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Category Archives: Rafi

Tupper Lake (1998)

Segal had slipped on a wet rock near the top of Sawyer Mountain on Day 3 of the Great Escape. Sawyer Mountain barely merited the name; only an 847-foot climb, there was no challenge here for Rafi or Jezebel, but none of the little family had been up a mountain since Rafi had hiked up the Maroon Bells near Aspen, Colorado.  Rafi did not need any prompting from Segal to pack a first aid kit; in fact, it was he that double-checked that it was in his backpack, under the water bottles. The best he could do was field-dress the gash, and even though Jezebel ran down the hill to get help, Rafi knew that Segal could do this with his help. He grabbed a gnarled beech branch,  snapped off the small part to fit Segal’s build, and handed it to her.
K’chi – ani e’ezor otach. Take – I’ll help you.”
Rafi interpreted the scowl on Segal’s face as a good sign. She had almost thrown him down the hill when he was trying to debride the wound, and now she expressed way too much embarrassment, cloaked as hostility, to be in shock. The two of them and the beech staff made it down about halfway when they were joined by Jezebel, with a dad named Charles and his two boys, about ten and eight years old, in tow. Charles took the arm that had been holding the staff. Segal shot a quick glance at the older boy. 
“Is it OK if your son takes the walking stick?” she asked Charles.
“Barry?” Charles looked down at his older son, who had Jezebel’s leash, limply, in his hand.
“Thanks, Dad! Thanks, Ms. …”
“Segal.”                                            
“Ms. Siegal. It’s such a nice stick. Dad, I think it’s just your size!”
“It’s broken a little rough, sorry,” Rafi apologized.
The Adirondack field medical station was staffed by a male nurse with the body of a distance runner, which of course, he was. Fortunately for Segal, he was able to administer injectable anesthetic above the wound site before he started debriding. Still, Rafi and Jezebel both jumped at the yelp emanating from the procedure room. In all, the nurse put eleven stitches in Segal’s knee, and sent her home with a note that specified that her outdoors activities be limited to canoeing and horseback riding, and then only with waterproof bandages if she were to be around water.
When they returned to the Indian Lake Motel, Segal threw on the TV, which divided time between CNN and Animal Planet. It was on CNN. The next thing thrown was Segal’s pack – on the full-sized “parent” bed, as a foot rest. Before she even got her damaged leg up on the pack, Rafi turned around with a start.
“At approximately 10:35 this morning, the US embassies in Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya were pulverized in devastating, apparently coordinated attacks. A shadowy terrorist group calling itself Al-Qa-Ida claimed responsibility.” 
“Shit. Od pa’am, here we go again.”
“What!?” Segal, still stung by her embarrassment over the accident at Sawyer Mountain, misinterpreted Rafi’s comment.
“Just last time I was on a vacation with Margaret and the Soviet Union fell apart. We got married, and the half of Rwanda slaughtered the other half. Now what?”
“Let them kill themselves for all I care.”
“Segal, think. This is…”
“Right. I wasn’t thinking. The damn Percocet hasn’t kicked in yet. I’m sorry for how I’ve been acting.”
“It’s OK. We can still have a good time here – we can go back up to Blue Mountain Lake, you can canoe, we can go to the museum – and then Jez and I can go up the mountain and you can take a day trip. Where would you like to go where they don’t want dogs?”
“This is the ‘Dacks. Where don’t they want dogs?” 
“I don’t know. Maybe if you go to Old Forge, you’ll see Anne LaBastille. Maybe, you’ll just have a good time – you’re the one who likes Thoreau, after all.”
“And you’re the one who is keeping his head on his shoulders.”
“Where else should my head be?”
“It’s an expression.”
“I know. I always wanted to ask someone that.”
Chamor.”
“I love you, too. Now let me make an icepack for you. Do you want a snack before you pass out?”
“I don’t know – whether I’m gonna pass out or not. But I would like a snack. Do we have any tuna salad left from yesterday?”
