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…but a Whimper, Part I (1995)

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…but a Whimper, Part I (1995)
This is not good. I need to have my head clear, not filled with Nazis. And we were allies with those people during World War II. Rafi had begun his trip on July 13, a typical morning involved in a typical daydream, the Dead might have said. Low humidity, 87˚, light cirrocumulus cotton balls painted on the sky by a Hand wielding shell white clinging to natural ocean sponge. Shirt off, shoes off, man-thong between him and jail, top down on the classic BMW 2002 (the make, not the year; 2002 hadn’t been invented yet) convertible. Jerry Garcia from Merryweather Post on the stereo. He’d stopped for lunch at Sideling Hill Plaza, and had to return to the BMW – he had secured the top and locked the door, but forgotten to bring his flip-flops; “no shirt, no shoes, no service.” Beach towel out of the bag. Flops between the fingers. Tossed onto the tile floor just before getting in line. Flipped up to the right hand before the door was gained. Off with the shirt. Out in the rays. You’d never think I was going back to Cleveland to destroy a woman’s heart.
But now it was 6:30 and All Things Considered had been interrupted by the time Rafi picked it up on WKSU just west of Youngstown with news of the slaughter. At about 7:30 local time, the murderous Serbian Scorpions and the regular Army of the Republica Srpska began separating and deporting women and children from the village of Srebrnica, a town supposedly under UN protection. Rafi had listened to half the Dead tapes he had planned, because he was hanging onto the signal of WHYY in Philadelphia, WITN in Harrisburg, WQED in Pittsburgh, and now WKSU from Kent. Bits and pieces of the story were filtering into Western reportage. What started in the late afternoon in Srbrnica was lost in the Allegheny Mountains, providing for the near naked lunch at Sideling Hill Plaza. NPR first confirmed the devastation and depravity of the massacre of July 13 when Rafi was in radio reception of the Kent State affiliate. Mamzerim! Bastards! And what were the Blue Hats doing, frigging themselves? They should have fought to the last man to preserve the dignity of the United Nations and all its member states. Or just to preserve what was hanging between their legs,” Rafi fumed.
So now I’m less than an hour away from Margie/s place. Thank God for my friend Jefferson. WCPN sound engineer and freelance producer Jefferson Donaldson had been good enough to open up the house so that Rafi could have a place to decompress overnight before making the final appearance at Margie’s house on Euclid Heights Blvd. The plan was to show up in the morning, do some work to help her around the house, and then at an appropriate time, drop the earth-shattering bomb that should have been just the inevitable final chapter in this sad, sad story.
Jefferson and Georgia greeted Rafi with a combination of friendship and sympathy, as if Rafi was on his way to a funeral – of a close relative. As is common with such situations, Mason, their five-year-old son, stole the show.
“Mason,” Jefferson introduced his friend, “this is Rafi. He used to live up the street, and we went to Blossom together when he sang with the Cleveland Orchestra Chorus.
“Oh, I remember, We play on the grass there every year. Rafi, wanna play Frisbee?”
“Maybe in a bit, Mason, I promise.”
“But it’s getting late now!”
“OK, let me visit with your dad and mom for a bit. Then we’ll play.”
Jeffersoninterjected. “Rafi, can I get you something to drink? We have Russian iced tea, with or without adult content. We also have OJ, lemonade, and Cleveland Brew.”
“What? Did Dennis Kucinich take over the municipal water supply?” Rafi tried to maintain a straight face. Georgia smirked. Jefferson cackled. Mason just requested OJ.
“I’ll take the iced tea. With adult content. Georgia, how is business?”
“My mom is making the coolest badges!”
Georgiacorrected. “Brooches, Mason. What’s your favorite design?”
“I like the bugs!”
“I have started a line of insect brooches. I started with ladybugs, and my goth friends asked for spiders, flies, caterpillars, and even maggots on meat.
“OK, so I didn’t do that one, but I have about thirty different insects, and not a butterfly among them.”
Rafi observed, “Too many people do butterflies. They make them in China. You are better off staying weird. Nobody markets to us weird people.”
“Mace, would you do Mommy a favor and bring down my display case?”
“OK, be right back! Don’t move.”
