THE FINAL? TRANSCRIPTS OF ENTRIES FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

ENTRY:    March 23, 1992

 

Damn David, what was he thinking?  I should be over at Shirley’s playing mah jongh, but no.  Ma, you need some adventure in your life.  Like I need hemorrhoids, I need this.  Schvitzing like a fountain, I’m the queen of Mardi Gras.  Who is he kidding?  I’m a Jewish dishrag in a swamp, Fat Tuesday.  For this I raised him, fed him, and bought him a fine education at the best goyishe schools money could buy.  And he sends me to a swamp.  Was I such a bad mother, I deserve this?  Tea at Sibley’s, that’s where I should be, but No, “Ma, you’ll have fun.”  If this is fun, God, bring on some suffering.  Where did I go wrong to deserve such tsuris.  Okay, so maybe there were days I didn’t change the diaper soon enough.  He resents me so much he sends me here?  Not a Jew in sight, and these fakokteh masks, I’m schvitzing my mascara off.  And what kind of hotel has fans and no air.  Local experience my tuchus.  At least in the mountains the air moves.  Here, bupkis.  So maybe it was her idea, that princess he married.  This is her way of getting even, for what, I don’t know.  She sits around the “Club” all day while he breaks his back making a life.  He would have been better off with that shiksah he dated in college, God should cut out my tongue.  Shirley save me from this madness.  Ethel, where the hell are you when I need you.  And Saul, may it be really warm in the place you are going, you putz, for giving me a son like this.

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ENTRY:  August 18, 2005

So he calls this morning, out of nowhere, my David.  He who’s allergic to the phone, how often he calls.  David, whose diapers I changed, it seems like forever, the sheets till he was ten.  His pediatrician had some long name for it, but I knew he was just too lazy to go to the bathroom during the night.  It’s not like he had to wash the pishy sheets after all.  And Lizzie hated handling the smelly things, but that’s what maids do I, had to keep telling her.  So he calls this morning, this son of mine, this child who, God willing, will say to me before I’m deaf as a stone like that composer, before they plant me in some discount plot with no view, Ma, thanks for all you did for me.  Like he even remembers!  From him I get mishegas in heaps, and tsuris in unhealthy doses.  And he calls in the morning?  Who died, I say.  And he goes silent.  The last time he was silent he was under general anesthesia, with a tube down his throat.  But now, he calls me for the first time in forever and then goes silent when I open my mouth.  I want to say thanks for the bupkis, but I bite my tongue, mothers shouldn’t be sarcastic.  Who died, I repeat.  “Dad is dead,” he whispers.  I say, “like I don’t know my father is dead, he died years ago, when you were still pishing your crib.”   “Not grandpa,” he says, “dad. You know, MY FATHER.”  Oh, I said, thanks for telling this to me.  “The memorial service is Thursday in the Interfaith Chapel over at the U.”  This I truly needed to know, I’m not at all sure why.  To me, I buried Saul, the schmuck, years ago, nice and deep in my memory, didn’t want his head popping up.  I buried the putz and now he’s got to go and die again, he couldn’t leave well enough alone.  So now I’m supposed to stand there in black, which makes me look twenty pounds heavier than I am, and pretend to cry, like I’d risk getting tears on good Italian silk.  Better they shouldn’t give me the shovel, I’ll dig him deeper still.  And with the black lace for the head, like a bit of drek landed on my hair.  So maybe that’s why he died, so I should stand around in black and everyone should stand around and whisper, just so I can hear, “look at Yetta, she looks so old, and has she put on the pounds.”  God, why do you punish me so?  Okay, so I made a mistake, I married the putz.  You blessed me with a child, so what if he can’t remember my birthday and thinks Mother’s Day is sometime in October, when he recalls it at all.  So now God, you think I haven’t suffered enough.  Like my tsuris meter is reading empty and I need a refill?  With a sense of humor like that God, it’s no wonder we had to invent the Borscht Belt.  Okay, so we had a couple of decent years, and the Caddy was a nice touch, but why would he think I’d want red?  You go figure.  And a memorial service at the Interfaith Chapel, what’s with that, unless it’s cheaper than the Chapel at the Schul.   So he thinks maybe he’ll pick up a shiksah in the next life, fat chance.  He didn’t want his non-Jewish friends to be uncomfortable, David said.  Like either of those goys could be uncomfortable in a room where there’s wine.  Discomfort? They should have shared a bed with Saul, they want to know discomfort.  You want sorrow?  Feel some for the Levy’s, next plot over, Saul, now they have to put up with your snoring for all eternity.  And me, all I got is this silent house with the toilet in the guest room that never flushes right.