Rafi was happy that he let Segal take them grocery shopping before lunch yesterday. He was happier that, whether it was tuna salad or a ten course dinner, he always doubled the recipe. Kibbutz cooking was for twenty, never two.
* * *
Itinerary for the rest of Week 1: 
Rafi: Blue Mountain, Castle Rock, and Chimney Mountain (with Jezebel), one golf course, a half-day at the Adirondack Museum, eight hours vocal practice (motel manager likes Mozart, but guests have a problem with high notes plus hangovers).
Segal: One car tour of the Western Adirondacks, a picnic lunch at Singing Waters Camp Grounds (with Jezebel), one paddleboat cruise on Raquette Lake (with Jezebel), one dinner at the Old Mill Restaurant (with an autographed copy of LaBastille’s Woodswoman), two half-days at the Adirondack Museum, and a half-day at the Adirondack Center for the Arts. 
All Participants: A boat trip through the Blue Mountain Lake and connected bodies of water.
Jezebel: Three mountains, a campsite picnic, a paddleboat cruise, and lots of good charcoal-grilled meat in the evenings at the Indian Lake Motel.
On the way up to the much more touristy Saranac Inn in Saranac Lake, at the intersection of Rts. 28 and 30, sat the old crossroads town of Tupper Lake. Rafi and Segal wanted to visit the historic synagogue there. The village was founded in 1844 as a lumber center, but its Jewish history began in 1905, when Mose Ginsburg, a small dry-goods trader, suffered the death of his horse there. After burying the animal, he set up shop at the train depot, creating Ginsburg’s, the largest department store for a time in upstate New York. Wherever Jews establish themselves, they create a cemetery and a religious school, so says the tradition. The latter became Beth Joseph Synagogue, which maintained a museum of Jewish life that was open year round. Mose Ginsburg’s daughter was visiting the synagogue when Rafi and Segal came in. Jezebel waited outside, providing a friendly welcoming committee. 
An octogenarian named Mr. Joseph served as docent that day. He seemed pleased to have visitors, particularly Jewish ones. When Rafi let on that he was studying to be a cantor, the old man grabbed his tie-dye and, looking up at Rafi with hopeful, almost pleading eyes, he urged, 
“You are staying close by?”
“Yes, we are staying in Saranac Lake.”
“Then you must davenwith us Friday. Our services start at seven. The whole Jewish camps are here as our guests. We would be proud to have you as hazzan.” 
Rafi and Segal looked at each other, puzzled.
“Let me show you our prayer book. You take it; you bring it back Friday.”
The nonagenarian daughter of the synagogue’s founder entered the museum wing at that moment. Almost as tall as Rafi and Segal, she could have given Joseph a rub on his bald pate. At ninety one years of age, the woman stood straight, and walked without a cane. She seemed ready to launch into the canned speech she gave tourists whenever she graced the museum wing, but Mr. Joseph turned quickly and grabbed her dated polyester blended jacket with mint and yellow checks on a beige background.
“Muriel, do you know who we have here?”
“Who is it, Jacob?”
“It’s Hazzan Ben-B’rak, from Temple Beth Sholom in Philadelphia.”
“Hazzan Ben-B’rak, what a pleasure! Welcome to Beth Joseph!” The doyenne of New York retail west of the Hudson remembered the passage from the Haggadah, the telling of the story of Passover well, in which a dozen revolutionary rabbis plotted the Bar Kochba Rebellion against Rome over a Passover Seder in the town of B’nei-B’rak. 
“May I introduce my wife Segal Gottesdienst?”
“Mrs. Ben-B’rak, a pleasure.”
Rafi stepped up. “Ms. Gottesdienst. I was stubborn, and I kept my name under the huppah.” That was Hebrew, or Yiddish, for “altar.” Sort of.
Quickly, the information was exchanged, and it turned out that the Grand Lady of Retail had taken a call from a rabbi from the Reform Movement who was also vacationing in the Adirondacks and looking for a place to pray that weekend. Of course, Mrs. Ginsberg had extended the offer to the rabbi that Mr. Joseph had given Rafi. 
“How long has it been since there were two clergy on the bimah at the same time here?” Segal asked. 
