First Blush of Sin
We will pick you up at nine,” the text reads.
Shake it off, shake it off, I tell myself
What was supposed to be just a friend and me going out for fries has turned into a meeting of five fellow rebels. I am a bundle of nerves, not sure if I am ready for this.
“Once you start, there is no turning back,” they had said to me. We’d met online, behind the veil of computer screens, but now this is turning real.
Shower. Makeup. What should I do with my hair? It is still growing back since I stopped shaving. Should I wear a hat? A band? Maybe keep my wig on?
I tell myself to stop over-thinking. I dry my hair and get my clothes out: Brand new jeans and a T-shirt. Skirt to cover jeans, sweater to cover T-shirt. Gotta keep the costume on until I am out of Borough Park.
“Going out with friends,” I call to my husband, who sits at our dining room table absorbed in a sefer.
“No problem,” he says absent-mindedly. My phone chimes in my hand. “Have fun,” he calls, like an afterthought. He is used to me going out with friends to places he would never go.
I glance at my phone. “We are at the corner,” the text reads.
At the the hallway mirror, I tuck away a rebellious curl peeking out from under my wig. I close my eyes and take a deep breath.
A red sedan idles at the corner. I approach, unsure. The driver, a Chasidic man wearing an argyle sweater vest, payess tucked neatly behind his ears, cracks the window open and crooks his finger. “Come in,” he mouths silently.
My online friend, a chemistry student with wet curly hair, my primary connection to this group, sits in the front passenger seat and puts her finger to her lips. “Shh.” She points to the driver. He is on speaker with his son.
Shh, how appropriate for tonight. Its theme, you might say.
“So great to finally meet you,” I text my friend in the seat in front of me. She turns around and smiles.
Soon we are over the bridge and into the the city. I slip off my skirt and wig and place them on the back seat.
Our evening’s destination is a bar with a wandering gypsy vibe.
Two more friends join us outside the bar. An angry man with a hammer and sickle symbol on his hat stands in front of the door. “Ten dollar cover,” he says.
“Do capitalists have to pay?” Sweater-vest guy asks. He feels clever.
Three dollar mandatory coat check.
“This is great,” I say to my friends. “I now have pockets for my card and ID.” I tap the sides of my jeans and grin. Our driver takes one last puff of his cigarette and we enter.
We walk through a dark hallway and feel the vibrations of the music.
The band is leading into a song and the soulful rhythm feels oddly familiar. We try to place it as we take our seats on the second level, overlooking the band.
“Hey, aren’t they singing in Yiddish?” one of us realizes.
Apparently they are. The female vocalist sings in a warm and velvety soprano: “Sheyn vi di levone, likhtik vi di shtern….”
I am amused by the thought of this being part of a story I will tell one day. On the verge of stepping toward a life of wickedness and sin, the sound of a Yiddish song in a Manhattan nightclub brought me back. Perhaps someone might write a song about it.
“Would you like to order?” a cute waitress with short blond hair asks.
I had already picked my choice off the menu: “Chicken and feta skewers,” I say brightly. Yes, tonight is the night I mix the proverbial goat in his mother’s milk. No, tonight is not the night on which I see the error of my ways.
The band starts playing the song I danced to at my mitzva tanz. How wonderfully strange.
The fifth friend, an accountant who has driven cross-country on a motorcycle, joins us half an hour later. We discuss familiar topics, the ones that brought us initially together, all revolving around our attempts to live the most authentic version of ourselves while living within our restrictive communities.
I sip on a cosmo as I observe the people around me. They laugh easily, as if they do this all the time. Soon the food arrives. Salad, burgers, chicken skewers, and to ensure sinning le’mehadrin min ha’mehadrin, a cheese platter.
My first official bite of treif. Time for a photo-op:
I pile the feta on top of the chicken, then place a chunk of burger on top. All bases covered. Smile, and bite!
The chicken is good, but it’s still just chicken. This is a familiar feeling. Over the past few months, as I have been piling up the transgressions, this feeling of ordinariness is there with each forbidden step. That bite of chocolate cake on Yom Kippur. Turning on the bathroom light on Shabbos. I am often reminded of a quote from Henry David Thoreau: “After the first blush of sin, comes indifference.” That feels very true now.
Still, my thoughts go to a lifetime of warnings. Eating treif = 40 lashes. And right back to the ordinary: Is this green thing bay leaves or basil? Maybe cilantro?
“This feels so strange,” I say to no one in particular.
“Why, how does it feel?” someone asks, and the others look on amused.
I struggle for the words. “It feels like–nothing. It feels like nothing at all. Is something wrong with me? Is this usual?” I ask. I look around for reassurance, and they shrug. They’ve all had the same experience. It appears that prior notions of forbiddenness do not change the fact that chicken is still just chicken. Chicken with some cumin, garlic, and what I’m almost sure is bay leaf. Good chicken, not great chicken.
The band takes a break, and we decide to say hi to the singer, show off our mama-lushen. Her name, it turns out, is Eleanor Reissa, an accomplished performer, and she is amazed to encounter a group of native Yiddish speakers in a bar.
“Mentchen vus redden yiddish, men treft nisht uft azantz.” She joins us outside for a smoke, as she peppers us with questions. She is fascinated with us and our double identities.
I light my first cigarette. It’s filtered. Does that mean I am less likely to die of lung cancer? I wonder but I don’t ask.
I take a puff and notice the other smokers in front of the bars along the street. I marvel at how well I seem to fit in. I look just like one of them. More importantly, I look just like me–the mental image I have of myself. I check my reflection in a pane of storefront glass. Yes, that is me, as I am meant to be.
My cigarette seems to disappear faster than my friends’, and I wonder: Was I smoking it wrong?
Smoking made me thirsty. Back inside, I need to remind the waitress several times before she refills my water glass. She seems less cute now.
“Let’s dance,” my friend, the only other female in our group, suggests. I have been out to bars before, but I’ve never danced. I feel uncoordinated, my limbs flailing like a baby giraffe taking its first steps.
But my friend is insistent and I am a bit buzzed. She is a wonderful dancer and I try to mimic her moves.
We have admirers, it turns out, and I try to be polite. No, I do not want to “shake my hips more,” I tell a guy in an Ed-Hardy T-shirt who was getting a bit handsy. But I am having a good time.
Soon the band winds down. “Ven Moshiach vet kummen…” The singer’s blond curls bounce as she sings her last song. Almost like home, where every event ends with a song of our utopian future.
“If Moshiach does come sometime soon,” I say, “we are royally fucked.”
“Nah,” one of the guys says. “You can always sneak back in.”
“Well,” I remind him. “Remember? Once you start, there is no turning back.”
He nods and says nothing, and I think to myself: Really, why would I ever want to?Printable Version