Friday night, the Friday after Thanksgiving, 1995. Seated around a table are a father, a mother, the father’s senile father (called Zaydie), the parents eldest son, an uncle, and an aunt. Except for the oldest son, everyone at the table should be bespectacled. Perhaps they should all be short, squat, loud, and not particularly good looking.The father is 58, very short, somewhat overweight, and extremely loud and emphatic. The mother is 55, similarly short but not quite as overweight and not as loud. The uncle, 65, is perhaps a bit taller and thinner, but still has extra pounds, and has the relaxed reserve of someone who is comfortable in his own skin. The aunt, 51, is short and thin, still slightly pretty in a semitic manner, though perhaps with a pinched look. The father says the Friday night Kiddush, the whole thing. Then begins the action of the play.)
Mom: So I wanted to wait on telling you this until after we made Kiddush, but it turns out the oven wasn’t on (general laughter onstage) so it’ll be a little while. There's still a lot of stuff to do.
Aunt: (gets up) Here, let me help you in there.
Son 1: (stands up, makes for door) Can I go upstairs until you’re ready.
Dad: Y’know, you could ask if you could help.
Son 1: (as he walks out) So could you...
(Mom and Aunt leave for the kitchen behind him)
Uncle: So your daughter’s not gonna be here at all?
Dad: (throws up hands) I dunno. She’s busy tonight tending to the mishpokheh (family) of "the podiatrist" (say with mocking tone).
Uncle: (shrugs) He's a mensch. (gentleman)
Dad: Would it be too much to ask for a college sophomore to find a mensch who isn’t 35 and divorced?
Uncle: He certainly makes a nice living.
Dad: If only she would spend his gelt (money) rather than mine.
Uncle: She wants to look nice for him.
Dad: She doesn’t need to look nice, she’s 19! No kid should spend as much gelt on clothes as they do on college tuition.
Uncle: That’s gotta be an exaggeration.
Dad: You should see her credit card bills.
Uncle: But she’s such a feineh meydl (nice girl).
Dad: A feineh meydl... (throws up hands) A feineh meydl who I had to chase away from every jock in Pikesville.
Uncle: Alright, so she found some glick (luck) she’s dating a greyseh makher (high roller), get'em to the khuppeh (get them married) and there won’t be any problem.
Dad: No problem? In ten years they’ll be divorced when he finds an even yinger meydl (younger girl) and I’ll have to shill for a good lawyer!
Uncle: (mischievously) Well, at least you have a son.
Dad: I have a son. I have a son! Ochen vey! I have a son!!
Uncle: (laughs) You have three sons.
(Enter Aunt, bringing in salad, goes up to her husband to put some on his plate)
Aunt: Here, so we can at least nash on (eat) some salad. What’s he kvetching (complaining) about?
Uncle: Just the podiatrist.
Aunt: Oh. He’s a mensch! Not very bright though.
Dad: (shrugs) That’s ok, neither is she. (beat, Aunt puts the salad on Dad’s plate) Y’know, I really should have followed my Mom’s advice and been a doctor. Once I was over my parents house. You weren’t there Dad, but Mom was sitting there with Mrs. Rabinovitch and Mrs. Indyk, and they were arguing about whose son gets more nackhes (pride) out of being a doctor. So Mrs. Rabinovitch says, ‘My son’s a podiatrist, I get the most nakhes!’ and Mrs. Indyk says ‘My son’s a dentist, I get the most nakhes!’
Aunt: Then neither of them are real doctors!
Dad: That’s not the point. The point is when they left, my mother says (with Yiddish accent) ‘Oy, cehn you imehgine dese balebustehs (ball-busting homemakers) khocking (pestering) demselves vile dey eating my blintzes about who gets moe af de naches? Von spends all de day smelling de feet, de ander (other) goes all de day smelling de hehlitosis. No real doctah smells deht dreck (shit). Ya brudder, he’s eh real doctah.’ Actually Mom, my brother’s a proctologist.
Uncle: Your brother was just listed as one of the top doctors in Baltimore.
Dad: And don’t think I’ll ever forgive him for that. I’d have been a great doctor and Mom would have loved me for it. But Mom always loved him best. (points to his father) Dad always loved me best, but that just meant he geshrayd (yelled at) me more. Last year, (small beat) just a couple weeks before she went, Mom asked me to help Mrs. Varshavsky with moving some boxes because her son "de cardiologist" (with Yiddish accent) was too busy to help her, so I asked Mom “why do you have to always say ‘her son the cardiologist?’ So I went to help Mrs. Varshavsky, and she kept referring to “Mein zohn (My son) de (the) cardiologist ver machtn zex-hunderd teusend toller a yahr." (who makes six-hundred thousand dollars a year). But I didn’t want to be a doctor so when she asked me "ver you should apply tzu medical school" (say in high pitched voice with exaggerated Yiddish accent) I told her I didn’t take the pre-med credits, and you should have seen how hard I almost killed her. But I never told my kids that they had to be anything at all long as they worked hard...
