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Category Archives: Dimitri

Hysteria (2002)

Dimitri sat in Arnie’s living room, dumbstruck, when Arnie showed him his enlistment in the U. S. Air Force. Dimitri’s sister Anastasia, who was Arnie’s trophy wife and whom Arnie called “Asha,” sat by her husband on the sofa.
“Kak-what the fuck?! You’re going to go bomb Osama back? What about your career, your tenure track,…”
“Ok, ok, Dimitri, cut it out, stop worrying. I’m all squared away. My assistant professorship is on hold, and the department chair thinks I’ll get tenure credit while I’m in theater. I started investigating this last year, right after Yom Kippur. It was what you said, something about being reconstituted from the ashes at Auschwitz when we came up at Canal Street to get ferried across to Bayonne. I’m sitting in synagogue all Yom Kippur and thinking, “Asha’s pregnant. What do I tell our baby when he asks me what I did when my country was attacked?” Asha and I talked about it, and I started exploring volunteering to serve in Rammstein Air Force Base in Germany. They sorta told me, “Thanks, but no thanks!”
“Huh?!”
“My reaction precisely. They told me that so much body armor is getting shipped to Uzbekistan that our troops are going to covered from the groin up. “
“So they told you, ‘Don’t come?’”
“No, they said, “Come, but be ready to treat the locals. And learn a little Tajik or Uzbek.”
“Right, so I got someone in World Languages to give me some Uzbek training tapes. Then I went off to Ft. Bragg for Basic Training. That sucked. I’m thirty-two, I used to play competitive tennis, and I used to spend nap time on rotation on our treadmill. But I never hiked in steel-toed boots with a sixty-pound ruck (that’s military-speak for “backpack”) on my back. And I never, ever imagined myself chanting that puerile crap they say to get through the march.”
Dimitri restrained a look of puzzlement. Ivy Leaguers sprinkled their speech with vocabulary like, “puerile,” that Dimitri last saw while preparing for his verbal SAT.
“So what were the calls between you guys like?” Dimitri looked from his wing chair first to Anastasia, then to Arnie.
“I just told him every night to leave off the girl recruits.”
“I told her back that since I was too tired to move anyway, it didn’t much matter, and if they sent me to Afghanistan as they promised, all the women were in burqas anyway.”
“I told him about Mama’s story about Soviet fashion – “
“Oxymoron,” Dimitri interrupted his sister.
“Exactly, Glupui, kak buik – moronic like an ox.” Dimitri and Anastasia laughed.
Arnie reveled in the image of stupid oxen parading Soviet fashion and Central Asian burqas. He returned to the current topic of discussion.
“Well, the reason we asked you up here is to talk about what’s happening next. I ship out to Afghanistan next Monday.”
Silence.
More silence.
“Like I said, everything is settled here, except that Asha is pregnant. I’d like you to consider transferring to Princeton and finishing your education degree here. Asha might have an easy pregnancy, or maybe not. But you’re her brother. You’ll save on rent, you’ll get a great degree, You might even be the first family member to see your new cousin born into the world. I’m only planning a two-year tour of duty. I want to set up a decent trauma unit there, train some staff, save some lives and go home. Maybe I’ll even learn something about trauma surgery. I should get leave for the baby’s birth, and eight months later, another short leave. Then I’m done.”
Arnie paused. Dimitri continued.
“Arnie, Stasia, you know that Stasia and I hardly talked from when I left home to when you got married.”
Anastasia continued, significantly, in Russian. Arnie did not understand. “Я сожалею об этом, димя. Я интересовался той же самой вещью, которой ты был; не похожение на наших родителей. Таким образом мы стали, как говорит, карикатуры нас непосредственно, чтобы не походить на них. Я хочу знакомиться с тoбoй снова. Пожалуйста скажите да. (I’m sorry about that, Dimya. I was interested in exactly the same thing as you were, not to be like our parents, To that end, we became, how do you say it, caricatures of ourselves in order to avoid being like them. I want to get to know you anew. Please say yes.)”
Arnie did not interfere with the obvious impoliteness of his wife’s switch from English. He sat, quietly, in his white country club tennis shorts, socks slightly dusted from the clay surface, and his white polo shirt with the Princeton insignia on the front left panel. He leaned into the exchange between the Kats siblings, his fingers pressed together in a subconsciously learned gesture of control.
Perhaps the “steepling” gesture worked. Perhaps it was Anastasia’s appeal to regain the lost opportunity of fraternal kinship. Perhaps it was the opportunity to bring dates, maybe even Samantha and her Ukrainian girlfriend, to the palatial digs of a Princeton professor. In any case, Dimitri’s savings were dwindling and the degree was still at least a year off, so despite the insult to his pride gnawing away at the periphery of his machismo, Dimitri agreed.

