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Assimilation. (Short Story).

November 3, 2018

cropped-12301412301.jpgRoss had commented under his breath, “Never understood Hanukkah or why my dad cares…”

“Jesus celebrated Hanukkah you know.” Doug had commented to the guy sitting across from him. And of course the other guy gave the same response to anything of a religious nature.

“No, I didn’t know that, but good for Jesus.” So replied the younger looking man in the suit and tie of a lawyer he was, “Not really sure what that has to do with what we were discussing though, Doug.”

“We were discussing Jewish history, Ross, you are the one who brought it up.”

Frowning at the suggestion, “Did I?” Ross didn’t relax of course as history wasn’t his hobby let alone interest of any kind. “When did I bring it up? All I said was that Jews down through the ages have been observing a religion of survival and not much else…They refuse to assimilate to the country they are in, Doug….”

Doug wasn’t surprised by the answer, “Oh, come on, Ross, it’s more than that that has kept the Jews alive and surviving.”

Ross didn’t see it that way, “I’m not Jewish, Doug, so I can’t help that.” Ross turned the page on the travel magazine he had brought with him and was already bored with, “As I have said numerous times before I am sure, I could probably name of the books on history on one hand that I have bothered to read and maybe finished. And all for a class I had to take at college some years ago…I really don’t like reading if I don’t have to.”

Still trying to get passed the number of books he claimed to have read, “Only five books?”

“I’m not into history, Doug. Don’t have any interest in studying the past.” He sipped his coffee, “Never found it worth the effort or even the time to do so. I’m to busy at the law practice to read for the fun of reading….” Remembering something he found unpleasant, “I was a businessman for a while when I was working for my dad’s antique store; business I understand…it’s as boring as hell, but I was a businessman for a while….”

“What about the history behind the antiques, Ross?”

“What about them?” Ross of course answered seriously, “I sold old stuff to people who thought the past was better or more interesting I guess for them…” The coffee was sipped again and it was apparent he wasn’t pleased about something in the taste, “They can’t make coffee in this place…” He wanted to get up but sipped at the coffee, “Is it so difficult to get a descent cup of coffee in the morning.” Returning to Doug who waited patiently, “I spent ten years working for my father in that store. Ten long bloody years until I finished my classes and got my law degree.” He placed the cup on the table, “I should get something to eat as it’s going to be a long day…”

Doug tried to simply smile and let the guy talk. He was getting used to the complaining and then ordering food routine. Ross would order a BLT.

Ross adjusted his chair a bit and looked over at the cafe counter and the menu, he frowned again, “Not sure what I want this morning, good grief, too many things on the menu…” He sighed his frustration, slowly answering his own question as he got up, “BLT I guess sounds good.” He slowly walked to the counter where the pretty black girl took his order.

Doug Larsson watched the interaction. The girl smiled, as for Ross not once did a smile cross his face. He noticed the way Ross even stood still waiting for his order and that would be as if waiting was a torture for him. He knew the guy from the Gailter Plaza as his law firm was in the building while Doug’s was a small business in selling rocks, fossils, and other like stuff. That’s how they met some months ago as Ross had come into the store out of an interest in the subject of fossil collecting.

He was blunt in his request even when not on duty as a lawyer, “Looking for a descent fossil of a trilobite?” Oddly enough the guy knew his fossils and even some of the history of the trilobite. He even bought a book on ancient sea life from Doug. Yet he also bought the same stuff with barely a hunt of emotion. He knew his prehistoric sea life but he spoke of it as if he was in the court room giving a brief explanation of the ordinary of sea creatures.

So their odd friendship began as it seemed every lunch break Ross showed up to talk.

Ross returned and sat down, looking at the BLT with the same look that didn’t change, “Well, it’s not exactly what I wanted, but need to eat something…”

Doug avoided asking the obvious question.

Biting into the sandwich, “It was my father’s business, Doug, not mine.”

“You really didn’t like working for your dad too much I take it.” He took notice of the person entering the cafe that occupied an older section of St. Paul. The building looked about a hundred years old but in fairly good shape and the cafe, called the St. Paul Cafe, was a few blocks away from the farmer’s market and the stadium of the St. Paul Saints baseball team. He knew the woman only by sight as she was a regular at the cafe and carried herself as if she had much on her mind. The voice from the other side of the table spoke up finally. The woman sat down at a far booth staring out the window with a look that Doug couldn’t read. Maybe she was waiting for someone?