“I was only a very young girl when my father started the shul, but I don’t ever remember it happening.”
“Not even on the High Holy Days?” Rafi asked.
“No, not even then.”
“Well, with your permission, Segal, we accept! Let’s make history.”
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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…

…but a Whimper, Part II (1995)

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…but a Whimper, Part II (1995)
Good. Her car is not in the garage. She must have had to work overtime.
Rafi parked his car across the street from the smallest house on Euclid Heights Blvd. For the first Valentine’s Day after he moved in with her, he bought her a dozen roses. A dozen bare-root roses. Jackson and Perkins had shipped them in two waist-deep boxes. Four weeks later, the parcels arrived on Thursday afternoon, one at a time, totally obscuring a delivery driver. Margie was at work, and Rafi was at the keyboard – with the TV on to Wake Forest vs. North Carolina – NC A &T, that is – and the radio tuned to the Cleveland Indians pre-season exhibition game. Sprawled out over the coffee table were three years of Margie’s back tax records, so she could finally collect her refunds, so Rafi’s use of the keyboard was as much for a writing surface as for a pitch source. Rafi had bought the cheesy cherry-red wrapping paper with the “Happy Valentine’s Day” hearts. He wrapped the boxes and applied the pink bowtie.
Now, it was five years later, and the roses were glorious – from Mr. Lincoln red to Peace white to David Austin sunshine yellow doubles. A three-dimensional kidney-shaped hill rose from the center of the lawn, with its contours shaped further by a shock of coreopsis interwoven with spears of iridescent navy-blue liatris. Various other flowers, selected for their thin, churchlike form, rose up like chaste fireworks out of the sedum that held the topsoil onto the clay foundation. Trim rows of baptisia and astilbe trimmed the sides of the little garden – power pinstripe meets psychedelic tie-dye.  All that was wrong was that Margie, owing to her vitiligo, had not been out to weed in far too long. Rafi headed to the garage and found the canvas sheet that he used for collecting weeds and clippings where he had left it two years before.
You never were the pushy one with the women. All the other boys, as soon as we could see the Tzaha”l on the horizon, would start posturing like peacocks. The girls would become ashamed even going near those guys. In the army? Hui, just like the old song says, “Go out and check out the soldiers from our farm, girls! Don’t hide yourselves from the soldier boys, the men of the army.” I don’t know if my dad was born when that was written. Me? Ha. I only got the ones that ran from our soldiers of the farm. Now I let this one pick me and here I am, about to pay the price. How should I have handled myself? What should I have done? Not gone on that first date? Not made out? Not moved in? I would have had to move in with somebody, why not her? Damn. Garab. 
The weed pile mounted between the rose garden and the architectural mound. As the sun’s rays grew increasingly direct, Rafi’s skin pleaded for release from under his sweat-soaked shirt. 
Ok, Rafi, focus. She’s a good person, but she refused help when the med school offered it. You kept telling her to stop the TV and the ice cream. She didn’t listen. (Damn, how I begged her. She nearly took my head off.) You couldn’t have done anything else; she was a slow-motion train wreck. And how could she have not seen this happening to herself anyway? What wag said that quote about the three invisible things – the air to the bird, the water to the fish, and his life to the man?  
Yeah, what do I look right at? Am I such a good man – and would I do so much better if I strike out to go after fame and fortune – or at least a musical career? Oh, that – I can just see it now – the cantor, if I can’t become a legit opera singer, has to cancel a rehearsal because he has to get the children at Vacation Bible School? “Jesus love me, yes he do, Jesus love me, with a love that’s true.” Choke me. I don’t get it. I’m sorry. I can’t live that way. 
Rafi moved forward to the eastern tie-dyed row. He was almost done weeding. She wasn’t back. 
But what about her? She gave up a job for a dream. Then her dream was stolen. How can she recover? What can she do? Can she crawl back to the hospital, tail between her legs, and beg for her old job back? How can she recover? And what about the depression?  
