My TELLING OF ISAAC BALSHEVIS SINGER’s IT CAN ONLY GET WORSE:

16 Feb

Isaac, Yitzchak, was a man with a talent for writing stories that teach. IT CAN ONLY GET WORSE is a learning lesson of how good life can be, we just don’t know it. My talent for storytelling came from my professor at Stern College for Women. Yup. I am a Stern girl, a YU or as we would joke, a Y ME girl. I attended Yeshiva University’s Manhattan campus, dorming down on 34th Street, walking to studies over on Lex as we called it fit in with the NYC fashionistas. Truth be told- Stern Girls wearing long sleeves and even longer skirts never quite made New York’s Fashion grade. Heck, we were in college. We didnt care. We did it our way- frumskie style. 

My professor was Peninah Schram. I could sit and listen to her weave a life lesson in a way words would be remembered- artfully. Years later I reached out to her at a time my life was twisted into itself. I was soaked in so much pain the steps it took for me to make it from the cab to the cafe screamed shades of this story below. Life is about pulling out the pain that smothers us, one layer of truthS at a time. Peninah hadnt changed, to my eyes. OK, the hair was silver- fitting crown for a Queen amongst women. I had become that tip-a-truck I would tease others about. But yet that day, we gave each other a gift that was priceless. I gifted Peninah words I think every educator wants to hear from a student- “you rocked my world. Thank you.” Peninah told me she had felt way back in the days of Methusaleh when she taught me that I would be someone. I had skills. I was blanketed in a world that told me I didnt. YET, Peninah’s artful way of writing stayed with me over the decades (grin- forever 22 so not that long.) I frustrated the hell out of my National Journalism Center teachers in that I got the idea of Nut Graph et al I just didnt write Nut Graph et al. I wrote lessons that after someone walked away it would hit them OHHHHH that is what she means. Yup, I told stories for retelling and taking ownership of. So, Mr. Singer, forgive me for writing your story with a dash of Carrie or Cara or whomever…. Thank you Peninah for my present of me. And now…. Isaac’s story as he would never tell it…..

My TELLING OF ISAAC BALSHEVIS SINGER’s IT CAN ONLY GET WORSE:   The man came to the Rabbi, all tzedroit, ferklempt, fermacht- yinglish lesson here- he was ripping his hair out of his head. His wife was driving him crazy. She said their house was too small. The poor man was bending over backwards to please a woman he could not please. The Rabbi stroked his beard and stroked his beard and…. You get the picture… until the man said: Rabbi, enough beard lengthening!!!! WHAT CAN I DO!!!!

The Rabbi leaned in to the man and said: Go home and bring the cow into the house. This being Eastern Europe back in shtetl days, cows were part of the equation, fitting perfectly in to this creative retelling of Singer’s classic story.

The man said: Rabbi!!!! Are you crazy? Cant you hear what she is doing to me now? Cant you see what she will do to me when I bring the cow into the house? It can only get worse!!

The Rabbi said: You came asking for my help? Either you want my help or you don’t. God gives us the ability to make choices. You choose.

The man grumbled, went home and led the heifer from the yard in to the house. Well, talk about World War TWENTY. Pots and pans flew. Anything that wasn’t tied down flew. The man ducked and dived. His wife shrieked: WHAT ARE YOU DOING? I thought you went to ask the Rabbi advice and you bring me THIS? A COW? In THE HOUSE? It can only get worse!!

The man said: BUT THE RABBI SAID…!!

The week went on. Things got worse. His wife grumbled more. The cow got in the way. Their floor was dotted with cow puckies. Every so often the 3rd stomach in the cow’s belly did what cow bellies do- peppering the air with cow burps and the stench of hay, grass or whatever she ate. And if the man and his wife were quick enough, her pee hit the bucket not the floor, the case if the man and his wife did not get there in time. Well, as if this wasn’t predictable, the man was back at the Rabbi’s by week end.

The man said: RABBI!!! I brought the cow in to the house. It didn’t make things better. It made THINGS WORSE!!!! It can only get worse!!

The Rabbi leaned in to the man and said: Go home. Now bring the horse into the house. This being Eastern Europe back in shtetl days, horses, mules, chickens and sheep were part of the equation, fitting perfectly in to this creative retelling of Singer’s classic story.

The man went home. The second week, as per Rabbi’s directions, he brought the horse into the house. When his wife’s screaming got untenable, he would go back to Rabbi for advice. Eventually, the whole yard full of animals was now inside their house. The man and his wife could barely squeeze around their room. They wore clothes pins on their noses to keep the farm animal smells out. They smelled of horse and cow and sheep and mule and chicken and, no, not pig (Rabbis means kosher) remember. 

The man’s wife was threatening to rearrange his body parts if he did not go back to the Rabbi for a solution. The man ran as fast as his wife could chase him pleading: Rabbi, rabbi. You have to help me. You got me in to this you have to help me. It can only get worse!!

The Rabbi stroked his beard and stroked his beard and…. You get the picture. The man cried: Rabbi, enough with the making your beard longer. What can I do? It can only get worse!!

Rabbi leaned in to the man and said: Go home and take ALL the animals outside of the house. 

The man said: Rabbi, that’s all.

Rabbi stroked his beard, smiled a hint. His eyes twinkled.

The man ran home. He shooed all the animals out in to their yard. His wife was standing behind him with an iron pot in hand. Who knows, maybe her idea was to make sure her husband stayed in the yard, too. The house emptied of animals, the wife looked around her home and beamed. The man came in from the yard, thinking he was banished to the dog house for life. He saw his wife beaming. He smiled too. The man and his wife danced a kezatzki for joy in their now empty home that felt like a mansion… relishing in the wisdom of their Rabbi who knew their home was a mansion, they just needed to see this.

And in writing this classic, I see me that I lost somewhere along life’s journey of high roads and low roads. Just seeking middle ground.

 

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