Two Big to Fall (2001)

“It was like a big rumble – first I thought another train had just passed, but then after a few minutes, the rumble just got greater and greater. Shit, Dimitri, I was less than two stops away from being turned into human sawdust.” Arnie Goldstein, Dimitri’s brother-in-law, a Princeton professor and thoracic surgeon specializing in pulmonary trauma, had invited the family to his six-bedroom, four-bath Toll Brothers mansion in Hamilton for Rosh Hashanah dinner. Dimitri usually arrived last at family gatherings, and was first to leave. His father, Maksim, still could barely say a full sentence to Dimitri without mentioning his disappointment as an immigrant parent on the choices Dimitri had made. This time, because Arnie had made a point of befriending Dimitri while engaged to Dimitri’s sister,  Dimitri came early in order to spend some man-time, free of the status differences between them.
“Yeah, I had a prep first period. The kids in my second period are always the hardest, because they’re the Russian and Ukrainian kids. They know I’m Russian, so all they want to do is jabber on in Russian with me. So I’m sitting at my desk, trying to get some materials together to try to keep these guys from going off on – “
Dimitri slowly became cognizant that he had just disrespected his brother-in-law’s near death experience for a full fifteen seconds and…
“Arnie, you were WHERE!?”
“Yeah, Canal Street, headed south. Another two minutes and I’d have been rubble.
“JEEEEzus!! What happened!?”
“The lights go down, flicker, then off. At first, I say, Damn. I am not going to make it.”
“Make what?”
“I had an appointment with a partner at Cantor Fitzgerald. He wanted to look at my research for stenting a collapsed lung for commercial viability. I think I mentioned that when I was at your parents’ house for Passover.”
“Right. That was one of the few things I remember. You know how much I like those gatherings.”
“Give ‘em a break, Dim. You really never know what might happen.” Arnie’s half-hatched dodo of a thought needed no completion. Not this New Year. Not this September. As Rabbi Amnon of Mayence said about the Book of Life – and Death, “the seal of every man’s hand is set thereto.”
Arnie continued as Dimitri looked pensive – and oddly receptive.
“I never thought of what a cocoon the subway is. You just check out of the world, cocksure you are going to emerge – like Jonah and the whale.”
“Huh?”
“From Hebrew school. You know, the whale picks you up in the maelstrom and uncertainty of Manhattan life, and then it vomits you out on dry land, hopefully safe and sound, right where you should be. Not this time.”
Dimitri inched to the very front of the taupe fluted leather Chippendale chair in Arnie’s drawing room. With his elbows on his knees and his jaw resting on his fist, he looked for all the world like Rodin’s sculpture, “The Thinker.”
“When the lights went out, and the subway stopped, I was thinking only of what the suits at Cantor Fitzgerald would think about me showing up late. The whale never sleeps. You can make an appointment anywhere in Manhattan at 4:30 am. The next thing I remember was the blue glow of all the cell phones. Rows of blue rectangles. Then, a buzz of consternation.”
“Duh!?”
“Right, duh. If you just can’t get a signal in the beast’s belly at a random train stop on a good day, what made us think that we were going to get any action out of our devices in an emergency? Someone did it – a conductor, I think – the woman made the announcement in our car to pay attention to her voice only in this car.  She instructed us to save our batteries, and turn the cell phones off, because we were safe where we were, and that she would bring the news to us as soon as she got any. She had the wisdom to suggest that we get to know each other, The woman must have known something. She suggested we tell our seatmates or fellow straphangers what work we did in seven words or fewer.”
“So what did you say?”
“I came up with something like, ‘pop balloons in lungs to heal walls.”
“I bet that one crossed some eyeballs.”
“May have, but I couldn’t see. Nobody could. I thought that it would be a good idea to follow up by asking people questions, but all they wanted to hear about were my balloons. The I. P. lawyers at Princeton – I. P. means “intellectual property” – buzzed in my ears, you know, if I release the information into the public domain, I can’t get rich off it, but I told them anyway. One of the passengers, I guess a college student at NYU, created a good laugh when she called it “a condom that goes down the wrong way!” 
“Did you tell her you’d copyright that line if she didn’t do it first?”
“Good one, Dim. The weird thing is that it started a discussion of different ways to die – like a kind of gallows humor. Sex and death. I mean, it was sick! Sick, but funny. I think that the whole car picked up on the theme. I overheard the blessed, “I want to pass out of consciousness in bed with my beloved,” to the sick, “I saw this cartoon once that had someone beheading his boss in a file drawer  and sticking a bunch of daisies in the empty neck.”
“Too bad someone didn’t have a recorder on. Or maybe they did.”
“If so, you’ll be able to find it on the Internet soon enough. It’s amazing what people will say when they’re contemplating the end.”
“My students would love it. Maybe I’ll teach a lesson on black humor. I might even ask Mom if she remembers any in Russian.”
“Ask your dad instead. Your mom seems way too polite.”
Dimitri fidgeted at the thought.
“How long did you sit in darkness like that? How was the air?
Arnie lifted his head ever so gently, slightly, as if to remember the olfactory sensations of the day.