Will someone teach me how to have my own life and not be responsible for the whole world? If any normal person saw that he was on a train that was going to crash, he’d get the hell off the train, right? Don’t I get to be normal? I’m not her Jesus, I’m a man, and her train was going to derail with or without me in a crewman’s seat. 
Just then, Margie pulled into her driveway. She stumbled out of the car, swinging her legs in her hospital scrubs out of the driver’s seat, and with all her psychological pain wobbling in its physical manifestation, reached her enormous arms to Rafi.
“But I’m a mess.”
“I don’t care.”
Rafi did not think that this was THE MOMENT. So he returned the hug. It didn’t register with Margie that she had never seen Rafi with a shirt on in the bright sunshine if there wasn’t a penalty to be paid.
“Get out of the sun, Margie. I’ll be done in ten minutes.”
“OK, Rafi, I’ll make iced tea.”
The last time I was in her kitchen, the linoleum was curling, there were weeks’ worth of dishes in the sink, the refrigerator was a graveyard for heaven-knows-what, and I have no idea what will happen when this tea comes out. And she hasn’t lost an ounce. I hope she doesn’t offer me ice cream. 
Rafi wrapped up the canvas that held the weeds. Slinging the parcel over his back, he headed around to the backyard where the strawberry pyramid grew, and emptied the waste product of the war of the roses into the compost bin. He returned the canvas sheet to its resting place in the garage. Just before trudging up the steps to the little house, he thought twice and crossed the street. The keys sat edgily in his right pocket. He took them out and opened the driver’s door. His gym bag was on the passenger’s seat. Out came a plain T-shirt. Off peeled the drenched yellow second skin. Having switched tops, Rafi returned to the bungalow.  
“Did you have to work today?”
“No. I was at the Intro to Judaism class at Beth Shalom.”
“Really?”
“They’re mostly women, engaged to or going with Jewish men.” 
“Were their guys there?”
“No, not many. There are about thirteen of us in the classroom, and only five guys; two in the class and three BFs.”
“How are you finding it? Is it worth your time?”
“ Rafi, just like I brought you closer to the farm, you brought me closer to Judaism After growing up on a kibbutz, you probably never thought you’d have anything to do with farming ever again, and here you are, weeding a hundred different species of flowers and vegetables. And I might never become Jewish, but at least I know they don’t have horns.”
“Funny – I think the people in Fredonia sensed I was different – a lot – before I turned to them to say anything.”
“I think they noticed your skin color. Maybe they thought you were a Muslim. The closest mosque is in Dayton. My brother says you should open up a kosher butcher shop – you’d have no competition.”
“I’d have no customers.”
“Right. Minor problem.”
The carpet, if it could be called that, parted in two nearly stony pathways: one straight ahead, past the keyboard, the hall, the bathroom, and the bedroom, and one branching to the left, past the TV to the sofa that Margie and Rafi had bought when they lived together. The sofa where Margie slept, indecent, with a remote control clutched in her pillow-like right hand and a half-gallon of ice cream empty at her side. Sometimes, Rafi’s cat Kinneret curled up on Margie’s stomach; sometimes on the back of the sofa. Rafi still had pictures of his golden Angora cat highlighting the fine threads in the olive upholstery. The sofa was quality – no permanent impressions had been left by Margie’s sprawled out form. No cat hair remained either, a near miracle. Margie was drowning in depression and clutter, but she managed some of the big cleaning jobs by turning on the adrenaline when family was in town for a visit. All the clutter would wind up in laundry baskets in the basement.
Margie headed into the kitchen. The linoleum was still curled up, with chunks torn out, because of a sprinkler accident four years ago. Connecting to the hose was easy; the dry rot was the hard part. I learned not to take anything in this house at face value.
Margie was babbling as she yanked the pitcher of tea out of the freezer. The clinking of ice cubes punctuated her narrative – was it Fredonia, or Lake Wobegon? It made the same impact. Rafi hated Garrison Keillor. Rafi lurked around the fork in the carpet. To the sofa? The chairs across from the pile on the coffee table? To the kitchen? Stand here and wait? Was this tea made this morning – last week? Hell. Garab. I can’t even hear her words for the echoes between my eardrums.