“It’s my father’s business, I simply worked for him for a bit…” The sandwich was bitten into again, “It’s just a store full of old stuff I have no interest in. He treats it all like it’s all ancient treasures of the Byzantium Empire as he likes to say. Me? It’s just junk.”

“Byzantium?” He was impressed he even knew of the word let alone what it might mean, “You are aware then that the Byzantium Empire was what was left of the Roman Empire when it fell…” He could see the bored look already in the guy’s eyes, “Well, it’s an interesting history…”

Leaning back a bit and looking back at Doug as if really trying to be interested in what the other guy had to say, “I’m sure it’s very interesting. My father certainly treats it all as if it’s interesting. He even thinks himself an expert on things.” He sipped his coffee, “I don’t even understand half of what he is talking about anymore…”

“Sounds like he enjoys what he is doing, Ross.”

Ross Miller’s expression didn’t change much from his bored tone, “My father simply likes his job more than I liked working for him, Doug. He likes all that old stuff and it’s possible history. I find it all just stuff as I said before…”

“Fossil’s are old stuff and you collect them.”

The single stare said much about Doug’s comment and his opinion of it, “Different, very different.” He picked up a piece of lettuce, “Fossils were actually living creatures…”

He wanted to interrupt but of course didn’t.

“….When I was a kid I enjoyed dinosaurs and dreamed of being an actual paleontologist. Never lost that interest in dinosaurs but discovered I really wasn’t that interested in going about digging up the beasts in the dirt.” The lettuce was eaten, “My father can make a better BLT. He’s a lot of things I don’t understand but he is a good cook; that I will not take away from him…” He looked about the cafe, “Looks like an old building.”

“Probably is.” Doug took notice of someone else entering the cafe. Tall elderly black man who waved at someone sitting in a table Doug couldn’t see well. Very Samuel L. Jackson look on the guy. “This building has probably been here about a hundred or so years, Ross.” Adding to see the man’s reaction, “Could even be haunted.” He would have said maybe even a Dybbuk but he doubted he even knew what that was. Maybe his father would as he was still selling antiques and they did like to attach themselves to things. But Ross gave no inclination of caring to hear about it?

Ross didn’t smile, “No such things as ghosts.” He leaned back a bit, “The universe is all there is and has always been. No gods or devils…”

Doug simply listened to be polite.

“…My dad simply sees all that stuff as somehow important to someone….”

Something was on the man’s mind, “I met your dad a few rimes, seems like a nice guy…” He noted the change of expression in the other guys face, “What did he do before he went into business selling old stuff as you call it.”

The expression didn’t change, “Dad was a teacher at Century College for a while…”

“Subject?”

He responded slowly as if thinking about it, “He was a teacher of religion, philosophy…he even sometimes worked in the theatre department…” A smile actually came and went, “He would have made an interesting actor…he has written a play he once told me.”

“Why did he retire from teaching?”

He seemed to get a little annoyed at the question but answered it anyway, “My father is not the most politically correct man around, Doug. Voices his views rather freely…”

“Explain. What do you mean?”

“I mean that he doesn’t understand the modern world, Doug. That society has changed and that it’s 2018 and not 1918 or earlier…”

Doug again simply listened.

“….My father got into an argument with a fellow teacher on politics. He’s not real read up on the subject as he thinks let alone the idea of being politically correct to people not like him or that even think like he does…” Softly but hard, “I don’t think he cared.”

“I see.” Doug said it but he wasn’t really quit sure he was following. “Well, I’ve met him once or twice and seems a nice guy.”

“You probably have…” He was uncomfortable with the subject, bit into his sandwich, “He’s just old-fashioned, Doug, on various subjects and views…” Almost angry, “And has become quit religious lately.”

“Religious lately? Explain.” He was getting a little hungry again but wasn’t going to stop the man from talking; eating can wait a little longer.

