Yiddish, Yarns and Yams, Oh My

Jon Kaufman
Jon Kaufman

This week, I am making a pilgrimage to the land of my ancestors, southeastern Florida.  For generations Jewish New Yorkers have migrated towards those sunny latitudes to retire, play cards by the pool, and complain about the heat.  At the border each aged traveler is issued a pair of white shoes, a white belt and a white pocketbook (women only).  Following a brief orientation, new residents are released into the wild with a list of eateries that offer two-for-one early bird dining specials and directions to the nearest Publix supermarket.The first time my mom met my soon-to-be wife was on a pre-marriage trip that Janet and I made to Florida. This would be Janet’s first direct exposure to my mom’s southern habitat.  In honor of her future daughter-in-law, my lovely and gracious mom planned an afternoon lunch party to introduce this new member of our family to her friends.  The events that followed still tickle me to this day.

The luncheon was a site to behold, a wide variety of Jewish delicacies covered Mom’s dining room table, all of which would be a challenge for anyone living south of New Jersey to identify. Janet is not a fan of fish regardless of how it is prepared, and this table looked like cast of “Finding Nemo.”  Smiling bravely, Janet moved politely along the buffet searching for a glimpse of sustenance.  This would be a light lunch for both of us.

Perhaps I was kidnapped as an infant by a band of roving Jewish housewives or perhaps I was switched at birth with an Italian child, but I am not fond of Jewish cuisine.  To me, it seems like everything has been passed through a special secret de-flavorizing machine prior to serving. Very bland.  I consider a kosher boiled chicken the Al Gore of foods. Nuf said?  I had been around this stuff for the duration of my formative years and had successfully managed to avoid ingesting most of it.  That day would not be the exception.

Following the feast came coffee and bunt cake.  Small conclaves huddled and conversed independently of each other until the subject of hospital transportation was breached.  This hot topic appeared to bring all of the groups together on common ground.

Stories of ambulance calamities filled the room, one tale more horrible than the next.  One woman was abandoned six blocks from the emergency room (her driver was dispatched to another more dire emergency) and was finally escorted to the E.R. by a passing stranger who asked her why she was walking down the street in her bathrobe.

“I told him that I got lost on the way to the kitchen,” she quipped “this a question to ask someone in need of medical attention?”

An elderly man struggling to balance his cake and coffee on his lap, recalled a time when   an EMT technician tried to sell him two tickets to a charity dance while he was on the way to the hospital

“I’m on death’s door and this yutz wants me to go to a dance? I told him NO, so now he’s putting the hard sell on me.  He says “you can surprise my wife with the tickets,” so I tell him look, my wife has been dead for three years, so seeing her out on the town would be a surprise for everyone including her, and besides I’m not digging her up just to go to a dance.”

Every person in attendance had a story hilariously embellished to the point of absurdity.  It became clear that this gab-fest had grown into a full-fledged throw-down competition. The combination of the tales, the accents and the stage gestures created the perfect storm of rescue squad comedy. If “one-upsmanship” was an Olympic event, world records would have been falling like General Motors stock.

Janet and I had a ringside seat for every yarn, the principles performing directly to us like a small theatre group interacting with their audience.  Although our stomachs were growling, Janet and I thoroughly enjoyed the afternoon matinee and would have recommend my Mom’s theatre as a fun day trip for anyone visiting the greater Fort Lauderdale area, if the Parrot Jungle was closed.

Following the festivities, Janet and I dashed to McDonalds, annihilated a few Big Macs and debriefed.  Eventually, I will return to the Sunshine State, shod in white and doing my part to spin a tale and enjoy the mere suggestion of taste from some poor chicken, but in the meantime the Golden Arches will do just fine.

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