First appeared here April 5, 2016

THREE MORE TRANSCRIPTS OF ENTRIES FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

ENTRY:  March 27, 1971

So, finally he’s here.  Nine months, what God, another joke?  Okay, she ate the damned apple, so stick it to the snake.  But what would you know, another man.  For six hours I’m lying there, dying from pain before the shmendrick walks in like some king, smiles at all the cutesy nurses, finally sees me and says “Yetta, you look good.”  I look good and he should get a giant boil on his tuchus.  God, me again, a couple more things:  One, it would kill you if David, yes a good biblical name, to hell I was going before I’d agree to Morty like my Saul wanted, so it would kill you if you gave him some hair so he doesn’t look like an overripe peach with eyes?  Two, so how about a new rule, labor before childbirth lasts only as long as the act of conception.  I could live with a two minute labor, and that’s from when Saul starts thinking about it.  And David’s lying on my belly (God, you can have the extra weight back now, I’m done with it) and he’s smiling at me  and Saul says “can I hold him, you’ve been carrying him for nine months.”  It’s a good thing I’m so tired or Saul would get a second bris, this time with a butter knife and no wine.  So listen, God, I need some rest, but a tip for the next world you create.  Skip the cockroaches, and if women have to suffer, hemorrhoids will suffice – we don’t need husbands too.

 

ENTRY:   October 2, 1987

It’s Erev Yom Kippur, and this year Saul got the good seats.  Just in front of that new, cut young Cantor, what a Kol Nidre this will be.  And he’s single, not that I am.  Memo to self, find out what Saul’s hiding with the good seats.  I know he’s not schtupping his secretary, for that he’d have me made President of the Woman’s Club and maybe a seat on the Board.  And God, what to wear.  I could wear that new black silk, but it doesn’t go at all with my mink.  God, could you maybe give me a hint what kind of shmatah Natalie Stein, you know her, big nose and too much eye makeup, is wearing tonight?  Would that be too much to ask?

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ENTRY:     June 14, 1990

That putz, where does he get off saying he doesn’t love me, hasn’t for years.  What? I didn’t cook his meals, sew buttons back on his shirts always popping off, always a size too small.  This is how he repays me.  He should breakfast with worms.  It would be easier if there were another woman, maybe a bit younger, maybe a shiksa, that I could understand.  But no, god forbid, just “I don’t love you anymore.”  What a schmuck, and me – didn’t see it coming.  So God, this is payback for what, exactly?    That Yom Kippur I snuck a half a bagel before sunset.  Have a heart, there was no cream cheese, much less lox.  The kids are grown, I should be thankful for that I suppose, some nachos I’ll carry forward, that and the house the Lexus and the summer place, let him live in some apartment, may he someday rot in hell.  What to do?  First a good lawyer, heaven knows he’ll find some shyster.  Second, two buttons left on each of his damned shirts.  Let him poke himself with the needle, the prick.  I’ll survive, it’s not like my life with him wasn’t tsuris heaped on mishegas.   I’m better rid of him.  I’ll show him, clean him out good, he’ll think prunes are second rate when I’m done with him.  Oh God, am I such a bad person, you should make me suffer like this, you haven’t given me enough grief already?  This is how You repay a mother and wife?  God, you have some twisted sense of humor, but I’ll survive, just to prove You wrong too.  Oy, if only God were a woman, what a world this could be. 

