Short Tales

Jewish World Review March 22, 2001 / 27 Adar 5761

The Hitchhiker
"T
hat makes all the difference," I said, proud of myself for my calmness..

"We do Tantra, conga drumming," he continued. "We make sacramental use of consciousness-raising substances, like LSD and Ecstasy."

"What do I know about Ecstasy?" I said. "I'm an electronics engineer."

On hearing the word engineer, he gave a large single twitch.

"What do you like do?" he asked. "Make like bombs or something?"

"No, I'm with a capital equipment firm that does business both here and in Israel," I explained. "I design vapor deposition machines."

"What do they like do with the machines?"

"Make bombs," I admitted, partly just to goad him. "Smart ones that can fly straight down Saddam Hussein's chimney. But also circuits for computers, cellular phones, the fuel injection in this car. How about you? What do you do for a living."

"I
prefer to like focus on being, not doing."

Spoken like a true Schnorrer, I said to myself, almost out loud.

"No job?"

"I'm like in the middle of like a career switch," he said. "I was formerly like a substitute teacher, but I want to become like a Transmetaphysical Psychotherapist."

"You might be good at that," I said.

I detected him smiling, attempting to flap his useless wings in response to my faint praise. I puzzled over this aspect of his bonelessness: categorically rejecting everything I stood for, while simultaneously seeking my approval. Reform to a tee.

"That's why I'm like going down to Mountain View," he said. "I'm like applying for graduate school at the Institute of Transmetaphysical Psychotherapy."

"Who's going to pay? Beatrice and Myron?"

That got another two twitches out of him.

"I'm like counting on the State of California."
"T
hey have scholarships for these things?"

"Only like for prisoners," he said.

"I'm sorry, I don't quite follow," I said.

He shifted in his seat, letting out a long sigh. Obviously, I was touching on a subject that made him uncomfortable. It was his turn now to get himself under control. For a few quiet moments I listened to his breathing.

"There's like this special state program that lets prisoners earn credits while they're in prison," he said. "I can do like a correspondence course with the Institute of Transmetaphysical Psychotherapy and like go into practice on the day I'm released."

Suddenly I began to wish for my Desert Eagle. Just in case. I slowed down the car a little, moving us over to the right lane.

"You're telling me that you're a convicted criminal?" I said.

He bobbed his head forward and back, his shoulders twitching, eyes flashing with the terror of some creature about to be devoured. "Not exactly," he said. "In like two weeks, on the first of the month, I'm like supposed to plead guilty and begin this like three to five year prison sentence."
We had come to one of those freeway transition places where the traffic suddenly slows. Stopping. Starting. Lurching forward for a few feet and grinding to a halt again. Routine for me, but apparently adding to the anxiety of my boneless chicken friend. He fidgeted this way and that, turning himself completely around, looking out the back window as if someone might be chasing us.

"What crime could you possibly commit?" I asked.

"Huh?"

"Why are they sending you to prison?"

He turned forward and back, breathing more rapidly with a loud hissing sound..

"I didn't know about these like Federal drug laws," he said. "Mandatory sentencing for transfer through the mail."

This was the one area where I usually agree with the Arabs and their custom of lopping off heads.

"You were a drug pusher?" I asked, with a clear ring of anger. " Did you sell drugs to children?"

He turned his head away from me, cringing as if he were afraid I might slug him.
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