“Funny you would ask that. I expected to notice a slight staleness of the air as time passed, but quickly I saw people taking Kleenex out and sniffling or sneezing. I didn’t think that we were under attack at that moment, but I guessed that a part of the subway had collapsed. Then I thought about all the redundant construction techniques in there, and I thought, “Naaah. No way. An airplane could hit the Amsterdam Gardens and the people in the subway would feel a shock, but that’s it. No breach. I read a briefing once that covered that kind of accident.
“So I stopped thinking about above-ground accidents, and started wondering about a bomb. You remember the last time they tried to bomb the Towers, right?
“I was in Israel at the time.”
“Well, ever since then, I’ve been looking for a truck bomb to go off in the Lincoln Tunnel. A hundred million PSI of the Hudson River washing away half of Midtown. Now I was sure in my own mind that some Khaled Abu Jihad or somebody had planted a bomb on the subway. I didn’t say anything, because I didn’t want to freak anyone out. I’d be the one who would have to tracheotomize the victim. After a good twenty minutes, our conductor comes back, and confirms what I already knew. She says ‘There’s an explosion up ahead of us that has cut power to the subway. It’s a mess, but MTA has all their towing engines on the job, and all the trains are being towed out of the area. Please stay calm, and wait for more instructions.’
“Well, we weren’t about to jump out the train and wage war against the rats. So there was little to do but sit while our conductor kept whispering to the motorman. Looking back, I can’t believe that I made it out alive.”
Dimitri put his hands on the curved leather wing of the Chippendale chair. He shifted positions, not from boredom, but from dead sensation he was feeling in his legs from the pressure of the edge of the seat on his major blood vessels.
“After a while, we heard a pneumatic gasp from a valve open, which I guessed was the motorman’s door. I looked up, and noticed a spotlight falling out of the front cabin. Recognizing what was happening, I told the other passengers that the motorman had put on an emergency helmet with a spotlight, and he had jumped out of the cabin. Someone suggested he committed suicide. I calmed the moron down, ‘cause I knew he wouldn’t have put a hardhat with an emergency lamp on if he were planning on offing himself.
Dimitri interjected. “So how long did you have to wait until someone said something?”
“You read my mind – again, ” Arnie continued. “Practically before the parabola from the guy’s headlamp stopped, our conductor announced that they had hatched a plan. They were going to shut the emergency brakes, one by one, and assuming the third rail was still live, they were backing up to Canal Street and evacuating from there. I was really concerned about my appointment at this point, so I called above the murmuring, ‘Will there be alternate service to Cortland Street from there?’ She replied that the explosion had shut down the area, and that people were being evacuated from the World Trade Center area.
“What happened next could have been an acoustics experiment in reinforcing and dampening harmonics, because everyone gasped and went, “What happened?!” in the same moment, some loudly, some soft, high, low, but all at once. The conductor had put her hard hat on. I can’t remember exactly what she said, but it was pretty good. Like they’d rehearsed this scenario.”
“Well?” Dimitri urged, leaning forward into history.
“She said something like, ‘It’s no surprise to anyone in this car, but something big has occurred. First, our evacuation plan will put you on Canal Street, where you should turn toward the docks. The air is filled with dust and ash, so make sure you have one hand free and something to cover your face. What I know is that the World Trade Center has been hit by a plane, and that one of the towers has collapsed.’
“The buzz on the train now sounded like crowd noise on a sitcom.  The conductor repeated that a tower had collapsed, and that burning debris was everywhere. ‘I have been given no further information. I need to know what’s happening too, and I will relay information the moment that I get it and have been cleared to do so. The motorman has reentered the cabin, and we are reversing to the next emergency brake.’ Did I mention that the low hum of a generator served as a soundscape for this insanity?”
“No,” responded Dimitri, “but it would make sense.”
The pause that fell on Arnie’s drawing room felt like a news broadcast over which the camera had lingered just a bit too long. Like everything this week, things just weren’t right. Dimitri did not follow up. Arnie was supposed to go next, but he sat still for a moment, pendant from the moment that just passed and the moment that was to come.
“Well, now the hum increases in pitch – I swear I thought it was coming from inside my head, and maybe everybody felt the same thing.  We back up with a start – and then a stop. It doesn’t take much to travel the sixty feet between emergency brakes on the subway. This process repeated five times in all, and then what a sight when we got out at Canal Street! Imagine a snowstorm had hit Manhattan, and you were getting off the subway after drifts of snow had blown down into the subway. Only it wasn’t snow, Dimitri, it was ash.”
Dimitri gasped. “Bozhe fucking moi! It’s like the Towers were two giant crematoria, but they got the gas wrong and blew up the building along with the Jews inside. If it had happened tomorrow, the Black-Hatters would have trumpeted that this was the punishment for the sin of not observing the Lord’s Festivals or something.”