First appeared here on April 4, 2016

FIRST TRANSCRIPTS FROM THE TAPE RECORDED JOURNALS OF YETTA GOLDSTEIN

ENTRY:  July 30, 1970

So, is this fakokteh box doing anything?  Hello, HELLO?  Buttons, now I’m a button pusher.  Some kind of secretary now.  Hello?  Oh, hell, if it’s on it’s on and if not that’s Saul’s problem.  So yesterday I tell my Saul, “You wouldn’t believe, we’re pregnant!”  And Saul says, “you mean you’re pregnant Yetta, now isn’t a good time – can we talk about this later?”  “Later, schmater,” I say, “we’re going to have a baby, so what do you feel?”  And Saul pauses like emotions are alien to him somehow.  “You know I’m excited,” he says.  Like a dead person shows excitement as they lower him into the ground.  “But I thought we were going to wait until the business grows.”  And I’m thinking so Saul, did you tell your sperm they should be patient, maybe they should forget how to swim.  But when he gets home he got this plastic box with the cartridge thingee that only goes in backwards, a true goyish design.  “It’s a cassette recorder,” like I’m stupid, he says, “so you can keep a journal of your pregnancy so our child will know more about where he came from.”  So my hand is broken Saul, nu?  A pen and paper won’t do?  For five thousand years it worked just fine, but no more?  And so he’ll know where he came from?  He came from you getting all hot and bothered after watching Sophia Whatshername, the Italian one with the big you know whats.  Like your memory is so short you forgot what she looked like in the time it would take me to put in my diaphragm?  And four minutes later, I’m pregnant?  Charlton Heston, such a cutie even if he is a goy, couldn’t part the seas so fast as Saul is finished.  So I say “how does this thing work?” and my energetical Saul says “Yetta, I’m tired, I’m sure you’ll figure it out.”  Which means my beloved husband, Thumbs Goldstein, hasn’t got a clue, what else is new.  So box, you getting this?  My child should know his father wants we should call her Sophia if it’s a girl.  I tell Saul she’ll be Sophia right after a blind moyel I hire recircumcizes you.  But by then, of course, he’s already snoring to wake the neighbors.  We’ll I’m gonna push the button says STOP/EJECT and hope it works.  If only our bed had an eject button.  God, now that my figure’s going to hell for nine months or so, thank You very much, you think on the next model of man you could put a nice on/off switch?  Well my kinder, welcome to the world, and if you’ve got complaints, go talk to your father.

First appeared here on April 3, 2016

TIDAL SHIFTS

It’s difficult enough, Mom, that I
never got to meet you, to see your face
save in a college yearbook, to have
only a few relatives acknowledge
my existence despite the DNA test
that clearly links us, one to the other.
What makes it more difficult is
trying to figure out my heritage,
my geographic roots before our family
arrived in West Virginia, back
in the old country which for most
was Lithuania, but for some Poland
and still others Russia, as though
their village was loaded onto a horsecart
and dragged around Eastern Europe
always heading to the next pogrom.
Couldn’t our place have settled
on a country, rather than riding the tides
of the insanity the leaders then?

FOYLES

Charing Cross Road
booksellers woven
amid theaters
cramped sagging shelves
an out of print
Christine Evans,
slim, collected works
of those
long forgotten
never noticed
a damp chill
enfolds old leather
as the door opens
and shuts on
a late February.
Morning, my purchases
sink in the plastic bag
dancing as I walk
to the tube
at Leicester Square
with my new gems
destined to cause
a sag
in my bookcase.

PASSING

He has been gone
over a year

and they need to erect
the headstone before

the first hard freeze,
but it has rained

for several days
and the ground

is too soft.
Although I can

still hear his cackling laugh
he lingers less and

his smell is slowly fading
from the old bomber jacket.