The chair near the phono. I dubbed a huge collection of records that WCPN was selling off, and it looks like she left the chair empty in my memory. Why in hell else is there no crap on it? 
Margie crossed into the living room and set the glasses of tea down on the smallest pile of glossy magazines. She ripped her shirt and bra off, and kicked away her flip-flops, but there was nothing sexual about the gesture. Don’t go for your shorts. Please. Please. 
There was nothing else to do.
“Margie, stop.”
The victim looked up and froze, in the same moment.
“I’m leaving you.”

End of Part I

Yeltsin On the Tank Part II

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Why so glum, habibi?” Margie used the diminutive that Rafi had taught her.
“Watch,” Rafi half-growled, half-pleaded, his normally barely distinguishable Israeli accent garbling the single word. Margie plopped in Gordon’s slightly tattered, downmarket black leather recliner and set her hands on Rafi’s shoulders in anticipation of giving a shoulder rub, but before the first squeak came out of the matching footstool on which Rafi sat,  she thought twice.
It was 6:45 am on a Wednesday morning during summer vacation. Rafi never adjusted his chin from the bookshelf that his left fist created, elbow on his knees. Barefoot, in jean cutoffs, and a tie-dye T-shirt with an irradiated indigo and orange peace sign on it, Rafi looked like he was Gordon’s twin, from the 6o’s and not a decade younger. Rafi last remembered going unshod in front of anyone he cared to impress when he was part of the Chovevei Tziyon dance troup performing r’kudey am, the national dances of Israel, for tourists. Oh, yes, and when Salman was in Israel for the Interzonal. I spent so much of the time playing beach volleyball with the Mermaid and her friends that there wasn’t any reason for shoes. Girls who were half the weight, physically and in every other measure, as Margie. Remote control in his right hand, he focused on the tank dominating the screen, and the scrolling English subtitles that some bleary-eyed State Department translator had spent all night refining. He could barely make out the white pouf of the alcoholic, frequently depressed President of the Russian Federated Soviet Socialist Republic, but from the coverage from the previous day, he had the voice committed to tape recorder.
            “Citizens of Russia: On the night of 18-19 August 1991, the legally elected president of the country was removed from power.
Margie’s head snapped up. “This guy is crazy!” she exclaimed in her best “everybody-is-sleeping-except-for-my-obsessive-boyfriend” voice.
“Yeah. Hishtaga legamré. What if the guy in the tank shoots him in the crotch?”
“And that’s why you’re sitting here looking like a church choir director in summertime? I thought you had no use for the Party.”
“Margie, on  the kibbutz I hated everyone and everything, but I loved The Dream. These halutzim, the pioneers, saw what they did as prophecy, but the prophet was as much Marx as Moses.  It was on us to perfect the human spirit. Only we could bring about a true equality and carry out God’s vision. You’ve taken the Intro to Judaism class. What do the four most important words in the prayer service mean?”
“But there are six.”
“No, Margie, stick to the liturgy, not the Torah. Here they are, ‘L’takein olam b’malchut shadai.’ That means, ‘To perfect the world under the Kingship of Heaven.’ That’s Marx. That’s Engels. That’s Herzl and Golda and Ben-Gurion and…”
“Rafi.”
“What?”
“Rafi ben-Berak.”
“You get it! See, these bastards, from Stalin on, excepting Khrushchev, created a cult of personality. No Little Red Book, like Mao, but still! Communism was not tried and found difficult – “
“It was found difficult and left untried.”
 “That’s why I like you, Margie; you have less patience than me.”
“Birds of a feather. But why does it matter?”
“You sound like a chaver kibbutz, a real kibbutznik. “Mah ichpat l’cha? Do you have any idea how many times the other kids asked me what did I care? – ‘I don’t wanna do chalivat boker.’’Tough, it’s your responsibility.’ ‘Mah ichpat l’cha?”  Or, ‘There’s a big debate between Labor and the Party tonight.’’Mah ichpat l’cha?’  Or, ‘OK, batlan (good-for-nothing), can you clean your supplies off our lab bench before we go plant?’ Mah ichpat l’cha?’”
