Rockets flash briefly across the chilled sky, plumes of smoke, ash carried off by impending winter.
Over the lintel of the entry to the Inter-Continental Hotel Chicago, carved deeply into the marble Es Salamu Aleikum staring implacably through ponderous brass framed doors onto the Miracle Mile. Countless guests pass below it unseeing.
My son and I sit across a small table spilling bits of tapas onto the cloth, laughing lightly at the young boy bathed in a puree of tomato, his shirt dotted in goat cheese. My son explains the inflation of the universe, gravitational waves cast off by coalescing binary neutron stars. His words pull me deeper into my seat. We speak somberly of the jet engine parked haphazardly in the Queens gas station unwilling to mention 265 lives salted across the small community.
We embrace by his door, the few measured hours run. He turns to call his girlfriend, I turn my collar up against the November night.
The Red Line train clatters slowly back into a sleeping city. In my room I brew a cup of Darjeeling.
*”We will drink tea in Kabul tomorrow morning, if God wills it.” – Basir Khan, Northern Alliance Commander, quoted in the Chicago Tribune, 13 November 2001.
First appeared in Hearsay, 2004 and in The Right to Depart, Plain View Press (2008).
My parents, well my father, always felt is was necessary to stop on the way to our summer home in the Western Adirondacks to visit Uncle Morris, who may or may not have been an uncle in the blood sense, it was never clear. It was he who sold my father the cottage near the small lake, he who now lived in a nursing home in Schenectady.
Morris was sweet, frail, but still wanted my father to play a couple of hands of pinochle, which drove my mother crazy, but she loved the cottage, and Morris sold it to them for a song to keep it in the family.
I liked watching them play, never understood the game, and hated the name Schenectady, but we’d always go for an early dinner at the Chinese Buffet across from the store Morris owned for years.
I can still recall the day my mother was ecstatic on learning that everything grew out of a primordial soup. It was proof, she was certain, of a Jewish God, even if he didn’t do it all with his own hands. And, with a broad smile she said, I’m fairly certain at the soup was chicken, maybe with kreplach on the side.
He says he is waiting patiently for the arrival of heaven on earth.
He is not sure what that will be like and the descriptions he has seen are too fantastical to be believed, all clouds and angels and music
He is hoping the things he loves most will be available in heaven, a good Alfredo sauce and German chocolate cake, for two, but heaven should be Starbucks-free, since he will be able to drink espresso at any hour, for you have no need of sleep in heaven.
Until that moment comes, he will sit for hours in the neighborhood Starbucks because of its free wifi and search for the best top ten lists of ways to avoid hell and where you can get wifi and a good decaf espresso.
I have never made a bagel. I have never jumped off the roof of a house to see what flight was like. I have never run a marathon or a half marathon. I have never owned a Ferrari, Lamborghini or Maserati. Or a Porsche for that matter. I have never driven a car at more than 130 miles per hour. I have never parachuted out of an airplane. I have never been six feet tall in my bare feet. I have never undertaken studies for a PhD. I have never attempted to swim the English or any other channel. I have never been to either Mongolia. I have never sat through the whole of Gone With the Wind. I have few regrets, but living on the Treasure Coast of Florida I do wish I could make a good bagel. I miss them, and they are nowhere to be found.
No one looked up when the Buddha walked into the deli and took a seat at the counter, “Pastrami on rye, and lean, with mustard on the side, and two slices of full dill and a side of slaw.”
As he sipped the Dr. Brown’s Cream Soda, the waitress smiled at him, asked, “Are those robes comfortable, winter isn’t all that far off, you know.”
Buddha smiled, and with a serene calm said, “It all depends on what you wear beneath, I prefer a silk-cotton blend, but some I know want only organics.”
As he finished, a younger, swarthy man entered, his robes bleached white from the sun, his dark hair long, sandals worn down, and came over to Buddha, sat down with a nod to the waitress, and instantly a corned beef on pumpernickel appeared, at which point Buddha muttered “Christ, how do you do that?”
The meeting occurred by chance, two old men sitting in the same park staring at the same empty chess board as the waves of the Stygian Sea lapped against the break wall, the ferryman now at the helm of the great cargo ship. “So,” said Hillel, “you come here often?” Old, bent Buddha paused “as far as I know, I have always been here, or perhaps I am not here now, never have been.” “I know the feeling” the ancient Rabbi said “I’ve been here so long, I too have begun to doubt my very existence.” Buddha rubbed his great girth and smiled placidly as a black bird alighted on his shoulder. The Rabbi stroked his beard the stood on one foot, only to have two bluejays land, one on each arm. “Would you care to join me,” he asked, “for a meal at Ming’s or if you prefer, we can do take out from the Dragon Palace, whatever suits your mood, in any event, my treat this time.” The saffron robed old man unfolded himself, and erect and bowing, said “It would honor me to dine with you but if you wouldn’t mind I’d much prefer a bowl of chicken soup with kreplach and a pastrami on rye.”
If, sitting at your meal you hear the song of a bird, what do you do? You may tap your chopstick rest, and perhaps he will answer and repeat his sweet song. If you tap a second time and there is only silence is the bird rejecting you or offering his song to another, flown from your window.
Perhaps you should tap again and hear the sweeter song of silence that echoes over the garden and zendo. On a distant limb the small songbird smiles.