“Yeah, as it was, we felt pretty much like a marching herd of zombies. I guess you could call it a “life march,” instead of a death march. I think the people at MTA were just doing what they had been trained to do, but by my account, they sure did it well. I don’t think they were coordinating with the Coast Guard, but by the time we got out of the ash-trap called a subway entrance, there were two ferries and several riverboats waiting to take us to Bayonne. “

Diana, Princess of Wales (1997)

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The glass coffee table sharing the phone and the powder cocaine vibrated with the ring of the phone bell. Dimitri scowled.
“I just got a fucking unlisted number. Who’s trying to sell me stuff today!?”
His housemate, Mike, a thirtysomething divorcee paying twice his rent in child support, just muttered, “Your turn.”  With the rolled-up $20 bill that lived on the coffee table, Dimitri snorted his now somewhat disorganized line, and answered the phone on the third ring.
“Da?” He answered in Russian to leave open the possibility of making a telemarketer hang up.
“Dimitri, did you hear?” It was Samantha.
“No. Hear what?”
“There was a terrible accident. They think Princess Diana has died!”
Dimitri was not a big royals fan. In fact, he knew more about Kansas City Royals pitcher Kevin Appier than he did about the House of Windsor. He only knew about Princess Diana because her campaign against land mines held the attention of one of his piano students. Cheryl was a 15-year-old Miss Junior USA wannabe who needed to prepare something for the talent component of the competition.  Dimitri wrote a song for Cheryl.
            “Lady in white lace
            Red velvet heels
            Cries, ‘childhood’s no place
            For funeral peals.’
            Glistening tiara
            Reflecting bright light
            Shines on the children
            With no place in this fight.”
Cheryl’s mom, a knockout, used to be a broadcast reporter with WCBS-TV out of Manhattan. She “stopped out” of the workplace to have Cheryl and her brother, twenty months younger. Oops. She struggled to return to a major market, finally joining the new Fox Broadcast Network affiliate WTAF in Philadelphia, after ten years of trying. She looked a little like Samantha. Dimitri knew that he should NO WAY do anything too interesting on his weekly trips down Rt. 561 to Voorhees. Cheryl was too valuable a student. So valuable, in fact, that even after he got the gig on the Boardwalk, he kept her and two of her friends on his calendar. On Tuesdays, he made the haul back from Atlantic City to do lessons with her after school. She could have been at a friend’s one day, and I could try it with Mom. Cheryl is still in high school – dangerous. Could I convince them to go out with me at the same time? Ostorozhno – careful. Besides, I give three lessons on one day. Can’t risk that.
That calculus had nothing to do with the price of tea in England. Samantha was shaken. Dimitri knew that the woman meant something to him, or he would find ways to blow her off when he wasn’t in her bed. He knew for certain that he meant way more than a ready orgasm to her. She called him. Him! She had three girlfriends she chatted with, and extended family in the area. Not to mention that she was starting to date someone steadily. Wow. He had better get over there. His 280Z knew the way. There had to have been streaks of rust on Haddonfield-Berlin Road from his underbody. He did one more line for the road, cut two lines for Mike, and shoved off. Literally. He always strode with a forward lean.
Out the metal door of Apartment 217. Through the plank with the torn veneer pretending to blend with the faux maple paneling in the hallway. Down the staircase and through the fire exit into the sizzling blacktop parking lot. Whoosh! Into the Z without even rolling down the roof and, in a daze, down 611 to Roosevelt Expressway, the Schuylkill Expressway, the Vine Street Expressway, the Ben Franklin Bridge, Rt. 30, then Rt. 70, right on 561, then off into Sam’s development before Cherry Hill turned into Haddonfield. The Z drove itself; Dimitri was tuned into special coverage on the NPR station Rafi the Kibbutznik always listened to. Who was driving, the Egyptian scion of the Harrod retail chain?  Was he drunk? Idi na khui!Go to hell! The paparazzi did it. One took pictures of the dying princess and tried to sell the pics to the BBC. Asshole. Put him in jail and throw away the key. Better yet, put him in the Gulag. Naked. In February.
Dimitri swung the Z next to Samantha’s BMW. He checked the space that he left and avoided flinging the door into her shiny black side panel. Noticing that his khaki shorts had just been hooked by a spring that had cut through the upholstery in the driver’s seat, he uttered an imprecation, reached into the tape storage compartment and pulled out electrical, not audio, tape, slapped a piece on the errant spring, and slammed the car door. Before he could knock on the solid wood door of Samantha’s condo, it opened.
“Sam!”
“Thanks for coming, Dimbo.” They hugged, for once without sexual overtones. Dimitri felt moisture on his cheek. Samantha had been crying. “Dim,” she said in an undertone, “don’t be alarmed. My girlfriend is here. She knows you’re coming. She wants to meet you. It’s OK.”
Dimitri misread Samantha’s comment.
“Which one?” He assumed it was Ashley, Jessica, or Val, the girls she would hang out with.
“No, this is my girlfriend, Natalya. She’s the assistant GM over at Hooters.”
