Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Flaming Latkes

When I woke up feeling fantastic a couple days later, I went to a couple seminars, did some work, and, before I knew it, it was Hanukkah.
I’m going to assume that you, Infinitely Wise Reader, know about the holiday: the historical basis and how it’s Judaism’s attempt at competing with Christmas. What you may not know is that, while we do have eight nights of presents, the first seven presents are tremendous letdowns. Like everything else, there’s a practical reason to this. Imagine, if you will, eight nights of stupendous presents—gifts that would only result in amazement, bewilderment, and speechlessness.
The family would be bankrupt if the kid were past the age of two.
So, necessarily, the first seven gifts are things like socks and trapper-keepers, while the last one is the shock-and-awe gift.
In my experience, it didn’t matter, as we celebrated both Christmas and Hanukkah. What mattered was that it was because of this holiday that I got into my first fight. See, when I lived in Ohio, most of my friends were Greek. The content of this fight was based on, verbatim, “Israel has better rockets than Greece and could beat Greece even better now than we did back then.” Yes, my first—and only—fight was because of that bizarre dual nationality that every Jewish-American feels at some point in their lives.
The Musical Theatre Society has a habit of monopolizing karaoke nights on campus. During term times, the entire society would swing into Rutherford Bar at eightish, pull tables together, and put in for songs. When I went, I thought of it as Jack Daniel’s Nights and generally got too drunk for my own good. At this point late in the semester, I was in a funk because of a girl in Woolf, and I started drinking late in the afternoon with The Drunkard, and the two of us staggered over to karaoke. I growled my way through “Boy Named Sue” and then The Drunkard started chatting up a girl at the other end of the table. I decided I’d follow suit.
I’ve never been smooth. I’d describe my looks as decent—everything’s where it should be and I don’t have an eye that bulges out or a horn growing out of my head or anything. But I’m well aware that my best quality is my sense of humor. At some point, I started screaming about how people who don’t like baseball can fuck right off, and generally infuriated most people in Rutherford. At any rate, I did manage to start talking to someone, but made the mistake of inviting her over for the Hanukkah party to “eat disgustingly greasy potato pancakes and get abso-fucking-lutely shithoused.” It sounded good at the time.
Anyway, cut to the night of the Hanukkah party and, aside from one Jewish girl from a block down, Rebecca, Giggles, and Giannis, it was made up of we Thes. The Drunkard sprawled out on the couch clutching a bottle of wine. The Student, Rebecca, Natasha (the girl from the block down), and The Writer were trying to explain the game of dreidle to Giggles and Giannis. The Traveler stood over the stove, one hand in a mixing bowl of latke batter, the other pouring olive oil onto a frying pan. The Stalker sat cross-legged on our large ottoman placed by the radiator. I leaned up against the sink, a bottle of wine in my hand, watching everyone and, occasionally, glancing over at my phone—perched perilously on the window sill, the only place it would get reception—seeing if anyone was calling to be let in.
“You know,” said The Traveler, “inviting a girl to a Hanukkah party probably isn’t the best way to go about it.”
“Fuck off, I know that,” I said.
“Wait,” said The Drunkard from the couch. He tried to sit up, failed, and plopped back down. “Goddamnit,” he said. He successfully sat up this time and scooted back so that his back was against the armrest on the couch. “You tried that?”
“I was drunk.”
“Drunk and stupid,” said The Drunkard. He tipped the bottle back and pointed at me. “I mean, hey, points for thinking outside of the box, but look at this gathering.”
I did. At the table, Giannis asked which squiggly line meant what for the twelfth time, Giggles was suggesting that the entire game could be streamlined, and Rebecca and Natasha were trying to guilt The Student into taking Rebecca to a very expensive restaurant in town before she left for the holiday. Judging by the way The Student was constantly readjusting the cuffs on his sleeves, it was working. The Stalker sat quietly, eyes darting from person to person in the room, drinking from his cider. “Okay, I’ll admit that it doesn’t have the largest appeal across vast swaths of the population, but—”
“Jesus Christ!” shouted The Traveler.
I looked over and saw that one of the latkes on the frying pan had erupted into flames. “Jesus Christ, throw it out of the window!”
In a flash, The Drunkard was up off the couch. He dashed to where I kept my utensils, grabbed a spatula, took up the flaming latke, and threw it out of the window. We all rushed to the windows to see where it had landed and saw that it had sailed through the air two feet in front of someone walking around with headphones on. They looked up at us with fear in their eyes and Natasha waved at them. “Happy Hanukkah!” she shouted.
