Saturday, September 28, 2013

Noah and His Neighbors: Saving the World?

“Noah—oh, for the love of Marduk—Noah! Wake up!”
I had been walking in a sunny vale, chasing after yellow-golden butterflies; I could not catch them, though I swear, my feet felt as light as when I was a little boy: the breeze ruffled my hair, I heard birds singing sweetly; not too far-off, there, amid the trees, there was a little mountain stream—perhaps I could take off my broken sandals, and bathe my poor, aching feet in it. Ah, what bliss! I—
I woke, pulling my beard out of my spittle-caked mouth, to see Xantippe, my wife of—forty? Fifty? Years, her hair done up in those—those—ribbon-things, she puts on every night; they make her look like a startled mugwump. The breezes and birds flew away, and I squinted at her in the half-darkness; she didn’t look happy. I tried to smile through my foggy-headedness, trying to speak without mumbling; she hates when I mumble—
“Yes, my dear?”
“It’s those people.”
“Yes, across the way. Loud, they are. Always fighting, drinking, complaining. Now GO, Noah. Tell them you can’t sleep. Go, and tell them. Now.” She flounced back down, under the eiderdown, there in the black Nippurian night, leaving me in my stocking feet, hunting for my robe, scratching, half-awake, and thinking: O no, my girl, my lovely onetime love, it’s not you can’t sleep; it’s me now, and that’s what I was doing—sleeping, I was, that is….
“Well, what are you waiting for?”
“Waiting, my dear?”
“Yes, yes, go and tell them!”
And so, I sighed, got up, wrapped my shawl around me, took my walking-stick—who can tell what manner of man or beast one meets at night here in Nippur, with the king’s guards all abed? And as I creaked along, knees and elbows crackling, I heard Him talking to me—He talks best at night, He does:
“Noah,” He said, and I replied, “Yes, Lord?” for that’s how He likes to be addressed, He does. No one can hear Him but me, and He told me that’s how He prefers it; He says I’m the only one who deserves to be spoken to, anyway….
“Noah,” He said again, and, as I opened the door, trying not to make it creak—the boys and their wives all live with us, now, on the ground floor—couldn’t make it in the Big World, apparently, and have all come home, with their wives and kiddies, all moved in with us—
“Noah, you must build an Ark; for such is My command.”
This was something big; He had never asked me to build anything before. Build what? How? Before, all He’d done was complain to me: bellyaching about the neighbors, the government, stuff such as I could agree with. Yes, the neighborhood has gotten worse; that’s true. It wasn’t always that way. When Xannie and I moved in, years ago, people were friendlier; they said hello. But now, people don’t even care where their dog makes dirt. It’s just too bad.
As I left our door, and went across to—what’s his name? Amibaal the cobbler, I believe; we met last month at the big autumnal orgy, the one where Xannie warned me not to join in; I could watch, but mostly make sure that everyone there had a taste of her potato salad—they did seem to like it, there amid everything else they were doing—and I knocked on Amibaal’s door. There were musicians there; I could hear them, and some young girl’s voice, going on and on, starting off low, and then louder and louder—perhaps a song; perhaps she was just very happy about something: I couldn’t make it out. Screaming, yelling. It’s all the same to me; I’m just an old man needs his rest is all.
The door opened. Face with a beard. Smell of barley beer.
“Hm?” the voice.
“Hello there,” I began, in my most neighborly tones, “I’m Noah, live across the way. I believe we met, last month. Are you Amibaal?”
“His son. Help you?”
Man of few words, that one. Someone’s hands around his neck: too dark to see. Candles in back, there, with the music. Incense-smell. Meat roasting, barbecue. Made my mouth water.
“Yes, well. Think you can keep it down a bit, folks can sleep? Work in the morning, and all….”
The door was already closing.
As I turned to cross over to my side, I almost tripped over a cat. Poor thing: I bent over and picked it up. Scrawny little beastie. And I heard His Voice again.
“You see, Noah? That is not how neighbors should behave. I think I should wreck it, destroy it, end it all, start over.”
I was petting the poor little thing, didn’t quite hear Him. Hard to pay attention all the time.
“Say again, Lord?”
“A flood.  Big rain. No invading armies, no host of Babylon, no enemy sweeping down like a beast on the fold. Leave no mess to pick up. Any thoughts?”
“Kind of drastic, no?” I was opening my door. There was Cham—fine boy, that one—and his wife—what was her name?—snoring away in the corner. I covered them up; her never-you-minds were showing. I wish they could afford their own place, but this Nippurian recession is killing—
“That’s it. That’s what I’ll do.”
“What, Lord?”
“Kill them all. And start over with you.”

“Shouldn’t we talk about this some more?”

Friday, September 27, 2013

Dave the Window-Cleaner: A Tale of the Old Neighborhood, the Lower East Side, NYC