(Aunt has finished her salad and leaves the room, Dad waits for her to leave and then whispers in a shout) ...And look at them now!
Uncle: Come on. I’m sure they’ll find something that works for them.
Dad: What works for them?! I have to help one son in New York who's fardraydt (confused) with an apartment he doesn’t work hard enough to afford and another son who’s farkokt (fucked up) and too depressed to live anywhere but upstairs.
Uncle: Hub a bissl rakhmunes (have a little pity). Give him time, he’ll move out and find something he's good at.
Dad: Tzu shpayt (too late)! The months are becoming years. Before he knows it he’ll be fifty. (beat) I’ll have long been dead from this lokhn kop (hole in the head) but he’ll be alteh cocker (old fart/shitter) living with his Mom.
Uncle: It could be worse.
Dad: (deadpan) There’s worse.
Dad: Remember that friend of son #2 (always a bit of irony in naming the sons after numbers) who came down over Rosh Hashana?
Uncle: Yeah. I really liked him.
Dad: (completely deadpan) Turns out that for six months, that’s been his boychik (boy - as in boyfriend).
Uncle: (laughs, shocked, but also amused) He’s a faygeleh (literally means bird, also means faggot)?!?
Dad: I guess so. (shakes head) I just heard about this this week.
Uncle: But…... he had all those meydlakh (girls) in high school! Every time you visited him in college he had a different girl.
Dad: I dunno, he certainly seemed like he loved the maydlakh when he was with them. But I’ve stopped thinking I can understand him. Maybe the luftmensch (person with head in the air/clouds) is just doing this to be innn-teresting.
Uncle: (shocked for a few seconds, then recovers) Well, Mazel Tov for him. If he’s gay he should feel comfortable letting us know and no matter what he does, he’s still a mensch. You should shep naches (take pride) for him and everything he did.
Dad: What’s he done?
Uncle: (defensive) You don’t ask what a yingel's (kid's) done when he just graduated magna cum laude at an Ivy League school.
Dad: That was more than a year ago, and the luftmensch still doesn’t have a full-time job! Now he just putzes (screws) around in New York, tells us he’s going to be an "experimental filmmaker," and takes these waiting jobs in shmootzik (dirty) places that don't even pay the rent so he can make all this khaynik (nonsense) that only meshugoyim (crazy people) would ever watch. All that money spent on his bildung (education) just so he can run up my credit card bills at every bar in Manhattan. (remembers something…) Y’know, last month when I got his bill, I found that the khutzpenik (disrespectful person) spent 50 dollars at a Chinese restaurant. Fifty Dollars! When he walked through the door of the restaurant, he must have shouted out ‘MOO GOO GAI PAN FOR EVERYBODY!’
Uncle: So he’s taking a little time off. He’s finding himself.
Dad: Not finding yourself at the age of 24 is a shandeh (disgrace)!
Uncle: Oh, and where were you at 24?
Dad: I was in California dodging the Vietnam draft, but it’s different now. Es pas nit (there's no reason), this is 1995, this is America, we just won the Cold War! There's no end of jobs for any kind of mensch and there never will be.
Uncle: I think you’re being too hard on him. A liberal like you, you can’t possibly be mad that your son is gay.
Dad: (resignedly, getting to the heart of the matter) No, of course I’m not, I’m proud of him for coming out. But there’s something else.
Uncle: Nu... (Well...)?
Dad: The boyfriend, you remember his name?
Uncle: Yeah, Robert Gold.
Dad: It turns out that his name is Robert GOULD!
Uncle: (beat, taking in what this means, exaggerated but very sincere horror, almost shouting) He’s a goy?!...... How can he do that to us!? (puts his head in his hands) How can you ever forgive him for that?!?
Dad: It’s my worst nightmare come true.
Uncle: You put all that effort into your kinder (children), you raise them with the right education, the right values, you teach them to Jewish Day School so they learn Hebrayisch, you speak to them sometimes in Yiddish so they don't forget what was, you never raise a hand to them, you always are there to help them when they need it and respect their privacy when they don’t want you around, you do everything so that their kishkes (guts) are installed with Derekh Eretz (way of the land - meaning proper conduct) and make sure they're not filled with vilgutsch (junk). And then they take everything a Yiddisheh kop (Jewish head - meaning a proper Jewish gentleman) should be and shpritz (spit) it back on your alte pawnim! (old face) (beat) If one of my kids did that to me I’m not sure I could go to the Khossen (wedding).
Dad: Well, gays can’t get married. So at least we don’t have to worry about that.
Uncle: He was such a meeskeit (little ugly person)! He was balding! We swapped Seinfeld quotes for half an hour! (beat) I just don’t know how that goy could possibly not have been a Jew!
Dad: There’s gotta be a couple boychiks (boy, in this case Jewish boy) I can introduce him to.
Uncle: Well at least your other son doesn't seem to have turned his back on anything.