Dimitri swallowed the hard-boiled egg that had suddenly blocked his throat. He and Samantha had an understanding since they had decided to be friends with benefits. Neither would talk about the other’s sex lives outside the relationship. Sam wanted to find a life partner. Dimitri just wanted to have fun, as Cyndi Lauper might have said. If Sam needed to become monogamous, so be it. Dimitri, for his part, promised not to bring any viral visitors to the bedroom.  But Samantha a bisexual?? Never considered it. But, interessno. Ochen interessno. Very interesting.
Samantha removed her right arm from Dimitri’s shoulder and showed him in. As if he didn’t know every square inch of the place.
Natalya greeted Dimitri in Ukrainian, really just a dialect of Russian.
Primitye moii soboleznovaniye, accept my condolences,” Dimitri replied. Nataliya, jet-black-haired, with green eyes tinged with red from sobbing, sat in her denim miniskirt and a white tank  on Samantha’s sofa. “Please don’t bother getting up.”
The two conducted a bit of an introduction in Russian and Ukrainian. Dimitri was surprised to find himself translating half his thoughts from English into Russian. Unwrapping the linguistic pretzel of his trilingual brain, Dimitri switched to English to ask the women about the only question that mattered to them at the moment: the impact of Princess Diana on their emotions. If either woman felt discomfort with Dimitri in the room, neither gave evidence of it.  As for Dimitri, the situation presented many possibilities, but he knew he’d better just support his friend in her shock and surprise, and let everybody figure out their emotions in the weeks to come.

Dramatis Personae II

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PART II: ANNA

Dramatis Personae II
Rafi sat at the Abington Club bar, with Dimitri standing in front of the fireplace like it was a Hindu god.  The sharp bite of the Torpedo microbrew beer shot Rafi’s imagination like an arrow back to another moment of trouble between Anna and Dimitri. The sun circled over her shoulder that cloudless day in August. Anna looked like a cigarette sweated through, formless and wilted. “Shit!” she screamed, realizing that she would not get to the early childhood Spanish class she would be fired from. “Shit! Mierda!” she cried more softly, wondering what to do and cursing the tar that had left her lungs unable to handle the hilly five-mile bike ride to Chestnut Hill. She flagged a cab, but left the cab in tears when the meter exceeded her last penny.  This was a time of tzuris, trouble, between Anna and Dimitri; Rafi heard it all. She would say, “Intellectually, Dimitri is as wide as a football field and, emotionally, as shallow as the Astroturf.” “Agreed, but he’s got a good heart, and he’s pulled my stones out of the fire more than once. Beside, if you want to be understood, that’s my role in the relationship.” Or he would gasp, “She’s way over our head, she needs help.”  “Yeah, I’m helping her get a shrink without being admitted and fucking deported.” So it was little surprise on that day, stranded in Mt. Airy, all the pain came out trimmed in passion.
Running his rescue errand, Rafi saw her crumpled up under the schist walls at the Lutheran Seminary across the street from Wawa convenience store. She didn’t know that if she had gotten there just a little earlier, she could have ridden the #23 up to O’Doodles, the boutique toy store, to teach her class. But she could barely raise her head, and there were no tears to cry.
Without speaking, Rafi cradled Anna’s left arm under her shoulder and helped her to her feet. Despite the puddle dripping off her school T-shirt, Anna collapsed on Rafi’s chest. This hug of gratitude rippled into an embrace of passion when the cocktail of pheromones and sweat hit Rafi’s nose. Fast did their lips meet, and faster their arms encircled the other, fingers in search of aching skin. Rafi hadn’t even taken his sandals out of the car. For her part, Anna had flip-flops. She preferred to teach the class barefoot, like the children in her classes. So as ankle met ankle, toe met toe, and instep met calf, there flowered the fragrance of what could have been, what Rafi dreamed about, what Anna had even called Rafi a “Puta Madre!” for not pursuing after he lost his job with the Philadelphia School District.
Dimitri did not know any of these things. While Rafi relived all the times they would have become lovers in a sane world, Dimitri rediscovered the meditative nature of the fireplace. “No quiero me hacer un paracaidista,” “I don’t want to become a parachutist.” Rafi finished his beer, wishing that she had been alone when he had first met her, and that the afternoon saw them become two naked wood sprites, climbing trees and making love, but Anna’s son Gabriel was visiting. Now, there could be three outcomes. First, she would remain in Texas. Rafi would begin with e-mails, move on to calls, use everything in David DeAngelo’s and Vin DeCarlo’s programs to keep her attracted and off-balance (because, after all, she chose Dimitri because of just why she was now through with him. Wide as a football field, deep as Astroturf). I’d get her to pay for her own ticket back here, but then I’d propose at the station. My right brain to God’s ears.
Second, she could fly back up here, and be so pissed off from the drama that they fight and break up. She sleeps in my extra bedroom, until… Third, they forget the ill feelings, keep on hitting the therapy, and muddle through somehow. With my luck, though Rafi, it’s gonna be #3. Where’s the bettor’s windows?
