Jewish World Review March 22, 2001 / 27 Adar 5761
"Your friend set you up?"
He rapidly nodded his head, then placed his hands over his ears as if to hold his thoughts in place.
"I'm like hoping for minimum security," he said. His voice was rising to a higher pitch, taking on a new tone of pleading and fear. "But it's like no sure thing. Maximum security could be like ... like a horrible living Hell for me."
In the blue-silver light, with the traffic stalled, I could watch him much more closely. He was grimacing, trembling, biting his lip as he gazed again on his awful personal movie. Life as a boneless chicken. Helpless, passive, destined for the butcher shop. The Jews without Israel and the Torah.
A little less justice, is what Sarah said. A little more mercy.
He was gasping for air.
"Can't we go any faster?" he said.
"I wish," I said. "But no place to go."
"Just keep breathing," I said. We're almost to Mountain View."
"LET ME OUT OF THIS CAR!" he suddenly shouted. He began to hiss out air at an even faster, unsustainable clip."STOP!" he said. "STOP RIGHT NOW!"
"No, not here," I said, signaling and heading into an exit ramp.
"PLEASE! I'M HAVING LIKE A PANIC ATTACK!"
I pulled to a stop on a quiet residential street, where he could stick his head out the window and be sick. I waited while he took the long, slow breaths that he needed.
"I'm so scared," he said, beginning to weep. "I don't like do well in institutions. I couldn't even like stay in summer camp, because the other kids tortured me. They're going to rape me in prison. They're going to cut me with knives."
I reached over with my right hand and gripped his shoulder, then pulled him closer and let him cry on my shoulder. "No one's going to hurt you," I said. "One look at you, the judge will send you to someplace easy. Golf course. Cable TV."
"Do you like think so?' he said, hiccuping and sniffling.
"Absolutely," I said. "You'll study. Get your credential. Maybe gain a few pounds. Before you know it, you'll be back in action as a transcendental ... what was it again?"
He pulled away from my shoulder, his eyes flashing as he regathered his tiny portion of pride.
"I like categorically reject that life," he sniffed.
"Fer sure," I said, like a true Californian, handing him my business card. "I'm Isaac Slotkin. Forgive me, but I didn't ask your name."
"Irving," he said, extending his limp hand. "Irving Blumenthal."
I arrived home that night without feeling the least bit tired. I kissed the Mezzusah on our doorpost and hugged Sarah like I was twenty years younger and for the first time falling in love . Linking arms, we walked to Avi's bedroom and said a blessing while we watched him sleep.
"How come you smell like strawberries?" she asked.
I said, "Oy, do I have story."
JWR contributor Jonathan D. Cohen writes about computers for money and Jewish topics for love. A former Stegner Writing Fellow at Stanford, he lives with his wife and son in Palo Alto, California. Send your comments by clicking here.