Dad: He hasn't turn his front to anything either, except food. The khutzpeh (effrontery) of that gonif (thief)... He just sits on his bed all day in that hegdesh (pigpen) of a room. The naar (simpleton) never had a girlfriend, never had a job, never even went to college. The schnorrer's (beggar's) just paced around for five years like a vildeh khayeh (wild animal), getting fat and listening to his music, reading his books and feeling sorry for himself.
Uncle: I guarantee you that naar read five times as much as your luftmensch did in school. You gotta be a little nicer to him. Your schlemazl's (chronically unlucky person) had it rough.
Dad: We all have it rough. What makes him special?
Uncle: What makes him special is that you have him around.
Dad: I have him around and we do nothing but shrek (scream) all day.
Uncle: You resent your son for yelling at you? (as if to imply ‘you of all people’)
Dad: Oy. (sighs very loudly) Even you’re against me.
Uncle: I’m not against you, I just don’t understand how you can hold so much against him when he’s clearly so much like you.
Dad: He’s not like me. I found a wife, I could hold a job, I had a family.
Uncle: He’s twenty-six years old. When you were twenty-six your biggest accomplishment was having broken up with my sister five times.
Dad: (throws up hands) Alright, so I’m a schlemiel (loser) too. At least I want my kids to do better than I did.
Uncle: Geb a kuk (take a look/Look). You were always jealous of my mishpokheh and compared your kinder to mine. But my eltest (oldest) has barely been back to Baltimore for fifteen years. She goes to practice medicine in Argentinian pampus, then comes back with a luftmensch from Argentina and goes to Seattle. In a couple years she’s such a makher (mover and shaker) that she has two houses on the Pacific Ocean, so it’s a great year if we see her three times. One day the phone rings and she tells us that she’s getting divorced and marrying another doctor at the hospital. For months, we get no explanation for why or what happened, we just had to accept that es ist vas es ist (it is what it is). My tzveyte (second) announces after a freshman year with straight A's at her prestigious, expensive college that she’s dropping out to enlist in the Israeli army, what can we do to stop her? She could have been a researcher at Hopkins by now, but she instead she still works on a kibbutz milking cows in the Israeli desert. Now she’s been in Tel Aviv for ten years and we see her twice a year. My twins, they’re both gute neshawmes (good souls), they work very hard and they’ll do very well, and I hope they’ll decide to move back to Baltimore, but they don't care about anything but sports. If they could, they'd just sit in front of the TV all day and watch the Orioles.
Dad: What did they call themselves growing up?
Uncle: Kodak and Magic. But you can’t be Larry Bird and Magic Johnson when you’re five foot five.
Dad: Jews don’t play for basketball teams, they own them. (beat) And with your kids’ kops (heads) for business, they just might.
Uncle: And just look at my nudnik (pain in the neck) in there (motioning offstage)? She’s so frum (religious) that this whole time she’s been sitting with a book in your living room rather than eat or pray with us because to her, we’re goyim too. You can’t stand your mispocheh, but at least you have one.
Dad: (puts head in hands) Where did we go wrong? At least your kids seemed with the program for a while. My kids were farcockt from the time they knocked over their first lamp.
Uncle: (quietly and pointing to the door) Well one of them’s about to come through the door.
Father: (gets up with extravagant and not entirely sincere display of love) Oh my son, my son! (hugs and kisses him) I love you so much!
Son 1: (half-heartedly hugs him, says a bit begrudgingly) I love you too Dad.
Father: Yeah, but I mean it.
Son 1: No you don’t.
Uncle: (laughs) Be nicer to your father.
Son 1: Did you tell him to be nicer to me?
Father: He did actually.
Son 1: Well, I’m glad somebody pretends to be on my side.
Father: We’re all on your side!
Son 1: Yeah, well a flea is on the side of a dog, and the dog might actually miss the flea when the flea dies, but that doesn’t mean the flea wasn’t a nuisance.
Father: (combination of faux shocked and real shocked) Can you believe this?!
Uncle: Y’know, your father might be nicer to you if…
Son 1: (interrupts) Oh c’mon, you know he’ll never be nicer to me.
Uncle: That’s probably true, but there’s still hope for you.
Son 1: Well, you’re very kind to say that.
Dad: Your uncle believes in you. You should be grateful for him.
Son 1: I am. Do you believe in me?
Dad: Well did you accomplish anything today?
Son 1: Of course not. Did you?
Dad: The market went up.
Son 1: I’m sure you had plenty to do with that.
Dad: Why don’t you nosh on some salad while you’re telling me what a horrible role model I am.
Son 1: I never said that you’re a horrible role model.
Dad: Well, I am a horrible role model. (passes the salad) I sold the business, retired when you were still in high school, and you kids now think it’s OK not to work because you see me putzing around the house.
Son 1: Yes dad, it’s your fault that all your children have amounted to bupkes (nothing/small shits).
Dad: Well, isn’t that what your therapist tells you?
Son 1: Sometimes. Y’know, therapy might do you a world of good.
Dad: I don’t need therapy, I know I had bad parents.
Son 1: (points to his grandfather) Jesus! Your father’s right there!
Dad: Don’t worry, he can’t hear us.