His cell phone battery was dead. Rafi had been fired from a job earlier in the Great Recession, and he had started his work day with no computer and a phone that didn’t remember where its charger was. When he started that day, he suffered the same frustration he had when trying to get his child support obligation reduced when he lost his job. By the time the hearing happened, his unemployment started, so he was making enough money that if he paid no utilities, he could be that revenue stream for the Rhinoceros. Segal and he were so much in love once, but then he lost his music career, and she lost her soul. The two events were separated by a time lapse of two years, but the Rhino even admitted to the causality. Both prisoners of that ill-fated bond knew the play Rhinoceros by Eugene Ionesco. People with brains and souls morphing into monomaniacal half-ton beasts in front of a barely comprehending audience. She admitted to his characterization, but blamed him for beating her soul out of her. Facts, like he never touched her in anger, she threw objects in fury at him, and that their children revered him, were as disposable as truth in politics.
Rafi parked his car in front of his garden. Every plant there served a function to make a little postage stamp environment with three seasons of interest. Tonight, the gardener ignored the garden. A quick kiss to Whisper, who had climbed up to meow out from between the indigo-pink blooms on the hydrangea and the yellow leaves on Rose of Sharon. Unlocking the door and leaning into the pressure of Serena, rubbing against his leg. Dashing into give the cats milk, to drop a pinch of Brightflash’s food into the little Betta tank. Ripping the electronics out of the canvas bag with its broken clasp. Hunting for plugs. The charger – oops. stepping on that. The modem. Check. The computer charger. Latex – that’s how he’d been saying “later” for twenty years – to the computer charger; it was pretty much charged from work. Charger to cell phone, modem to computer, modem booting. Cell phone charging.
Rafi’s messages all pointed to the same thing. Anna’s family had forgotten to set the alarm clock, Anna had, in a moment of self-sabotage echoed from her time drinking, had not attended to this at all. Anna saw that she wouldn’t get a connecting flight to Philadelphia until very late. She might have to sleep in Atlanta. Anna changes her reservation.
Dimitri cuts off Anna’s phone. The whole Garcia clan starts texting, e-mailing, and sending magic owls out for help. Rafi’s unsuspecting e-mail full of wishes for happiness whispers into this maelstrom to which it is irrelevant.
Rafi picks up his phone and calls. Anna’s phone’s back on. “Anna, I hear there’s some mierda pesada going down. How can I help?”
This was going to be another day in which nothing counts – until everything does. Raf knew he had been on the exercise bike only by the fact that his butt hurt and since the hot water wasn’t on yet, he could smell his man-sweat. Not that this will happen, but I wonder what Anna’s reaction would be if she made me like this. Rafi made a desultory gesture, a wave really, at the housework that needed done, and locked into his data. Cell phone on. Computer, check. NPR, must have. Rosetta Stone Russian discs? Loaded.
Rafi was well aware that the possibility of reading texts, checking e-mails, fielding voice-mails, listening to Marti Moss-Coane, and learning Russian at the same time was nil. The research says we don’t really multitask, anyway. It’s more like sequential minitasking (You heard it here first, thought Rafi. But if I’m doing stuff, I might be able to stop worrying about other stuff.At one of Anna’s meetings, someone said that “planning” was different than “projecting.” Rafi’s crystal ball was looking pretty opaque right now.
OK. First, an e-mail. “Dearest Annochka,” he typed, using a Russian diminutive for Anna’s Mexican name, “I spoke at length with Dimitri last night. He feels betrayed on two or three levels. If you are coming back, and not staying in Texas, you need to read this e-mail carefully. If you are leaving Dimitri, then remember that I have pledged to you my love and I will bring you back to me.
“Dimitri is a teacher, just like me. He doesn’t understand when you do things that wind up costing money. Of course, the car, but I convinced him to segregate drunk Anna from sober Anna. So now, he’s focused on the $200 for the flight, and he’s in his head over the $200 – it’s, how do they say, emblematic. He also is afraid you are getting drunk again. He doesn’t believe your aunt. He also thinks that the only thing he can trust you for is to make drama and upset. So you have to regain his trust by spending a lot of time doing normal things and producing predictable results.” Rafi wanted to finish with, “If you think you can’t handle it, stay there a month, leave him, and marry me. If we’re so chingado that we wind up on the street, at least we’ll have each other.” How he longed to add that.
He grabbed his Kyocera Melo and shot a quick text. “Check your e-mail. I love you.” Rafi always spelled out “you,” even when texting. “It shows respect,” he would say.
Then he e-mailed Dimitri. “She’ll be there when you are. Let me know if I can help.” Dimitri texted back. “Rafi, I have to handle this on my own. WCB after schl.”
The day became a blur from then until a moment that froze like scrawled text on an oil painting.  Rafi texted them both, “I am here if you need me.” Within minutes, Dimitri called back
“Everything’s OK. In fact, Anna and I are closer than ever. Thank you for all your help.”
WTF? Thank you for all your help? If that fucker only knew…

Lounge Lobster

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“Hey Sam, did you know there’s a really nice upright piano locked up behind the spare wash basins?”

