What Do You Do When You’re All Alone?

It didn’t start out that way, my being all alone, that is. Au contraire, mes amis. The weekend before my Barbara’s departure saw our apartment bulging at the seams with friends and family. First to arrive were The Levines, Barbara and Richard. They showed up on Thurs. June 17, timing their visit, as they often do, to coincide with a folk music performance somewhere near us (or at least nearer to us than to them). They had originally planned to head back on Sun. to their little house on top of the mountain, but then they were invited to a wedding in these parts the following Tues. eve., so that they would stay with us until Wed. It just happened that Natania and Gil (with Liel is tow) announced their intentions to accept our hospitality for the same Shabbat, which would make seven of us in our apartment. As you will see, that was just the beginning of the fun.

On the 17th , I spent the morning at the shuk, stopping as I always do at Power Coffeeworks to get a refill of Cold Brew and make certain I had enough Tarrazu medium roast to keep Barbara L. suitably caffeinated and happy during her stay. I got back in time to schlepp all the luggage and gear The Levines had brought up the flights of stairs to our humble abode. (As I intimated in an earlier post, our friends can just about make it up the stairs by themselves.) We made a light lunch, and I got to make Barbara L. some coffee with my new handy-dandy Aeropress. (If you got it, flaunt it. Max Bialystok) To keep things simple, our dinner would be take-out – Sushi and stir-fry – from the local Atza branch, which is winning accolades from those-in-the-know. We added some red wine and the last few precious drops of the Adir 2010 blush port we’ve been saving to top off the meal. A little bit of chatter and off to bed.

Fri. would find us dividing ourselves into two distinct groups: the folk music fun and frolic contingent (The Levines) and the stay at home and get ready for Shabbat crew (Me and my Barbara.) For the salads, side dishes, and appetizers, I would make whatever I had. But how much chicken should I defrost for seven customers? It’s hard to gauge how much is in a frozen package, and it’s even harder to gauge how much each person will eat (except Richard; I know how much he will consume once he’s convinced himself that he’s hungry.) I didn’t want to make too much; the free-range chickens from Artzenu are not cheap. But having your Shabbat guests leave the table hungry is a terrible thing. So I emptied our freezer and hoped for the best.

By the late afternoon, The Levines had returned, and Natania, Gil, and Liel had arrived. It was soon time for candle-lighting, and there was Gil on our merpeset, creating his own Carlebach minyan. Not to be outdone or overlooked, Richard decided to join him, and the two of them went at it, doing the entire Kabbalat Shabbat songbook. Now me – if I had to choose between davening Carlebach-style or standing on my head and doing anything else…… You get the idea. But who am I to get in anyone’s way, except perhaps to pass on a gentle reminder that everyone else is hungry?

The Levines and I have a long-standing discussion about the interface of music and prayer. Barbara L. has fond memories from years gone by at the Chabad House in Cherry Hill, and you can imagine what it’s like there on a Fri. night. Richard simply feels he needs music to help him focus whenever he davens. Me? I’m just the opposite. If I want to be involved in group singing, I’ll ask to be reinstated in the Encore! chorus. If I’m trying to concentrate on the prayers, I don’t want to hear you or anybody else – no offense intended. Like a lot of others in our community, I’m better off davening in my solitude.

But there’s one thing on which we all agree. If we’re going to have a festive meal, there’d better be some good wine to go with it. If nothing else, it will improve our post-prandial pontification. Here we’re dealing with the old and the new. Because of the limited number of guests we’ve had during COVID-time, I have quite a few bottles of red wine hanging out in my wine fridges that are aging faster than I am. We need to drink them now! On the other hand, we’re focusing our attention on the latest vintage of rosés for Barbara L. to include in her annual review. Two years ago, we were able to include forty-two selections; last year, because of COVID, the number plummeted to twenty-three. This year we’re aiming for a new record – maybe fifty. So what should we drink, old or new? I know, we can have one of each! Simple.

