Three rabbis walk into a coffee shop. No, it’s not a joke. Three rabbis are sitting at the table next to me discussing a problem at the synagogue. Judy Feinstein has done something wrong. It seems to be a problem of paperwork. Where did she get the information to fill out that form? one asks. And the young one says let’s just cut through the mustard.
Hey. I’m trying to write here. I’ve got my laptop charged up and I was about to unleash some edgy dialogue. I resent the distraction, but only mildly. Mostly I’m interested. Who knew the personnel problems of the synagogue were discussed over lattes at Starbucks? Yes, they all ordered lattes. I listened.
That form never should have been Xeroxed, one is saying. He seems to be the boss, if that’s the right word. The head rabbi. The young one looks defensive. I think he’s getting chewed out. It’s weird to think of a rabbi being chewed out by the boss. I would think his job would be all prayer and study but I suppose there’s plenty of grunt work involved, like any job.
Take writing, for instance. Sometimes it seems to be nothing but grunt work, a morass of frustration and overwhelm. Today, instead of making progress, my head is full of these helpful ideas:
I’ll never get enough done.
I have the attention span of a gnat.
I wonder if Starbucks is hiring.
Just as I manage to turn back to my work, an older woman approaches me. She’s heavy, with bleach blond spiked hair and lots of big rings on her fingers with shiny oval stones. Maybe once they were expensive and classy, but now you find them at flea markets. She’s wearing several gold necklaces and a lot of make-up.
“What kind of laptop is that?” she asks. Before I can answer, she goes on. “I use the internet at the senior center. Free internet, and I’m the only one who ever uses it. Can you believe it?” She pulls out a chair at the table beside me and sits, crossing her leg at the ankle like a man. “I use the auction sites. I just bid on a cruise for $269. West Caribbean. I’m not kidding. I leave next week.”
“Wow,” I say, because it would be rude not to, but also because, let’s face it, that’s a great price.
“What do you do?” she asks me.
“I’m a writer,” I say, wondering if she’ll take the hint.
She nods, chewing her gum like a farmer. “I never married or had kids. Do I regret it? I do. But I travel a lot. I was a teacher. Retired now. Did I enjoy it? No.” She pulls a small calendar from her bag and flips it open. “See this?” She points to all the appointments that are written in. “I tutor now. Math. Forty bucks a pop.”
I smile, my fingers poised over my keyboard. Really, I don’t have time for this today.
“Yeah, I take a lot of cruises,” the woman is saying. “Know which one I didn’t like? Alaska. I’m gonna pay to walk on an iceberg? No thanks.”
I smile in spite of myself because I like the way she asks questions and answers them herself. What a character.
“Did you know that icebergs are not even white? No. They’re really robin’s egg blue. They reflect the color of the water. They’re only white when the sun shines on them. People don’t know that.”
“Really?” Now this I like very much. What a great nugget of information. Robin’s Egg Blue. That would make a cool title.
Our conversation ends as abruptly as it began as she pulls a crossword from her bag and focuses on it. I give up the scene I was struggling with, take a deep breath, and remind myself of the one universal law that keeps me sane:
Everything is occurring FOR me, at all times. Sometimes it’s enough to reflect the water.
Trusting this, I write about the woman. Maybe next I’ll write about the three rabbis. In my story, they’ll turn to me and I’ll help them cut through the mustard. At the very least I can find out, whatever happened to Judy Feinstein?