Samantha Frankel placed the opal-polished index finger of her right hand on the next evening’s reservation book, checked that her new Macintosh reservation system and the hostess’s notes agreed, and then raised a laconic eye to Dimitri. “So?”
“Why in hell is it here if nobody plays it?”
“Don’t ask me; I just work here.”
“But you’re boss. You know everything, don’t you?”
“Don’t you forget it. I can set up a party for New Year’s 2012, but I don’t know about pianos.”
Dimitri froze. The world’s ending in 2012, don’t’cha know? Just ask the Mayans.
“Don’t you have tables active, Dim?”
“Yeah, I wonder if they’d like to hear Chopin or show tunes.”
This time, Sam froze. Something had always added up wrong about this guy. Twenty-three, vaguish accent, claimed a degree from Western Galilee College in Israel. She knew she should have taken Hebrew seriously at Temple Beth Sholom. How the hell did she know that she’d never leave South Jersey, and still have to verify a diploma from some place that could be hit by a Katyusha rocket?
“Go ask ‘em.”
Dimitri disappeared. Samantha punched a few keys on her Mac, set the beach ball screensaver rolling, patted the hostess on the butt in a way that would have drawn a scowl or a come-on from a man, and headed in the direction of the kitchen.
Dimitri had two tables still eating dinner at 9:40. Dimitri’s section reflected his seniority; he had the tables nearest the windows on the side parking lot.  For the waitresses, the section nearer to the bar was a better bet; proximity breeds orders, and orders breed tips. The side road, Buttonwood Street, looked out on a new theme restaurant and bar that seemed destined to run the Red Lobster out of Maple Shade. Bartenders wore football referee’s uniforms complete with whistles. The draw was the wait staff. All female. All young. All in orange go-go pants. Most with bare midriffs. All paid to smile nonstop and to put some extra bounce in more than their steps. More than a few evenings when the weather was warm, the server in that section would “work” through a break.
This evening, Dimitri had other thoughts in mind, especially since with snow on the ground, even the most exhibitionist Hooters waitress arrived in sweat pants and an overcoat.
“OK, folks, our manager Samantha wants to know, would you rather hear Chopin or show tunes?”
It took most of the diners at the two adjoining tables several seconds to hear “Chopin” instead of “show-pan.”
“No, for real. We have a shiny black upright in the back. What would you rather hear, Chopin or show-tunes?”
“Right now?” One patron spoke up after the general twittering subsided.
“No, I have to tune the piano, but you come back on the same night, at the same time, and I’ll buy the pitchers.” Did Dimitri really say this? He began calculating, “twelve people, half a pitcher each, a few glasses left over, say, nine pitchers. I can get Sheila to give me half-off, that’s $4.50 a pitcher…”
Five votes for Chopin, three for show tunes. One person came up with a suggestion of a nocturne or intermezzo, and then two suggestions from the house.
“OK, this time next month good for you guys?”
Dimitri ignored the inconvenient fact that the two groups of diners never saw each other before in their lives.
“Done.”
And so “Second Tuesday By Request” was born. And now, Dimitri had a piano to practice on that didn’t require a bus ride to the JCC, or to the synagogue he’d never set foot in.
___
Setting up “Second Tuesday” was no problem. Samantha saw a wasted evening converted to a profit maker. She even let people enter their mailing addresses into her Mac Office mailing list if they wanted a reminder postcard. Response had been surprisingly strong. Samantha took stock near closing time on Saturday night, just over two weeks to go before Showtime in Maple Shade.
Database of 60. Ten tables already booked. That could be half the dinner crowd for a Tuesday in February. Now we’ve got an event. I’m SO toast if the kid can’t play.
“Dim,” Samantha tossed her golden curls with just a touch of flirtation. Up and over her right shoulder crept a designer lock. She flicked it away without setting down the pen she held in her right hand.
“Yes, Sam.” Throwing his left hip forward, and placing his hands on his hips, the would-be lounge lizard upped the ante.
“When do I get my private concert, huh?”
 Dimitri knew what was up, but his thoughts flashed back to a girl he’d accompanied four years ago, on the Kibbutz. Same height, same hair past the shoulders. Smoker. He couldn’t tell exactly with clothes on, but same slim waistline. Yasmeena. OK, I can do this. Just pretend, but keep in check. You don’t make garab where you eat.
“I’m coming in to tune the piano on Monday morning. You’re here to open, yes?”
“I get here at 10.”
“Well, because you gave me the key, and trusted me not to take all the seafood, I come at 8.” But only because those lazy bums who clean up won’t let me get to the piano until 2:30.
“See you Monday.”
“Formal wear. Backless.”
“In your dreams.” Samantha flipped the curls, tilted her head, and swished over to the bar.
