And this was the incident, sticky as jam. That New Year’s Eve
I sat in a living room where I was the only Jew. Chilling out with
my girlfriend and some softball pals of hers
all strong and proud, out and tough;
all athletes, educators
ten decent, funny women I had come to know and love
I’d baked the cookies for their games, cheering slide, you got it
Then my girlfriend went outside to have a smoke.
That was the moment when I asked a guest named Pam about her work.
“I’m special ed with kids now, but I started as a nanny;”
and she settled in her chair, and I sipped at my martini, and then
“But that first family I worked for? Just the worst. So, I’ll tell you,”
(and I never saw it coming, like a fast ball pitched at dusk)
“because no one here is Jewish, right?” She looked around.
And smiled, with confidence;
for normally, no one would be. They’d all grown up together, without me.
It’s just that I was there that night. The Jew who’d asked to hear about her work.
I felt my right hand fly up like a kitestring, in one swift yanked-up gesture, waving:
Me! Hey, whoa there! Yes, I’m Jewish. Representing! Been Jewish all along.
Gee, could have sworn you knew! “Me,” I said. “I’m Jewish.” And I dressed it
sort of cheery-lite (to mask that sinking feeling when you know another incident is up.)
Sat smiling with my hand flung up, martini unattended. Wait! Teacher! Look at me!
Call on me! Take me in! This is the Jew who’s cheered you from the bench.
But Pam just said, “For real?!” and then continued with the tale I’d asked to hear. “I’ll
just call them cheap, then; really cheap,” and everybody nodded. There was more?
And I looked to the right. Looked to the left. Waiting, as the clock ticked up to twelve;
But no one said, “Shut up, Pam,” or, to me, “You know, she didn’t mean it,”
or even the old standby, all my life, the “Oh, no way! But, see, you don’t look Jewish.”
No one thought to ask, “Are you okay?” (Though surely I was all grown up. And hadn’t I
heard worse?) But no one thought that anything had happened.
It shifted things, beginning then, that night, the differences I tried hard to deny;
beginning with I’m more than just one Jew, and You don’t know what I do?, and I’m on
the shelves at New York Public Library.
(The writer ego, quick to take the blow, protecting the soft Semite flesh below.)
But it was New Year’s Eve. And my girlfriend missed it all, outside smoking just before
the clock struck twelve and everybody kissed. I couldn’t say, So this is how they talk
when they’re relaxed? as her face turned, expecting soft lips; Happy New Year.
That night was like a fragrant pear which proved to be rock-hard. It disappointed where
it looked so sweet. I’m rolling all this out a few years later, on the countertop of memory,
pinching it like angry kreplach dough, simmering with what I might have said, and lots of
time to think, now that I’m single.