Sunday, June 18, 2006

Dwarfed (a poem-turned-memoir)

[This started out as a poem, but it seems to have morphed into more of a memoir, capturing a moment in time. The incident in question took place shortly after Lag B'Omer this year. It just took me forever to write it down.]


Down, down, down the ramp I go, until I stand, dwarfed, gazing up at two of the gorgeous chandeliers of Grand Central Station, glittering high above my head.

I keep walking. Now the ceiling drops dramatically, and I’m in the “vault,” a small space at the intersection of three ramps, all curved beams and arches covered with glazed brick. To my right, behind a glass wall, is one of the most famous restaurants in Manhattan, but one that I’ll never enter—the Oyster Bar. (Oy.)

I continue down the second ramp into the food court (or whatever they call it at Grand Central). To my right is a “sit-down” restaurant (unlike the fast-food places to my left) called The Zócalo. Allegedly, a zócalo is "A town square or plaza, especially in Mexico.” But for me, it will always be the commercial area of a space station presided over by the visionary Captain John Sheridan, ably assisted by his Executive Officer, one of my all-time favorite television characters, the brave, brilliant, blunt-spoken, and beautiful Commander Susan Ivanova, with a wonderful sense of humor drier than the Gobi desert. Dedicated and fearless, she will nearly lose her life in an effort, fortunately successful, to save the planet Earth from certain destruction. “The year is 2261, the place, Babylon 5.”

Did I mention that Ivanova is a Russian Jew? Did I mention that my grandmother, aleha hashalom (roughly, rest in peace) was also a Russian Jew?

Well, even so, I didn’t come here to go to The Zócalo. Turning left, I buy myself a soup and half-sandwich from Mendy’s Glatt Kosher Deli stand.

And that’s when it hits me.

Oh

My

Heavens.


Bread.


I’m not always this good.

But somehow, I just know that, this time, at least, I have to wash.

No, not quote wash unquote. I’m not speaking euphemism.

N’tilat yadayim. The ritual version of “wash.”

I learned a new phrase recently. Hashgachah pratis (pratit?). “Divine intervention.” No, I don’t believe in it. But right there in the food court, almost directly across from Mendy’s, there’s a water fountain.

With years of practice under my belt, I take off my wedding ring and slip it over the earpiece of my glasses. I fill a plastic drinking glass, pour water twice over my right hand, then twice over my left, and recite the brachah/blessing under my breath. There are no towels, and I haven’t thought to get napkins, so, as usual, I end up wiping my hands on my skirt. I crack open the sandwich box, make a motzi over the bread, and take a bite.

Twenty minutes later, I’m reciting Birkat haMazon/Grace After Meals from memory, because I don’t have the nerve to whip out my “baby Birnbaum” siddur/prayer book and read it. Did I miss a phrase in nodeh l’cha? I always think I’ve missed a phrase in nodeh l’cha when I’m doing it from memory. I probably did.


And there you have it. This is the first time in my life that I’ve ever done n’tilat yadayim, recited the motzi blessing over bread, and recited Birkat haMazon in a public food court.


Dwarfed.

By tradition.

Something gorgeous, glittering high above my head.

4 Comments:

Blogger Unknown said...

There isn't one IN Mendy's? Hmph. I was just there 2 weeks ago...

Though I didn't eat there. I brought my food home, and was locked out. I walked across the street to Chof. Chaim, walked in, washed, and went back and ate on the steps to my apartment while I waited for Serach.

Mon Jun 19, 04:00:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I'm not talking about any of the regular sit-down branches of Mendy's, where there are certainly n'tilat yadayim set-ups. I'm talking about the take-out stand in Grand Central, in the "food court." It's just an area of food stalls with tables in the middle. I don't think it's possible to set up a not-inside-a-bathroom sink with a n'tilat yadayim cup in such a location.

Mon Jun 19, 07:02:00 AM 2006  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

Three cheers for the Zócalo!

It's unfortunate, though, that the B5 episode in which Ivanova is the most obviously Jewish is also generally considered one of the worst episodes of the series.

Mon Jun 19, 08:08:00 PM 2006  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Ah, yes, the infamous first-season episode #14, "TKO." On the plus side, this is one of several episodes of B5 in which the subplot is much better than the plot. (Any takers for the 19th third-season episode, "Gray 17 is Missing"?) The scenes of Ivanova grappling with the death of the father who'd abandoned her emotionally, and finally choosing to sit shiva, were the best part of that ep., right down to a decent translation of "Kel molei rachamim" (as a substitute for the Kaddish that their rabbinical consultant probably advised them not to say, I'm guessing). On the other hand, if I ever catch that wardrobe person, I'll have her/his head. In all my 57 years, I've *never* seen a Jewish woman of Russian origin in a lace mantilla!

Tue Jun 20, 01:01:00 AM 2006  

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