First appeared in The Amethyst Review (Canada), Vol. 8, No. 2, (2000)

DISCOVERY

In a small storefront, in an older neighborhood of the city, I found it.  Sepia coated with a fine sheen of dust and neglect, it lay on the table amid a stack of others, as though a leaf of phyllo in a poorly made stack fresh from the oven.  I knew it as I looked at it, touched it gently, that it had once held a magic incantation, that if you allowed it, could take you on a static journey where stillness was infinite.  I read it though it was wordless, but clear, it was a map to the country of dreams.  Not mine, I knew. Mine had the mundaneness of Chinese menu ordering, column A, column B, or sorting socks still hot from the dryer.  I saw in it possibilities, where ties and restraints could have no meaning, where crawling and flying were coequal skills and walking was so evolutionarily regressive.  I thought of purchasing it.  The price was certainly reasonable.  I thought of framing it with archival mats, and encasing it in museum glass, hanging it on a wall, or placing it behind the mattress where it might seep through like a ferryman plying the river of night, never quite touching opposing shores.  I left it in the store that day.  I haven’t gone back to see if its patina has grown.  For me it could only be an artifact.  A map is of so little use, if you have no destination.

STORY: FRAGMENT ONE

“Look, I know it’s short notice, but I had to get away from the west coast. I was losing it so I threw my stuff into the van I bought and high-tailed it here.”
“It’s not short notice, moron, it’s no notice at all. We aren’t even friends. Gloria’s my friend and according to her, you’re just an acquaintance. So go park yourself in a lot at the airport. Find your own place tomorrow, or just put your stuff in storage. Now it’s late and I need my sleep.”

Jennifer helped me haul the last of my boxes to the basement storage area she shared with the other tenants of the old house. She even threw a pillow and blanket on the saggy sofa and said “a week at most and you are out of here, no excuses, no bullshit, and no but Gloria said. She already thinks I’m insane for letting you past the front door. The blue towel is mine and keep your hands off my shampoo and conditioner. You buy your own food and if you borrow anything you write it on the list by the phone. We’ll settle up later. And don’t even think of running off. My brother’s a cop in Cleveland and between us we will hunt you down.”

I cooked her dinner the next night using nothing from her refrigerator. Bought a decent bottle of a cru bourgeois from St. Estephe and couple of cheap wine glasses from Goodwill. She said “thank you, this was something I didn’t expect.” She put a sheet on the sofa and a better pillow. I traded the van for an old Chevy Vega even up. It had a good engine but needed some bodywork.

“This is a safe neighborhood, but with a car that looks like that, with an AM radio only, you can pretty much guarantee it won’t get stolen or broken in.”

“That was my bet as well. Figured I’d be safer this way.”

“No, you really didn’t. It was all you could get for that piece of crap van before it’s engine fell out, so you cut and ran. But it’s a decent story so go with it. Most people will probably buy it. Next time, though, not lime green. You can see that thing a block away. So park it down the block, at least until the neighbors there complain.” 

Her lease was up two months later, but I had gotten work waiting tables at Chu’s Peking Heaven and between us we could afford a two-bedroom walk-up in a neighborhood no worse than the original. She still made me park the Vega a block away. Small enough price to pay. We fell into a comfortable lifestyle. We both loved movies. She accepted me as a poet much as I did she as an artist. We decorated with her paintings. She would paint borders around my poems, find old frames and mats and label each a minor masterpiece. Her friends knew her better than to argue the point, so I adopted them immediately. Most said they liked me, the really honest ones said they could tolerate me, but that was a step up from the usual specimens in her collection. In a dream one night I imagined myself a bug, pinned to a board, stored in a drawer in the musty basement storeroom of a museum. I told her the dream assuming she would apologize for her friends, or say it wasn’t so at all. Instead she began calling me Kafka. I could live with that, I thought, and vowed to read some Kafka. I will honor that vow one of these days, I just don’t know when. Probably right after I fully comprehend just what is what in Eco’s Foucault’s Pendulum. At least she promised to stop calling me Franzie in public.

