A Proper Love Story
June 20, 1938. Two days before the big fight and his pile of napkins was understandably tremendous. The mornings were growing quieter as the summer progressed. No one walked into Dave’s dry goods store until at least 10 a.m. and so it gave him two hours alone. A fact that his wife hated because it was hard enough for immigrants to survive in this little Georgia town. When Ruth preached to him she would often open and close the cigar box on the counter that was supposed to hold money but instead held bupkis, and Dave would agree with her, of course he agreed with her, “yes, yes, it’s terrible, it’s terrible, azoy!, it is terrible”. But really he loved these terrible hours of the morning, alone, standing at the counter, with the sports page open, scribbling notes on his napkins, and tucking them underneath this fat, overweight book.
Dave loved Moby Dick. What he loved about it was that it was 704 pages. The book had heft like a tremendous khakee after being constipated for six days. Heft like the brick that was thrown through his front window with the swastika on it. Like the arm of Joe Louis when he was throwing a hard right to someone’s head.
Ruth, on the other hand, she loved this book because it was a tremendous metaphor for… something. He couldn’t remember what it metaphored, the lady was always metaphoring on something, but he remembered it was tremendous whatever it was.
Probably it was a metaphor for what a failure her husband was. Every damn book Ruth read seemed to somehow relate to Dave’s failures. As if he didn’t have enough dead people in his head criticizing him for his failures, he now had a goddamn wife doing it.
The humidity in this town was nothing he had ever seen. In Poland, it could be warm, yes, it could be uncomfortable, yes, but it didn’t stick to your flesh the way it did here. Here it hung on you the way the Spanish moss hung on every tree. You could never escape the way things hung around here.
He took out three napkins. And he wrote. About the past, about the present, about the future. It was all the same.
* dead rebbi in a coffin who won’t shut up
* wife living in a house I cannot afford
* Joe Louis about to blow a hole through America
He stuck them under the book. Maybe this Moby Dick was too small to protect his napkins. It seemed that nothing could contain the power of this Joe Louis/Max Schmeling rematch.
Dave knew that Louis would win this time even if every goy in town disagreed. The Brown Bomber could not lose again. That Nazi was done for. Dave knew it. The foreskin had been snipped and there was no turning back. Maybe Yankee Stadium was 836 miles away but Dave would feel every blow spitting out of his radio.
Dave’s friend Johnny was due to visit his store this morning. Johnny was helping Dave get an extension on his rent payment for the store. A few more weeks. That was all he needed. For a Schmeling fan, Johnny was not such a bad person.
There were moments, a quick second, a short breath, a skipped beat of his heart, when Dave did feel the fear of a loss. The ache in his cancerous leg. It had ached ever since Joe Louis lost the first fight two years ago. Maybe the Brown Bomber didn’t have what it took to face this man again.
Dave took out three more napkins.
* two lefts to the head
* Schmeling goes down
* it’s over
He closed his eyes and imagined Joe Louis winning this fight. He smelled the fear and sweat and mechaye of a victory.
Then he put the napkins under the book. 704 pages, a goyishe captain, and a tremendous schmeckel of a whale.
Dick. Now that was a word, a big, fat goyishe word. Nothing at all like a schmeckel. Schmeckel was a longer word, sure, but it was something you could put your mouth around. What was a Dick anyhow? Nothing more than some goy in a raincoat.
Ruth didn’t know how to put her mouth around his schmeckel, not except that one time when she had too much schnapps, and then it was exceptional, those scholarly lips, they scholared his schmuck better than any encyclopedia ever could. But lately, she wasn’t scholaring, just worrying, about money, about their life together, about this impossible life living in this impossible town.
Worrying didn’t serve Dave’s schmeckel one bit.
It was like he was going to explode. All these thoughts about the fight. When he closed his eyes, he no longer saw darkness, what he saw was Joe Louis wearing those shorts and standing on a scale before the fight.
Maybe Dave should read the book after all. He had plenty to learn. He might as well start with whales. And then there was that fool with the harpoon.
Dave hadn’t read the book but he did see the movie. John Barrymore as Ahab. A man too pretty and too sweet for the part. In the movie, the schmegigee comes back after killing the whale, he returns to his pretty shiksa and shtups her.
Disgusting. Dave more than anyone appreciates a good shtuping, especially when a shiksa is involved, but it was no way to end a story. Dave didn’t need to read the book to know that the proper ending was for the harpoon-line to wrap around the man’s neck and for him to be pulled into the ocean with his harpoon stuck inside the whale he obsessed over.
Now that was how a proper love story should end.
Dave could see Johnny limping towards the store. With that unlit cigar in his mouth. He would tell Dave the news. Whether Dave’s landlord could wait another week. Until after the fight.
Everything came after the fight.
Dave grabbed three more napkins, his last three.
* a dress pulled tight around Ruth’s tuches
* a boxer with the arm of a hurricane
* a cigar box full of nothing
He took a good long look at his words, at his pile of napkins. He pressed his palm against the book and pressed the book into his words. And he waited for the line to wrap around his throat.