I decided to go on Thursday night to the Buddhist talk at my temple, the Congregation B’nai Tsimmes. I managed to get out of work early, always a Nirvana-inducing feat, then high-tailed it home, ran three, showered, nuked and ate a health-conscious chicken pot pie, and set forth on my Siddharthan quest. Minya stayed home with the quads.
On the ten-minute ride to the temple, I fretted about whether I was wearing the right clothes; the flyer had said to wear “comfortable clothes and footwear,” but I wasn’t about to wear sweats to a place of worship. I wondered if I would know anybody there, or if some unseen underground, some Yid Falun Gong, would be the only members of the congregation who would go to something like this. I wondered how Rabbi Tbilisi had been persuaded to allow such a presentation, such tref, under his roof.
There were ten or twelve cars in the parking lot. At least I wasn’t the only meshuggeh. It was a pleasant evening. Fall was certainly coming, but it wasn’t here yet. I was, I hoped, “comfortable” in my jeans and T-shirt.
As I walked towards the temple, a black Miata buzzed into the lot, a Miata which could belong only to my long-time acquaintance, a man with whom I’d grown up, some thirty years since, in the old part of town, Mr. Harold Simchas-Torah. He, of the hyphenated name, the first such hyphenation I’d ever encountered, the product no doubt of his forward-thinking mother back in the sixties, was a black silk shirt, gold chain, gold bracelet Jew, always tanned, now on his second wife, Tsuki, a Japanese import. There was much to dislike or chide or dismiss him for, but yet, our mothers had been friends before us and we had been through much, and gotten high much, in the old days, and still occasionally, in the new.
He was not a rich Jew; hence the Miata and not a Mercedes, but he was not a poor Jew as I had been, relatively speaking, in our little town in the old days, and he flaunted whatever riches he could. He was still a terrific source of high-quality marijuana.
In fact, he motioned me over to his car as he drove past, and when his window rolled down, that familiar sweet smell greeted my largish nose.
“Harold, you’re getting stoned for a Buddhist meditation session,” I said, tsk-tsking all the while.
“Yeah, you want some?” Smoke he was trying to hold in escaped through his teeth as he held up a still-smoking half joint.
“No, for God’s sake,” I replied. “Although, maybe afterwards…”
It was a nice night, after all. It wouldn’t be so bad to be high.
Harold shrugged and took another puff. I scanned the parking lot guiltily. Birds twittered and chirped. Crickets cricked.
“Are you coming?” I asked.
He nodded and snuffed out the joint. His window rolled up, and he got out of the car. He brushed ashes off himself, off his pants, which were a satiny black loose-fitting thing with a sash or a drawstring or something.
“I wouldn’t have thought you’d be interested in this sort of thing,” I said. “And I can’t believe you got high for it. Well, actually, I can believe that.”
We walked towards the doors, he just slightly unsteadily.
“It’s a way to get out of the house,” he said.
I held the door for him, and we stepped inside. The bird twitter was gone, replaced by an echoey silence, fluorescent-lit and vaguely sepulchral. There was a glass case full of Jewish doodads for sale, pins of Torahs and Chais, little mezzuzzi, little stone Ten Commandments, large plastic noses and whatnot. There was a cloakroom beneath a stairway leading up into the Hebrew school where I used to do battle. Near the door to the sanctuary was a sign for tonight’s talk with an arrow pointing down the hall. I showed Harold and pushed him in that direction.
Still bathed in gleaming Hebrew light, we made our way down a long hallway I’d never been down to a small conference room I’d never known was there. Jewish-themed drawings and paintings and gluey collages done by the Hebrew school students lined the hallway walls.
Harold paused before a very colorful picture of something or other.
“I like this one,” he said.
“Come on, putz,” I said. “We’re late.”
“Fuck you,” he said, probably audibly to the people in the conference room as we pushed open the double doors.