            There was no lack of characters in my Old Neighborhood—the sad lady in ragged clothes and with long, tangled, filthy hair who wandered along, talking to herself; the five-man harmony singing group in front of The Cozy Corner, our local candy store and hangout, who sang ‘50s and ’60s hits until they disappeared into the bloody maw of Vietnam, never to return; the various rabbis and holy men who walked along, discussing Torah, making our streets sound more like Jerusalem.
            And then, there was Dave, the Window Cleaner. He was what we would call “challenged,” today; back then, he was called ah nebbichel, a simpleton, schlepping his brushes and bucket along, on his way from one balebusteh’s apartment to the next, as the Jewish housewives spread the word that “Dave does a good job for a few dollars, and the rabbi says it’s a mitzvah, a good deed, to give him the work.” My mother hired him, too. With all those tall, twenty-story apartment buildings stretching from the East River to Essex Street, Dave had plenty to do.
            He was fearless. I can recall watching in awe while he took off his jacket—it was a wool Shabbos jacket that someone had given him, with seams pulled and holes gaping from the pockets where he had stored his cleaning materials, and who knows what else?—and dropped it on the floor near my mother’s golden-brown Kracauer “home grand” piano, which my sister and I took lessons on.
Our piano teacher, Mrs. Ida Wellerson, whose brochure proclaimed her to be “the Creator of a Unique Monkey Doll that had taken first prize at the Dutchess County Fair,” had already resolved that neither Pearl nor I would be any threat to Van Cliburn, who had but lately returned from dazzling the Russians while on his Grand Tour. When she came to give me a lesson, I knew how to delay the inevitable by offering to sharpen her pencils—she always had a handful, mostly blunt; I believe that she sharpened them with a small pocketknife, while we boasted a genuine pencil sharpener, mounted on the wall of the “utility closet,” where our industrial chemist father kept a stash of flat metal paint cans with mysterious names like “Benzene,” “Paint Remover,” and “Phenophthalene.” I would take as much time as possible sharpening Mrs. Wellerson’s pencils, until she cleared her throat significantly, and would bring them back after flamboyantly blowing off the shavings.
As for Dave, I marveled at his calm demeanor as he yanked up the stubborn grey-metal storm windows of our apartment (we and our neighbors always called it our “house,” which it was, after all), took soapy bucket in one hand, brush in the other, and squeegee linked to his belt, and climbed out onto the precarious perch to sit on the windowsill, pulling the window down onto his lap, leaving most of himself outside, with nothing but thin air and his upper body, a full seven stories up.
His arms would execute a beautiful pas de deux as he drew elaborate S-bends on the window-glass, scrubbing away the accumulated grit and filth of our legendary New York air. Those were the days of incinerators—who knew, or cared, about air pollution?—when my special chore was to take the garbage out, and I took a special secret pleasure in placing any discarded glass jars into the hopper and yanking back the handle, giving the bottle or jar a “bit of English”—that is, sufficient spin to propel it down to the flames, while it crashed and tinkled against the brick shaftway on its way down. Who said that dumping garbage into a private municipal bonfire couldn’t be fun? All that smoke went into the air, into our citified lungs, and onto the window-glass, as well. We breathed it in when we stood behind a diesel bus; we absorbed the fumes and odors of the subway-trains, a mixture of electric sparks, puddles of unidentifiable dead things, and urine.
As for Dave, he became a special friend to me. Chanukah was the only time of year that my mother allowed me to clutter up the living room run with my Lionel electric trains. My uncle, the handiest man in the family—that is, the only handy man in the family; my father’s customary reply when my mother asked him to perform any chores or repairs around the house was, “Call Maintenance!”—had screwed my train-tracks to a large wooden board, which made it easier to set them up and break them down every year. I would painstakingly build and place all of my Plasticville buildings: the train station,  junction building, signal bridge and telegraph poles, finally placing the plastic people (they were all a pale shade of peach; Plasticville was, like most of our building, sadly, not integrated), attach the tracks to the transformer with wires, and the locomotive and diesel engines would go around and around and around and around….
One day, Dave, on his way to the windows near the piano, remarked, “I see that you like trains. I take pictures of trains, with my camera.”
I was amazed: an adult was speaking to me about my hobby! When I smiled back, Dave took me to the kitchen table and showed me a scrapbook that he somehow managed to carry everywhere, along with his cleaning equipment. It was a vast display of real-life locomotives, coal cars, and all different kinds of rolling stock. The camera was no big deal; it was a simple Brownie, of the type then popular. All the same, Dave was very proud to share his knowledge with me.
After we spoke for a bit, it became clear to me that Dave was unlike any other adult I had ever met. He was like a big kid himself: he didn’t judge; he liked what he liked, and spoke frankly about his dislikes. Still, I had a friend, and that was important. In the weeks that followed, I always looked forward to Dave’s visits.
Having won his confidence, Dave might share his secrets: “There’s someone at the minyan, the morning prayer service, who doesn’t like me,” he said once. “I have to protect myself.”
A child myself, with but a vague idea of the dangers in the world, I had no idea what my friend could do. “What will you do, Dave?” I asked.
He smiled—Dave had a way of smiling that started at his mouth, and ended up with his entire face. He was not a handsome man; he always needed a shave, and growing up with a single mother who had not loved him very much had left its mark. But he did have a lovely smile.
“I’ll just give more tsedakah, charity,” he said. “I’ll put some more coins in the pushka, the charity box. God will take care of it for me.”
That was an important lesson for me, the idea that God would take care of us. I didn’t completely follow the idea that God needed charity in order to take special care of someone—I still don’t—but we do have a Jewish saying: Tsedakah tatseel me-mahvet—Charity saves from death. Does it really? I can’t be sure, but I do give tsedakah, and some of it is in memory of my old friend, Dave the Window Cleaner.
I haven’t been back to the Old Neighborhood recently, but I know that Dave passed away many years ago. I grew up, started going to school uptown, and lost touch with my old friend. I know that he got married, to Marian, a sweet, chubby woman who would “sort of” clean the houses while Dave washed their windows. It was a shidduch, a set-up marriage, which the ladies of the neighborhood brought about, so that two lonely, simple people would have each other. I’m glad that he found happiness; there is a Jewish tradition that everyone is part of a zug, a Blessed Pair, and that we cannot consider ourselves complete until we find the Yin to our Yang. I’m glad that Dave and Marian found one another; I can still remember the two of them walking together on Grand Street, holding hands. People should hold hands more often; the world can be a big and lonely place, and we need one another.
Dave and Marian are gone now. I do believe in heaven, though. And I would like to think that somewhere, up in the Place where they have Pearly Gates and Golden Doors and Diamond Windows, Dave has plenty to do. Every day, he takes his bucket and brushes, smiles at his loving and lovely Marian, and goes out to wash the Windows of Heaven. Yes, that would be nice. Keep an eye on us, Dave. And tell God to do it, too.

Monday, September 23, 2013

On Not Dropping Torahs or Unrolling Them Around the Sanctuary: A Modest Dissent for Simchat Torah

