It is the night of Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement. The rule is that we Jews fast from sundown to the next sundown on this “holiday.” Just for me, it doesn’t make a lot of sense. After all, what good does it do for a starving child in Somalia if I fast for one day? And why does God need the food? I know this is heretical, but much of religious ritual does not make sense to me.
I wanted to cram down some sushi before the fast so Alex and I ran over to our favorite sushi place, Yoshi, in ultra gay West Hollywood. I had expected it to be empty but it was amazingly packed. Just wildly packed.
Alex and I found a table and started to eat. Some poor soul came over to our table. He said he knew me slightly from the River Inn in Washington, D.C. He’s a federal court official who has just moved out here to work downtown at the federal courts building. Poor guy. He sold his house in D.C. for $700,000 and he thinks he’s rich. Uh, no. He missed that boat. He’ll be lucky to get a modest one bedroom condo for that price.
Well, too bad. He didn’t even know what neighborhoods he should look in. He’s really in trouble.
I suddenly focused on all of the noise and heat in the sushi place and felt panicky. Once in a great while I get attacks of claustrophobia and this was one. It was just too damned crowded in there.
I went to stand outside while Alex ate. A man came over to me to ask “if global capitalism would soon destroy American exceptionalism....”.
As Ren of Ren and Stimpy would say, “Maybe yes, and maybe no.”
I gave him a little speech about how hard work can overcome any problem and then Alex came out and we left.
“You’re a legend,” my interviewer said. “And you look great.”
Meaning, of course, “You look great for an old man.”
On the way home, we stopped at the CVS at La Cienega and Santa Monica. When I first moved to L.A. that space was a roller rink. Now, it’s an immense drug and grocery store. Dr. Kunwha, the stunningly beautiful Korean-American pharmacist, greeted me cheerily. A homeless man wearing ragged bib overalls with no shirt, smelling unbearably awful, hovered way too near me and said, “You’re Ben Stein. Why aren’t you in Washington with Obama?”
What is this with homeless people and economic punditry?
Back at home, I watched Gatsby for the billionth time. I really detest the Daisy Fay character but how I love Gatsby, Tom, Nick, Mr. Wilson and Meyer Wolfsheim. He’s truly terrifying. (That word again.)
Now, it’s definitely full-on Yom Kippur. I fasted, prayed, slept, swam, made a list of my sins (the usual, lust, greed, gluttony…). Then I rushed over to Temple Israel to attend Yizkor service. It was spectacularly good. Peaceful, quiet, no noisy kids, whom the rabbi had sternly ordered out of the sanctuary. The music was awe inspiring.
I always get a bit queasy when the reb and the prayer book talk about how the Europeans (not just the Nazis -- the Europeans) killed us Jews because we brought them the Ten Commandments. That’s nonsense. The Europeans and Nazis at the lead killed us Jews because we were “the other,” and humans hate “the other” as a general rule.
Darwin gave them the rationale to kill us because we’re inferior and would interfere with the breeding and cultivation of a master race. It was a “scientific” project of “human improvement” to kill the Jews. It had zero to do with religion.
Aside from that, the service was perfect. The rabbi reminded us that the Arabs had invaded Israel exactly forty years ago. I think of it every day. Israel was in mortal peril as Mrs. Meir screwed up the defense in every possible way. But Richard Nixon saved Eretz Israel. He was God’s hand stretched out for the Chosen People. Our rabbi said Moses was the most influential man who ever lived. Uh, no, that would be Jesus, if you consider him a man. But the greatest savior of Israel since the days of the Pharaohs was Richard Milhous Nixon. What an honor, what a gift, to have served this instrument of the Lord. That was what I was thinking as we prayed in our immense sanctuary.
After the service, I had to walk a very long way back to my car, but that was fine, too. Any exercise is good exercise. Just to be free to walk down the street in Hollywood. That’s wealth.
Then, a strange thing: for years now, a woman named Sarah, supposedly from Riverside, California, has been texting me asking me to meet her. She keeps telling me she’s in love with me and wants to have an affair with me. I keep avoiding her.
Today, I figured it out. She’s working for TMZ or someone else and they’re pranking me. So I said, “Sure. Come over and bring a beautiful blond and all the TV cameras you can find for Kimmel or TMZ or whoever you’re doing this for.”
To make a long story short, she didn’t show up. There are way, way, way too many crazy people out there. She often told me she was a Palestinian by heritage. Maybe she was planning some harm to me but at the last minute backed off. Or, again, maybe she just got high and stayed in her room taking acid.
It was a great relief to me when she didn’t show up. I could have my egg and meatloaf and sleep or try to sleep.
Meanwhile, as I pray, as I sleep, as I am stopped in traffic, I endlessly say it to myself: You are the most blessed man in the world. You have Alex Denman, the finest human on the planet, as your wife. You live in America, man’s greatest creation. You live in Southern California and Sandpoint, Idaho, the two best places on this earth. You have enough money for food and shelter. You have wonderful friends and a handsome son and beautiful daughter-in-law and gorgeous grandchild. Most of all, again, you live in America with Alex, the perfect American. Forgiving, strong, intelligent, fearless, insightful, slender. Perfect.
With all of my worthless sinning ways, the Almighty has shown unimaginable grace to me. How sweet it is.
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