By Benny Morduchowitz
I hover around the buffet’s sushi section.
The sushi chefs replace each piece as they are taken from the table.
I place two pieces on my plate and one in my mouth every five minutes for forty-five minutes.
I slink away for a minute to talk to my uncle.
He has flown in for the dinner, thrown by the yeshiva, honoring his father, my late grandfather.
I like talking to my uncle about women, but when other people approach us, he starts preaching about the joys of travelling.
I slink back to the sushi.
My gaze lingers on the soup table.
The server is a short Dominican girl with her hair in double buns and braces on her teeth.
She makes eye contact with me and smiles.
My grandfather used to love bragging about my uncle’s youngest son.
Particularly when this boy, my cousin, was very young.
When my cousin was four or five years old, he had memorized:
every single president of the United States
every single vice president of the United States
every single prime minister of the state of Israel
all three backwards
My grandfather always placed a great deal of importance on memorization.
My father did not.
My father emphasized comprehension over memorization.
But my grandfather offered rewards.
Over the years, I was rewarded with a wide array of electronics for the memorization of a wide array of Jewish prayers.
The longer the prayer, the more expensive the reward.
My grandfather never actually tested me himself.
My grandfather had his son-in-law, my father, test me.
My father would report the results to my grandfather.
William Wyler’s These Three stars Merle Oberon, Miriam Hopkins, and Joel McCrea.
The real stars of the film are child stars Bonita Granville and Marcia Jones.
Merle and Miriam are two recent college grads who start a school for young girls.
Joel McCrea is the local doctor who helps them with handiwork.
Miriam secretly loves Joel, and Joel and Merle openly love each other.
Bonita Granville, a ruthless troublemaker with a perplexing persecution complex, blackmails Marcia Jones, getting her to corroborate false accusations against Miriam and Joel.
The children accuse Miriam and Joel of engaging in a sordid affair behind Merle’s back.
Bonita whispers that the two of them are exposing students to unspeakably lewd acts, sounds.
In college, I was close with the poetry editor of the literary magazine.
She was a kind, thin Dominican girl with a musical lilt in her voice.
After graduation, I took her to the Jones Beach boardwalk on July 4th to watch fireworks.
I thought I had been there before with my mother and sisters
I remember it being a fancy place.
I wear my turquoise button down, grayish skinnies, turquoise glasses, black-and-gray yarmulka.
She wears a knit amaranth sweater, black shorts, contacts, and has her hair in double buns.
Her mother walks her to the car when I arrive to pick her up.
You know, Dominican mothers, she says, and I nod.
As if I know.
When she and I get to the boardwalk, I am shocked to discover it is not a fancy place.
There is a beach block party going on.
The music is loud.
The sound system cheap.
The ambience, neglected grunge.
We walk and talk along the boardwalk.
We pass a group of children running around.
They chant as we pass through their midst.
They chant Sugar daddy, Sugar daddy.
I do not understand what they mean at the time.
I understand that their words are directed at us.
She and I both blush and avert our eyes until we pass the kids.
We stutter in our conversation.
Lose our trains of thought.
Struggle looking for them.
The night has gotten cold when we get back to the car.
We see some fireworks from the parking lot.
We had been on the wrong side of the beach.
I drop her off at home.
On the drive home, I shout at myself.
I do not understand.
At the yeshiva dinner, we sit through speeches.
I am on one side of my uncle.
My father is on his other side.
The two of them are talking.
The speeches are interrupted by a montage of old photos of my grandfather.
The montage is followed by a brief speech about my grandfather.
We listen quietly.
Rabbis get up to speak about other people.
I slink out of the dining room.
Outside, I inspect the dessert buffet as it is being arranged.
The Dominican server with the braces and double buns approaches me.
She tells me that she really likes my tie-dye tie.
I tell her I really like her semi-translucent glasses frames.
We speak for a minute.
When I see my uncle, I tell him that I think this server likes me.
He raises his eyebrows.
Years ago, he told me to watch the film Rodger Dodger.
The film stars Jesse Eisenberg as a teen who runs away from home to spend time with his womanizing uncle.
The uncle takes the boy under his wing, and spends a night with him, trying to get the teen laid.
My uncle has often told me to get laid.
He has never taken me under his wing.
My uncle’s son, the one with the memory, grew up to be a sporty kid.
He also grew up to be annoying.
He would ask me sports questions.
He knew I hated sports.
