tiene! El tiene! El y ella tienen! Vosotros
“I thought we didn’t
learn Vosotros,” Samantha whispered.
“I think she’s from
“Silencio! Fermen las
bocas!” the teacher screamed.
“She has good ears,”
Samantha wrote to me when the teacher had turned back to the
blackboard. (We still had blackboards—it was definitely a
“Yeah, no kidding,”
I answered. “We should do a survey on the physiogamy of Spanish
It turned out,
actually, that Rabbi Klinghoffer was a Chabad. Not a
Rebbe-worshiping, hero-lauding Chabad, but a Chabad all the same. He
told us stories about the Rebbe, often for hours at a time, if it
happened to be connected to something we were doing.
“Did you hear about
the time the Rebbe farted?” he asked us once when he dropped in to
Physical Sciences class.
But actually, no, that
It went like this:
excited upon us as he dropped by where we were studying. “How is
“The competition, of
“We are competing
quite fine,” I said.
“Hahaha,” he said.
“You girls are quite something magnificent. I expect you have
chosen your third person already?”
“No,” I said, and
started to hate him.
said, “You don’t look so hot. Cheer up.”
said, shaking me like a sack of beans.
“Neelee?” I asked.
I raised my head from the table.
asked. “Who’s Neelee?”
“What?” I said. It
was only then that I realized that Neelee wasn’t Neelee and the
table wasn’t a table. It was a desk.
“Class is over,”
she said. “It’s time to go to Philosophy.”
“Fuck,” I said.
Philosophy be damned, my philosophy was sleep. Especially after
getting four hours of sleep. But drinking has its rewards, you know.
“We’re still in
class, you know,” she said. “Swearing can come later.”
“Right,” I said,
sighing. “Thanks, mom.”
Samantha said, “Okay,
then,” and took my backpack and me. I was dragged from the
“Better luck on the
quiz next time!” the teacher screamed after me.
“Why is she such a
bitch?” I asked Samantha.
“She was born that
way. I don’t know. I think that’s the way she talks, actually,”
“What do you think of
Jimmy’s proposal?” I said.
“What do you mean?”
said Samantha. “I thought we were going out tonight.”
“Don’t you think
it’s a little risqué for me to fuck someone else when I’m also
“I mean, you can
stick two penises in you at once, can you?”
“Shut up, you slut!”
I said and lashed out at her. She blocked it. Black belt, what can I
“Stop fucking around
and tell me why you want to go be with Jimmy. I mean, you’re with
him every day!”
“Like I said,” I
said, “It just doesn’t seem right.”
“I see,” she said.
“Monogamy clearly suits you. Let me know when you break out the
“Give me a break,”
I said. “It’s not like I’m becoming religious.”
“Good,” she said.
“Because you can’t get drunk on Saturday night if you have to go
“I mean, there’s
also another reason I want to go,” I said.
“And what is that?”
We passed a group of
party-animal guys. They ogled at us.
“I mean, I want to
sort of see what these people are all about,” I said, although that
couldn’t be farther than the truth.
“I thought you said
you hated Rabbi Klinghoffer.”
“That’s because he
was a klingy shit,” I said. “And I did. But not that much. And
just in a particular way. Just for certain things. Not for others.”
Samantha groaned. “You
will become religious.”
“Just watch me,” I
said. “Maybe I’ll become a Scientologist.”
SUDDEN STARTLING FLASHBACK
It was a Shabaton at
Rabbi Klinghoffer’s house. Everyone was staying for the weekend in
the Zichron Ya’akov neighborhood where the school was, and where
the Rabbi’s house also happened to be. We were at the Rabbi’s
table. Maybe thirty of us. Jimmy was there. Neelee. Naor. The soccer
team. My other girlfriends. And some various assorted nerds, etc. But
of course you don’t need to hear that.
“The most important
thing is the Torah,” Rabbi Klinghoffer was saying. “Doing the
Torah. Because if you’re not doing the Torah, you’re not living
life. Going to school and doing your homework is not enough. You need
to be doing your homework up there,” and he pointed to the sky.
coughed. I looked up at the ceiling where he was pointing. Lots of
little patterns etched in white paint. Nice roof, Rabbi.
“It’s not wealth
that matters,” he continued. “It’s godliness. It’s cleaving
to G-d. Taking the hidden and making it revealed.”