Ross was still uncomfortable, but he also seemed to want to talk, “Me and my sister are not religious, Doug. I’m certainly not religious by any means. Have no interest in the subject at all unlike my father lately.” He ran his hand through his short cropped hair as if it were a habit, “Now lately he’s been wearing that thing on his damn head…”

“Damn thing?”

Patting his head in annoyance, “That damn skull cap thing he’s now wearing. Like those things that Jews wear at the Wailing Wall.”

“Ah, the yamake and it’s called the Western Wall.” Adding with a look, “Thought you were not Jewish.”

Grunts angry not even trying to hide his unhappiness of the subject, “He things he is, he’s convinced he’s very Jewish.”

Being patient, “I don’t understand.” Someone from the kitchen yelled something, someone thought it was funny.

“You probably wouldn’t, Doug.” The reply was too the point, “He was doing one of those stupid genealogy things…”

“Ah, that I understand.”

He leaned forward a bit as if afraid someone would hear him say the word Jew, “I don’t think you really do, Doug. Not really.” The look never changed, “My dad actually thinks he’s Jewish now because some relatives were Jewish somehow way back many years ago…”

“Jewish in what way?”

The look simply didn’t change, “Doug, the man has been going to a synagogue of late. He even had a rabbi over a week ago…” Adding as he stabbed at the last bit of bacon with his finger, “He’s been wearing that stupid thing on his head for a couple of weeks. At work as well, Doug.” The bacon was eaten, “Good grief, Doug, having to be at the store with him and that thing on his head as if it belonged there.” Angry, “He’s becoming a fanatic.”

“A fanatic? He’s a fanatic for taking an interest in his possible heritage he discovered he had. He’s discovered something wonderful about his past, your families past…”

Annoyed, “I don’t care about the past, Doug. Ours or anyone else’s for that matter.” Leaning back in his chair, He’s going to celebrate Hanukkah, he’s even invited me and even Lily to come and celebrate with him at that synagogue…”

He thought to ask for the sake of calming Ross down, “How is Lily doing? Still teaching second grade graders?”

He sipped the last of his coffee, “Yes, Lily is still teaching the little brats at that religious school.”

He had to ask or at least bring it up, “She’s a Christian isn’t she?”

The expression actually seemed to be trying to be calm,”Yes, but that’s better than being a damn Jew, Doug! She’s not too religious about it like my father is becoming…” Looking at it his coffee cup, “At least she’s a little my realistic about her religion and not becoming a fanatic about it….” Looking at him with that look again, “She’s not religious about it. She needed a job and they hired her because she was at least willing to go through the motions about their beliefs…” Adding as it might matter, “Not really sure she’s really a Christian though, I think she just told them that to get the job as she did need one…”

“Going through the motions?”

Not really listening, “But our dad had decided that we are in fact really Jews and should come to that synagogue with him this Friday. My sister is just going through the motions, Doug. She really doesn’t believe in any of that crap about Jesus, but she needed a job. So she claims when they asked if she were a follower of Jesus she of course said yes….”

He was getting use to Ross repeating himself sometimes. Also why did it feel like that Ross was making all that up thought Doug? But Doug decided to not press the issue.

“It will be unbearable in that religious place surrounded by all that old stuff…”

“You are being unfair don’t you think? It’s a synagogue and your dad simply wants you two understand what he has found….”

“It’s called the Temple of Aaron. It’s somewhere near the Mississippi River area…”

“I’ve heard of it.”

Ross wasn’t amused by any of it, “All that religious talking and crap, I don’t need that nor do I wish to hear it….” The finger pointed at him, “I told him I didn’t want to hear about it the moment he started talking about it some months ago when he so-called discovered his Jewishness as he called it.”

Doug could see that man wanted to get up and leave.

“I told him I don’t believe in God nor do I want to believe in God and particularly that God of an old religion founded by some guy lost in the desert for forty years….”

Doug didn’t correct him.

“….But there he sat in his office trying to get me and probably tried all ready to get Lily to come to that place next Friday…”

He said it knowing the outcome, “Sounds like an interesting experience, Ross. You might find it interesting…” He knew that Ross wouldn’t as they guy really didn’t seem to have that many interests outside of work, occasional fossil buying? What did he really know about the guy sitting across from him and looking as if he were about to explode. In actual fact, Ross really never asked many questions about Doug’s life.