“Say, Traveler,” said The Student. “How about using a little less oil with the next batch?”
The Traveler, pale, nodded. “Yeah.”
The Drunkard heaved himself back onto the couch as we dissipated back to the table. He drank from his wine and started humming a song. “Narrator.”
“Yeah?” I asked.
“You heard me. Sing us a song, Tevye.”
Natasha punched me in the arm. Hard. I rubbed it and winced. “You didn’t tell me you got the part.”
“Slipped my mind.”
She punched me again. I winced. There would definitely be a bruise.
“What?” asked Giannis.
“The play I’m in.”
“You are in a play?” he asked, eyebrow raised as if I hadn’t explained to him what was going on five times before.
“Yes,” I said. “The play I’m in. I told you last night and the night before that. Fiddler on the Roof. The Jew play.”
“Oh, the Jew play.” He spun the dreidle and knocked the table in front of The Student. “You and me will play for a while together, okay? Five pounds to start.” He put down five pounds on the table.
The Student said, “Fuck. Five quid to start with? That’s a bit much, don—”
“Just throw down,” said Rebecca.
The Student did.
“Hey, Narrator. Traveler,” said The Drunkard. “What’re we doing once we’re out of latkes?”
I shrugged. The Traveler said, “You mean aside from feeling disgusting from eating about a pound of latkes each? I don’t know.”
“I humbly posit that we go drinking. Like, heavily drinking. Such a bender that would put whatever we have done on Purim in the past to shame.” (A commandment for Purim states that one should get so drunk that it is hard to tell one person from the next.) “We shall build up to such a blackout that London during the Blitz will look like modern-day Tokyo at night. What do you say?”
“I’ve never met anyone so eager to black out,” said The Traveler.
“I like to think of it as time travel, and what red-blooded American doesn’t want to travel through time?”
“Your logic is flawless. Batch up,” said The Traveler.
I went over to the table, got the plate with the slowly-building mounds of latkes, and put the next four on top. Rivulets of grease trickled down the cakes and pooled on the bottom and, just for a moment, I was about to throw up, because I realized that, at this rate, I’d be the one eating all of these for the next week and a half. “Well,” I said, “what the hell? I don’t have class tomorrow.”
“Tomorrow’s Saturday,” said The Traveler.
“Exactly,” I said. “I don’t have class tomorrow.”
“Traveler?” asked The Drunkard. “Wanna go? We’ll paint campus red. We’ll have such fun that people will refer to us as ‘Those guys who had a whole hell of a lot of fun.’ Whaddya say?”
The Traveler shrugged. “Yeah, sure, why not? Mind you, we still have about a quarter pound of latke mix to go through and—”
The Drunkard stood up, picked up the mixing bowl and dumped it out of the window. I heard someone below shout, “Malacka!”
“Drunkard, please don’t do that,” I said. “There are people in this college who know where I live and can kick my ass pretty easily. And, really, you don’t know who you’re dumping latke mix on.”
“Ah,” he said, “but neither do you. Assuming that you know the person who I dumped latke mix on is nothing more tha—”
“Fine,” I said, “shut up.”
“Okay,” The Drunkard said, clapping his hands and wobbling as he stood up. “Yo. Check it. We’re going to go get blitzed.”
“Where?” asked The Stalker.
The Drunkard whirled on him. “No. You can fuck right off. You’re terrifying and will do nothing but make us have a negative amount of fun. This is a fun night, God damn it.”
The Stalker shrugged. “I’ll find you. I can always find you.”
“See? That? That’s what I’m talking about. Fuck off, damn it. The rest of you. I don’t know where we’re going. Who wants to join us in a wander through campus until we find somewhere worth going to?”
“Eh.” Natasha said. “I like to get up in the morning.”
“The morning is for undergrads,” reasoned The Drunkard. “We are postgrads. The night is ours!”
“Dear God,” said The Student. “What have you already had to drink?”
“Never mind that,” said The Writer, “what matters is the quantities. Neanderthal here is so immune to the effects of alcohol that he must have had—”
“And you,” said The Drunkard. “You’re a downer. You can fuck right off, as well.”
“Hmm,” said The Student. He spun the dreidle and lost another two quid. “I don’t think I’ll be joining you guys. I’ve got some more research to gather for my damned Conrad essay.”
“Why are you doing an essay on Conrad?” asked The Traveler, now at the sink and cleaning out some of the stuff he’d used to make the latkes. “Haven’t you gone on about ten rants about how you hate the man and his entire body of work?”
“Yes,” said The Student. “Yes, I have. However, I have no other option. My choices are either Conrad or a novel by a self-aggrandizing woman who owned a coffee plantation and was shocked when the native workers left to join revolutionary movements. It’s a choice between two evils, and sadly, I can’t come up with a valid essay topic on Kipling other than: Kipling was totes awesome. Don’t think that would fly. Damn it!” He put another two quid in the pot.
Giannis smiled and said, “I like playing with you.”
“You, Greek,” said The Drunkard. “You want to come with us? Drinky drinky?”
“Would you like to go to K-Bar?”
The Drunkard shrugged. “They’ve got booze there. I don’t see why we shouldn’t.”
“In that case,” Natasha said, “I’m going to head out.” She stood up and gathered the remaining bags of gelt that she’d brought. “You boys have fun killing your livers tonight.”
“M’lady,” The Drunkard said, “we always do.”
She left and The Student, now out somewhere in the neighborhood of twelve pounds, ran his hands through his hair. “Okay, I’m broke now, so I couldn’t go out anyway. Thanks, Zaf.”
“No,” he said, “thank you.”
The Writer stood up, put on his jacket, and slung his bag over his shoulder. “Yeah, I have to get going. Must get up in the morning to do my writing, after all.”
“Yes,” said The Stalker. “Eight in the morning with a raisin ba—”
“Stop it,” everyone else in the room said.
The Stalker stood, smiled, and walked out of my flat without another word.
“He’s going to kill us all before the year is out,” The Traveler said.
“Probably,” I said. “I’ve had a good run, though.”
The Student checked his phone. “I’ve made friends with rugby players. I could get them to be my entourage. No death for me. C’mon Becca, let’s head out.”
We said bye and helped The Traveler scrape the congealed grease off of the pan and finished cleaning. Giannis clapped his hands and said, “So, now I will get ready, okay?” He left the kitchen and went into his room.
I’d gone out for drinks with Giannis before, and I knew that when he said he was going to get ready, it meant that there was a wait of at least half an hour coming up. This, of course, was the perfect amount of time to get a nap in, so I went over to the sofa, kicked The Drunkard off, and sprawled.
“What do you think you’re doing?” he asked.
“Zaf’s getting ready. We’ve got about half an hour.”
The Drunkard snorted. “You’re kidding. There’s no way he’ll take that long to get ready.”
“Oh? Just watch. You and The Traveler will be standing there, engrossed in an awkward, while I’m here, enjoying my power nap on a sofa more comfortable than my bed.”
And, sure enough, I was right—except for the power nap. Whenever I started breathing deeply the sign of sleep—The Drunkard threw a balled-up napkin at me. Anyway, Giannis walked back in after half an hour, looking to all the world as if he’d just splashed some water on his hair and said, “Okay, we go.”
“What the hell?” asked The Drunkard. He was getting antsy. This was cutting into his drinking time. “You spent half an hour to do nothing?”
“I did hair and brushed my teeth,” said Zaf.
“You did your hair?” he sputtered. “Your hair? Are we going into a beauty contest? Are we go—”
“Yep,” I said, “we’re going. Aren’t we, Traveler?”
He was seated on the large Ottoman, reading a copy of The Daily Mail. (For some reason, editions of this paper kept turning up in my flat. It was highly ironic, as Zaf, Chacko, and I were not British and, for all I could tell, we were all relatively liberal.) “What?” The Traveler asked.
“We’re going drinking before The Drunkard tries to start a fight with Zaf.”
“I could kick his ass,” said The Drunkard.
“Eh. Giannis was in the Army.”
“Yes,” Giannis said. “I killed seven men when they fired at me. It was not good. I do not like talking about it. Let’s go drinking.”
The Drunkard stood, confused, looking at Giannis. The Traveler folded up the paper and said, “That’s a shame. I was really getting into this article. Apparently America is a Britain-hating cesspool.” He tossed it onto the sofa and said, “Narrator, who buys this paper?”
“I do,” said Zaf. “I run out of toilet paper sometimes.”
“I like this man,” said The Traveler.
We walked out of the kitchen and made our way towards K Bar.

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