            A recent Forward article about a Conservative temple in Asheville, NC, where not one, but two Sifray Torah (Torah Scrolls) were dropped during Kol Nidrei (All Vows) on Erev Yom Kippur has the Jewish blogosphere all a-twitter. The errant scrolls suddenly, tragically, rolled out of the Holy Ark during the recitation of the prayer—either through excess piety, the rotation of the planet, or, as some readers believed, an Ill Omen (the ever-present Kinehura, or Evil Eye, God, or G-d, forbid).
            Many Jews have “dropped Torah” stories. Mine took place in the summer of 1969, when I was a camp counselor at Camp Hatikvah, a short drive from Woodstock, NY, where the legendary rock concert came and went, unbeknownst to me. Hatikvah was nominally Orthodox, although most of the campers came from secular Jewish backgrounds. I was, then, Orthodox, and religious enough to appreciate the camp rabbi’s dictum that all counselors who attended Shabbat morning services had a break from being with their campers for a few hours. Shabbat Shalom-- Shabbat of Peace, indeed!
            Services were dull, being conducted by campers past the age of bar mitzvah; women had no leading role in their conduct; indeed, I do not remember seeing any there, since they would have had to sit behind a barrier. We boys conducted everything, with the rabbi as guide and arbiter of halachic matters.
            I do remember feeling concerned when the rabbi chose as Torah carrier a boy who, while bar mitzvah and therefore of age to carry the Torah, was known to one and all—except, perhaps, the rabbi—as a klutz, who often tripped over his own feet. This unfortunate managed to carry the Torah most of the way around our rustic social hall, but, just prior to returning the scroll to the Ark, tripped, falling with the Torah.
            We all simultaneously held our breath—I do not recall such a silence in shul, before or after that day—until the rabbi declared, “He didn’t drop it—he fell with it! We don’t have to fast!”
The rabbi’s precedent in this instance was, I later realized, less Jewish law and more baseball, that of the outfielder who catches the pop fly, rolls dramatically with the ball, and then holds his fielder’s glove boldly aloft to show he never dropped the leathern sphere, to the cheers and applause of the fans.
            I remember thinking, “Whoa—slick, Rabbi! That was some quick paskening (meaning, deciding a rabbinical question).” That was, perhaps, the day on which I gave some thought to, perhaps, becoming a rabbi, myself.
            The next time I heard of someone dropping a Torah was during lunch at a rabbi’s convention, at which a female colleague shared the story of her officiating at a service where someone did, indeed, drop a Torah. She quickly and brilliantly announced to the assembled multitude that, since either law or custom (custom, I believe) required that all the witnesses fast for thirty days (a sort of Jewish Ramadan), eating only at night, and that, since there were more than thirty worshipers present, each person should fast for one day.
            “Did they fast?” I asked.
            “I don’t know about the others,” she replied, “but I fasted my day,” and returned to complacently eating her kosher corned beef sandwich.
            With the advent of Simchat Torah, that Torah-centered holiday, I become aware of the current fad—excuse me, custom—of gathering congregations into the center of sanctuaries in Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, and other liberal congregations, all over America, and, I imagine, abroad. The rabbi, cantor, and other worthies take one of the Torah scrolls and unwind it fully, surrounding the congregation within its parchment folds, to symbolize that We are One, that we comprise a whole and entire people, as long as we abide by its laws and teachings, and do not stray. The Torah has deep totemic meaning, in addition to its being the wellspring of our Jewish knowledge—though I always wonder, when the Torah is carried through the congregation, how many worshipers touch and kiss it for the wisdom it contains, and how many treat it as though it is a talisman to ward off evil, and how many do it for both reasons, myself included?
            What irks me about this “unwinding” custom is that I love and respect books, the older the better. I own, for example, an 18th Century copy of Parkhurst’s Lexicon of Hebrew and Chaldee (Aramaic) Words, which is very precious to me, since I did my graduate work in English Literature in 16th Century English Literature, focusing on exactly how much Hebrew the Protestant divines and poets (like John Milton) knew in those days; they were taught by Sephardic Jews who had converted to Anglican Christianity, thereby being deemed fit to instruct at Oxford and Cambridge, which began as church-based universities.
Unlike books, which have a history, a Torah is ageless and impossible to date, except by expert soferim, or scribes. It is written on the skin of a kosher animal, and sewn together with dried animal sinews and veins. The resultant scroll is not only sacred; it is also very fragile. Because of this, and because of its utter holiness, being written, according to Midrash, with “letters of black fire on parchment of white fire,” (Talmud Menachote 29a) we try to handle it as little as possible. When chanting from it on Shabbat and holy days, we strive to touch the parchment as little as possible, using a delicate touch of our tsitsit, or prayer-fringes, which we then kiss, to show our devotion to the very words of Scripture. The Ba’al Koray, or Torah Reader, uses a silver yad, or pointer, to show the place as they chant; another complaint of mine is the heavy-handed Reader who drags the silver pointer across the parchment while singing the words, scratching the delicate surface and scarring it forever. Being left-handed, I choose to rest my left elbow on the Torah roller, and position the yad above the letters, never touching the surface. I believe a right-handed person could do the same thing.
My objection to unrolling the Torah around the perimeter of the sanctuary or social hall, therefore, is that it reduces the Torah from Text to Object—a Sacred Object, perhaps, but an Object, nonetheless. We chant from it; we cherish it, touch and kiss it as it is carried around, garbed in velvet, satin, or wooden case. When it is nakedly and openly displayed for all to be enclosed in its folds, it loses that sense of distance, of otherworldliness.
This Simchat Torah, therefore, I wish all my brother and sister Jews happiness and spiritual fulfillment, but the Sifray Torah of which I am custodian will retain their spiritual and physical integrity. They will not be unrolled to encompass the entire congregation, though I respect and support my colleagues who do this. Only in my heart will I ever unroll the entire Torah; only in my heart. Chag Same’ach—Good Yuntef!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Beraysheet/Genesis: Pause. And Begin Again.... (With Apologies to Poet Kenneth Patchen)

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

--John Keats (1795-1821), “Ode on a Grecian Urn” (1820)

            We grow and develop, year after year; our lives change to adjust to the circumstances surrounding us. The books we read, the music we listen to, often remain the same, serving to anchor us in a world of uncertainty. Above, Keats tells us that the static figures depicted on the Grecian Urn will never change; they will be the same forever. It is the same with the Torah—its characters, stories, drama and morals are eternal. Of all the sacred literature which we Jews have gifted to humankind, it is the best-known to us—but what do the messages mean? How do they impact our lives? Adam, Eve, the serpent—not in his Christian guise as Satan, nor Michelangelo’s, as a female, neither of which do we Jews accept—and the Lord God Himself (yes, in Genesis, God’s masculinity is very much in evidence) all appear in this earliest, mythic story of our origins. The question remains: how do we interpret it? How does it affect our view of ourselves as men, as women, as Jews?
            The very earliest cultural anthropologist (indeed, he invented that field of study), a Scot named James George Frazer (1854-1941), in a seminal work named Folklore in the Old Testament (1918), made a study listing comparative creation-myths found among various world cultures. He shone fresh light on the well-known story of our ancestors’ stealing the fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. After studying and comparing similar Creation tales from around the world, Frazer theorized that the original form of the Genesis story ran as follows: after God created both Adam and Eve from the earth and blew into their nostrils the breath of life (no degrading rib-story here!), He placed them in Eden where they could partake of perpetually blooming fruit-trees, and enjoy the company of peaceful animals. He also gifted them with two trees: one granting perpetual life, the other instant death. God intended to let the happy couple themselves decide which tree they would choose, but needed an animal to bring them the instructions. God chose a faulty messenger, however, because the serpent fatally changed the message: instead of telling them to eat of the Tree of Life, and live forever, the wily snake told Eve to eat of the Tree of Death, and live forever. While the trusting humans ate of the Tree of Death, the serpent himself ate of the Tree of Life—which is why snakes shed their skin, thereby appearing to live forever (at least, so they appeared, to the ancients).
            How can we believe Frazer’s version? He found a common theme running through the majority of world myths: The Story of the Altered Message. It is a story common in Africa: the Bantu version told by the Zulu people states that Unkulunkulu, the chief of the gods, decided that people should live forever, and sent the chameleon to tell the mortals the good news. Unfortunately, the chameleon was slow and dawdled, taking time to eat and nap. Meanwhile, the god changed his mind and decided that people should die eventually, and sent the lizard to send the altered message. The lizard ran quickly (as lizards will), spreading its sad message first; so, when the chameleon finally arrived, humankind would not heed it, but was fated to die. Similar stories may be found throughout Africa—and we should recall the many years which our people dwelled in Egypt, which is an African country. Who knows how much of our culture was formed there?

            It is important for us to always remember that Judaism did not come to exist in a vacuum. We have always undergone what I call “cross-pollination” with other cultures, taking what was valuable from them and adding a particular Jewish spin. I hope that this unusual drash/Torah interpretation has given our readers a new look at an age-old story. 

Saturday, September 21, 2013

V. Late for Daemon Yeshiva; The Building & Studentry Described; Drabbi Tanglebeard's Class on Targum Sheydim, Daemonic Talmud