“All that religious talk for who knows how many hours! No thank you and I told him that. I told him no way am I going to attend that Hanukkah service with him…”

“Well, as I said, it might be interesting.”

“You’re not listening, you’re as bad as him when I said it. He simply smiled at me and walked out the room…” The smiling part is what seemed to bother Ross thought Doug as the guy continued, “I see no point in going and suffering in a place I do not want to be at.”

Who was he trying to convince Doug wanted to ask, “So, is Lily going?”

He seemed puzzled by the statement, “Lily can do as she wishes, Doug. I’m just her brother.”

“Yes, but is she going?” Having to say it to the guy wanting to get up, “You might enjoy it.”

“That’s all I need in my life some old stuff religious crap that should have died out a thousand years ago. If Lily wants to check it out she can do as she pleases as she generally does….”

“So, Lily is going?”

Not happy of course, “Do you have any idea what it’s like being around religious people, Doug….”

“Yes, I do on some level…”

“Well, then you should understand why I don’t.”

Doug smiled a bit, “You have no idea about my family, do you Ross?”

“I never thought to ask, None of my business anyway.” He so badly wanted to get up thought Doug, “I mean I assume you have parents, probably siblings…”

“Yes, one of the first and three of the second.” He continued as it was apparent Ross seemed to relax a bit, “My dad is a pastor of a small church in Maplewood….”

The look was funny, “A what? Your dad’s a religious preacher…and you get along with this religious crap?”

It sounded redundant but he said nothing, “Been so for a long time. Well actually he was a missionary the first ten or so years of my life in South America….” There was of course more to it than what he was saying but he also knew Ross had stopped listening a while back. Doug and his dad had finally come to an understanding about each other. They simply didn’t discuss Doug’s leaving the church but he knew it troubled the man.

Ross simply looked uncomfortable, “Look all I know, Doug, is that my father wants me and Lily to come to that synagogue this coming Friday. Lily will probably go but I don’t want to….”

“Okay, so you told him no on not going?

Getting up as he looked at his watch, “Doug, I’m simply not interested in religious old stuff…”

Doug got up. “I got that.”

“I like my life the way it is. I go to work, I go home and unwind from having to deal with the few things at work not completely finished…”

“What do you do to unwind?” They headed toward the exit, “What do you do outside of work?”

He opened the door and stepped outside into the cold of December, “I wish I lived as far away from Minnesota that one can get. It’s cold.”

“It’s Minnesota. It’s suppose to be cold.”

Ross was walking fast, “I simply don’t see a need for religion in my life. And now my dad has decided to become Jewish all of a sudden…”

“You seem to be taking this personally, Ross. It’s his life and his choice to…”

“He needs to keep it too himself.” The tone said it all, “He needs to just stop with the preaching at me about our lost Jewish heritage and our lost Jewish this, that, and the other dam things I don’t care about…”

“What do you care about, Ross?”

He abruptly stopped, faced Doug with that look, “I don’t care about what he has found, Doug. I don’t care that we have Jewish blood flowing through our family history. He cares, I do not. It’s old stuff of no relevance to my life or what I want from life. If Lily wants to go off and visit this synagogue I don’t care…” He shoved his hands into his pockets, “Look, Doug, I’m happy for him that he’s found something that makes him happy. Glad he’s found something to….”

“Believe in?”

“It’s not for me, Doug. I don’t want to be Jewish in this day and age anyway, it’s better to be anything but Jewish in  this world. Didn’t the Holocaust teach us anything about being too Jewish in a society that doesn’t want Jews around…” He looked tired thought Doug, “Look, I have said it to my dad, be Jewish, go ahead and see what it brings you in this life. Nothing but unhappiness and clinging to an old religion that it’s own God has long ago abandoned to the Christians…”

Doug remained silent from this hit nerve of words.

“…My dad wants to walk around with that damn thing on his head as if he had simply put a bulls eye on his life. No thank you.” The guy looked troubled thought Doug and not just by what he was telling Doug, “Doug, I love my dad, I really do, but I want nothing to do with his damn old stuff religion or heritage…”

“That old stuff as you keep calling it kept a people alive and surviving the last two thousand years, Ross.”

