I guess Rawly asked for it, striking up conversations with strangers in bus cabins, especially a Jew in full costume dress – a Daniel Boon looking hat minus the tail, black blazer and slacks, white buttoned down shirt, knotted strings dangling down from both sides, full beard.
“What’s that you have on your head?” asked Rawly.
“A shtreimel,” he said.
“Sounds like a pastry,” replied Rawly in the best of ways.
The man laughed, so did Rawly.
“What’s your name?” asked Rawly.
There was a pause, a throat clear, shuffle of the feet, and then,
“My name is Shlomo.”
This was followed by another pause, some rubbing of the hands, a deep breath and….
“Do you know why I pray?” asked Shlomo. “You might think it’s stupid and useless since a bus could hit us any second. Snatch us up. Take a 7-year old as easily as a 70-year old, man or woman, good or bad, random.”
Rawly started to yawn, but kept the caffeine course, in case he ever got his chance against what was beginning to sound like a crusade, strange for a Jew, Rawly thought. They usually keep to themselves.
“I pray,” Shlomo continued, “Because there is a next life in Judaism, the transmigration of souls, the gilgul, souls moving from one body to the next. Everything we do is preparation for what we become.”
Rawly had heard of Hanukkah, dreidels, Woody Allen and some old Jewish prize fighters and oh yeh, he knew about Jews being kicked out of Spain and Russian, the Holocaust, and so on, awful tragedies, but Jews and reincarnation? That was for Hinduism or Buddhism or one of those isms.
Rawly took a deep breath and during the inhale, an orange smell invaded his nostrils, aroused a memory of two Torah Junkies sneaking a peek through a Brooklyn Bar window to catch some baseball playoff action.
“Twitchell,” Rawly said, as in Wayne Twitchell the pitcher. He clapped his hands like a bleacher creature does during a towering fly ball, that orgasmic release of a long ball so near. He did this when he knew his objective was a bulls-eye, in this case, to transfer Shlomo’s religious fever to baseball.
Rawly had become a crusader of his own, a bit hypocritical, but he kept the baseball missionary course, and quickly made some ripples. Shlomo began to doven right there in the bus cabin, back and forth, mumbling in some undecipherable tongue, eyes nearly closed, some sort of defense? A protective measure? A fence to keep Rawly, the outsider away?
“Ron Jaworski,” Rawly sang, thinking the ‘ski’ at the end might remind Shlomo of Poland and the wonderful Yiddish culture that thrived there for hundreds of years, to bring him back into the conversation. Then he threw in an Otis Birdsong, the last name sounding like a psalm, followed by an Eastwick to honor the pitcher Rawly was named after and then Bill Nahorodny and Biff Pocoroba,” the names strung together…..Jaworski-Birdsong-Eastwick-Nahorodny-Pocoroba a sporty equivalent to the endless cast of Biblical characters.
And what do you know, Shlomo rubbed his beard; his back went straight, no more dovening back and forth, no more mumbling. His eyes no longer squinted either. He pulled out a bible, a “Torah” he called it, and thumbed to something called Ecclesiastes and began to read, not mumble, but read, real loud and clear. The others in the cabin made exodus. Rawly stuck it out, good thing because with the words BE MERRY, he perked up and remembered he had a half-dozen John Kruk cards stuffed in his back pocket.
Kruk to Rawly epitomized the state of being MERRY. He scratched his palms, tickled them to make sure this was all real. When he felt something, he knew the MERRY and KRUK was more than a coincidence so he removed the cards and spread them out like a Japanese fan. Shlomo looked on with a smile.
“Why don’t you and I go to tomorrow’s twi-night doubleheader,” Rawly suggested, almost insisted.
“What’s a doubleheader?” asked Shlomo.
The bus arrived. Passengers boarded. Rawly and Shlomo stayed.
“This bus cabin is like a dugout” Rawly said.
“A cave,” replied Shlomo , “The place where Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and his son Elazar dwelled for 12 years, surviving on carobs and water, studying and praying all day.”
It was time for Rawly to discuss Tony La Russa’s experimentation with pitching staffs.
Another bus came. Passengers boarded. Rawly and Shlomo stayed.
Rawly handed three Kruk cards to Shlomo. It was his turn to talk.
Back and forth they went.
All they were missing was a fiddle and a harmonica.