Brazilians have Carnivale, New Orleans and the French have Mardi Gras, Russians have Shrovetide, Germans have Schmutziger Donnerstag, Sweden has Semla, Lithuana has Uzhgavenes, Indians have Holi and Duwale, Iranians have Norwuz, Japanese have Higan. Every corner of the world seems to have a Vernal Equinox Festival whose origins predate Purim by hundreds of centuries. Drinking, dancing, dressing, a bacchanale of life to usher in the new spring's regeneration when the noumenal world of No End becomes so full of light and essence that it has to contract some of its enduring majesty into empty space so that, in a divine leap, the shattered, phenomenal realm of sense and sensibility can grow in the hope that some essence of it can yet again leap back to the world of no end.
"For fuck's sake don't bring your friends to this."
"Nu? Why not?"
"It just encourages Tateh. Nu?"
Every weeknight after mishpocheh dinner, they'd talk for a few hours in the Katz basement, and she now spoke to in secret to her secret best friend more than to any school friend, not a secret for her sake, but a secret for his. Even with their family's detente, how would his mishpocheh react to knowing that Simcha was spending every free moment in the almost windowless basement of an halakhic shiksa. Meanwhile, Kristina had taken up with a thirty-two year old junior professor at Berkeley named Dan Krentzman and was rarely seen around the house anymore.
"He wants to make a scene. He wants the whole city to see this and know we're here. Nu?"
"But it's gonna be fun!"
"Nu? Who cares? It's just going to end badly for everyone. Nu?"
Bethany loved Simcha, just as she did all her friends, she just wasn't sure she could stand him. He seemed to think nothing of being so cynical, so stubborn, so argumentative, indeed, he seemed to love it. He acted as though making fun of everything she loved was the most generous thing in the world a person could do for his or her friends. And he more negative he was, the more need she felt to court his approval. She couldn't stand him for making her seek his approval, she couldn't stand herself for needing him to support her, and she couldn't stand him again for making her feel the need to be supported by him. And yet she loved him, as though there was instant understanding of the rules of a game that was as utterly strange to her as it was completely familiar to him. Her inner irritation at him was unlike anything she'd ever known, and gnawed into her intestines like termites to trees. For the first time in her life, she had to confront that not only did she disapprove of someone she loved, but that this person may disapprove of her too, yet still love her back. Around Simcha, from Simcha, because of Simcha, love was suddenly intermingled with dread, pettiness, anger, belittlement, cynicism. Would love, could love, ever feel the same again?
On week 1 after they started hanging out, while Ian Greyling is in the bathroom he says: "Don't get mixed up with this guy, nu? He's an erotoman and a shikker!" Week 2, Alenna and Vicki are in the next room and he says: "Nu, don't invite your yenta friends too often while I'm here. They don't like me nu? and I wouldn't like them if I knew them better." She saw Vicki hesitantly enter the room as he finished the sentence and had to wonder for weeks if Vicki'd heard. Week 3, he says outright to Kristina "Nu, all Bethany's other friends play at being korvehs, but you're the real thing! Nu?"
In any event, Simcha wouldn't let her know why he seemed to think everything she suggested would end in catastrophe. Pessimism was a responsibility to Bethany, not a state of being. If another person was sad, they needed to be cheered; if she was sad, she required a person to cheer. Her kishkes had the urge to leave every person and place more luminous than she found them in her DNA. But even Simcha's brighter moods seemed tinged with a bitterness she neither understood nor fathomed. She didn't resent him for this, she respected his right to feel any way he liked, how else could she cheer him up? But about precisely what did Simcha have cause to be so aggrieved as all that? It was simply a source of fascinated speculation. Yes, he was deformed and alienated, though nowhere near to the extent he thought was. He had a loving family, a God in which his faith was unshakeable, and such a God certainly knew he was not lacking for self-belief.
When they first began hanging out, she would ask him, almost annoyed that he never made the transition, to translate these unfamiliar words that he spoke as though this linguistic porridge was all the same language. But the more she heard them, the more she realized she could guess infallibly. There was an onomatopoetic quality to all those weird Jewish words you never got from all those other languages of which she taught herself as much as her exchanged houseguests would let her. But whereas Kristina spoke a language which seemed to have a word for everything, Simcha's language seemed to have an infinity of words that seem to precisely mean only themselves.
Simcha replaced Kristina as her confessor, and she was his replacement for Talmud which he studied with the insatiate curiosity of a Talmid Khakham, and asked the most pointed, personal questions of and about her, the friends of hers he disliked, the family she thought she knew until he demanded details of her background she neither knew nor thought her parents did. Being the perfect daughter of a doctor and a minister as she was, Bethany could not be more concerned with healing the world if she tried, but she seemed to know innately that mysteries do not exist to be solved. The fact that some essential details of life were beyond here ministrations did not trouble her. But for Simcha, the mysteries of people seemed to exist only to be divined. The universe in all its microscopic majesty was a tree growing citruses to be squeezed, a sea with oysters to be slurped. Wouldn't he be happier if he didn't want to know so much about everybody?
It's Purim, it's Alamo Square Park, it's time to get so drunk you don't know the difference between Haman and Mordechai. All Bethany has to say to her friends is that there will be free hard liquor and three quarters of the San Francisco Friends high school will show up, and so do half the adults from the Church of the Holy Fellowship. Not that Unitarians celebrate Fat Tuesday, but when Bethany tells Mary that Rabbi Freylik's terrified nobody shows up for Purim, Mary suggests that the Freyliks can turn their Purim party into a combined Purim and Mardi Gras, Bethany makes sure Simcha tells Rabbi Freylik and Simcha's father jumps at the suggestion. Ordinarily, charedim, even Chabadniks, would wretch at the idea of an interfaith celebration. But these are no ordinary times for Chabad. The 92-jahr-alt Rebbe has been unable to talk for two years, a stroke leaving him completely paralyzed on his body's right side. The fact that he dwells with one foot in the world to come leads to ever greater speculation that Der Rebbe is the Moshiach. Nobody's in charge of Chabad right now, and every Lubavich shaliach has to make his own rules. If nobody shows up, Rebbe Freylik will have have to explain to the Schlichim coming into town from elsewhere to help him why he's been so unsuccessful attracting new members. Nu, what they don't know about how we get people to show up can't hurt them. These schkotzer idolworshippers don't even celebrate Mardi Gras, no goyisher brokhes, no crucifixes, they're just gonna pay for a jazz band, fah deh masks, fah deh hula hoops, and fah deh beads. These ahkoo'im are even bring their own liquor, cuz all dey do is trink. So even if a hundred or two goyim show up along with one or two Jews, what reason do we have to complain?