That year for Purim you dressed up as a hooker. I was a goy. In the movie Mean Girls there was that Halloween scene that basically posited the entire holiday as an excuse to get slutty without taking responsibility for it — a girl in a nothing sort of dress pointing at mouse ears and saying, Duh, I’m a mouse — but Purim is a much deeper way of doing the same thing, of letting our inner demons out and allowing them to wreak havoc on our external selves. Or maybe they already were, and we were just acknowledging it.
You in a nothing dress of your own, brief and red, as true as it was a lie, beneath it you were covered neck-to-toes in body stockings and I could still see every curve that your body had. I wore khakis, a polo shirt, a baseball cap. All night I made jokes about my golf club membership and making America great again. In my hand I carried a McDonald’s takeout bag.
When wine goes in, secrets go out. We got so drunk that our desire poured out of our mouths and eyes and flooded the floor between us. Then we passed that barrier, stumbled into it more like, and got so drunk that we were too unable to do anything about it. At one point we were drunk enough to be seductive, but then we were too drunk to be anything but honest, and the truths poured out: how you came to New York because you couldn’t breathe, you made it sound to your family that this was the place to be religious but in truth it was the only place big enough so that you could hide from being religious. Why was I here? Just being here felt like its own achievement. Now that I had gotten here, I had nothing else to gain.
We started by complimenting each other, drawing each other close. When we were close enough, when all the walls had come down, we started insulting each other. You’re a poseur and a cynic. You’re a hypocrite, you’re sending yourself to Gehennom. Why do we do anything? I’d been carrying around my grease-soaked bag, offering soggy fries to everyone at the party. They took them, assuming the bag was just a prop. It wasn’t. How many people had I inflicted with sins tonight? None, I’d just let them do it to themselves, there was no such thing as sin in the first place.
You’re a monster, you told me. I thought you didn’t believe in any of this, I said. I don’t, you said, but I still appreciate the beauty of cluelessness, I think what they’re doing is amazing.
I think what we could be doing is amazing, I said. Coming closer.
You moved away, she left me alone.
In the morning, still in the same clothes, I stopped at Denny’s and bought a Grand Slam breakfast to go. Next door was a liquor shop and I spent some time there too. I’d promised my sister I’d take care of her kids. Might as well come down to their intellectual capacity.
Their parents dispatched them after a moment’s conversation, more eager to dump them than they were to make small talk with my sister’s Weird Single Brother. And so I found myself being dragged through synagogue, one walnut-sized hand clasped to each of mine, seeing the world in an entirely new light.
The girls expressed delight in my newly febrile consciousness. They showed me their costumes and they showed me all the candy they’d secured so far. One was a mermaid and one was a ninja. I made the point that if she were really a mermaid, she’d have to hop everywhere. “See?” the other sister, the older sister, demanded, “that’s exactly what I said.”
Oops. I wanted to fit in, not declare war. Then the mermaid sister turned to the ninja sister and said, “Well ninjas aren’t supposed to wear skirts,” and I instantly felt moved to defend the girl, in spite of my recent cynicism, I don’t know why.
“Actually,” I said, putting on my most adult of voices — bear in mind I was drunk, I probably sounded something less than authoritative — “female ninjas would probably do just fine in skirts, I mean ninjas are trained to beat people up no matter what they’re wearing, and besides in feudal Japan it was a mark of royalty for men to wear skirts. Or dresses.” I swallowed. Just coming up with the grammar for that sentence halfway knocked me out.
They traded glances as if they were way out of my league. I offered them stuff from my takeaway bag, but one look at it and they both retched. “We have candy,” the mermaid sister informed me pointedly, and “What are you supposed to be, anyway?” demanded the ninja sister, and I could tell I’d lost her sympathy, too.
I didn’t have a good answer, so they took me around to meet their friends. The synagogue was a maze. Especially underneath, on the basement floor. There seemed to be kids everywhere, all without the lack of guidance of an adult. As soon as we seemed to have arrived, the girls promptly took their distance from me, making sure they were close enough so I wouldn’t have to run after them but far enough so they could pretend they didn’t know who I was.
I lost no time in starting to talk to the other kids there.
ME, to girl in wedding dress: Oh, you’re a bride.
GIRL, annoyed: I’m a rocket scientist. Except today I’m getting married.
ME: What are you supposed to be? Should I even guess?
TINY KID: If you haven’t watched the most recent season, there’s no way to explain it.
ME, to kid in a Hawaiian shirt as tacky as my own failed costume: What are you supposed to be?
KID: I’m Australian.
He draws from the pocket of his Bermuda shorts a knife at least 2 feet long and suitable for carving human remains into teriyaki.
I was useless. I had failed at life. I had always told myself — and by “always” I mean it just popped into my drunk-and-Rubik’s-Cube-scrambled brain at that moment and that scrambled brain had grabbed onto it and hugged it like G-d’s own truth — that if adults thought you were nuts, that might mean you’re a genius, but if kids don’t understand you then you’re just a sorry excuse for being human. And I was.
I went upstairs and left the place — please don’t think I abandoned those kids, it’s just that they both seemed to be pretty responsible and street-savvy people, and I barely had the mental fortitude to be able to count — and sat down on the steps, my head between my knees and the bag of food between my ankles. It was open, creased to hell, the top of it wrinkled from my repeated clasping and unclasping, swinging it around all morning.
The top unfolded and the smell hit me, all the smells together, maple syrup, melted butter, the peppery wince of hash browns, the fried grain of pancake batter, the meaty fatness of bacon. Individually I should love all these things, but at that moment they all writhed and combined in my nose and it felt like I was actually seeing them blended together in my intestine. I pictured offering it to you, last night — I pictured you, our conversation, our moments of warring theologies given up with the shrug of a moment, a screw-it-all, a let’s-go-and-grab-a-bite. I pictured that and I knew I could not, would not eat this, not now, not ever — not just the bacon, any of it.
I picked it up and pulled it back over my head. I was not rejecting this bacon for G-d, even in my tattered haze I knew that much — but I was rejecting it, and I was sending G-d something. I don’t know what it was. It was the breakfast combo, the whole enchilada, flying out of the bag, flying everywhere, streaking in bright garish colors across the clean blue sky, thrown by the most Christian-lookin’ man on the synagogue steps, both it and me only headed G-d knows where.