Outdated Chapter Three
Joe normally stayed late at his office on Fridays, finding the relative quiet more conducive to getting his work done. Besides, he wasn’t in any rush to get back to prepare for Shabbos. He had no definite plans, only the hope of an invite from someone he’d befriended from a shul in the neighborhood he frequented, supplemented by a meager purchase from Gourmet on J in case of a shutout. Still, he much preferred it to crashing on the couch of one of a string of friends from college who lived in more popular neighborhoods for young professionals around the city. Once in a while he availed himself of a bit of revelry, but to spend his entire Shabbos engrossed in party games and hanging out didn’t excite him. He much preferred using his time for learning Gemara or getting his graduate reading done than being tied to someone’s social schedule. He had been hoping to avoid Mr. Siegel ever since their meeting last Monday, because he wasn’t planning to call the shadchan. Daniela might have set back his confidence, but he wasn’t desperate enough to need a matchmaker. He’d heard all about shidduchim from Sharon and didn’t need to be escorted through a relationship or cajoled into a marriage with someone he barely knew when he could take care of himself. Just because he hadn’t yet found someone to love didn’t ruin his chances forever. He was still optimistic; his future wife might bump into him around the next corner. He had resolved to destroy the business card, but procrastination prevented him from acting so hastily.
After work, he got on a downtown 2 train and squeezed with his messenger bag into the standing space of a crowded car. At Atlantic Avenue he switched to the Q to procure some Shabbos foods in case Mrs. Gruberman’s offer had been conditional on a follow-up phone call. As he approached the platform he heard the exhaust of the train brakes, and so he ran down the stairs and hopped into the closest door. Satisfied with his accomplishment, he looked around the subway car and saw someone he knew. Millions of people pass through the subways in New York every day, so running into the faintest acquaintance is a treasured occurrence.
“Hi Nati,” Joe said after squirming through the crowded car.
“Hey there Joe,” Nati replied, offering the hand that wasn’t holding a briefcase. Whenever Joe found himself around the Upper West Side, somehow Nati was always there, and upon the third such instance Nati introduced himself and they discovered that they both were raised in the suburbs of DC. “How’s it going?”
“Fine. Just finishing work?”
“Yep. Live around here?”
“In Flatbush. I take it that you’re visiting someone.”
“You got me,” he said.
“I went down to Potomac for Shavuos,” Joe told him.
“Yeah?” Nati nodded in an understanding way. “Nothing changes down there.”
“Nope. But our parents like it.”
“Oh sure, sure.” They both began to look around the car, as if something needed to fill the silence. Never had they met out of a large group context where escaping to another conversation was always an option, and the intimacy that comes with being thrown in the same crowded Q train was an unfamiliar burden.
“So then I take it that you’re not going down for the wedding,” Nati said.
“What wedding?” Joe asked.
“Isn’t Rebecca Hoffman getting married in two weeks?”
“What?” Joe exclaimed. Half the people in the subway car turned upon hearing his outburst, and so he quickly composed himself, mustering a weak smile. “Did you say Rebecca Hoffman?” he asked Nati more quietly.
“Yeah,” Nati told him, expressionless. “Wasn’t she in your year at JDS?”
“Yes, yes she was. I just…hmm.” He scratched his chin.
“I didn’t get an invitation,” Nati said absently. “I didn’t know her so well. My cousin told me about it. The chattan is from Westchester; they met in college.”
“At Harvard,” Joe added hollowly.
“Is that where she went? Wow, smart girl.”
“Yeah,” Joe agreed. “I didn’t know.” Wanting to change the subject, he quickly asked the only thing that came to mind. “So who are you visiting?”
“You know my friend Jessica?” Nati asked.
Joe blinked his eyes rapidly. He couldn’t think of a time he saw Nati without her. “Yes, Jessica. Where does she live?”
“Well, she lives on 92nd, just off Broadway, but her parents live in Sheepshead Bay. She went there for Shavuot and caught something nasty; she’s been in bed all week.”
Joe winced. “I’m sorry to hear that.”
Nati looked away. “Yeah, well, thank G-d she’s feeling better, but she’s been so bored out there she asked me to come cheer her up.”
“That’s nice of you,” Joe told him as he patted Nati’s shoulder. Then he realized something. “But how are you going to get back in time?”
Nati eyed Joe with a puzzled face. “Get back?”
“How are you going to get uptown before Shabbos?”
Nati laughed. “Nah, I’m not going anywhere. Besides, her mother is an excellent cook. Tonight she’s making duck.” He closed his eyes and hummed as if he could taste it there on the subway.
“I take it this isn’t your first time going out there,” Joe surmised.
Nati laughed gruffly, almost coarsely. “No. Not at all.”
The subway stopped and Joe had to back up to let passengers exit. When the doors closed, Joe returned to where he was standing, bringing back the conversation by saying, “Wow…a whole Shabbos.”
Nati shrugged one shoulder and closed his eyes. “When you know someone for so long,” he said blankly, “it doesn’t register any more. I’ve known Jessica since college—six, seven years. You reach a stage when it’s just natural.”
Joe nodded. He recalled the time in his senior year when he dropped everything and jettisoned uptown to bring Sharon some soup when she was sick in bed at her grandmother’s apartment. He laughed to himself, thinking that it wasn’t so long ago he would do something like that, and yet now he couldn’t imagine himself doing the same. The nostalgia quieted them both until the train announced its imminent approach to Prospect Park.
Nati straightened his back. “I’m going to get off and take the express.”
“You really know the deal,” Joe joked.
He looked into Joe’s eyes and sighed. “I guess so.”
“You’re doing a real chessed,” Joe told him.
Nati nodded tiredly as the train came to a stop. “You don’t know the half of it,” he said.
Joe hid his curiosity as the train door opened and Nati waved goodbye as he walked onto the platform.
To sneak-peek the whole book, or for more about the author’s plans for his ego, check out nathanwolff.com