Monday, August 08, 2005

The Center of it All

“You guys want another beer,” Yoni asked, as he reached into the cooler for a cold one. We broke out laughing hysterically, the way we always did whenever Yoni imitated voices. Sometimes it was the Rosh Yeshiva, other times, the Mashgiach or a teacher. His imitation was dead on, and we had been outside drinking and laughing for the better part of the afternoon.

We were hidden behind the dorm, our towels laid out on the grass, and were spending the second day of Shavuos relaxing and catching some sun. We had some novels and a backgammon set, but most of the time we just laid on the ground, soaked in the sun, and smoked cigarettes we lit off our yahrzeit candle.

It was turning into the best Shavuos ever.

“One day for Hashem,” Yoni said, imitating the Mashgiach one more time, “One day for us.”

None of us saw the Mashgiach appear from behind the dormitory. All we heard was his voice saying, “Boys, what’s going on out here.”

“Yoni,” Menachem said, without looking around or opening his eyes, “that’s fucking amazing.”

Rabbi Rosenblum walked over to Menachem, and blocked the sun.

“What the fuck,” Menachem asked, still not opening his eyes.

“In my office in fifteen minutes, all three of you,” Rabbi Rosenblum said as he walked away. “And put some yomtovdike clothes on. You look like shkutzim.”

All three of us picked up our heads and watched him walk toward the Yeshiva building.

After he was out of site, we cleaned up our area, and went into the dorm to get dressed.

“Menachem, you might have fucked yourself, but you saved us,” I said hopefully. “Rosenblum didn’t mention the beer, cigarettes or novels that were partially hidden outside. He just got mad because you kept dropping F bombs.”

Menachem looked worried. This was his third Yeshiva in two years. He knew what was going to happen next. He was on probation from the start. Just swearing in front of Rosenbutt was going to get him kicked out, he was sure.

Fifteen minutes later, with freshly brushed teeth, we knocked on Rabbi Rosenblum’s office door. He opened it, and inside we saw both Rosenbutt and Goldbutt, the Menahel. “I asked Rabbi Goldberg to join us, boys. We have a serious problem.”

Rabbi Goldberg jumped in. “We can’t have boys outside on Yomtov tanning. Is that the kind of Yidden you want to be? I thought you were holding at a more Halige Madrige.”

“Oisverfs, Mamush,” Rosenblum added. “And you, he said pointing at Menachem, “with the nivel peh. A shonda.”

Menachem tried to explain, but there was nothing he could say. It was Yoni who stepped in. “Excuse me, Rabbi Rosenblum,” he said with his angelic voice, “but didn’t Rabbi Feuer say at the beginning of the year that there were no rules in this Yeshiva? Didn’t he say that all we follow is the Sholchon Aruch?”

I could not believe Yoni was going on the offensive. My strategy was to sit quiet and hope.

Rabbi Rosenblum and Rabbi Goldberg both nodded.

“Then I don’t see what the problem is here.”

Yoni continued.

“There is nothing in the Sholchon Aruch which prohibits sitting outside on a Yom Tov day. In fact, don’t we learn in Gemara in Shabbos that Rebbi would frequently sit outside near the river on Shabbos and enjoy the Shabbos afternoon.”

The Rabbis seemed dumbstruck, so Yoni continued.

“And the nivel peh incident, that was an accident. But sometimes when people are surprised, they react in ways that they wouldn’t normally act.”

“There is a Rambam, I think I saw it in camp in the summer, which says that someone can’t be held responsible for things he says when he is attacked or surprised. I think Menachem is sorry for what he said, and has Charata. He is three quarters of the way to Teshuva Gemurah. I think you should let it slide.”

Two minutes later we were out of the office, and back on our way to the dorm. Not even a slap on the wrist for any of us.

Yoni was amazing. He had no fear, no limitations, no boundaries. He could walk into a room and sell them on anything, even though almost everything he said was a lie. He had a charisma that Rabbeim feared, teachers admired and friends loved.

Twenty years later.

I hung up the phone, feeling completely numb. Five minutes ago I had been playing catch in the yard with my son. I answered the phone, and it was a charity hospital in Phoenix. They told me my best friend, Jonathon Winters, had died of pneumonia after a prolonged battle with AIDS.

It had been at least fifteen years since I had seen or talked to Yoni. We didn’t have any falling out, more like a drifting away. I got married, and moved back home to Detroit. Yoni wasn’t sure what he was going to be doing, but he was moving to California. He hoped to get a job doing animated voices, and one day, being a choreo-animator. He was getting on a bus the morning after my wedding, and we hugged and he promised to keep in touch. I gave him a pack of Marlboro Reds for the road, and he gave me a pack of Marlboro Lights. He knew I had quit smoking before I got married, but he knew I would relapse.

“Think of me when you’re burning through these,” he said, as we slapped hands and he got on the Greyhound at Port Authority.

And that was it.

How did he go from a bus to California to a charity ward in Phoenix, I wanted to know. How did the one person in our class we all knew was going to grab the world by the throat and bend it to his will die at 37 of AIDS-related pneumonia?

And why didn’t he ever call, write or email?

I suddenly needed to know what Yoni had been doing for the past fifteen years.

What happened to the boy I once knew?

The next morning I was on a flight to Phoenix. I needed to understand.

The preceding story is a work of fiction.

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  • 11 Comments:

    Blogger Veev said...

    Beautiful...

    3:29 PM  
    Anonymous Keglavithcher Rav said...

    Good luck on weaving this one together. I'm reading

    3:31 PM  
    Blogger AMSHINOVER said...

    nice

    1 editing issue "Yeshiva in to years"

    3:35 PM  
    Blogger orthomom said...

    Great start. Keep it up.

    3:35 PM  
    Blogger Air Time said...

    thanks amshi for the correction, thanks y'all for your kind words.

    3:44 PM  
    Blogger macabee said...

    Airtime,

    For you readers a little older than you, Jonathan Winters conjures up the following image at this weblink.

    http://www.jonathanwinters.com/

    Other than that, I am so glad you have decided to write this story. I know that it is hard to take a story from your head and put it together. Just make sure he never pushed anyone off of the Grand Canyon or arranged a drug bust and we as your readers will be OK.

    Can't wait for the next installment.

    4:19 PM  
    Blogger Air Time said...

    i have no plans for killing anyone else at this time

    4:56 PM  
    Blogger SportPsych Detroit said...

    i have to admit, the first thing i thought of was, "nanu nanu"

    then i thought of kicking field goals at colorado state


    then i thought of the hail mary caught by michael westbrook.

    then i thought of westbrook beating the bejeezez out of stephen davis.

    which made me think of carolina.

    and their unifroms.

    and how they mange to make baby blue, silver and black look much more menacing than our leos.

    5:02 PM  
    Blogger rockofgalilee said...

    When I think about rain,
    I think about singin
    When I think about singin,
    It's a heavenly tune
    When I think about heaven,
    I think about angels
    When I think about angels,
    I think about you

    1:56 AM  
    Blogger rockofgalilee said...

    why did the hospital call you?

    1:56 AM  
    Blogger Air Time said...

    you will have to wait and see

    4:02 PM  

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