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Balancing Self with Religion Advice - Fair Play

Written by Jon Sindell

"So the team with me and Sammy gets creamed. Then Brad decides we have to mix things up to make the game fair, and he makes Sammy switch sides with a guy who can play. Now I'm up against Sammy. I go out for a pass, and Sammy's backpedaling like a stork on speed.

And he's guarding me close, really sticking on me, as if he gives a damn about football. Brad throws me a pass, and Sammy gets lucky and bats it away. Then he starts doing this goofy little stork dance, smirking at me like he would when I'd say something dumb about physics.

"So I go out again. Sammy comes running up to guard me, and his yarmulke falls off  and he actually stops to pick it up! You'd have thought he'd dropped the Hope Diamond! Brad zips the ball to me, and I catch it unguarded and run for the touchdown. And Sammy's teammates are pissed. Brad slaps me five and says, 'We should give the game ball to the Jewboy!' It didn't sound that bad when he said it except, he had this gleam in his eye. So I lowered my eyes and said 'Yeah.'

"Now they have the ball, and I'm guarding Sammy. They have to get to the next lamppost for a first down, and I'm giving him room, because if by some miracle he catches the ball, I can run up and stop him before he gets to the lamppost. Sammy goes out and turns around, and by some miracle, he doescatch the ball.

I come barreling in as he turns to run. I'm supposed to just touch him, that's why it's called touch. But I don't. I keep charging full speed and bury my shoulder right in his chest. His head snaps back and his glasses go flying, and you can hear his bones break when his arm hits the street.

"I'd never heard howling like that in my life. His mom comes tearing out of the house wailing like a banshee. I'm waiting to see how she's gonna look at me, but she just tears past like I don't even exist. But my mom's looking at me from the porch, standing in the shadows like a doll deflating. 'Cause she knows me. She knows. And that's the end of my football career. Three days later she ships me cross-country to live with my uncle."

"Take a deep breath, Dan."

"And do you know what I was doing, man, when my cousin Sammy was lying there on the ground, howling? I was standing there yelling, "Learn how to take a fall, man! Learn how to take a fall!"

"Shhh," James hushed. "Take a deep breath. Very good. And another."

I looked at him through blurry eyes.

"You've been holding that in a long time."

The light through the window was intensely white, like some filmmaker's version of the waiting room between life and death. My head rose above me like a disembodied Chagall fiddler } like a fiddler on the roof!

"Do you know much about Yom Kippur, James? It's about atonement in a major way. To really do it right, you're supposed to go to everyone you've wronged in the past year and tell them you're sorry."

"And you're planning to atone?" 

I stared at the wall, seeing nothing.

"Where is Sammy now?"

"Here in town, living with his parents in the house he grew up in. With his Orthodox wife and two kids: Abe and Solly."

 James returned my grin. "When's the last time you saw your cousin?"

 "In the emergency room. Mom wanted to be sure I'd see him like that."

 "I'm sorry, Dan. Our time is up."

I lingered at the doorway, but James eased me out with a definitive touch on the elbow. The waiting room was like church, full of aching people exchanging guilty glances. I walked downstairs on shaky legs. The mahogany banister was reassuring, like the solemn wooden furniture in Sammy's house.

I opened the door to the white autumn light. Hot dog wrappers and coffee cups swirled at my feet. My stomach growled; I liked the pain. Jesus was a Jew. Press a thorny crown upon my head.

I slid behind the wheel. My 6-year-old angel wanted to fast. And she'd beg for permission. I told her kids are exempted from fasting. The next day, she told her mom she was 'exempted' from setting the table because she had so much homework. But at dinnertime, she realized she didn't need our permission. She just crossed her arms and refused to eat. I begged her. "Please, darling. Just one little bite." Finally, she agreed to terms: a single mouthful of each dish on her plate.

The car drove me along. "How many roads must a man walk down?" Dylan was a Jew; an ex-Jew, that is. Would it hurt so much if he'd just stayed a Jew? That mocking smile of Sammy's dad. Why couldn't he let me be a regular kid? A plain old, regular American boy? But, noooo. That pitying smile when I'd show my ignorance of the Torah  like Sara's mocking smile when I'd stare as she played violin like a goddess. Couldn't she cut me some slack? Why was it up to me to be the strong one, when she was the one with music and a strong, loving family behind those drawn curtains?

The car turned onto the familiar street. If I'm not for myself, who will be? If I'm only for myself, what am I? Twenty years I'd spent building walls, and adding to my armor: nice wife, great daughter, good job, decent pay but I would walk naked into Sammy's house.

----

 Jon Sindell is the author of the unpublished novel Head Trips, from which Sammy's House is adapted.  For the record, he is a baseball man.

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