            Hauling Strap into their burrow by one wing, Kedorlaomer flung his firstspawned into a corner of their danglingroom and thundered:
            “So soon! So soon after I warn you—those greasy, feta-cheese eating, debauching, orgiasting, olive-sucking Greco-peasants—and you lust after them? Well I know that you lust after them, you misspawned kobackslider!”
            “Kedorlaomer, please! Not oblique to the baby!” cried out Arurah, while baby Kinah began to cry, frightened at her Papa-kobold’s fury.
            “I will not bestill myself, Maldame Arurah!” shouted Kedolaomer, stomping toward Strap on pointed clawfeet, while the little kobold cowered, “I will be satisfied here, once you are punished—“
            The belltower of St. Maudlin’s struck nine: Throw the vandals in court say the bells of Newport….
            “Papa,” said Strap, “I will submit myself to any grounding or groveling, and gladly, but I will be late for Daemon Yeshiva. Please, let me go.”
            Kedorlaomer stood, four distinct plumes of steam coming out of both ears and both nostrils. He ground his yellow teeth so all could hear: Grr-rr-rr.
            “We will speak of this further, Master Strap,” he said, in a voice low and menacing, “I must go now, to sour some milk in a rebbetzin’s pitcher. Nineteenth Century. Vilna, Poland. A rainy day. She has brown eyes, a saucy lip, and has been lusting after the stable-boy….” His voice became quieter, and his eyes distant, as he looked into himself, his thoughts, his personal evil, and where he had to fly, back-in-time-and-place, to carry out his demonic duty.
            “Thank you, Papa! Lilith hang you,” said Strap hurriedly, as he seized hold of his bookbag, shedding pages of Tractatus Malleus Maleficarum (King James, "The Hammer of Witches") and Masechet Machshayfote (Tractatus Sorcerii) and corkscrew-flying out the window, while his mother waved a blue handkerchief after him, to fend off any stray goodness.
            Strap spun madly into the maelstrom of morning in Faeryland; dodging in and out, as elves, pixies, and gnomes ran, flew, and waddled toward the Demomnibus. He alighted at the BusPort just in time: the 9:06 was loading. An elderly Werewolf-driver, green of eye and yellow of tooth, was slavering as the dull brass, bright coppery-metal, and black iron vessel filled up with its otherworldly passengers, hissing in low tones as it stood near the walkway. It was Lion and Unicorn Day, and so some passengers brought white bread, some brown; the occasional plum-cake the Werey growled at, reached out a long, beclawed hand, and gouged out a gaping chunk, which he stuffed into his gaping maw, the purple juice dripping down his chinny chin chin, while he patted his belly and watched the swelling inhumanity slowly filling the 'bus.
            At last, the shiny black 'bus hissed, steaming from all ports, and took off, caterpillars slowly reeling and unreeling as it wound its way skyward puffing and chuffing dark dank clouds of blueblack and grey pixiedust. Strap made his way to the central Jewplatform, and took a surreptitious glance at the back: no Clymene; just some hung-over-looking centaurs, who gave him back a maddened, bloodshot stare, and one elderly Silenus-type who, after making sure that the Werey driver was preoccupied doling out slices of brown bread for a hungry dragon-passenger, took out a bota-flask, and squirted some sangria into his slavering, toothless jaws, grinning like a demented scarecrow.
            Strap felt dizzy: the odors of stale wine and fresh manure from the centaurian stall were overwhelming; he was glad when the ‘bus tipped up and beyond the last mountain of Dracul Heights,  the morning breeze blew, and he saw, coming close, the redgold stones of the Daemon Yeshiva. He reached for and rang the Departure Bell, which told the Conductor-Pixie to whisper over the loud-hailer,
Powers of Nature, hasten Departure; Elvin or Pixie, Performing no Tricks, he;
We need you, you need us; Leaving Demomnibus.

Strap gripped his bookbag in a hindclaw, grabbed the exitpole, began to swing his way off the Demomnibus—and felt a solid thump on his back, making him fall forward, and only with difficulty, and some quick-fluttering-of-wings, able to regain my footing. Remembering the attack of yesterday, he outsprang his claws and looked round, only to find—
            “Satan’s rump! What ails you, Thundermug Strap?”
            It was only his benchmate from Cursory Class, Windowseal, a giggling fool of a kobold, who loved practical jokes. He was always late, and was glad to see Strap: now, the two of them might have to come up with some believable excuse to give Drabbi Tanglebeard. The bell of the Greek Paradox Church at the top of Belvedere Hill was chiming 9:30 after meridian, as they tucked their pointy chins into their chests and made speed to the Daemon Yeshiva.
            They never tired of seeing the setting sun burning its dying rays against the copper, reddish-brown, and brassy tones of the ancient pile which was their school. Yeshiva-folk were boiling through the open doors on the first floor, while the koboldry, as b’nai aveer, winged-folk, or "children of the air," went darting up and around the open windows of the second and third floors, like so many moths around a candle-flame. Gnomish matmidim, perpetual scholars, clutching their ancient leathern tomes of Targum and Talmud, Kobold Kolbo and Kabbalah, with heavy brass buckled hinges and snaps, stood on the stony steps of the front and side entrances, arguing how many flies had buzzed into the head of the evil Emperor Caligula, consuming his brains and driving him sufficiently insane to make his horse a Roman senator. Werewolves who had taken a vow of Naziriteship and would never trim their fur, no matter how long and straggly it grew, clung to iron bars strung alongside the building, quarreling over what charms would make a demon enter a sapling, so that it would explode.
            As they neared the northern door, Windy and Strap saw two senior vampyres, all pale skin, bloodred lips, and black clothes, wave their cloaks of invisibility over their heads, muttering, “Hye zye hine….” They quickly hid behind them, and crept into the building, as tails to their head.
            “Better a tail to lions than a head to foxes,” Windy said, as they left their malefactors and ran up the stairs, ducking into corners to avoid a pair of winged Celtic dragons who were visiting from the Catholic reliquary across town. They whisked into their classroom just as Drabbi Tanglebeard was calling the class to order.
            Tapping on his desk and glancing about, Tangle began, “Windowseal, Bookstrap, Hiddenface, Sentrygo—where is Shiversoul? Shiversoul?”
            “Here, Drebbe,” came a tiny voice. Shiversoul was a new demon, recently born of children’s errors, and would have to suck upon more of the sins of their parents before he could take his place as a full-fledged kobold.
            “Shiversoul,” said Tangle, patiently, “I want you to take two doses of Korach’s Cave Emulsion during Break today. We must build up your sinfulness, or you won’t be sufficiently evil to attend  the lecture by our Mashgiach Machlati, our Demonic Supervisor, Drav Onesh, the Cursor Plenipotentiary, the Drov Himself.”
            This was an unexpected sufferance: the keetaht koboldim, or kobold class, knew that Drabbi Tanglebeard had been a favorite student of the Drov in his earlier days, but for them, firstyear kobolds, to be visited by the Cursor Himself was a true honor. They fluttered their wings in anticipation to offer m'cheeaht kanfay or, leathery applause.
            “That is, if your work this morning warrants it,” said Tangle, “So, first, let us open our Targum Sheydim to, ‘If a demon comes from a foreign land, bearing a writ of possession, he must state, “Before me were these evils stated, before me were they sealed”….’” What does Drabbi Mahvet ask about stating and sealing? Windowseal—did you study this in kobolduta?”
            Drab Tangle meant the groups of demons that he designated, to go over the morning’s learning in pairs.
            Strap's friend Windy was a joker by nature, but he loved Targum, and took it very seriously. If any mortal left a Hebrew holy book open so that the letters showed clearly and visibly, Windowseal was always among the first to spring upon it, pluck out the Hebrew letters brimming with holyjuice, and suck them dry. Often, Strap would come flying along too late, only to discover him leaning against the pages, a letter yood or hey dangling from one corner of his mouth, the sweet sap dripping down—these letters, in particular, spelt out the Name of The Ineffable, the Unapproachable Reproachable, and were most precious. Kobolds could sustain theirselves on the very dust from the floor of a mortal-yeshiva classroom, but Hebrew letters were a special treat for them.
            “Stated, Drebbe,” began Windy, “meaning that we kobolds, like our cursed ancestors, are fond of scrambling words; even Satan, father of us all, is the Liar of Liars. Sealed, Drebbe, because once sealed, there is no changing. Stated and sealed: even we kobolds, indeed all demons, are bound by words. And the people from whom we spring, the Jews, are the people of words, as well.”
            “Jews—yes, Jews,” smiled the Drabbi, “And what is our duty among the Jews?”
            “We are Jewish, as well,” said Windy, “and proud of it. We cause dissension and strife among them; we cause them to argue among themselves; that is our way of keeping them, and ourselves, Jewish.”
            “Yes, Windowseal,” said the Drabbi, “A good answer, with an evil intention—that is the best kind of answer from a demon-in-training, as are all of you. Hearken well to his answer, my students! And now, we turn back to the malevolent text….”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Chap. IV. The Nymph & The Kobold: The Faun-Footman. A Tryst Promised & Abruptly Postponed.

