Friday afternoon I saw the Rabbi from our congregation in Barnes & Noble. I passed in front of him as he was sitting at a table in the RELIGIOUS section reading and taking notes. A large coffee table size book, THE KABALA, MOSES & THE CATSKILL TUMMLERS, was resting on the table as he held it upright with one hand and wrote with the other. I don’t know what he was doing in New Haven at four in the afternoon when he should have been home in Westbrook preparing for Shabbes and the evening service. I was almost tempted to go to Temple and see if maybe the Kabala had Moses as a Tummler in his early days.
As I scurried around an aisle of books, off to his side—almost behind him, I felt like a cartoon character hopping from tree to tree. I wanted to get a glimpse of his writing. Moving another row I could see over his shoulder. I was like an umpire leaning over the catcher waiting for the pitch. I separated several books for a better view. Two teenage girls I knew walked by giggling and avoiding eye contact. I smiled and motioned a hello. Looking up at the books I’d pushed out of the way I saw that I was in the GAY & LESBIAN section.
Just before the Rabbi closed The Kabala book and slid his chair back I saw a flash of yellow and black. The book didn’t close all the way. Putting his note pad in his pocket he walked from the table towards the door. I came out of hiding and lifted the cover of the book. I saw another tucked inside, much like my old Mad Magazine inside my Physical Geography book in high school. The inside book was OLD TESTAMENT SERMONS FOR DUMMIES. I knew that information would come in handy some day but I wasn’t sure how. After all, what could I extract from the rabbi—A holiday aliyah, a business endorsement from the bema during one of his sermons? I knew I’d think of something.
I once again considered going to services to listen to his cribbed sermon, but instead I called my wife, Elaine, to meet me in New Haven for dinner and a movie. Elaine didn’t share my feeling of having ‘gotten the goods’ on the Rab Man. I saw this as a religious experience of sorts—a gift and signal from above. Elaine, loving and supportive as always, saw it as sophomoric.
The following week the Rabbi called and asked me to drop by his Study. After exchanging pleasantries and hemming and hawing for an interminable few minutes, he finally came out with the reason for the visit. He offered his support should I ever decide that I wanted to “walk out of the closet” as he put it. I thought about the two girls and realized where he’d gotten his misinformation. He nodded his perception of a wise man nodding conspiratorially as I told him that his information was wrong and that he should tell the girls that they were mistaken and let the rumor die.
I stood to leave and he gave me a stiff hug goodbye, which made both of us uncomfortable. He had no idea that I knew about the Sermons For Dummies book. No one, not even a man of God, learns an easy lesson, I wanted to tell him, and follow it up with a hug of my own; but I silently left his study carrying the smell of his beard with me still trying to figure out how to benefit from my golden nugget of information.
www.paulbeckmanstories.com Paul Beckman sells real estate.