“We won’t, honey.”
Jefferson came back with the iced tea, spiced with cinnamon and garnished with orange slices. He had met Rafi on the kibbutznik’s first visit to the US, when Rafi was a guest teacher at S. Y. Agnon College. Rafi was being housed in the Case Western Reserve dorms, and Jefferson was in the studio engineering program. Jefferson, only a sophomore, was already living with Georgia, a junior. Georgia was living at home. It was an elaborate series of ruses that enabled this circumstance; central to which was the discovery that in Victorian mansions in Shaker Heights, often a storm door would lead into a storm cellar, which would be connected to the rest of the house by a second stairway for the servants. Somehow, the pair was never discovered. Perhaps just as miraculous, Georgia did not become pregnant. Although both teenagers were whitebread Presbyterians (in fact, they met at church), the Bohemian instinct that their parents had absorbed from Jack Kerouac et. al. took full flower in the children. Georgia was named after the artist famed for her flower paintings. Jefferson was named for the Patriot who came to his liberation politics from his free-thinking intellectual life. Because of their first names, both were on the mailing lists of every advertiser in the country that marketed to African Americans. Rafi remembered having a crush on Georgia, whose first bra was certainly her last. Like a freshly opened daylily still glistening with dew, her innocence and naiveté radiated when, guileless, she invited him to a studio session with her boyfriend. Arriving, and finding the boyfriend to be real and not just an excuse to avoid appearing too forward, Rafi had wowed Jefferson with the folk themes he spun through his compositions.
Mason returned with Georgia’s display kit. Rafi knew just what to do.
“Mason,” he asked, which are your favorite pieces here?”
“They’re not pieces, they’re all together. My mom doesn’t break her artwork!”
“’Pieces’ is, how do you say, a figure of speech. We say ‘pieces’ when we mean separate things someone has made. Like when I write music, anything that stands by itself is a “piece” of music, …”
“Even though you can’t cut it,” added Jefferson.
“OK, let me pick. But you can’t look.” Mason snapped open the display kit as easily as if it were a chunky-sized LEGO kit. Rafi, Jefferson, and Georgia turned their chairs away ceremoniously.
“Are you ready?” asked Georgia.
The adults turned their chairs around to see a bestiary of ceramic, plated metal, and stained glass insects flying in a circle around an empty lazy susan.
“I get it,” responded Rafi. It’s 7:30, and you have to start getting ready for bed soon. The plate is the Frisbee, and all the insects are playing the game.”
“How did you guess?!” The words all but bounced out of Mason’s lips.
Rafi glanced at the parents. “Shall we?”
“We shall,” they responded, and “Jinx!”
Mason, who was already shoeless, grabbed a frisbee and ran out onto the front lawn. The adults left their sandals under the table and followed. While the game hardly qualified as Ultimate, it allowed for everyone to select their favorite bug, favorite fruit, favorite instrument, favorite beach (Jefferson and Georgia liked Presque Isle State Park in Erie, PA, Mason voted for Edgewater Park, and Rafi, of course, selected the beach in Haifa where he, Salman, the Italian, and the Mermaid played volleyball during the InterZayin. ז.  Finally, Georgia caught the Frisbee and declared, “OK, Mace, time’s up. We’re going to take a bath.
“But first I catch you!” Rafi shouted, and after a short chase, grabbed the boy and tossed him up into the air. Mason was beaming, so Rafi enrolled him in a gag.
“Stiffen up like a board, and I’ll hold you up with one hand,” Rafi whispered.
Rafi brought the prone Mason to Georgia, and asked, “May I present you with our dessert tray, Madam?” The shaking convulsions of the belly-laughing Mason upset the waiter’s balance. Rafi caught Mason, and presented him to Georgia, like the monkey that was to be put back in the barrel.
“So are you ready for this?” Jefferson asked the still breathless Rafi.
“I don’t know.”

About Ronald FIschman

I am a public school teacher who had a prior career as a cantor, opera singer, and composer. My greatest notoriety comes from my settings of Dylan Thomas's "Vision and Prayer" and Percy Byssshe Shelley's "Ozymandias" for singers and large instrumental ensemble. My first poetry collection, "Generations," honors the roles of son, husband, and father, and is available at

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