            Strap was dreaming: he and the golden-haired nymph were walking—or, perhaps, flying slowly—through a field of yellowgrass, which glinted in the moonlight. Her blue eyes were like sky-diamonds, her hair a river of gold. She smiled at him, and he heard birds singing, and chimes tinkling—
            Or pebbles, rather. Strap awoke to hear little rocks being flung against his window. He got up, dashed some pale-worm’s-blood on his hands to fend off any nightgoodness, muttered quickly the malediction, “How evil are your lairs, O’ Balberit,” and rushed to the window.
            It wasn’t the nymph; not at all. Instead, a faun stood there, a faun-footman, by his uniform. Strap had never seen one up close, but he had seen them from a respectable distance, trailing their nymphae mistresses in the market around Leprechaun Street and Bubbemyseh Boulevard, downtown. The creature looked up, stretched, yawned, and squinted at the morning sun. His hair fell loosely in redgolden ringlets, and his long, elfin ears wiggled as he listened to a faroff call of birdsong, smiling. He wore a vest of woven birchbark and blue-dyed wool. As he leaned against an acacia-tree, he munched grapes from a bunch in his hand, idly spitting the pits onto Kedorlaomer’s mailbox, whose top bore a small gargoyle.
            Strap spread his wings, climbed out his bedroom window, and gently hovered down until he was at eye-level with the faun, but did not touch ground; it would not do for a kobold, as one of the Chosen, to share the soil polluted by a debaucher, a pagan whose days were spent in drinking, rioting, and orgies. Strap knew all this; his Drabbi Tanglebeard in the Daemon Yeshiva had taught him well the laws of purity and impurity (tumah v’taharat shaydim), and his Yodling kobold friends had told him in vivid detail of fauns, satyrs, and centaurs, and what they did to the Greco-forest-female-Maenads at their Bacchanalia.
            The faun looked him up and down, slowly, chewing thoughtfully. He spit another grapeseed out, angling its trajectory so that the slightest bit of spittle landed on Strap’s wing. He curled his lip at Strap, who hovered like a bumblebee before a fragrant flower, but said nothing.
            “Well?” asked the kobold.
            The faun waggled one long-clawed finger at Strap, and reached into his woolly pocket, taking out a smallish pink envelope, whose heliotropen odors perfumed the morning air, teasing Strap’s nostrils. The kobold reached for it, but the faun held it back, shook his head, and grinned. Strap gnashed his teeth, and thrummed his hoverwings harder: rmm-rmm-rmm
            “Air you the Jewbold to whom my mistress, Clymene Fair One, sends this billet-doux?” asked the faun, in a deepdown, lazy voice, taking long pauses between his words (As though he were drunk, thought Strap.)
            “I am,” said Strap, and he made a graceful little bow in midflight. “May I have it, please?”
            “Air you the Jewbold—(here the faun made a great show of unfolding the paper, squinting at it, spitting a seed out the side of his mouth, which whanged softly off the mailbox, and, finally, looking at Strap) known as—Strap?” asked the faun.
            “I am, Faun,” said Strap, “and can we move this along? I have a class, at Daemon Yeshiva.”
            “Ah,” said the faun, “fast-heart ne’er won fair lady, Jewybold me boy.”
            “Strap,” said Strap, “My name is Strap. Leatherstrap, really. My friends call me—“
            “Clymene,” said the faun, unrolling the letter, and starting to read, “My mistress. The fair, the uttermost of maiden nymphs, Zeus save the mark! Doth beg of thee, most humble and besmirched of all demonic cray-churs, one Leatherstrap”—is that chure name, Jewybold? What sort of name is that? But I digress—“That is, one Strap, to visit her—“
            “Strap!” came a voice, angry and sudden, “You Strap! Who is that you’re talking to, Sir?”
            “My father!” Strap groaned, “O Ashemedai—give me the paper, Faun!”
            He reached for it, but the pointy-eared imp, half elf, half goat, snatched it away, shaking his head until his ringlets waggled.
            “I cannot give the invitay-shee-OWN until I read it through—that is the Law,” he said, turned, and began to leap away like the deer he was.
            “O Lilith, O Tiamat, O Lucif—“ Strap tried to follow, but his wing was caught from behind: he turned, and saw Kedorlaomer holding one wing, Arurah the other.
            “Following a faun to folly—“ scowled his father, “Into the house with you!”

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Chap. III. The Nymph & The Kobold: A Jewish Interfaith Romance: A Rumble, The Cops, & A Love-Note.

III. A Near Miss. The Pixie Police.

            “Keep your distance, Satyrshits!” warned Strap, as he and his friends got off the bus, looking over his shoulder at Big Lares, the Nosepicker, and Little Penates.
            “C’mere, now, ye argymentative Yoddlebabe,” said Nosepick, twirling his chain-mace so quickly, that it blurred with speed, “C’mere. I’ll ram these ribbons up yer leather-ass.” He and Penates laughed noisily; laughed until they cried.
            “And then, Yoddershits,” shouted Penates, “I’ll pull down yer pants, and wi’ my teeth, I’ll tear off yer winkydick!”
            “In Ashmedai’s Name!” said Strap, and he tossed down his bookbag, careful first to pull out his incense-spray, which followed the mortal great Rabban Gamliel’s recipe: balsam, onycha, and urine, unfit perhaps to be brought into the earthly temple, but perfect as a demonic weapon. Beating his leathern wings, he ascended into Middle Air, proper element for kobolds: he hovered there, and looked for his friends.
            Karkadal and Coxnbox had a rougher time of it: because they were carrying their heavy homework books—Masechet Shaydim and Targum Atonatan (Tractatus Demonicus and the Commentary of Balaam’s Ass), they were to weighty to fly up by the time Lares was upon them, swinging his mace. Karky got off only a slight squirt from his sprayer before Lares knocked it out of his claw; it went rolling beneath a parked Oboroguruma, a Japanese demon-car. Karky tried to fly up and away, but Penates caught one of his wings between his teeth, hairy belly shaking with laughter, as he reached up with long brown arms to pull him down. Nosepick smiled, and walked closer to Karky, twirling the chainmace slowly as Penates yanked the trembling little kobold down and pinned him against the Oboroguruma.
            “Cox,” said Strap, as they hovered above the three, “this is no good for Karky. Let’s divebomb those two satyrshits while we still can.”
            “What can we do, Strap?” asked Coxnbox, “they’re both bigger than we are, and our incense sprayers will only make them madder.”
            “Drabban Mekalel, our Demonic Adviser—remember the charm he taught us, yesterday?” asked Strap.
            “The Ultimo?” asked Cox.
            “Ow! Let me go!” cried Karkadal, as Penates bit more firmly into his wing, and Lares reached for his neck.
            “Snap you like a twig, I will—“ Lares began.
            “Let’s do it—Arur atah Ashmedai—“the two kobolds began, “Cursed are you, Ashmedai—“when suddenly, they heard a Siren’s wail.
            “Run, Lares—it’s the cops!” shouted Penates, letting Karkadal loose. The frightened, but safe, little kobold flapped his wings, and joined Strap and Cox in the Upper Air. As they hovered, they watched the two satyrs trying to jump the fence around the playground, but red lights all around repelled them. Six policepixies flew from their Patrol Toad; the sergeant, wielding an acacia wand, let fly a puff of glittery redgolden faerydust, which froze them where they stood. A squad of elvin police, holding tiny truncheons that glittered with fairyspell, quickly cuffed the hapless satyrs and shoved them against the playground wall.
            “Ahrahr!” shouted Penates, when an over-zealous elf knocked the satyr’s head against the brickwork, “Mind my brains, can’t you?” The cops only laughed; it sounded like birdsong.
            “Let’s just fly quietly off, shall we?” said Cox, but, just then, a pixiecop looked up, and in a voice sounding like gentle rain on autumn leaves, said, “Just come down peacefully, boys. We don’t want to have to zap you, but we will if you give us any trouble.”
            “My parents will kill, just kill me,” moaned Strap, and the two hovered down, to stand sullenly against a wall that read

