People like Mr Goldstein
By Andy Strowman © 2007
In memory of my Uncle Jack
It was the same business for Mr Goldstein. He unpacked his shirts and carefully noted their label. Van Heusen.
Customers were rare. He looked outside and saw a blackbird sitting on a broken chimney pot. He wanted to stroke its brown feathers.
Mr Goldstein was tired of being a Jew. He tried every morning to say the Shema but all he could remember was the first few lines. Everything else afterwards was a blur. Nobody asked him to come up and say the Brochot in the Synagogue anymore. He went there to have a sleep but every now and then the Shammus woke him up.
"We need you to keep awake, " he said. " We hardly got a minyan."
The best part of going to the Synagogue was looking at the lead piping. It should have come out a long time ago. His friend, Jack, worked in that area.
"Tell the Rebbe it is a health hazard."
To tell you the truth it made no difference to Mr Goldstein. His pleasure was other people's misfortunes. He liked to hear stories as to how people got attacked. Murders were his specialty. Stories where people were swindled by other Jews were fascinating to him.
At night as he lay on the pillow he dreamed of people being embezzled, burglars breaking into rich Jewish businesses and opening their safes. He used to hear himself shouting at them, encouraging them to be successful. He chuckled in his sleep. Mr. Goldstein imagined little imps were dancing on his head. Every imp had a name. They whispered in his ear telling him where to look for naked women. They were all Yiddish with Yarmulkes on. He began to think; maybe they will count them to make a minyon up? How could he tell this to the Rebbe?
He did not worry anymore what people thought of him. It all started one day when he could not find a belt for his trousers. His stomach was showing. His underwear was on display. Soon, he stopped brushing his hair. Neighbors gave him strange looks.
He heard whispers as he walked outside the flats where he lived.
At first he thought it was the imps. Then he realized it was the neighbors.
"I got them in tucchus," he said.
The imps agreed with him. Each imp had a name. There was Yacob,
Shmendrick, Ephraim, Morris Pipik, Shmeryl Louis, Yossel Hopeye, Yossel the Ponce.
They hummed Yiddish songs. Every one had a sing song voice. He chuckled as he walked along. Past Marney the butchers, past Morrisons. He went into Waitrose. There people knew him. He coughed his way to the Smoked Salmon counter.
"Mr. Goldstein. The usual," the pretty young girl said.
He looked into the face of a young girl and he remembered his own daughter that had died. What could be usual about death? What could be so unusual?
"I will take what I always take, "he said in a pristine voice.
The young girl smiled and he saw two creases and a little brown dimple on her cheek.
For a Yiddisher man like me she could be a comfort. David in his old age needed a young girl just to keep warm. Who would be keeping him warm now?
His feet froze at night. Two blocks of ice at the bottom of the bed.
Such a young girl could help him. "I better not even think of asking," he thought. "They will throw me out the store."
Only his waistline expanded as his money got less. He could never understand why anyone would want to know him. All those years of scholarships, prizes, and higher education. What did it amount to? A couple of slices of smoked salmon and a few slices of crusty bread!
He got home and closed his eyes immediately. Dreaming of fields, he heard eagles scream at him, and saw tigers disappearing in the long grass. Chickens with little legs ran through the fields wearing yarmulkes and tzissis. Chasing them were angry men with big black knives with broken handles.
His stomach complained. Giddiness attacked him every day. Who cared? You heard stories of people lying dead for days. The Shammes loved telling them. Last Shabbat he heard him say that one man died in London and there was only the Rabbi to say kaddish for him. No family. No friends. Nobody cared.
What happened to the Jews who looked after other Jews? What happened to the traditions of giving food to strangers, visiting the sick, and providing for a dowry? He banged on the wall when he was ill and shouted to Mrs. Frankel to call the Ambulance. She did not want to get involved. Only his nephew came to see him. Only his nephew came and broke the door down. There is a G-d and he heard his solitary prayer.
What he missed most now was cholent. He smelled cholent in his sleep. He tasted succulent potatoes that tasted of meat. He ate meat that was a soft as leather, that came away in pieces as you lifted it up, and he managed to eat more carrots than he had eaten all year.
The trouble with dreams is that they come to an abrupt end. They were like Laurel and Hardy films. He could never remember the endings for them too. The room danced as if all the imps were having a party. Yossel the Ponce was dancing with Yossel Hopeye.
Shmendrick fell on the floor. The other imps were not to be seen.
Somewhere, in America, he remembered he had a brother that was a journalist. Full of words and none for me, he thought. The trouble with getting old is that you feel more sorry for yourself.
Mr. Goldstein woke up and counted the stars in the sky. It was a good way to send him to sleep. He looked a forlorn sight outside the block of flats where he lived. The Security Guard warned him many times about the risk of being mugged. What did he care?
Who would want to rob an old man with no money? It was more important how the planets and stars were doing. He could see three stars in a straight line. Would Pythagoras have seen these?
The wind blew a little and a man passed by. His cigarette lighting up the night like a miniature red lighthouse. Mr. Goldstein thought of his mother. She never understood his passion for the night.
"Come to bed Solly. You'll get double pneumonia," she yelled at him.
So the cemetery beckoned to him
even at that young age. In the day he would imagine celebrities had come to visit him. One day Emerson, another day Faraday, another day Bernard Shaw, another day Lucille Ball. Each had their problems. How to satisfy their lives?
He told them all to study the Gemara and left it to them to get on with it. He was past his days of eating stale fruit and working for Jewish tailors that took his kishkes out.
Waitrose satisfied him. Every day there was a new part of the store he discovered.
Often he walked into the cemetery. He felt sad at the ages of the people - so many young ones. What did he do to deserve extra life?
There was nothing left to do except write his poems and pass the poems onto others for posterity. He felt that way his life had not been in vain.
His favorite poem was from W. H. Auden. It began.
I sit in one of the dives on 52nd street.
Uncertain and afraid as the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade.
He wished he could write so many clever words. Each to their own gift, he said.
His gift was looking up at the stars and eating schmaltz herring. His wish was to be remembered for his flatulence. Bert, the Night Watchman, told him he would never have any problem with that.
Doctors puzzled him. They came up with their cures. None of them had any love for him. Their plasticized smiles reserved for their patients were so much part of a better strategy.
The strategy was to give them kindness even if the National Health Service was broke.
The day disappeared as it always did and the night was Mr. Goldstein's friend. Happiness was not a cigar called Hamlet but the night. So much for the advertisement!
He had only one regret in life. That was he never went to the moon. All his life he wanted to go there. He could open the first smoked salmon shop on the moon. Customers would be in short supply to begin with but business is business. . . it would improve.
Mr. Goldstein lay down to sleep and said the Shema. Near his bed the imps were waiting to recite it too. It was an unusual minyon that night. Good night Mr. Goldtein.
from the March Passover 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine