By Jesse Turri
“Hey, what kind of hot dogs do you want?” I said, turning just in time to see Moshe disappear down the snack aisle. “Weird,” I said to myself. “I thought he was right next to me.”
I stood at the deli case for what must have been at least 20 minutes waiting to see if this guy would return. My knees were getting chilly because, well you know, those deli cases in supermarkets are kinda low to the ground; you have to bend down to pick-up any of those delicious packages of fully cooked (with the exception of bacon) processed meats, which are often smoked and normally cured using sodium nitrate. In case you don’t know, curing causes a chemical reaction whereby nitric oxide binds to the iron atom in myoglobin. Upon heating, a fairly stable pigment is formed–that nice pink color everyone likes.
Of course I had a hole in my jeans, which wasn’t helping matters; probably the result of crawling around on the floor too much with my son. Full disclosure though, I have really pointy knees, which I’m sure compounds the hole-in-the-jean problem. At some point I deluded myself into thinking that the knee holes looked cool. But now, having found myself in a crowded supermarket in front of a deli case with knee high frosty air invading my inner sanctum, they were seeming a little too “cool,” if you catch my drift.
Supermarkets can be fun places. I used to like going to them as a kid because, to a kid, it’s like going to an amusement park. Bright lights, colorful packaging, lots of weird people to look at. It’s pretty great. I remember my mother telling me stories of how she would often lose me in supermarkets and how I would always turn up in the freezer aisle trying to reach popsicles that, no matter how determined I was, could not be reached with tiny toddler arms. She recounts how one time, she caught me just as the freezer door was about to shut, which would have effectively sealed me in that frozen popsicle land forever. Of course for a kid that loves popsicles, that doesn’t seem like the worst thing.
“Have you got them?” a raspy Christian Bale, Batman-like voice flooded my ear. It was Moshe. He was back. “I’ve got the wine,” he held up what looked like an extremely old ass bottle of wine with a label that could barely be read. I think it said: 1865 Chateau Lafite. I wondered where he had gotten it because it looked like it came directly from someones basement.
Moshe winked at me and said wittingly, “You know, the ancient rabbis had this saying, ‘without wine, there is no joy.’ Ancient Jews viewed wine was a symbol of God’s incredible future blessing and abundance.”
“Interesting,” I said sarcastically, rolling my eyes. I handed him a package of Nathan’s Hot Dogs. I was pretty pissed off that he left me standing there that long.
Moshe looked happy though. “Kosher, awesome. I didn’t know Nathan’s made Kosher hot dogs,” he said. He handed the hot dogs back to me and said, “Get two more packs.”
Not realizing that I’d picked up the kosher variety of Nathan’s hot dogs, I asked “Do you maintain a kosher diet?”
He looked at me, chuckled slightly and smiled a sneaky half smile. “Not really,” he said. I thought I detected a hint of gnosis in his response, as if he knew something that I didn’t.
Moshe struck me as a curious fellow indeed. I didn’t know him that well; I’d actually just met him this morning. He had just started dating my wife’s best friend and we were all on our way to a wedding which we were invited to by some friends whom we did not know–which, by the way, also struck me as a bit curious. I’d never been invited to a wedding by people I’d never met before.
Moshe’s physical appearance was consistent with every Jewish stereotype you could think of (not I’m into stereotyping people, let’s be clear). He was tall, probably about 6’ 2”, with longer jet black hair that he kept combed back, almost pompadour style. He had pale, pasty white skin and a large nose that hooked at the end like a hawk beak. He also wore thick, oversized dark rimmed glasses, reminiscent of Elvis Costello. He was a really good looking guy in my opinion.
The wedding was being held in some rinky dink town in rural Central Pennsylvania called Morris, a town that, from what I knew, couldn’t have more than 200 people residing in and around it. And judging from the looks of the Morris Great Value, the “supermarket” we were currently patronizing, my suspicions that we were officially in redneck country were confirmed when I saw recipe cards on how to cook possum stew, squirrel and chitlins on the way in. Needless to say, I was disillusioned about this whole outing.
“Do you know what kosher is?” Moshe asked.
Without waiting for me to reply he told me.
“There is clean and then there is unclean.” He said. “In order to be in the presence of God you must be clean, because God is Holy. In the Jewish imagination, cleanliness was brought about by separation, by keeping things apart. For instance, one thing can be good in and of itself, and another thing can be good in and of itself, but these two thing should not overlap.”
“OoooK,” I said, a little aggravated now. This guy was really getting on my nerves. We were running late now.
He continued not seeming to acknowledge my antipathy. “Let me give you an example, Cheeseburgers are a good one. In order to eat meat you must kill something, something must die. Meat is a symbol of death. Dairy or milk comes from a creature that is alive, it also sustains life. Milk is a symbol of life. Life and Death cannot and should not, at any time, meet. They defile and contaminate each other. If you eat non-kosher food you contract a spiritual disease called tuma. So, no cheeseburgers.” Moshe raised his hands, palms up, shrugged and said “there you have it.”
The store got eerily quiet at that moment, the lights dimmed and flickered a bit. That’s when I heard the scraping. It sounded like, well, it sounded like someone was moving something extremely heavy. Stone being drug across a concrete floor.
“Do you hear that?” I asked, turning to find that Moshe had once again disappeared down the snack food aisle. This time I followed him.
I walked up to the front of the store, picking up hot dog buns on the way, but Moshe was nowhere to be found. In fact the store seemed to be completely empty. No customers pushing carts, no bag boys, no people stocking shelves. All the check-out lines appeared to be closed except one. It was the seven items or less line all the way at the end.
I moseyed over to the register and put my three packages of hot dogs on the conveyer belt. The woman behind the register smiled sweetly as she watched me approach. She was short, younger–I’d say college aged– with short black hair, porcelain skin, large round eyes and, with the exception of pointy ears, possessed every other pixie-like feature you could imagine.
“Hello, I’ve been waiting for you. Are you done shopping?” she asked in a soft, soothing tone.
“Yes. Wait, did you say you’ve been waiting for me?” I asked, not quite comprehending what was going on.
“Uh huh,” she said. “ Your friend payed for the wine and took a lot of it out to the car already. He asked me to tell you to grab this cart-full and take it with you. We’ll send the rest over later.”
My eyes followed her finger which was pointing at a cart full of wine bottles. They all looked exactly like the one Moshe had shown me earlier.
“Take the rest where, later?” I asked, still in a state of disbelief.
“To the wedding of course silly,” she laughed as if I’d cracked a joke.
“You’re going to the wedding too?” I asked.
“Yes, of course. The whole town is going. It’s a week long celebration!” She said excitedly. “Would you like a bag?” She asked politely.
Without waiting for my response she made the move to bag my food. I hadn’t noticed it when I first walked up to the register, but in the holder, where the plastic bags typically would be in most supermarkets, there was a pile of folded American flags which seemed to be converted into makeshift shopping bags. The cashier grabbed one from the rack and shoved my three packages of hot dogs and buns into the flag bag.
“Are those real flags that someone modified?” I asked half offended. I’m not what you would call patriotic, but I do tend to appreciate the freedoms of the country I live in and it’s sacred symbols.
“Yes, they are.” She said matter of factly.
“Don’t people get offended that you use American flags to bag groceries?” I asked, hoping my disapproval was coming through.
She blinked blinked twice, smiled sweetly and said “In California they make buildings in such a way that they are able to bend, sway, wobble and swoon with the ground when an Earthquake strikes. In other words, that which doesn’t bend breaks” Then she leaned closer to me and whispered in my ear “We don’t need flags were we’re going.”
Without warning, she turned her back on me and exited the store. The automatic door swooped open and shushed closed behind her. I picked up my flag bag of hot dogs and noticed there was writing stitched on the outside of the bag, it read: Isaiah 25:6-8. I knew it was a Bible verse. Probably one condemning gay people I thought to myself. I threw the flag bag in the cart full of 150 year old wine and followed her out of the store.
The girl was gone and the parking lot was empty, completely empty, except for two large cargo trucks where two guys were hard at work loading what looked like a series of enormous stone jars. Moving one of those things would probably make a sound similar to what I heard in the store I thought–stone being drug across concrete.
As I stood there, thinking this day could not get much stranger, I now noticed my car sitting at the far end of the parking lot where I had parked it. It wasn’t there before. I walked over to it slowly, pushing the cart full of wine across the black sea of a parking lot. As I neared my vehicle, I heard a faint tapping coming from my trunk; the closer I got, the louder it grew. I stood before the rear of my car with my keys out, listening to the tapping within my trunk, trying to overcome my fear. Was Moshe or one of the girls playing a joke on me? Was this really happening? Suddenly, in a moment of courage, I jammed the key in the lock and opened the trunk.