That, of course lasted all of two weeks, or maybe it was two days. It wasn’t like time in a nine-to-five world mattered all that much. Einstein said something like time was relative. When you’re twenty-three it is simply relatively unimportant because as far as you can imagine, it is in endless supply. Now I know better, though it still isn’t relative, but its speed is inversely proportional to its supply. I guess I always knew that. The return trip is always faster, even though the speed and distance are the same. The sameness is in the outer, exposed mind, but the trip is measured by the inner, or emotional mind and the two need not, and rarely do, agree. Anyway, all too soon I was Franzie again until it came to me and I bought her the old copy of Tolkien. Inside of a week I was Frodo and if she got pissed at me, the landlord, her Datsun, it didn’t much matter what, I was Baggins. That was a change, but change was rare for us. And we liked it like that, or that’s what we told ourselves, and a lie from your own mouth was a certain kind of truth particularly when shared with someone who is as prone to lying as you are. And every day the Vega was right where I left it though it had acquired a blue paisley racing stripe out of contact paper. Stuff has amazing glue so rather than rip the already questionable paint job I learned to like the racing stripe.

UNBEGUN STORY

There was supposed to be a cat in this story, one being chased by a dog. It could have been a fox, I suppose but they are not seen here that much anymore. It might well have been a crow chased by a hawk, that happens around here with fair regularity but writing about the sky is so very difficult from an earthbound perspective. The mind may take flights of fancy, but has focus only when well anchored. Anyway, the dog never got off its leash and the cat seems to have found another bird feeder where the birds are a bit less smart and the squirrels a bit less mean than ours so there was no cat either. I do get that this means little or nothing to you, but is probably because the only chase scenes you like involve cars, and that doesn’t happen around here all that often. Perhaps the dog will tear free of its leash tomorrow, the cat will return and this story will find its conclusion, and then again, perhaps not. You will have to ask the cat, when you see him.

TRIPTYCH

A triptych hangs in the gallery of memory.  Admission is by invitation only.

The first panel is a time fogged mirror into which I stare.  The adopted image hides behind the tarnished silver.  My adopted mother’s voice is heard from a hidden speaker: “You were named after my father.”  I want to tape his picture to the glass, a face to share the empty space.  She has no pictures, she says, he never liked being photographed, said it would steal his soul.  She can barely remember him: “He died when I was five.”  I ask questions.  I need to know more about the giver of names.  She falls silent, drawing in, secreting memory.

In the second panel a woman sits, fidgeting.  She is a striking blond.  I cannot see her as being sixty-one, though she is.  I deny that I am fifty.  As the Rabbis climb the few steps to the Bimah, she leans over.  “You know,” Lois says, “just like you, I was named for your grandfather.  She talks freely of herbalism, life in New York, places she wants someday to see.  “It’s funny,” she whispers, “I’ve never seen a picture of him; like he had some kind of phobia of being photographed.”  Outside the Temple she stands with my mother and sister, arms interlocked, embracing both.  I snap the picture.  I am not captured on the film.  Lois and I drive back to my mother’s apartment, stopping at one of the unending lights on Wisconsin Avenue.  She touches my hand: “You know there was one more person named after him, your other sister.”  The light changes.

There is only a picture hook in the wall — not even the faint outline that marks the space from which a picture was removed, the wall beneath unbleached by the sun.  Lisa, my my sister, like me adopted  and as quickly withdrawn, left no outward marks.  She is a footnote in my father’s obituary.  She is cast off by family, an unmentionable.  She is my mother’s deeply hidden scar.

I am repeatedly drawn into this room.  It’s walls never change, the pictures periodically replaced.  I need to visit, to assure myself of — what?  Someday, too soon, this exhibit will close.