“Uh, Shaye, maybe we should go find another shul, it looks private here. There’s maybe twenty people.”
“Twenty people’s not private. If you want to stay out here and wait, fine. But I’m not walking all over again to find another shalom zachor.”
I hesitated. He walked in.
Moishe turned to me. “Shloime, he’s right. It’s getting late, this is probably our last one.”
We filed into the corner shtiebel and pretended to belong.
It wasn’t really necessary. Everyone was joking or eating or schmoozing. Nobody noticed when we walked in, except a big, red-faced guy sitting close to the door, who greeted us with “Mazel Tov! Mazel Tov!” and turned back to his drinking buddy.
A quick glance to the head table found Shaye shaking the baal habos’s hand and making loud, smiling conversation. Shaye was a pro at this. He’d play the politician, answer a few questions about which yeshiva we were from, who his father was, make a joke, and back out. The whole thing took two minutes, after which we were as welcome as anyone. I wanted to make sure the father knew I was one of the merry yeshiva men, so I moved in to get in on the closer. Shaye was making his shalom zachor pun when I got there, a stupid line he issued with such confidence that everyone laughed anyway, and shook the guy’s hand.
“Sit down,” the baal habos said, making a show of hospitality. “There’s plenty of chairs. There’s still cholent. And beer! You want a beer before you start singing, right?”
“Sure,” I said, putting on my charmer face. A waste. He’d already turned away to schmooze with his friends. So much for being cool. Well, I’d settle for being drunk. I went back to the table where Moishe and Moty were already pouring from a bottle of Chivas into plastic cups half-filled with Coke. Shaye was sipping a shot straight while leaning his chair back to shmooze with the guy two seats away from him, laughing it up like he owned the place. I thought of trying to look that cool, but didn’t want to waste my only chance of sustaining my buzz for an act I probably couldn’t pull off. The guy I tried it on would probably get bored, then annoyed, then look at my booze, then kick us out. I just mixed it with the Coke like the other guys.
We drank, ate some chickpeas and cholent to look normal, drank more, performed the right songs at the right times, drank some more, when suddenly I had to pee and figured I should get the heck out before the alcohol kicked in and I did something stupid. I turned to Shaye.
“I need to pish.”
“Yeah, me too.” He grinned. “See you outside.”
I went down to the restroom, but Shaye headed straight out. When I got outside, I found him zipping himself up in front of a stucco house across the street. Shaye had strong religious views about showy houses that he liked to express through urine. We waited for the other guys to file out.
“What do you want to do now?” someone asked.
A certain yeshiva was mentioned and shot down. A guy someone knew who had a hot sister was briefly considered before someone mentioned the time.
“Let’s just go back,” Shaye said. “There’s nothing going on.”
“There’s never any girls anywhere to talk to,” I said.
“Oh, they’re around,” said Shaye. “You just don’t know where to look.”
“Yeah,” said Moishe. “Big talker. Like you’re getting all this action all the time. I love how you talk about yourself. Man of mystery.”
Someone laughed. “You tell yourself what you want,” said Shaye. “Before I frummed out, they were all over me.”
“Before you frummed out,” Moshe sneered. “So, what, that’s like 8th grade? Yeah, I’m sure you were getting mad tail there in elementary school–”
A group of girls appeared from around the corner and walked onto the road to avoid us. We tried to get them to look at us. Moty even said “Hey.” We stared at them as they walked away.
“Bitches,” Shaye said.
“What?” Moishe said. “They’re frum.”
“Frum, my ass,” I said. My horny and drunken energy suddenly turned into anger. “Did you see them? They all do that. All dressed up with makeup and tight clothes, and then if you say a word to them, they’re like, ‘You pervert.’”
A smaller group of girls tried to pass us single-file without looking.
“Whores!” I yelled at them.
Moty grabbed me. “Shut up. You’re drunk.”
Only two girls looked at me. The rest started to walk away as quickly as possible. One of the two girls, a pretty one, with silky hair that seemed to slide all over her face, squared herself and looked Moty in the face. “Why’d he say that? I want to know.”
Moty grabbed me under the arms and began pulling me away.
“No, you don’t,” he said to the girl. “He’s drunk, just walk away.”
I shouted again. “You want to know? Tighten your shirt a little more. I can’t make out your nipples entirely.”
Moty smacked me across the face, and grabbed my arm hard.
I laughed out loud, wild, ringing laughter. “Burn in hell, you bitches!” Screw them!
* * *
Fifteen minutes later we were walking down Avenue M and East 6th Street, heading towards the dorm. I was almost gone now and stumbled along with everyone as best as I could. I was trying to look around for anyone we might know, but that quickly became too much effort. I worried about tripping and ripping my suit. I focused on walking and making crude jokes about whatever the guys were saying. Amazingly, when a rebbe from our yeshiva walked past, I sobered up in an instant, walked normally, even offered a respectful “Good Shabbos.” The second he turned away, my knees wobbled and I had to grab a nearby wrought-iron fence for support.
Shaye spoke up suddenly, quieting us. “There’s Ari Katzenstein.” He nodded towards the other side of the street. A kid who looked a couple years older than us, sporting ripped jeans and a zip-up jacket leaned casually against a tree, smoking a cigarette.
“Man,” Moty said. “He’s smoking on Shabbos in public. Where is he now?”
“Priority One, I think,” said Shaye.
“Nah, they kicked him out,” Moty said. “They caught him dealing.”
Moshe looked up. “That guy’s a drug dealer? He looks like a punk. I could take him.”
“Don’t,” said Shaye. “He’s like 20. And he knows guys.”
“FUCK that!” I said, feeling tough. I paused for a split second and then ran wildly across the street.
“Shloime! Get back here!”
Shaye ran after me, followed by Moty. Moshe hung back, yelling and laughing.
People think you can’t fight while drunk. That’s not true. You can’t fight well, but you can sucker punch as good as anyone. You don’t feel shit, and your fear is down to reserve levels.
I don’t remember exactly what happened then, but the general consensus is that I ran up and started making semi-intelligent threats at Katzenstein. Shaye tried to pull me back, until Katzenstein punched me in the head. Then Shaye went crazy on the guy, punching him again and again till Katzenstein was on the floor. Shaye kept kicking him as if he would never stop. I remember taking punches from a tall guy who had been walking nearby and then I jumped him in a bear hold and brought him down. I squeezed my hands around his neck, and choked him for what seemed like a long time while the guy kept making my face jerk around with what were probably frenzied punches. I don’t remember letting up, but Moty, who was a huge guy, claims he made the guy stop hitting me and then ripped me off him.
Later that night, I found myself in my bed and woke up to go to the bathroom. My face and head throbbed like hell. As I opened my fly and looked down, I saw Shaye on the floor next to the toilet. He had cuts on his face and neck, and he was fast asleep, drooling onto his undershirt. I smiled.
This story is a work of fiction. Which is not to say it didn’t happen.Printable Version