KobOLds SucK


--the first, in screaming yellow; the second, in magenta, paint.

            “Now, boys—“ said the lead policepixie, “I am Lieutenant Krixkee of the Demonic Anti-Rumble Squad. You wouldn’t know who painted that sad business on the wall, would you?”
            The satyrs grunted. Hovering by the wall near them, the three kobolds said nothing.
            “They’re in for it now,” Cox whispered to his friends. Being demonic, his wounds were already healed, and he was back to his old self. The elf watching them, a cop six inches high, but with white hair, beard, and mustache, jabbed Cox in the ear with his toothpick-sized truncheon, and letting off a short spark of fairyspell.
            “Ow!” said Cox, “Careful with that thing, can’t you?” The elfcop narrowed his eyes.
            “Just keep yer trap shut whilst Lieutenant Krixkee does her interrogatin’, and we’ll all get along fine, yes thatwewill,” he said.
            As all watched—cops and kobolds—the lieutenant, clad in a pink uniform with yellowgreen wings, and looking less like a peace officer and more like the Tooth Fairy (which she had been before a tooth shortage among earthly mortals had steered her onto the Force) fluttered her butterfly wings, gently flew up to Lares-the-Nosepicker’s nostrils, hovered in his line of vision, and patted his nose, which sloped gently, almost handsomely, into a plentiful mustache and beard, and was marred only by an intricate spiderwork of red veins—probably from too much drinking wine at Bacchanalia.
            “Do you—know—possibly—who might have—painted—those words, Lares?” she whispered, looking into the satyr’s milky-brown, goatlike eyes.
            “My father is Bacchus, my mother is Niobe; I pray you, speak to them, if you wish to question me,” the satyr answered, reciting a memorized formula. He had been detained by police many times before.
            “But I don’t want to speak to Bacchus or Niobe, Lares; you’ll do just fine.” And with that, Krixkee yanked the satyr’s nose-hairs as hard as she could. The satyr roared, and tears sprang to his eyes.
            “Rahrr! Leave go, ye pixiepunk—Ahhrrr! ‘Twas Clytus, son of Nessus, what done it! Ahhrr, leave me nose alone!” he shouted, covering his offended nostrils with dirty hands and long, yellow-brown, filthy claws.
            “Thank you, Mr. Lares,” smiled Krixkee, “No further questions.” She turned to the three kobolds, standing by the wall. “And you three Yoddles may go. Watch out for yourselves in the future: know that we are watching you. All Thief-brews are under suspicion here in Faeryland, as you may know. Now, scurry along, Yoddles: scat—move-move-move!”
The three did, indeed, scurry away: they knew not to mess with the police. Stretching out their leathern wings, they pointed themselves homeward, to Koboldiana, the Yoddle Ghetto.
            Flying through the Upper Air, the three young kobolds spun and twisted to avoid the heavier vehicles of Daemonic Rush Hour: fairy wagons drawn by phoenixes, whose tails trailed rainbows; Earthworms manned by Gnome Miners, with clumps of black dirt flaking off in the evening moon; tiny cars built of dandelion seeds, each one bearing a pixie, whose seedling wand gave a purplish-lit power to the midget motor. Far off, they heard the tones of the Demonic Kirk-Keep; not a bell—the sounds of bells were anathema to all faeryfolk—but a deeper, metallic thrumming which sent waves of energy into their hearts’-core.
Soon enough, they saw the brown-gold glimmer of their parents’ homes, built into toadstools brown and green and grey, each one with a pazuzah on the doorjamb, which they were careful to kiss as they entered.
            “Night come, Karkadal, Coxy,” said Strap; his house was first on Evil Thereof Boulevard, and he corkscrewed down, to land lightly at his front door. His friends waved, dipped their wing-tips in salute, and continued on their way; he heard their faint reply, “Come night,” completing the circle, as they faded off into the mist.
            “So you’ve come home at last, Master Strap,” said his mother, Arura. Standing over a huge black cauldron, her bluegrey wings pinned back out of the heat, black headcloth round her forehead from the heat, she dipt a wooden spoon into the thick slumgullion, and ladled it into a bowl of stone, which she placed on the dark-wood table at which her husband, Kedorlaomer, was sitting, his young daughter, Kinah, next to him.
            “How was Daemon Yeshiva today, Strap?” he rumbled.
            “Goodagain, Poppa,” said Strap, picking up his spoon and pulling off a chunk of his mother’s home-baked manna bread: it tasted like whatever the eater wished: this time, he wanted it to resemble a dark pumpernickel with sunflower seeds. His mind was full of the blonde nymph, and he could think of nothing else.
            “I said, ‘How was Dr. Pataport’s class today?’ Strap,” repeated Kedorlaomer, “And you did not hear me. Your body is here, Sonny-me-lad, but your mind is parasangs away.”
            “Sorry, Ta,” said Strap, shaking his head, as if to clear it of cobwebs, “I haven’t been getting much sleep lately. I have to go to bed early, you know….”
            “What’s this, what’s this?” cried Arura, suddenly. She had been going through Strap’s bag, taking out his books, and making sure that his lunch items had not been left behind. She was waving a scrap of paper, from which clouds of pixie dust were rising.
            “Give me that, Roorie,” said Kedorlaomer, stretching out a thick arm and hand, while Strap watched and wondered what his mother had come up with. The crusty old kobold unfolded the small pink paper, sniffed at it with his bulbous nose, and sneezed.
            “Ah-rumpf!” said Strap’s father, “What is this troublous doodad, then? A—letter! Yes! From whom and to whom?” He read it, silently. Then—“Strap. This is for you. A kobold-gel, I believe. Are they letting the gels into D-Y, then?” He held the paper out to Strap.
            Strap took it, and read:
Kobold-Boy—You were so brave, today, facing down those two louts on the ‘bus—and I saw you looking at me—so cute and fine—give me a call on the snailphone--
            Your Clymene