Barbara C. and I have been wondering what would happen if Gil and Richard were ever in the same room together; there might be newer and higher levels of inspired pontification, and I could just sit back and enjoy the show. No worries; the two of them were off and running. When I went up to bed, they were still at it. And in the wee small hours of the morning, I could still hear their voices. Gil had said that he planned to go with me to shul Shabbat morning. Not a chance, thought I, you’ll be too tired from your mental efforts. As is often the case, I was correct.

(The question might be asked, what distinguishes pontification from argumentation, debate, or mere bloviation? The way I describe it, pontification is a spontaneous form of discourse in which something remarked in conversation is examined to extreme effect without any desire to declare a ‘winner.’ It’s not something you can plan; it just happens, creeps up on you without your even realizing it. One may relish the opportunity to participate, or one may run as fast as possible in the opposite direction, as certain people I know have done.)

It sure was quiet in our apartment when I left for shul in the morning, but by the time I returned, almost everyone was up. Shortly thereafter, Ezra showed up with his daughter Orly in tow. Now we were up to nine. (As usual, there was whisky, herring, and coffee for anyone who wanted.) And then a while later, another couple came over, along with their son and daughter-in-law. They were certainly welcome, but now we were thirteen, which meant at least five different conversations going on at once – four more than I can tune in to at one time. It was a relief to have only the seven of us for lunch; I could pay attention to everything that was being said, making sure that everyone’s wine glass was filled as needed. Rosé, anyone?

I always feel cheated whenever Natania – now Natania and Gil – show up for Shabbat. There never seems to be enough time to converse, and then Shabbat is over and they need to get back to Jerusalem. I did get a few minutes to talk with Gil about his paper, ‘Midrashic Methods: Hillel’s Contribution to Rabbinics,’ which he submitted for the class he’s taking on-line at Torah Ve’Ahava (What’s a good English translation of gezerah shavah?, Gil inquired. He decided on ‘intertextual allusion,’ and who am I to disagree?) but there wasn’t much time to converse with Natania, who does a lot of sleeping when she’s with us. Oh well. There will be a next time.

Sunday felt deja-vu-all-over-again-ish. We were to meet our mutual friends Carol and Moshe for lunch, but, since it’s on the way (!), we’d stop at Pyup first, as we had done when the Levines were with us over Pesach. How many more rosés can we locate at this spirits emporium? There I was, wheeling a shopping cart through the aisles, looking for bottles that held orange, pink, or salmon colored liquid, conferring with Barbara L. about which wines she already had. Naturally, we attracted the attention of Zelig, the lone salesclerk. Barbara explained the method to our madness, and Zelig was suitably impressed. Have you tried this; what do you think of that? It’s not often that he would be talking to folks who are reviewing everything in sight. So how many rosés did we find? Enough to fill an American style carton, which one of their staff managed to get down the steps down to the car. This was beyond my shlepping ability.

We got onto the Begin Highway and headed around Jerusalem, again passing the Malcha Mall. The good news was that Richard was i-ed out; we didn’t need to stop again at the iDigital store to get more Apple gear. Enough is enough!

The Grand Café on Derech Beit Lechem, that was our destination. I give Carol and Moshe high marks for finding this place. There’s a lot of opining on Facebook, say in Secret Jerusalem or Restaurant Club, about where to go and what to eat, but this café keeps a low profile. They do a good business, but if word got out just how special this place is, then it would become so crowded that nobody would go there anymore – if you get my drift. Our friends have figured out that the best place to sit is around the big round table in the front. That way, six people can all participate in the same conversation, and because the place is fairly quiet, we can all hear each other when we talk. How about that?

We finished our meal, and the Casdens and The Levines were about to get back in the car, when I screamed (well, it was a low volume scream), WAIT; WE’RE NOT READY TO GO YET. What was so important? I had glanced across the street and espied the logo ‘Shachar’ on a storefront. That had been a SERIOUS wine emporium on Emek Refaim, which, fearing the disruption of the planned Light Rail, moved to Derech Beit Lechem. I knew they were somewhere in the general area, but I had never found out where exactly. Now I knew. So Barbara L. and I hightailed it across the street. Maybe they’ll have something? There was a very tall young woman working there, and by the cash register, I’m assuming that was Shachar with a bunch of his buddies.