I took a bite of
said, looking at me and then back to the group, “there needs to be
a continuation, a confirmation of all we learn in Judaism. This is
Chassidus,” I pictured Alex Tribek telling the audience, is
right. Two hundred dollars for Mr. Jones.
“Well, then,” he
said to me, sparking chuckles from the boys. “Clarissa. You tell us
what the four worlds are.”
Four worlds of
Kabbalah. Fuck if I know. And although I didn’t really appreciate
him putting me on the spot like that, fuck my life if I was going to
give in to that rabbi.
“Well,” I said,
thinking hmmm and not getting anything, “well, I think that
the four worlds are Abercrombie and Fitch, Aeropostale, Roxy and
The rabbi chuckled.
“You know, Clarissa, I think that’s sort of funny.” Again the
laughter. “I’ll tell you now that the four worlds are bacon, ham,
pork and anchovies.” More laughter. His face became serious. “But
now what I’m going to tell you is not a joke. The four worlds are
the World of Emanation, the World of Creation, the World of
Formation, and the World of Action.” The faces in the room are
staring intently. I perspire. “There is not just one world,” the
rabbi continued. “What I’m about to tell you is absolutely
“We are mere ants. We
are walking around on the fingertip of G-d’s hand. I cannot stress
this enough. We are eating, sleeping, driving, yes, even pooping,”
he said, and some students laughed, “in his presence. In his
presence we are all fools, who go about the day like chickens with
their heads cut off.”
“Chickens! That is
what we are.” He paused a little to think. “That is even lower
than ants, wouldn’t you think?” More laughs. “And you,
Clarissa,” he said, singling me out again. “What do you think?
Wouldn’t we all make good ants?” He gestured at the room. They
laughed. I remained silent.
“And what does it
mean? What does it all mean? That were are in the bottom world. That
we are mere mortals. We are not Gods.”
“Except when it comes
to skateboarding,” I said.
I couldn’t help it. I
had to say something. I couldn’t let him steal the room like this.
the rabbi said. “Skateboarding? Clarissa, what is skateboarding, if
not for a frivolous pursuit of vanity which has utterly no meaning
whatsoever?” I opened my mouth, but he continued. “Furthermore,”
he said, “what is anything in the presence of G-d? Nothing! Ashes
rabbi pontificated, “it is imperative to be on the alert at all the
“For what?” I said.
“For what?” he
asked. “For falsehoods! For untruths that you must clear out of
your life at the moment’s notice! That’s what! For instance,
drugs! Drugs, sex and Rock and roll! Things which are imported from
America! Every morning, I wake up thinking about that, and thinking,
‘Thank G-d I’m a Jew, and not an animal like those goyim!’ It’s
about truth above falsehoods!”
The boys in the room
were nodding their heads thoughtfully.
“Is he high?”
the girl next to me whispered.
“I don’t think I’ve
seen him high yet, so yes,” I responded.
The rabbi ignored us.
“Don’t you know,” he said, “that the geula has already
happened. We are in the end times. The end of the world as we know
it. And the beginning of the messianic era.
The beginning is always
the hardest part. Like when I found out I was bisexual. The beginning
was the hardest. And when I found out Jimmy wasn’t. I mean, time
crawls so slowly when there are no orgies. Just kidding. I
don’t do that.
Or do I?
But, my point is that
it was pretty hard in that first encounter with Chabad. And with
strict Orthodox Judaism in the first place. I mean, school was weird
in a sense, but it was also a factory. You know how everyone from a
certain place is a certain way? Like everyone who plays Magic the
Gathering is a little bit socially inept; everyone who smokes pot
regularly is a little bit lazy; everyone who parties regularly is
usually just a little bit horny. Well, everyone who went to my school
was the same way, too. They talked the same and acted the same and
talked to the opposite sex the same. In that sense, it was easy to
fit in. Just be like everyone else; be an actress.
It was weird, but not
nearly as weird as Chabad.
At Chabad, you see,
there was this whole thing going on where you had to be a
certain way. For instance, talking to the opposite gender is frowned
upon, so I couldn’t just fuck someone in the middle of the room or
even grind against them. I had to think first. Then my mind would
tell me “no”. That’s how it works.