“Clymene? Clymene? Odd name for a kobold-wench. Are her parents kobolds-by-choice?” asked his father.
“I would so much prefer that they be kobold-born,” sighed Arura, “Still….”
 Kinah giggled into her wing, which was just a small, pink shoot coming out of her shoulder.
            “I, uh—I—“ stammered Strap.
            His father’s eyes narrowed. “Leatherstrap ben Kedorlaomer v’Arura,” he said in a low and threatening tone, “if there is anything you ought to be telling me, then say it now!” but then, his eyes opened wide. “Of course, of course. That is why she has a Greeky, greasy-sounding name, my Goodwife, Arura. She is no kobold-wench, no good, kobold-kosher girl for our boy.”
            “Is she Drisraeli, then?” asked Arura.
            “Drisraeli? No! I should writhe so long. She’s a Greek! A—“ Kedorlaomer had trouble even saying the horrible word—“A groy! A Greekentile! For our boy! I tell you what, Sir Strap—“ Kedor bent his horrible head forward, and his lips and nose puffed out, all blue-red-purplish with rage—“Sit down, shut up, and eat your dinner—you ain’t goin’ nowhere, not to meet that little witchbitch, oh no!”
            At that, something seemed to pop in Strap’s brain.
            “I shall meet her!” he cried. “I’m well past brat avayrah age; I’ve been a good Yoddle all my life; always ‘Yes Sir’ and ‘Yes Mam,’ to whatever any, any adult Bolder says to me—and I crack those scrolls night and night, I do—PoppaMomma—I have no time for my own—and I mustmustmust meet a girl one day can’t I? Pa? Ma?” His tears sprayed everywhere, and he stopped to take a breath, panting.
            The two adult kobolds stopped their shouting. This was, indeed, their son; their future-curse, the one who would say “Malefied and stupefied Art Thou, O’ Ashmedai” after their passage into Outer Dark—Outer Dark or Reincarna?—Who knew?....Ah, well….
Kedorlaomer patted the rough wooden bench alongside him. “Sit, My Son,” he said, and tried to smile past his long, yellow-bone teeth; it came out as a grimace. Arurah reached for the siphon and squirted them all a drink of seltzer, with Wolfbane’s U-Curse Cherryblood Syrup.
“Sit, Son,” she repeated.
            Strap sat. His shoulders sagged. It was already eight of the clock: the sun was rising; it was time for all good faeryfolk to draw shutters tightshut, for the youngerkin to sleep, for elders to study Masechet Nezek—the Tractate of Damages, for badwives to study the Bee’ah Ra’ah—“Come in to do Evil,” a commentary by Aton de’Chamor (13th Cent.), and for the wee folk to play at casting spells.
            “It’s not that we don’t love you, Strap,” Kedor began, “How could we not? You are our son, our only son. But there is the Law. We Outcast Yodden may only marry our own kind, while—they—they—“
            “The Greeks, Poppa,” said Strap, impatiently, “Why do you have such trouble saying who they are? They are demons, just as we.”
            “Not the same,” said Arura, shaking her head vigorously, “Not the same. We are, for all our fallen nature, still part of the Israelite nation. They are but paganfolk, and not worthy of such as we….”

            And the lecture went on, until deep into the morning.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

The Nymph & The Kobold: An Interfaith Jewish Love Story, Part II: A Scrap on the Demomnibus, Satyr vs. Kobold.

The bus shook and jounced as Strap moved onto the rear platform; the Giant Caterpillar, all coppery rivets, steel joints, and leathery fanbelts, chuffed through Middle Air like a cross between a Victorian Dirigible and a Steel Butterfly. Strap lost his balance for a second, and accidentally trod on the rattler of a giant Ur-Python, which flashed its fangs at him: “Watch your step, Yoddleboy, or I’ll swallow you in an instant!”
            “Sorry,” mumbled Strap, and reached for a safety handle, which turned out to be the dangling ear of a chimera. These creatures were sensitive, able to hear a sailor’s whisper on the open sea at forty fathoms; it yanked itself back, out of his way; Strap fell forward, and—horror of horrors!—onto the lap of the golden-haired nymph, who had just taken the seat of an elder-gnome who was getting off the ‘bus at Fairisfoul Alley.
            “Ow!” the nymph cried, “Get off my foot, Kobbieboy!” while Strap scrambled to his claws, folding back his wings quickly, so as not to dash them in her face.
Her friends covered their faces with their mothy wings, and tittered softly: Isn’t that like a Yoddly boy—all clumsy—and he smells like ashes!
Strap grabbed for a coppery safety-pole and tried to haul himself up—the Law stated that it was forbidden to fly inside a demomnibus—and, his claws slipping on the polished marble floor, landed near the nymph again. Her lips frowned, or seemed to, but her eyes, blue as the starry firmament, flashed at him, and he almost could not find his legs beneath:
            “I—I—“ he stammered.
            “Are you all right there, Strap?” called Karkadal, who began walking slowly, swinging from pole to pole, towards the back. Seeing him, a pair of over-muscled satyrs muttered something in their Grecian patois, and moved toward the nymph, cracking their knuckles.
“Gots to keep them Yoddlepunks away from our womenfolk, so we do,” said the smaller, grinning like a jack-o’-lantern, while the bigger satyr reached behind him, unlimbering a small brazen chainmace with sharp, wiry tips.
            Suddenly, a tinkling voice came from the loudspeaker, along with a puff of heliotrope perfume, and a shower of yellow daisies: No weapons, no fighting, no warring, no biting; no evil, no fuss; All peace and tranquility, loving and sing-to-me, and all aboard our demomnibus.
The Pixie-Conductor who had announced the Travel-Warning hung up her loud-hailer,  flitted down from the roof of the bus, and wagged a tiny golden finger at the two satyrs.
            “Don’t you boys want to go back to your seats?” she asked, in her tinkling tones.
            The two hairy, goat-footed beasties scowled first at Strap, and then grinned at the pixie:
“We was just takin a stroll, here on the bussie, Miss Pix,” said the shorter of the two, snapping his yellow-clawed fingers. The other, bigger satyr, plunged a claw into his nose, pulling out a spider, which writhed as he popped it into his mouth, and then, smacking his lips, he looked straight at Strap:
            “But we’ll visit with you, Yoddlepunk, when we get off this ship, never fear—so keep you far away from our womenfolk.”
            “I can take care of myself,” snapped the nymph, “and the daughter of Lord Pan and Lady Flora needs no help from a pair of smelly earthpushers—keep away from us, Lares and Penates!”
By this time, Strap had stood up, flexed his wings, and pushed his way between the two satyrs, on his way back to his seat. He was careful to poke the two of them with his horny wing-tips as he squeezed between: I must show these satyrs that I’m tough, even with a Daemon Yeshiva klippah on my head.
He gripped his incense-sprayer in his right hand, though.

            As he squeezed past the bigger satyr, he never saw the goat’s-foot thrust under his claw; suddenly, he was tumbling forward, into a bugeyed gnomewoman carrying a big Troll-Mart sack of mushrooms and roots, which stank hellishly.
            “Careful, ye kobold scamp—I just picked those!” screamed the Goodgnome, but Strap did not hear her; he found his balance, twirled, and flicked out his incense-sprayer, all in one swift movement. His mates saw the trip-up, and spun to the back of the bus to help him.
            The satyrs saw, too: “All the little Yoddlepunks, standing in a row—“ sang Lares, softly, as he and Penates leapt toward the three kobolds—
            That was the last straw, for the werewolf-driver. He slammed on the airbrakes, bringing the Demomnibus-‘Pillar to a halt, and all the passengers tossed forward, crying, shrieking, or honking from the shock. The werewolf sprang from his seat, easily leaping between the satyrs and the kobolds, pushed them apart—Karkadal slammed into a pair of elves, who plummeted out the window, and were never seen again—and hooked his foreclaws around Penates’s throat.
            “It’s like this, see—“ the Werewolf rumbled to the satyr, in a low voice, “You and your mugugly pal, there, Mr. Tripster, and these yoddly fellows will all get off my bus, right now. Then, you can bang heads til the End of Days, for all I care. To hell and blazes with all of ye, I say.”
            Up close, his breath smelled like the raw meat and bloody bones which werewolves preferred, but neither satyrs nor kobolds dared to cross him; Wereys drove demomnibuses for a reason: they were pure wolfen muscle, from head to foot, and—as the Werey showed when he smiled to emphasize his words—they had a full set of shiny white sharpened teeth, canines all.
            “Why, what did we do?” asked Coxnbox, “we were just riding along, minding our business….”
            “Are ye having words with me, Yoddlepunk?” hissed the werewolf, turning on Coxnbox so quickly, and pinning him beneath a sinewy, brown-furred arm, digging his claws into the little kobold’s chest, while Cox squealed from pain and  lurched back against Leatherstrap.
“This here’s my bus, my responsibility, and if the Lord High Asmodeus His Own Self were crocheting a shroud for Beelzebub and Moloch, right there”—pointing at the seat occupied by the Gnomewife, who clutched more tightly as her shopping-bag of roots, and shivered—“and ‘is Lordship’s ball o’ twine ‘appened to roll beneath me seat, thereby distractin’ me from the lawful OUT-come of me chosen DU-ties—“ –pointing at the seat occupied by the Gnomewife— “I would have his balls betwixt my fangs, so I would.”
He leaned forward, narrowing his yellow eyes, and breathed mold and bloodyguts into the faces of both Coxnbox and Karkadal, who had just struggled back from his corner of the ‘bus—
What had this terrorbeast had for lunch? They wondered. Never mind.
            Coxnbox, wisely, said nothing more.
            The doors hissed as they opened for the kobolds and satyrs to dismount, making a sound like busha v’cherpa busha v’cherpa busha v’cherpa, and the caterpillar tires, made of real caterpillars, wound, unwound, and re-wound as the blueblack demomnibus slowly recoiled into itself and spun into the setting paleyellow moonlit sky, surrounded by bats and straggle-feathered vultures.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Nymph and the Kobold: A Jewish Interfaith Love Story. Chap. 1: The Demomnibus

Strap thought she was the most beautiful nymph he had ever seen. She had long, golden hair, which swept down from the back of her head onto her neck, glinting in the sun like a pattern of raindrops; blue eyes and a ready smile. He could not stare at her—it would never do for a good Yodden kobold boy like him, fresh from Daemon Yeshiva, to even glance at a Greco Nymphian girl, and so, he had to content himself with stealthy glances from time to time, while pretending to laugh at Coxnbox’s old jokes, jokes he remembered from longago first- grade days in the North Side Norah Center.
            And yet—and yet—he could hear the tinkling laughter of her and her friends, as they moved under the trees of Leprechaun Street: the July sun (it would be Av soon), and the buzzing of Coxnbox’s voice, along with the other kobolds, died down to a murmur in the background. He struggled to overhear the girl-nymphs’ gossip:
            “…And then, what do you think that over-muscled, small-brained satyr did?”
            “Oh, tell us, tell us, Nightingale!”
            --He couldn’t hear; it all dissolved into girl-talk whispers, along with giggles, and much pink-and-blue wing-flutterings.
            At last, the demomnibus arrived, all black iron and silver fittings, GOTHIKARIUM glinting on the front in blood-red letters. The steps hissed out of the side, worn brassy things, much in need of polishing, and the kobolds, elves, dwarves, and other earth- and sky-dwellers moved to climb, flutter, or slither onto it. The nymphs, centaurs, and satyrs moved to the back, as the Law required. Strap moved onto the front platform with his friends, the other shedochrim, demon-scholars, from the Daemon Yeshiva—that was where the Yodden were to go—but thought, I must stay with her—perhaps she’ll notice me! And said to Karkadal, his nearest shade, “Let me go out back—the breeze feels so fresh today!” And ran off to the back platform, Karkadal staring after, and wagging his head in wonder: “Air? Full of steam and smoke; the air of Old Kroy City’s unfit for breathing—and Leatherstrap hanging off the busback, like a common dwarf?”
            “Leave him be, Karky,” said Coxnbox, “Have I ever told you the Tale of Drabbi Layzer and the Witch of Splendor…?”
            The steps hissed back underneath, and the giant Caterpillar-Bus groaned its way up to the skies, all the creatures hanging on. In the front, the werewolf-driver rawrked at a pixie who had shown to him her empty flower-petal pouch, bare, except for some stale drops of Pixie Dust.
            “Three schillers!” growled the ‘Wolf, and the hapless fay shook her head, saying in a voice all of sweet accord, “I have no money, Sir Wolf—if you let me pass, I will grant you three wishes….”
“Wishes! Blast you to Acheron with your wishes!” snorted the ‘Wolf, and, turning the massive wheel with his left hand, backhanded the pixie with a massive, horny right-claw. The stunned fay ricocheted off the isinglass window of the door, spun about three times, and disappeared, poof! In a cloud of pink smoke. The other passengers pretended not to notice; the werewolf driver licked his lips, sneezed from the pixie-dust, and turned back to the steering handles.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

I Sit Here Grading Papers

I sit here grading the first batch of papers by my students at Southeastern College. These young people (and some in their 40s) will, following graduation, work the machinery, keep the records, dispense the medicines, and assist other healers in hospitals, doctors’ offices, and surgical centers. They are a cross-section of Floridian diversity: Haitian, African-American, Hispanic from many countries-- all of them, now, American. They are all eager to learn, anxious about life in America, wanting fiercely their part of the American Dream, as did my grandparents and parents before me. One of them may, one day, hold your life in her hands, dear Reader. It is an awesome privilege to be responsible for some part of their education.
The reading they wrote an essay about is by Maya Angelou, who writes about growing up in her mother’s general store in Stamps, Arkansas, during the Depression. She describes with great love her Uncle Willie, who suffered from a palsy that made him tremble. The local sheriff, a bigot who dealt with his African-American subjects like a Polish squire, came on horseback one day to warn their family that “the boys,” the local Klan, would be riding that night, and that Willie should hide, lest he be lynched, for the crime of being a black man.
Angelou describes how poor Willie, who could hardly stand or walk, carefully folded himself into the store’s potato bin, and how they covered him with potatoes and onions, “like a casserole,” and how he lay there and moaned the entire night—luckily, “the boys” did not ride into their yard and insist that Momma open the store for them to raid, or they would certainly have heard him crying, and murdered him.
One of my congregants, a Holocaust survivor, told us once from the pulpit how she and her parents were forced to hide in a hole in the ground in the forest, like animals, for nearly two full years, on the run from the Nazis in France. She remembered, in particular, one Chanukah, when they emerged from their stifling den to behold the stars, and how her father gently asked her to use them as Chanukah candles.

No mortal being on this earth will be able to call themselves truly free until we can stop telling stories like this, until human beings no longer need to hide in potato bins or holes in the ground; until they stop hurting one another. Still, what can we do? Can we stop the carnage in Syria, in Kenya, or anywhere people refuse to see the human image in their fellow mortal? What can we do?