 Samantha had more than a little trouble getting to sleep that Saturday night WMMR. Nope, Aerosmith at 3am?! WLIT. ABBA? Gag me with a spoon. OK, WRTI. Jazz all night. At least…Ornette Coleman. Shit. Who goes to sleep with Ornette Coleman on? Samantha had a screaming flash. It’s Sunday in Israel. They don’t have to go to church in Israel. Now did he say Western Jezreel University? No, it’s not a university, it’s a college. Shit. All I know is the Technion. Oh, yeah, and Bir-Zeit, but isn’t that Palestinian? No, Galilee. That’s it, Western Galilee College. If he’s lying, it might as well be Western Gethsemane College, and his name is Judas. OK. How do you say, “What’s the number?” in Hebrew? I can’t even remember how to say, “Bat Mitzvah.”
Samantha got the international exchange code. She called the operator for the number.
“KJFGHJGHFF azor l’cha” Samantha could barely think, let alone remember a phrase she probably hadn’t learned in Hebrew school.
“Eastern…Galilee College…”
“Tov, tov, connect you now.” The operator bypassed procedures and connected the call. So do they charge me for an international collect call, operator assist?
“Oniversitat Galil Mizrachi, OUYFYUYUF azor l’cha?” crackled the voice across the Atlantic.
“Diber Anglit?” Samantha asked hopefully. She didn’t know that she had just said, “He spoke English.”
“Yes, sure.” The receptionist lost her Hebrew accent. “I was born in Columbus. How can I help you?”
Several points fell off Samantha’s systolic blood pressure, and the rushing of blood in her ear stopped competing with the receptionist’s voice.
“Shalom, thanks, I’m from Cherry Hill. Can you verify a student’s enrollment? I’m a hiring manager.”
“Does the student go to school here now?”
“No, he says he was there from 1985-1987. He lived on Kibbutz Halivat… Halivat…”
“Hadarat Haderech. Most of their olim go here. But I don’t have the records for former students.”
“Oh, shit – sorry, I didn’t mean that. Just transfer me to someone who speaks English?”
“I’ll get Shachar Dvoretzky in Student Records. She’s from New York.” Please, please don’t be a Giants fan.
Samantha was relieved to hear that there was music on the line while she held on. At least the connection was still live. For what I’m paying, this better be the best music in the Middle East. It was Gevatron, the most famous Israeli live music group. R’kudei am, Israeli dance music. Barefoot in the fields. “Hava netzei b’machol…” Sam was, despite her insomnia and anxiety, tapping her toes against her nightstand. When Sam was in Hebrew school, people knew Israel for the dances. And Jaffa oranges. And June 5, 1967, her birthday. No, not Israel, Samantha. The Six-Day War started on Samantha’s birthday. Had she been a boy, it would have been over before her circumcision. The music switched to a driving hora. Up went Samantha, wide awake, pretending she was at the dance hall at Kibbutz Hadarat Haderech. The full-length mirror on her closet danced in time, glancing back at the dancer in a T-shirt and all legs. I’d’a killed ‘em.
Shachar Dvoretsky, whose first name means “dawn,” answered in a voice that sounded like it was born on a mucosal, gravelly February morning. The receptionist from Columbus introduced the manager from Maple Shade to the registrar from Queens, and they tracked down the records of the renegade from Rhawnhurst there in the Jezreel Valley. Sure enough, Dimitri Katz had earned an associate’s degree with a performance diploma in piano.
“Todah rabbah.” Samantha thanked the women, who answered, “B’vakashah” two octaves apart. Within five minutes, still before the dawn in Maple Shade, the dancer fell asleep.
Less than thirty hours earlier, Samantha couldn’t sleep worrying if her multinational waiter was a fraud; now she had arrived at work more than two hours early on a Monday morning to listen to Dimitri play a few numbers. She pulled her shiny black 1988  BMW 325i into the handicapped spot nearest the door. She wrinkled her upper lip at the 1978 Datsun 280ZX with the low-hanging muffler sitting in the other handicapped spot.
At least he has some conscience. She experienced no cognitive dissonance with this thought.
She unsnapped her Lobster key ring from inside her fake Fendi bag, inserted it into the lock on the glass doors of the restaurant, and almost tripped on the doorjamb when the door opened itself.
“Dimitri, if you don’t want to serve breakfast, you’d better lock the door, yo!”
Duingduingduingduing. The response was that of a piano string being lowered, and then raised in pitch until the Russian-Northeast Philly-Israeli-Jerseyite was satisfied with its temperament.
“Samantha, since when does anyone eat seafood for breakfast, yo?” Two can play that game.
“Since when they invented shrimp cocktail, yo!”
Check and mate.
“So do I get my concert now?”
“I still have some work to do on the piano.”
“How much work?”
“I think a half an hour, no more.”
 Samantha was none too interested in hearing the squawks and peeps of a half-hour piano tuning session, and Cherry Hill Mall was right down the road.
“Dim, I’ll be back. Want anything?”
“Yes. Lox and a bagel from Bain’s. Lobster pays.”
“You’re pushin’ it, Dimbo.”
“Yep, I love you too.”