“It didn’t keep them alive, it tortured them because it gave them a false sense of some damn hope…”

“There is more to all this than you’re telling me, Ross.”

“The Jewish false religion and hope should have died out a long time ago, Doug. It is old stuff to me because it has no meaning for me today. None!”

“Jewish history is the story of more than just survival, Ross.”

“It’s nothing but survival from one hate filled place to another, Doug. The Holocaust was the final solution to the idea that there was a God let alone that Jews survived for a reason. The reason or lesson? That there was no God of Abraham, Issac, and Jacob, and the Holocaust should have killed once and for all the idea that we mattered to anyone…” He walked faster and headed toward Mears Park. Stopping abruptly, facing Doug with a look of anger, “Look, my dad thinks he’s discovered something wonderful. That’s fine but I have no use for it. I have no use for a religion that makes a people literally drag themselves through hell because some rabbi told them it’s their God’s will for some reason he can’t explain but we need to have faith that the God of the universe is in control and even he damn Holocaust had a reason…”

“The nation of Israel was reborn from those horrors, Ross. The Jews have their own home now, their own country again…”

“You sound like my dad, Doug. That’s what the rabbi said as well. God had a reason and a plan even for the Holocaust we just don’t know or understand why He allowed it.” Angry, “He allowed it because He doesn’t exist, but Jew hate exists very much in this damn world. So I will survive this world by not being a Jew of any kind!”

“The Jew has survived for a reason, Ross.”

“Yes,” The bitterness was there, “To be hunt down. To be pushed into synagogues and have them burned to the ground with them in it. To be killed is the only reason to be Jewish!.”

“No, Ross, if anything they are exactly what God chose them to be…”

Bitter still, “Yes, cattle to be butchered like they just were last Saturday in Pennsylvania.”

Doug studied the unpleasant face with some understanding, “You’re wrong, Ross, the Jew is a survivor is true but he’s a survivor because God had ordained him to survive against all odds as a testimony again those who try to wipe them out…the world will never wipe them out, Ross….God said He would always be there God. The world has no say in that.” He would have laughed as he really did sound like his dad; his dad would have been amused and proud of the son who claimed wasn’t listening to the father’s sermons the last few years of attending his church.

“It’s doing a pretty good job of reducing their numbers lately.”

“And yet, Ross, the Jew remains.”

“Their religion should have died out, my dad looks ridiculous with that damn thing on his head and that candle thing sitting in the window is just asking someone to put a bullet through his head…”

“A Menorah? Did you tell him that?”

Anger refused to leave, “I told him and he laughed and said pretty much the same thing you did, the Jew will always survive. He’s a fool to think there is a God who cares…God is dead, Doug, to the history of the last century of the Jews….or haven’t you ever heard of the Holocaust?” Adding, “Or are you one of those who deny it ever happened?”

“Ross, why are you so angry with being Jewish itself?” He of course ignored the comment about denying the Holocaust, “What’s wrong with being Jewish?”

The look remained bitter, angry, “Because we refuse to change, to get rid of that old stuff of a faith that has done us no good from day one…”

“It’s kept you as a  people, a culture, a heritage alive for centuries, Ross. It’s not just about survival you know…”

The mood refused to change, “It’s only about survival, Doug.” Looking about him frustrated, “Jews should have assimilated a long time ago and simply ceased being a cancer in the world!”

“A cancer in the world?”

“They refuse to change, Doug, when it comes to religion let alone seeing the past. My dad is becoming a fanatic about this new found lunacy of being Jewish somewhere in the past…” He wrapped his arms around his chest, the air was chilly and it was starting to lightly snow, “I hate Minnesota.”

“Jews are not a cancer in the world, Ross.” He felt he had to say it, “Jews brought the Word of God to the World through the Torah, through their history and culture, through so many of Jews throughout history…” He really did sound like his dad; it should have been funnier at this moment but wasn’t.

“Ah, yes, the indestructable Jew…”

Interrupting patiently, “They are a remarkable people, why do you hate them so much? Why do you hate your Jewish past so much?”

