June 14, 2020

Snippets XX: Your Sister’s a Werewolf


Author’s note: I didn’t plan to run this one this early, but given everyone seems to have forgotten about that whole “pandemic” business, I figured it best to get all these COVID-19 references out of the way.


In the very early days of the pandemic, when COVID-19 began hitting the Orthodox Jewish community pretty hard, a speaker truck began roving around the streets near my apartment. I should explain the neighborhood boasts a very large Orthodox population, with a number of dense and insular enclaves in the adjoining neighborhoods. The speaker truck was blasting what sounded like a very angry pre-recorded speech by a rabbi. It was all in Yiddish so I didn’t catch much of it, save for the words “Corona virus” and “Mengele.”

            Now, a month or two after that, with the lockdown still in effect, that same speaker truck drove around and around our block once again on a Tuesday afternoon. This time things were different. Instead of an angry speech, the recording blaring from the loudspeaker atop the truck seemed more lighthearted. It was also half in English, so I could understand what was going on.

            “Moishe’s Music Truck will be appearing on this block in five minutes!” And excited voice shouted. “Come out to your porches and help celebrate your community!”

            This of course made me curious, though I didn’t go outside. I didn’t need to, having a perfect perch there by the kitchen window. So I waited, and sure enough, five minutes later here came another truck equipped with a loudspeaker. This time it was blasting what was clearly pre-recorded klezmer music. Given the truck was crawling down the narrow street at about five miles an hour, the music was accentuated by all the honking, impatient horns from all the cars backed up behind it.

            I happen to like klezmer music, so this didn’t annoy me at all, though it did leave me wondering. As the summer progressed, is this going to be a regular thing? And would the traditional Mister Softee truck be supplanted by the Klezmer Mobile?

*       *       *

The one advantage I’ve found to wearing the N95 mask whenever I go out is that I can go to the store or the bank with snot hanging out of my nose and my mouth smeared with chocolate and blood, and no one will be the wiser!

*       *       *

We talk about things being mind-boggling, but can things other than minds be boggled? Can something be hair-boggling or dog-boggling? Just curious.

*       *       *

The far-right groups instigating the country’s anti-lockdown protests keep referring to the government as “fascist.” Um, but isn’t that what they want?

*       *       *

Back in the early Seventies, we were friends with the Millers. We’d met when Mr. Miller was in the Air Force with my dad, and we lived next door to each other on the airbase. Then we moved to Green Bay, and the Millers moved to Appleton, about forty-five minutes south of us, just beyond Kaukauna. Three or four times a year, we’d drive down and spend a Saturday or Sunday with them. They had a son my age, so that was cool with me. (Only long after the fact would I learn he was mildly retarded, but that’s neither here nor there.)

            Anyway, we always headed back to Green Bay after dark. The highway we took, as it happened, went past the Valley Drive-In theater. Now, the Valley was three or four hundred yards off the highway, right? But it had a very large screen. Seeing what they were playing was never a problem, and in fact became the second highlight of the trip home, the first being when we passed the Shell gas station with the Huge sign out front with the “S” burned out. So you’d be driving along a highway in the middle of nowhere at night, and come across a big electric sign announcing you were entering HELL. I always loved that.

            Anyway, in the early days, The Valley screened major first run features, so as we passed I caught glimpses of everything from The Godfather to Escape From the Planet of the Apes to Godzilla vs. The Smog Monster. I couldn’t hear them, of course, but for those few seconds as we sped past,  I could see them, just a scene or two, and I always got very excited. Already at six or seven, I was nutty about movies, even from a distance.

            Then the first-run features vanished, and for a year or two, The Valley only seemed to screen Laurel and Hardy films. I don’t know if it was always the same one, if they were suddenly only screening The Flying Deuces every weekend, but it was definitely all Laurel and Hardy all the time. I had to wonder what kind of audiences they were drawing. Nowadays I wonder if the management simply gave up, turning the drive-in into a place for horny teenagers to park without having to worry about the expense of renting those first run features. Just give them Laurel and Hardy as a cover story to tell their folks, and everyone was happy. Still, I always got a little thrill to see anything on that big screen way in the distance.

            Then the Valley’s screen went dark. This made me very sad. At least that Shell station never got around to replacing that burned-out “S.”

            I’d given up on The Valley during our trips home from Appleton until one night I learned they were back in business when my mom looked out her window and said, “Oh, my god!” I of course leaped to my own window in the back seat to see, just for a moment, that The Valley was now screening porn.

            I seriously doubt it was hardcore, more likely, being the mid-Seventies, it was just softcore sex comedies like The Swinging Cheerleaders and the like, but when you’re eleven or twelve, boobs are boobs, and I saw them. Suddenly I stopped caring about seeing my mildly retarded friend on these trips to Appleton, focusing all my attention on the trip home and how many boobs I might see this time. Unfortunately it was right around then that our visits to see the Millers grew less frequent, and then stopped completely. Goddammit all!

*       *       *

Do Avon Ladies still exist?

*       *       *

In 1982, four or five of us were over at our friend Paul’s house. Paul was the first one of our small circle of geeky friends to get a VCR, so every now and again we gathered at his house to watch a movie. The movies were always intentionally dreadful, but it was fun. Sitting around his dining room table afterward, drinking Pepsi, eating snacks and joking around, Paul started talking about his second grade teacher, Mrs. Sampson. As he described her, it slowly dawned on him that not only was she a terrible teacher, she was a terrible human being.

            Now, Paul could be a little obsessive and anxious, and the more he talked about Mrs. Sampson’s assorted crimes against humanity, the more agitated he became. It finally peaked when he decided the only thing he could possibly do at that moment was call her on the phone and tell her what an awful teacher she’d been. The rest of us reminded him it was about eleven-thirty on a Saturday night in Green Bay, but nothing was about to deter him. He grabbed the phone book (remember those?) and flipped it open. Sure enough, she was listed. As we all watched in horrified amusement, Paul picked up the phone and dialed the number. His end of the conversation that followed went like this:

            “Hello . . . is Mrs. Edna Sampson there, please? . . . I’m sorry—did I wake you? . . . Are you her husband . . . No, I’m just looking for your wife. This will only take a minute . . . Oh . . .I’m sorry.”

            He slammed the phone down and, amid his explosive guffaws, squeaked out, “She DIED three years ago!”

            Paul, it’s worth noting, now works for the government.

*       *       *

I found a large and heavy box in the building’s entryway, and knew exactly what it was: a delivery of some much needed pet supplies. I dragged it to the hallway outside our apartment, grabbed a box cutter, and began unpacking two twenty-pound bags of litter and about six cases of cat food cans.

            As I was doing this, the eleven-year-old who lives upstairs returned from outside and headed for his apartment. He’s a decent kid, so far as I can tell,. He said hello as he passed, but then paused halfway up the stairs.

            “So . . .” he asked a little hesitantly. “Do you have . . . pets?”

            I considered the litter and cat food piled up on the bench in front of me for just a beat.

            “No,” I told him. “Why do you ask?”

            That should keep him going for awhile.


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