 “But Rafi,” Margie asked, half with credulity and half with empathy. Rafi cut off her response.
“It does matter! If Communism is proven fraudulent, who the hell am I, anyway!?”
The commentator was trying something akin to historical analysis.
“He’s talking so far out his asshole that his head comes out in the same place and nobody can tell the difference.”
Click. Now MSNBC was replaying the speech, but in addition to the crawl, there was  a twentysomething (maybe) voice-over talent reading the State Department translation. At least, as far as Rafi could discern, the State Department knew Russian. The Soviet guys didn’t know any English, as anyone who was alive twenty-four hours ago knew by now.
            “Regardless of the reasons given for his removal, we are dealing with a rightist, reactionary, anti-constitutional coup. Despite all the difficulties and severe trials being experienced by the people, the democratic process in the country is acquiring an increasingly broad sweep and an irreversible character.
            “The peoples of Russia are becoming masters of their destiny. The uncontrolled powers of unconstitutional organs have been considerably limited, and this includes party organs.”
“Would it make you happier if the people chose Communism?” interjected Margie.
“Later,” Rafi snapped – but then reached back and patted Margie’s left knee with the hand that had cradled his brooding chin. The broadcast continued.
            “…has adopted a resolute position toward the Union Treaty striving for the unity of the Soviet Union and unity of Russia. Our position on this issue permitted a considerable acceleration of the preparation of this treaty, to coordinate it with all the republics and to determine the date of signing as August 20. Tomorrow’s signing has been canceled.
            “These developments gave rise to angry reactionary forces, pushed them to irresponsible   and adventurist attempts to solve the most complicated political and economic problems by methods of force. Attempts to realize a coup have been tried earlier.
            “We considered and consider that such methods of force are unacceptable. They discredit the union in the eyes of the whole world, undermine our prestige in the world community, and return us to the Cold War era along with the Soviet Union’s isolation in the world community. All of this forces us to proclaim that the so-called committee’s ascendancy to power is unlawful.
            “Accordingly we proclaim all decisions and instructions of this committee to be unlawful.
            “We are confident that the organs of local power will unswervingly adhere to constitutional laws and decrees of the president of Russia.
            “We appeal to citizens of Russia to give a fitting rebuff to the putschists and demand a return of the country to normal constitutional development.
The speech continued for another moment. Margie delivered that promised shoulder-rub. Ted Koppel, his own coif looking like he had never missed a moment’s sleep, was commenting on ABC.  Neither person made the obvious comment, until after ABC inserted a media portrait of Yeltsin in the lower left corner of the screen. Without a word, Rafi and Margie started giggling. Then they grabbed their faces to suppress the growing laughter. Rafi’s olive cheeks glowed no less red than Margie’s vitiliginous ones. Laughter turned into breathless hacking. Tears puddling on his hand, eyes slammed shut, Rafi said it.
“Do they share a stylist?”
“Or a wig??”
It was over. Both witnesses to history convulsed in hacking, snorting, and eventually belly-produced laughter. Neither could snatch more than a thimbleful of breath for the next week. It must have been at least five minutes, because Rafi had all-but fainted. Death by hairpiece?
Margie’s sister had woken up, angry. She only jumped out of bed when she recognized that this was no regular mirthful outburst. Neither Rafi nor Margie could notice that she had entered the den with two glasses of water. Neither noticed until the thermal shock hit that she had unloaded matching glasses of ice water on them.
“(gasp)”
“(gasp)”
The coughing slowed. Both squinted up, gratefully. Neither made excuses, but neither could explain it if they tried. Later in the day, when Koppel was repeating the claim that if the putsch collapses, it would be a result of the greatest blunder in the history of the post-Vietnam world, and the Yeltsin insert would materialize again, Margie’s sister was at the verge of losing control of her guffaws. Rafi, still barefoot, still without breakfast, offered to get a glass of ice water.