The Chevrolet Escapade truly is a tiny a vehicle. But it gets great gas mileage. For the first 26 years, the hydraulic pistons in the back of this one would hold open the trunk when you loaded it. Now a broomstick, permanently stored in the back, sufficed for the job.
Mendel Zlotnik shifted his foot on the accelerator pedal. His leg, tunneling through the mounds of Bamba wrappers that threatened to engulf the car from the inside out, rustled as he moved. He wished he could say that this was a 26 year accumulation of snacks. But, he had to admit – the plastic reaching almost to his neck – this was probably all here since last Pesach.
He was pretty sure he’d cleaned the car for Pesach.
He sat in his Escapade, at the very end of Shloffkin, the last street in the neighborhood. To his right, yet another unfished Shul, its black windows gaping from the bare concrete walls like the gaping void in his heart. To the left, the last apartment building in the town that managed to house 76 people in just three floors. Hanging from its tiny balconies, great banners extolled upon him to vote for Shas. And also Gimmel. The Rabbis were specific.
The neighborhood of Ir Tzion is the poorest in Jerusalem. This was literally rock bottom; the place where the city’s social garbage juices naturally flowed and were duly deprived of the usual amenities like street cleaning and garbage collection services. The Talmudic scholars over at city hall had better neighborhoods to worry about. Neighborhoods where people had actual jobs and people actually paid taxes.
Here lived the real outcasts. The Ultra Orthodox Ashkenazim. The Ultra Orthodox Wannabe Sepharadim. The devoutly traditional Arsim, who believed in God as fervently as they believed in soccer. And here lived Mendel Zlotnik for 30 formative years of his miserable life.
30 years with that good-for-nothing Yentle.
Mendel pondered, as he had a thousand times, that a better name could not have been chosen for such a person. It was like a sick joke of the Gods, naming her that. If They had a sense of humor, which he doubted, or if They existed, which he was skeptical about, this would surely be the proof.
It amazed him that someone so weak and frail could still fuck with him so vigorously. That someone so shrewdly aware of their surroundings could be so unaware of themselves. That someone for whom every breath was a struggle, managed to be so full of hot air.
After 30 years, he deserved to have a little fun. That’s what he told himself as he shacked up with Gittle Wafflestein, the gefiltefishmacher’s wife. The time was right after Shabbos morning davening, and the place was the bare cinderblock walls of the women’s bathroom. It was foolproof. No one ever used the women’s bathroom, because women didn’t need to come to Shul. That was the man’s job.
So, while the crowd above pounded Kugel and Cholent, Mendel Zlotnik pounded Gittle Wafflestein.
For a moment, his troubles were gone. Fading away into the supportive concrete walls. Sinking into the fleshy mass that was Gittle – whose semblance was not unlike a Gefilte Fish herself – this was the first time in years he didn’t feel like he was simply surviving.
She tasted better than any herring, that much was certain. He told her as such. She blushed. They were gonna have kids together. Run away to a different street together. Start a new life of joy and love and many other unspeakable things.
Then, just as quickly as it had started, the fun was over. As Mendel hurried off to shul one dreary morning, a name caught his eye, plastered in large black block letters on the nearest bulletin board. His name.
Ash has fallen upon our midst. Hear your bones this, and they may shake.
It has come to our attention that the individual known as Mendel Zlotnik has been observed engaging in flirtations of the flesh. Let us not speak of such things, heaven protect us.
A magician never reveals his sources, but we have it from an authority on the matter. And we hereby proclaim, and declare, and announce: leave our camp! Begone from our midst! Do not let death rise up in our windows!
We beseech all members of the public of whom the fear of God still strikes in their hearts, to avoid all contact, both verbal and eye; to harass, harangue, and otherwise vilify said individual at all available opportunities; and to not partake of either his prayers nor his kugel in any public gathering.
Stay strong and let your hearts leap,
– The society for the protection of the purity of the camp
He turned about on his heel and headed home with the same shuffled determination that he’d headed to shul with just moments before.
He should have known that something that good was bound to end. Having your cake and eating it too is not something that mortals got to do in The World That is Not Yet The World To Come. Unless it was shit cake. Then you can have seconds. The little fuckhead Velvel Shtisslefeld had probably seen him climbing out of the bathroom window, and told everyone. The little prick. May his sexually transmitted diseases catch diseases of their own.
For months he stewed, not daring to leave the house for fear of encountering everyone, not bearing to stay for fear of Yentle. Say what you would about her mental acumen, she had definitely managed to read those signs somehow.
Darkness closed in. A vast emptiness that was far more expansive than ever before. He had caught a glimpse of the other side; he had tasted the alternative and then had it taken away. “If ignorance is bliss,” thought Mendel bitterly, “I’m probably the smartest man alive.”
This whole being alive thing was grossly overrated he pondered, his fingers gripping the steering wheel so tightly his knuckles turned white. He gazed straight ahead down Shlofkin, the crown turd of Ir Tzion.
Straight ahead was that fucking caravan, a prefab trailer where the local Arses gathered to engage in smoking and home improvement projects. A group of them were piled together on a bench, a teeming mass of misery and misdirection. Beyond that, the ground dropped dramatically towards The Forest. That’s what they called the sparsely wooded valley below. Hey, you take what you can get.
Picture this, looking up from the forest in the valley. At the caravan. At the Arsim on the bench. At the sun beginning to set above the slummy mountainside. A perfect setting for a final curtain call.
You hear a dull roar. Like a very compact car attempting to accelerate.
The Escapade explodes into the scene, arching cartoonishly upwards over the edge of the cliff. It hangs in midair long enough for you to inspect the scene: a halo of Arsim, gifted with flight by the Escapade that plowed through their bench, expanding into an ever widening shockwave of cheap cologne and cigarettes. The slowly rotating wheels of the Escapade, impossibly small and unusually pointless, like the circle of life. Mendel himself, gazing through the cockpit at the ground below, slowly curving towards him above the hood of the car. On his face, a look of resoluteness which has never been there before.
It’s a magnificent sight. Of defiance. Of proactivity. Of The Pursuit of One’s Dream. But no sight lasts forever and soon the car returns back to human speed, diving nose first into the forest below.
A relatively small explosion rumbles through the trees as a small plume of thick black smoke rises straight into the air. The Escapade, after all, does not have a very big gas tank. A flock of birds takes off and flaps angrily away. Then the silence, the sound of deafening boredom, rolls back in.
On a mountain outpost nearby, an Israeli soldier glances over lazily. Those fucking Arabs from Shalawiya are at it again. Or was that closer to Baal Der Amuq? Of that he wasn’t sure. Of one thing he was sure: it wasn’t worth investigating.
A memorial was held on Mendel’s behalf at three different synagogues. All were as keen to recognize him as a valued ex-member (Plucked from our midst in the prime of his days!), as they were for him to be gone while he still had his life abouts him.
As a neighborhood, Ir Tzion carried on being the shit haven it always was. New Arsim rose to fill the void left on the bench, which itself was replaced with a larger one with greater Arse capacities. Humans are expendable when you manufacture them by the dozen.
But down in the forest, a small black crater in a clearing has become a mecca of sorts during long Shabbos afternoons. A place to gape sentimentally, to drool in dense retrospection. To wonder if maybe there’s more to life than afterlife and cholent.
This, the dim-witted residents all agree, is probably the most interesting thing they have ever seen.