A Letter to Cousin Nick

This was what the box of cookies I got from Ruby et Violette looked, already partially eaten.

I had eaten mostly through the first layer, containing some I had already tried (the mint double-chocolate “Cool Seduction”) and some I hadn’t (A vanilla-looker called “Berry Blueberry”) but I had left the brownie, deciding that it was too good to eat immediately.

A special occasion, perhaps.

In fact, I had meant to bring the whole box into work on Friday, where I was supposed to be helping my mom out packing gift bags.

“Really? You would do that?” Eva asked me over the phone. “I would just eat all of them. And then tell people about the box. And then tell people, oh wait, no I ate all of them.”

I love her.

But the point was moot anyway, since I forgot to bring the box into work and there wouldn’t have been time for it anyway, since there were t-shirts to be folded and bags to be stuffed and so on and so forth.

But Eva was there and so was Rob, freshly de-bearded, as we found ourselves suckered into a room together, replacing blue ribbons with red ribbons, tied to big, bronzish medals.

We talked about friends and beards and haircuts (I had just gotten one) and what our friends were doing now and, more saliently, what they were doing then. The sort of idle conversation to go with the busy work we were doing.

The rest of the evening was a hodge-podge trapped between attempted cab-rides on Canal St, Michelob Ultra at the Malone-pad on Ave A and a movie we didn’t even get into for the opening night of the Brooklyn International Film Festival.

I tried touting my press-credentials at the door, only to find out that no one really cares if you are a (former) “Contributing Editor to the Film Society of Lincoln Center Blog”. We ended up getting drinks with the directors afterward, who were friends of friends.

I read one of the reviews that was propped up outside of the venue which talked about the amount of “nudity and sex, as a poor-man’s special effects”.

My friend Zach Weintraub was in town (His film Bummer Summer screened on Saturday) so I asked him and his collaborator Nandan Rao:

“Would it be strange to say I want to see that movie to see how all those people look naked?”

“Yes.” Nandan replied.

I wanted to discount his reply (Nandan is a Mormon), but Zach quickly agreed.

“Yeah, pretty weird.” He told me.

“But I mean, like,” I continued. “That’s a natural thing to think right? To wonder?”

“Yeah,” Nandan replied. “But I think that’s the sort of thing that gets filtered out around the first time something passes through your brain. You know, as something it might not be best to say.”

“But it’s perfectly natural to think right?” I asked.

“Well, yeah.” Zach admitted.

And I felt vindication at last.

Later, at the after-party that featured free whiskey-and-wine, I asked them for a screener or a ticket to the next show. They told me they’d get back to me and I realized, awkwardly, that it wasn’t smart to press it.

The next night, I asked Zach a question about Mumblecore at his Bummer Summer Q+A.

His response was a roundabout Q+A answer that, after parsing, meant “shut the fuck up”.

***

I’m not allowed to talk about my work for the census all that much, though it takes up a lot of my time.

It’s a government secrecy thing, a jail thing, a thing-thing.

I talked to a woman though, in my rounds., who had cancer.

I had tried going to her apartment before, but she had told me and my partner, a young lady about my age, that she was about to vomit so we should leave.

“Fuck this job.” I told my partner. But we still went to a few addresses more before we finished the day.

I came back by myself later and she was much nicer.

I sat in her apartment. I listened to her talk about her life. She had a chance, she told me. The doctors thought they got it.

But she was sick. And it was still difficult.

I talked to her about Howard, my family friend, who’s been dying of cancer these past months.

She reminded me of him, her stoicism, her living alone.

I didn’t refer to him by name. I called him “my uncle”. Because to call him a family friend wouldn’t adequately place where he fits in my life.

He’s the person who I would go to with intellectual queries, the person I look up to for his asceticism, his self-imposed rigor, his monastic lifestyle.

Here was a man dedicated to his art, his livelihood. He didn’t need fame or even recognition. He just wrote because that was what there was for him to do.

To be honest, I’m not smart enough to understand him. My parents would place me in front of him, as if I were, talking to him, since they thought I with my rudimentary Latin and D’Aulaires Book of Greek Myths could understand his discourses on Dante and Vergil. I couldn’t, I never could. It was like facing a waterfall or a cliff: You know enough to understand the gap without being on the same level.

I didn’t tell all this to the woman I visited. But she commiserated on some of it.

It made me feel better talking about it.

It was the only time so far I’ve cried about Howard.

Later that week, when I went door to door with my census partner, someone refused in front of their family and when I tried to go in the building, confronted me.

We argued and he seemed to physically threaten me. He told me to “get a real fucking job”, which felt like a particularly bad jab, since between the two of them I have, I have none.

My census partner suggested peeing on his doorstep.

No, I said. Let’s just leave the notice of visit form. That’s what we’re paid to do.

***

I read an interesting article the other day on Jewish exceptionalism, written in the Times by Michael Chabon.

I gave it to the person in my life who best exemplifies my connection to Judaism, my cousin Lenny, whom I respect and admire and see not so often.

He wrote a whole response to my question, asking what he thought, on his own blog, called: “Letter to Cousin Nick”.

It was thoughtful and measured and contained explanatory stories from Jewish lore, a quality I admire in Lenny and in learned men all.

Much of his reasoning has to do with the idea of a moral consensus versus a higher ideal.

It’s an interesting treatise on the predicament of Israel, a country I visited only to become more confused by.

In other news, a Jewish boxer was defeated this weekend after slipping in the ring, opening up an old injury.

His wife called for the towel to be thrown in, in the eighth round, seeing her husband barely standing.

His manager through it in, but it didn’t matter, since the boxer still wanted to fight.

He was badly beaten and needs to recover now. He lost his welterweight title.

When asked about it afterward, he told the press that when you have a belt, you don’t want to give it up. You fight until you can’t.

Take from that what you will.

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