There’s a certain kind of feeling when you walk into a specialty store and tell them exactly what you want. Whereupon they know that you know what you’re talking about, which also implies that you know that they know what you’re talking about, and that they know that you know that they know (I hope that’s clear.) The young lady went scurrying around the store trying to find some offerings we didn’t already have, and I was right behind her, in case she missed something. Sure enough, we found another five or six rosés we didn’t have. But then, the proverbial icing on the cake (or should it be ‘the icing on the proverbial cake?’). Whenever she shops in a wine emporium, Barbara L. always asks if they have any blush port on offer, hoping against hope that she will come upon some 2010 Adir collecting dust somewhere. No, BUT, they a few bottles left of the 2013. Yes, we’ll take those off your hands! (You’ll need the shelf space for something newer.)

We had high hopes of doing something interesting on Monday, but our chiropractor appointments got moved from Tues. R&R instead; that’s never a bad thing. On Tues., our last day together, we decided to head over to our local Waffle Bar for a celebratory lunch, after which Barbara C. headed into Jerusalem. Through all the hullabaloo, she was trying mightily to get organized for her trip. She still had to pick up a sim-card for her phone and get tested for COVID antibodies (even though we’ve been vaccinated). I remember being in the kitchen when she returned and hearing her say something to the effect of, Look who’s come back!  Sure enough, Shekhi had returned. (Whew! A big whew!)

This was the second time he had disappeared, falling off the railing of our big merpeset in the middle of the night. (Cats are dumb that way.) The first time it happened, we were able to retrieve him in a few days. This time? Neither of us nor Lydia – our neighbor downstairs who feeds her collection of strays – had seen him; he had seemingly vanished into thin air. Of course, we kept searching for him, but with all the shrubbery around (it’s called ‘making the desert bloom’), it’s next to impossible to ‘find’ a cat unless said creature want to be found. Every time I went downstairs, there was a big ‘maybe.’ Perhaps this time we’ll spot him. Lots of cats out there; quite a few look something like him. But there’s only one Shekhi. I was becoming reconciled to his permanent absence. The apartment would be quieter, and we wouldn’t have to continually guard our food from his stealth attacks. (Shekhi is pretty much untrainable, almost as badly behaved as the three-year old son of the ‘balaganisitas’ renting the apartment below us. But he and Lucky are best buds, he is lovable and entertaining beyond words, plus we have accepted responsibility for his well-being – which is no small matter.) But it must have been time for him to end his self-imposed exile. Barbara had gotten off the bus near our building and was involved in a conversation with one of the local felines. And then she heard a familiar meow. Shekhi decided to show himself. He didn’t want to be picked up, but he agreed to follow Barbara around the corner, into the building, up the stairs, and into our apartment. I was happy, but I think Lucky was even happier; his best bud had returned. (Pooms was not so gracious.) I would soon be alone, but at least I would have our full complement of animals to keep me company.)

Wed. morning, I made The Levines an appropriate send-off breakfast, and when they were ready, we triple-checked to make sure they (‘they’ meaning Richard) were leaving nothing behind.  Then we began bringing their possessions down to their car, including the cartons of rosé wine to be quaffed and evaluated high atop their mountain. Soon it would be just the two of us – at least until the evening when Barbara would be leaving for the airport.

Did I bother to mention where she was going? To The States, of course. Tina and David (and their two boys) are relocating from Hoboken to the Chicago area, and Barbara wanted to get in one last visit before they left, which would allow her to hang out with assorted friends and my brother in our old stomping grounds. Sooner or later, I’ll get to go. It’s been five years since I’ve been back. There are people to see and places to go; just not yet – not with the rigamarole at the airports, not with NYC being more or less a shell of its former self.