I spent a few weeks by my uncle’s, when his son proposed a bet.
My cousin said that if I shoot a basketball, and make one shot, for a week he will not be allowed to speak around me without raising his hand and getting called on.
I made the shot.
He raised his hand often, eagerly.
I never called on him.
A number of years later, we were all together for Passover.
My cousin grated on my nerves continuously.
At the Seder table, I told him a Jewish story.
The story of the death of Rabbi Akiva.
The story of how the Romans raked metal combs across Rabbi Akiva’s flesh.
Of how Rabbi Akiva was flayed by metal combs.
I told my cousin that hearing him speak felt like being flayed by metal combs.
Shortly before the graduation ceremony, after classes ended, I went to a big party.
I had barely slept for three days.
The party was being thrown by an old roommate of mine.
I got high with him right when I got there.
I was only on my first drink.
The party was filled with drunk, single Jews.
I was very high.
The crowd of people made me very anxious.
I hole myself up in my old roommates bedroom.
A few couples come in, seeking alone time.
They make polite exits when they see me splayed out on a bed, mumbling to myself.
I am busy processing the potentiality of a relationship with a non-Jew.
I construct multiple, lengthy chains of possibility.
Some less positive, some more.
No chain positive for my family.
At the end of the yeshiva dinner, I look for my uncle.
He is flying out the next morning.
I do not know when I will see him next.
I spot the back of his bald head entering the bathroom.
Through the crowd, I see the double buns of the Dominican server enter the same bathroom.
I nervously check my phone and eat three cookies.
I hover close to the bathroom door.
I hear faint, high-pitched shouts.
Yes daddy, yes, oh yeah Daddy, I hear.
I drive my grandmother home.
At my grandfather’s shiva, the grandchildren spend alot of time in the kitchen.
Our parents are visited by wave after wave of well-wishers in the living room.
I am sitting with my cousin in the kitchen.
The annoying one with the memory.
My sister stands nearby, charging her phone.
My cousin turns to me and asks me who I think our grandfather’s favorite grandchild was.
As I begin opening my mouth with a cruel, arrogant answer, my sister interjects.
Me, obviously, she brilliantly declares.
Obviously, I agree after a pause.
She leaves the kitchen and I tell my cousin how much our grandfather loved him.
I tell him how our grandfather used to brag about him all the time.
He tells me nice things too.
Me and my cousin really did make peace.
But I did fudge some of these details.
I omitted some things.
Like how the girl I went to the boardwalk with had been seeing another guy.
I met him once or twice.
He seemed like a goofy, but unfunny, asshole.
He was with us at graduation.
She and I were next to each other, in line, in our seats.
The guy was on her other side.
They made out all day.
They held hands for most of the ceremony.
That night on the boardwalk, on July 4th, she mentioned him once.
Mentioned how he does not answer his phone.
I disparaged him briefly.
Really, I failed to offer any of myself to her.
It was not all omission.
I wrote some real fiction.
Like my uncle and the Dominican server.
That did not happen.
It was fiction.
Why did I invent such a rendezvous?
Does it mean I’m like the child terror that is Bonita Granville in These Three?
Projecting sex out of a delusional sense of persecution?
Why do I feel persecuted, and how?
Am I trying to castrate myself?
Is there anything left for me to castrate?
Doesn’t my manhood belong to the Jewish people?
That feels like a weak excuse.
At the end of the dinner, my uncle and grandmother implored a now-very-religious old roommate of my mother’s to set me up with her niece.
My mother later told me a weird story about this old roommate.
About this old roommate’s husband.
My mother told me that this woman’s husband was in medical school with my father.
My mother told me that the four of them, the two couples, my father, my mother, my mother’s old roommate, and my mother’s old roommate’s husband, were hanging out in an operating theater.
The old roommate’s husband reached into the open torso of a study corpse, pulled out the heart, and proceeded to juggle the organ.
In Rodger Dodger, the uncle never gets his nephew laid.
The boy’s independent self-discovery is the movie’s “moral.”
Forget the uncle’s cavalier approach to sex.
The movie ends with the teenager back in high school, suavely flirting with a female classmate in the high school cafeteria.
It is about framework.
A proper teenage boy should not try to bed women in dive bars, sleazy clubs, all-night diners.
He should be making moves on nice girls in his high school cafeteria.
My mother’s now-very-religious old roommate’s niece chose not to date me.
Do we get to choose our own cafeterias, or are our cafeterias chosen for us?