The look changed a bit as if he felt an honest answer was better than being as angry as he probably looked; something his ex-wife would tell him. “Doug, It’s simple, I don’t like Jews, I don’t like anything about them, they should have assimilated into the real world a long time ago and left that bull crap of a religion in the desert with all the other crazies who think they hear the voice of some God speaking to them…”

“That’s very cliche of you and everything is their fault in your world really doesn’t sound like a real logical reason for you to dislike them as part of your history, Ross…” There was of course much more he could have said but he feared it would have set the man off into a violent rant because he looked angry enough.

Ross shoved his hands into his pockets, seemed on the verge of saying something profane thought Doug but Ross held back for some reason.

“I’ve read Jewish history, Ross, and they are more than just surviving in this world that does indeed seem to be determined to hate anything and everything a Jew is or does. But your hate seems too extreme to be just because they survive the last two thousand years let alone their unwillingness to assimilate. They have kept their traditions, culture, and even language by not assimilating…”

Looking at his watch, “Look, Doug, I have an appointment, I don’t have time anymore for this pointless conversation….” The expression told that Ross had reached the limit of his patience of the subject, “I don’t like Jews, I don’t want to be a Jew, and I don’t like being around them…”

Doug again said nothing.

“….And now my dad has decided to become one and he’s even thinking about visiting Israel of all places!”

He so badly wanted to walk away thought Doug as he noted the body language of the man’s agitated expression. So what was he waiting for thought Doug, why didn’t he simply walk away?

“….I told him he was crazy but he just looked at me with that pleased smile and told me I could come if I wanted…”

The snow was actually getting a little heavier in it’s falling and the ground was growing white from it.

Doug was reminded by the snow fall that his dad and him had to plan their ice fishing trip. Doug would have laughed that the snow would remind him of that but Ross was in too much of a mood.

“…Israel is not place for a sixty-nine year old man, Doug. He’s become a fanatic over this sudden finding that he’s got Jewish blood in his past….” He looked again at his watch, “I’m going to be late, Doug, and I’m tired of this conversation anyway…”

“Yes, of course, maybe next time…” He noted that Ross seemed relieve that the conversation was coming to an abrupt end.

Ross walked away quickly with a look that said much about the man’s inner thoughts on the idea about next time they met up.

“Ya, later, Ross…”

Which Doug was quit convinced was going to a while before Ross walked into his little fossil store again. But eventually the man showed up after a month. He saw Ross only a few more times and each time the expression in the man’s face showed the signs that life was not getting better for him and his dad’s new found faith that Ross made very clear he wanted nothing to do with was really bugging him. It was rather sad thought Doug the steady unhappiness overtaking the guy and finally simply not come back to Doug’s little store in fear that the ‘Jew’ conversation would be brought up again.

He would run into his sister, Lily, at a used book store, and find out that Ross had moved to New York and was not really keeping in touch with the family anymore.

Lily was talking as they stood in the bookstore, “Ross simply has nothing much to do with us anymore, Doug….” The young very Jewish face with the long brunette hair in a pony tail laughed, “He’s terrified that dad will mention what he has been doing lately at the synagogue or worse yet his second trip to Israel…”

“Well, maybe he’s happy finally…”

The serious look came, “My brother has never been happy, Doug, in a long time….” The face under the Twins cap smiled, “I wish him happiness though. He deserves it after what happened with him and his wife Esther…”

“Didn’t know he was married. He never spoke of her.”

Softly, sadly, “Esther died of cancer about ten years ago. I’m not surprised you didn’t know. He lives his life as if she divorced him…” Looking at him with a look of sadness, “My brother simply stopped functioning like a normal person and forgot about her. Wouldn’t talk about her and treated his marriage as if it never happened. He was angry about her death. Naturally blamed God.” Sadly, “I liked Esther, she was a gentle and sweet girl and believe it or not, actually went to the same synagogue we are going to now but Ross wouldn’t talk about her or about his memories about her….” Adding as if it mattered, “She would make him go and find fossils along the Mississippi River…I wonder if he kept her collection of fossils…probably not as he didn’t want anything around him to remind him of their life together I am sure….” Esther walked toward the register to pay for her books.

Doug understood the trilobites.

 

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