Barbara had checked and rechecked the schedules for the local bus and the train from Jerusalem to the airport. Nachum agree to end his gemara shiur ten minutes early so I could help Barbara get on the bus. On my way to the shiur, I heard a familiar sounding voice coming from the open space next to Nusach Achid, the ‘other’ shul. Sure enough, it was Rav Ezra. There he was, addressing a small group of adults, with a bunch of kids running around. I asked Nachum if he knew what was going on? Apparently, all the local rabbis were participating in a ceremony of some kind to thank God for the end of the pandemic in our part of the world. A bit premature perhaps?

I scurried home from the shiur, brought Barbara’s luggage down the stairs, and the two of us walked to the bus stop. If we had taken seriously the electronic sign, which said there would be no service in the foreseeable future, we would have panicked. Fortunately, the bus did arrive, and Barbara got on. We had gone from 2 of us to 4 to 7 to 9 to 13, back to 7, back to 4, up to 6, back to 4, then 2, and now it was just me, myself, and I taking the lonely walk back to our apartment. The three cats and I would be on our own for the next two weeks – an awesome responsibility.

I did have some thoughts about what I might do while my beloved wife was gone. Some of it would doing Barbara’s chores as well as my own. Some of it would be doing a few things that I should have done long ago, like taking all the recipes and articles I’ve printed out and sorting through them. Some of it would be as tedious but a lot more fun, like taking a thousand or more scanned black and white photos stored in the Apple app, Photos, and moving them into folders. Some of it would be more daunting, like recalibrating the tone arm on my turntable so my LP’s would sound better. Some of it would be more vigorous, like taking 20-30 minutes a day to ride my exercise bike. Some of it would be creative, like tickling the computer keys and creating content for my readers. I would also have to leave aside time to pay a shiva call and visit a friend in a rehab center. Can you bring me some coffee when you come?  Of course, I would have to feed myself anyway; very important.

A few days later, I was asked if I had ‘run out of anything?’ The snap answer was…… ‘patience.’ True enough, but that would always be the case. A more timely answer would have been ‘energy.’ It suddenly got very hot here. (The temperature’s rising, it isn’t surprising…) When I was a mere lad, extremes of temperature didn’t bother me. I remember playing handball when it was 90℉ and thinking nothing of it. But that was then, and now is now. I kept thinking of my to-do list (even creating one for Barbara for when she returned) and trying to get up the energy to tackle it. Some of it did get done, but a lot didn’t. No energy; as simple as that. I should be doing something besides trolling through YouTube. Since I can’t turn down the temperature, maybe I should just lower my expectations. Assume I’m on vacation. The article I’m writing will get finished sooner or later. Meanwhile…

Hot as it was here, it was out of control in Oregon, where the trials for the U.S. Olympic Team were being held, which, of course (of course!), you could watch after the fact on YouTube. There they were, athletes in the prime of their lives, in super condition, running as fast as they could, anywhere from 100 meters to 5-10 kilometers, the winners to compete in Tokyo. And there I was, trying to get up the energy to get up and go to the kitchen for a cold drink. Just goes to show.

A bit premature, perhaps? Sad to say, that was the case. Despite the rabbis’ best intentions, COVID was still with us. I was invited for Fri. night dinner with Ron and Esther, and a good thing too. Otherwise, I would not have known that the folks who-make-decisions in these parts had reimposed the requirement to wear masks indoors, starting then and there. I would have shown up in shul Shabbat morning with my face naked and bare, and who wants to be the object of scorn? (Almost as bad as making a mistake in the Torah reading.) Now, not only was it stifling outside, you needed to remember to take your mask wherever you went. Where did I put the remote for the a/c?

That’s it; lower the thermostat, lower my expectations. Maybe assume I’m on vacation someplace COVID-free where I have a copious supply of rosé and iced latte. The article I’m writing will get finished sooner or later…

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