Sunday, September 30, 2012

No sex; just a lot of rubbing of mezuzahs

There's an old joke that Bette Midler used to tell that she was going to be in a XXX movie.  "You've heard of Emmanuelle, haven't you?  Well, I'm going to star in the first all Jewish XXX film; called Temple Emmanuel.  Oh, there's no sex.  Just a lot of rubbing of mezuzahs."

What is a mezuzah, you may ask.

For all you gentiles, a mezuzah is a small capsule, often adorned with Jewish art that holds a small copy of a prayer called Shema Yisrael that is hand written in Hebrew by scribes using special pens.  For most American Jew's, the mezuzah is nailed to the front door frame, on the right hand side, on an angle towards in the house.

Why is it tipped into the house? So the word of G*d flow into the dwelling; its a mitzvah.

Why on the right side?  Because the left hand side is evil.  Anymore questions?

The more observant the Jew, the more mezuzahs they have, as they put one in every door frame, closets and toilets excluded.  Some Jews will walk through the door doing nothing, while other Jews will reach up and touch the mezuzah.

I'm getting older I'm making my peace with the Jewish side of me, and their's a lot of pieces that need peace with that part of my upbringing.  My father was Jewish, I never fit in with the Jews around me, it was all so alien.  But the older I get, leakier I get, and the more it leaks out of me.

So Friday I had to get out of the house and I went to Ellicott City because I needed to see something outside my zone of comfort.  And they have great antique stores in Ellicott City.  The sun was shining and I just needed a day to be Cookie.  If you have never been to the historic downtown it's pretty amazing, and the topography is breathtaking.

I found two book cases that I would have have bought on the spot, but both were sold.

Then I walked about and found a small antique store - a single room - and it was staffed by its owner, a woman of a certain age.

"Everything has a price tag, but there isn't a price tag then just ask," she said. "Wait. I take that back. If everything has a price tag, but some things don't have a price tag, then everything doesn't have a price tag, does it?  Let's just say that if it has a price tag, I can do better.  If it doesn't have a price tag, I can really do better."

As I looked we chatted. Mutually we agreed that Baltimore has the friendliest people, until they get behind the wheel of a car. "From that point, they're possessed," said the woman.  "A crazy fiend almost killed me this morning on Rolling Road.  Maybe she wasn't a fiend.  Maybe she was in a hurry.  That's a nice book case you're looking at.  Maybe she couldn't see over the hood of her Escalade."

Under her breath she said "Maybe she was in a hurry to kill someone with that SUV."

"Can you imagine the Hell on earth it would be if those really little old ladies and gentlemen all drove those big SUV's?" I asked.

"Lucky for us they can't climb into them," she remarked.  "DWLOL - Driving While a Little Old Lady."

We kept talking and laughing and I told her I was new to the area and the conversation came to chopped liver.

"There are lots of places where you can get chopped liver.  Don't go to those places." She took out a scratch pad and wrote down the name of a store.  "This place has good chopped liver.  Good enough for the Rosh  Hashanah table.  Get it from Gary.  If Gary isn't working then its a day old.  He makes it fresh every morning."

Taking the conversation further, I asked, unaware that I had dropped my voice, where I could get a mezuzah.

She leaned into me from across the counter, looked around the empty store and asked "why are you whispering?"

Damned if I knew.

"In twenty years of running this store, no one has ever asked me that.  She started rummaging.  You could go up to Park Heights, but I have something here for you, EUREKA!"

In her hand was an old crumbled Zip Lock bag.  In the bag was a simple mezuzah.  She opened the bag and removed the bronze rectangle - and simple at that.  As I said, some of the cases border on intricate art.  This one was understated.  I loved it.

"How much?" I asked.

"It was my late aunt's," she pointed over her shoulder to a picture of a blond woman and a redhead.  "My mother had the red hair and my aunt was a blond."

She looked at me and said "I'm giving it to you.  Like I said, I have had this in the store from day one, just in case someone wanted a mezuzah.  And you are the first person to need one and ask me if I knew where you could get one.  So I'm giving it to you.  If I gave you a price and it was too high and you walk out, I'm stuck with this until the next person comes by in twenty years?"

"And let me tell you, in twenty years I won't be here.  Oh, I'll be here, but not in this store. I'm going to be in Florida playing bridge.  So take it, hang it up.  Think of me.  Come back and bring your boyfriend."

So I asked for a piece of paper and gave her the only thing I could - my brisket recipe.

"Four ingredients?  That's all? My brisket takes twenty.  A pinch of this and that.  But just four things would make my life easier.  Print your name and your address and your email in case I get stuck."

While I was printing everything up she said "You like Bette Midler - it's not a question, it's a statement.  Do you remember her shtick about being cast in the only Jewish triple X movie?"

"No sex, just a lot of rubbing of mezuzahs," we said in unison and then laughed.

I gave her a hug and then promised to come see her when things at the house were more under control.

"And stay off Rolling Road - that crazy bitch is still out there looking for her next victim!"

So Friday night I nailed the mezuzah to the door frame and I think of that woman and her generosity.  And I think of Bette Midler, rubbing on her mezuzah as well.


  1. This was just a great little read, I really feel up-lifted right now, the Mezuzah must work on internet doors as well!!!

    1. If you really want to feel uplifted, let me introduce you Renee Blumenthal's daughter, Sonja. Look beyond her face, because she wasn't blessed with good looks or a face that plastic surgeon can fix, and you will find a heart of gold. And she can cook, too!

  2. if i ever happen to darken your doorway,
    i will not rub it!

    1. You, my ray of sunshine? You can rub all over it.

  3. Such a high point of my day to read this.

    1. What, you? Mr. Hollywood who meets all the interesting people and leads the glamourous life? Here, eat...

  4. What a great story. It sounds like the spirit of Edith Massey is still alive and well in Baltimore. I like the dignified solidity of your mezuzah; so many of them are tacky or overly ornate--mezuzahs are not really the place for kitsch.
    --Road to Parnassus

    1. Those fancy schmancy mezuzah covers are for people who are social climbers at the country club, and the people who eat pork on Yom Kippur...

  5. oh, I love this story :-)

    I read your blog every day, and this made me come along and post a reply for the first time!

  6. Mazel for that free mezuzah! Don't you love free?


  7. Last time I was in Montreal, I noticed numerous interesting mezuzahs on front door frames.

    Next time I'll snap some photos for you.

  8. This was a great read. Loved that this woman gave you something so personal just because she could tell you needed it.

  9. Mazel tov on your mezuzah and on your new friend! What a great story.

    Growing up in New York City every apartment I ever lived in had an old mezuzah on the door jamb. I am Episcopalian, but I always meant to get a mezuzah for my house because I love the tradition behind it. You have reminded me it is past time.