Essay

The Verdict; or, A Day at Central Jury Imagining Kosher Pastrami [A Short-short Story]

Pastrami’s not pastrami unless it’s kosher pastrami, but who makes the best kosher pastrami you could have argued until doomsday back in Brooklyn, at least, I think, until the seventies–was it in the seventies that everything started to change, the New York I knew, the Brooklyn I was raised in, the what it was about this place I could tell you it was before it changed, started to change–when did it change? Am I asking? All of this, what? It certainly is nothing like it was when–is anything ever the way it was? The whole thing about was is that it is not now–but it is now, this not was, this what it was, this no longer is. Yes, I’d say that was about right, or that it was about close–and I know you don’t agree, but who are you? Are you the expert on kosher pastrami or kosher delis or Jews in Brooklyn. I grew up with and around so many Jews in Brooklyn when I was a boy–what? What does this say? What does this mean? What could it mean? What is it supposed to mean? I imagine it was supposed to have meant something it might no longer mean, might no longer be possible to mean, ever again.

I am now at Central Jury, sitting among the many here from everywhere in the city–I do want a kosher pastrami sandwich–and I look up to the front and see the seal of the State of New York looming official above the officials far less than official in their business and duties. To do your duty is the requirement of every citizen, I assume. The Golden Seal of the State of New York above the rulers of desks less than golden in their rule–those who lead are lead. I remember a friend who used to say his mother’s matzo balls were like lead. He never invited me over for Passover like other Jewish friends of mine invited me over for Passover . . . . I liked the pastrami at Wolf’s at the junction, but I know that it wasn’t the best in Brooklyn, and I do remember the Carnegie Deli when it was the Carnegie Deli and not some facsimile of what the Carnegie Deli used to be when it was already not what it had been. I sit and wait and write, and so I tell what I am doing thinking saying imagining hearing me say in mind–I do listen to myself. I do overhear myself think. I could say Thank you, Hamlet. Or maybe I should say, Thank you, Mr Shakespeare. I had a friend when I was a boy whose grandmother used to ask him if he had done his duty, did you do your duty, meaning had he taken his shit for the day. So much for our duty to the state–the people never have a duty to the state. Any obligations to the state come from being a state serving member of the public providing services for the state in return for some monetary reward, either through salary or welfare.

Here I am in court with others here not wanting to be with the others around them here. There are those who would like to do this duty, who relish the idea of being on a jury, and it is not so much the idea of serving the state in some small way as a temporary member of the public that I object to, but what masquerades as authority and how that authority parades itself here before us–I do miss the old pomp, the old circumstance. The state says, Do your duty. I could go for a kosher pastrami sandwhich, there used to be a good kosher deli on 2nd Ave in the East Village, right outside there were stars on the sidewalk announcing great actors from the Yiddish Theater when 2nd Ave had yiddish theaters. Edward G. Robinson came from there. I think I wanted to say something else, but no, no more now, only what Ihave herein presented, written–put down as court stenographers take down–I wish sometimes I could write in my journal the way stenographers do everything I hear. The State of New York, through the masks of its officials–an ancient comedy, perhaps, tragedy others see; there is no mask for the Theater of the Absurd except the human face. Comedy would have to be our persona here today, though, otherwise I’d cry; and yet, at the end of the day long tedium, I laugh. There is something from Wilde I remember, something about the Devil and having to laugh when you saw him because only a man with a heart of stone could not laugh at the Devil himself in hell. if the devil ate kosher pastrami, where would he go?

With irony seized, I know I face only the absurd here at Central Jury. Opposing this is not exactly the task of Sisyphus, but . . . again, when I do laugh, although not openly, and not in mocking derision, I do so, so as not to do otherwise or worse. The deadeningly mundane amid the mendacity . . . this is a closet play, one we keep in our heads, for safety, mostly. There is nothing quite so dangerous as half-intelligent authority; and here again I see working for the State, those I have become sure would never work for the state in France or England or even Russia, but grass has always been greener everywhere but in my own backyard? Sometimes I imagine a world that does not exist. There are times I imagine a past that did not exist . . . there are times I imagine a moment that is not happening and other times when I imagine a future that will never be. Kosher pastrami just might be right up there on the list of things that never existed or never will exist–unless it did exist, and I remember it existing as it does not . . . although I do like the pastrami at the Avenue T Deli, although I am not so sure this has survived as I once remember it from how long ago now, it’s decades too.

Yes, I do laugh when the State of New York says to everyone in the meeting/waiting hall that this is our duty, that this is our privilege, that we should be honored that we are called here not exactly like cattle–I have been to the Meatpacking District; we look nothing at all like the sides of beef hanging in the wholesale butcher markets. All existence is a reductio ad absurdum, unless we delude ourselves, which is what we do when we suspend our disbelief concerning the stagecraft of statecraft. I laugh when someone says they ate at a kosher deli because i can no longer imagine that ay of them exist and that it is merely an illusion a mirage some psychotic episode someone is having, or someone capitalizing on what is already a museum piece, and to think that the Nazis wanted to preserve Jewish culture in museums–and this is what New York today has become . . . that Woody Allen you think you see on the Upper Westside is an interactive hologram from the Museum of the City of New York.

 

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