Kosher Pastrami [short fiction]


Pastrami’s not pastrami unless it’s kosher pastrami,  but who makes the best kosher pastrami you could have agued until doomsday back in Brooklyn when I was boy. Of course, there were many, and I mean, there were many, many more kosher delis in Brooklyn when I was a boy than there are now. Anti-Semites from outside of New York used to call New York, Jew York–how clever the yokel crackers used to be. Today, they’re just troglodytic.

Yes, absolutely no problem finding a deli in Brooklyn whose patrons would argue had the best pastrami, unless they were regular patrons because of proximity and understood that there were others who had better pastrami, but theirs was not bad and overtime good enough.

I think this was once a pressing topic for discussion, and not just in the Jewish homes I had the pleasure (as we used to say) of entering? being entertained in–yes, we did do entertaining. What is it that I think when I think about kosher Pastrami?

Cousins Delicatessen was the pastrami I knew best when I was boy, and especially for lunch almost every day when I attended Public School 208. I was almost always the only kid from 208 there. Some came to get hot dogs to go, but I needed to sit to eat my pastrami. The black kids didn’t come to eat Kosher, and I imagine the Jewish kids didn’t want to eat Kosher–I didn’t want to go to the pizzeria all the time, but maybe I went more than I remember, only kosher was what I ate, and a lot, for lunch. I didn’t imagine that I was even a pseudo expert, and when I was kid, we had to ask Jewish people about kosher pastrami, just as you had to ask Italians about Italian restaurants, or so we believed.

Was it in the seventies that everyting 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–yes, when was that? 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 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–yet you did not have to be Jewish to enjoy Kosher Pastrami. 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–don’t you? Hamlet did, I recall, something I remember from Harold Bloom. 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. I am doing my duty here at Central Jury in Brooklyn, although it annoys the shit out of me.


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 sandwich, 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? Who is he? Who am I? I am I, I am you, I am he, she or it . . . I am many, thus I am we, another version of We the People. I have to remain macrocosm to all the categories of my inclusion: those of race, gender, ethnicity, nationality, citizenship, residency, political affiliation, job, economic status, religion, education, discipline, sexual preference, any one or another fanaticism.

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?  Why do I assume as much? Our brand of democratization has always been to include the stupid.

Sometimes I imagine a world where that does not exist, but that world does not exist–there are always forms of stupid that find a home in bureaucracy. 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 when it was the Meat Packing Districty. We look nothing at all like the sides of beef hanging in the wholesale butcher markets that are no longer there.

All existence is a reductio ad absurdum, unless we delude ourselves otherwise that much of general concern has meaning, intentionality other than that of deadening us to change for ourselves, or change for the people, only change for the better for the Power and Monied Elites. Is this what gets achieved 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 any 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.

(I just watched Husbands and Wives the other day for the first time. Imagine that.)

Part Two

PRO DEO ET PATRIA is a grotesque slogan only ever having been designed to situate us in the structure of a Totalitarian Bourgeois Capitalist America with Truth and Justice being of the Elites, for the Elites by the sweat, toil, travail and trials of the People. Nothing less than 300,000 heads? Who could imagine such horrific venting?

Honor–we always do everything for honor whenever we do anything for the state, as the United States of America is mostly and persistently a government of the state, for the state, and by the state.

What do we do for culture when we continue to ignore it, abuse it, refuse to understand it, continue to look to media packaging for what we accept as authentic–as if the idea of authenticity in a culture is not in itself absurd. I am not pointing to authentic pastrami or inauthentic pastrami but kosher pastrami as kosher pastrami had been when it was made by those who lived it loved it made it as life is loved and necessary. But this government of the state and by the state et cetera  will certainly never perish, I’m sure.

I used to tell friends of mine who had immigrated to the United States that they firstly and fore mostly immigrated to the federal government and not America, that what they saw first was the state and not the country.  I believed this then of them, and can continue this argument effectively; the difference today is that this is increasingly becoming true for me as well, a native born citizen, whereby I live in the state more often and more encroachingly than I do in my country, a place where we are expected daily to increase our devotion to the state and to the Public while abandoning all hope of ever recovering the people, a people of the people, by the people and for the people without fear of perishing except through abdicating our responsibility to the people.

Love of country cannot be equal to love of state or love of pastrami; that is, no more than the public can ever entirely be the people or a vat of pickles.  In the America I had been raised to love–in the New York I was raised to love, the Brooklyn I was raised in by people I loved–the government was never your friend, and that was something I was taught by an ex-Marine father who was yet always faithful–however, it was possible to have a waiter in a Jewish Deli who was your friend, or so you could assume and  blow smoke up each other’s ass about, as he gave you extra pickles or had the counter man put a few extra slices of pastrami on the sandwich or make sure the fat was kept off or put on in whatever way you liked, of course friendship was fertilized with tips and so yes money fertilizes in way bullshit cannot.

My dad had taught me that in America, the government is just a little bit less the enemy of the people than in other countries, and reminded me, of course, that I would not want to be living in Red China or the Soviet Union, where bureaucracy administered proctology exams take place more often and without vaseline. He also taught me that if you want pastrami you go to a Jewish Deli and if you want lasagna you do not go to a Jewish Deli, although there were plenty of old Jewish ladies with some kind of blue for hair to cover the gray who ordered lasagna at the Kosher Deli because they felt like Italian. But as I set myself the task of waiting, and waiting, and waiting, amid the many yawning faces here at Central Jury, I wonder how any of the officials I have so far herein seen can expect any one of the people to have respect for the State, seeing how inarticulate these very officials are, ineffective, for sure, as they show–another mumbled roll call, and another garbled announcement, and another non-native speaker murdering my mother tongue–I never ordered tongue at any kosher deli, not after having tried the tongue my mother ordered one day because she actually liked it and in fact ate so many of the things in a kosher deli I can no longer pronounce or have ever tried. I always thought that Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot was the arch-typical representation for waiters . . . a myth for waiters, who are a lot more like Didi and Gogo than anyone anywhere has ever been anytime.


All my time in Paris I did not meet one non-native speaker of French working for the government of France or the City of Paris, or in any capacity we would call official . . . and not one non-native speaking waiter, who all were not as bad as depicted, but then I found the French more charming than most Americans do. I don’t want to be seen as one of America’s reactionaries because I have as much fear of them as I do many of my friends and acquaintances among the educated liberal elite, and there are certainly liberals who are elites in America.

But there is something preferable in officials of government speaking clear articulate English, something every waiter at Cousin’s Kosher Deli would have insisted he spoke, haven’t you ever heard English? The many kinds of English spoken, a lot less than kin I could have said, what they said how they said it, although I learned what they meant by what they said when they said it how they did. There is something certainly preferable about getting pastrami in a kosher deli, preferably in New York, or so my prejudice continues.

American politics moreover has been a match of policy ping-pong between entrenched liberal and conservative elites, both sides serving up as an ideal, one or another version of Publius as Populus, nevertheless, Publius first and last and always present beneath the veneer of Populus.  These less than official officials are flippant too, and in the buffoonery I see . . . waiting as I do, poor players strutting and fretting their hour on the stage of state–Publius is today a poor actor who is less than organic in his role.  Waiting as I do again, waiting as I do some more, longer, longer, longer–and then an old woman smiles and erases the time I have spent.

Populus beams and I have hope mostly because I know that this woman is We the People of the United States for if she is not, then I am not, and if I am not, then no one is. Each of us is We the People; each of us must be for it to mean anything.  But I’ve been saying this for a long time already, how many years into how many decades I don’t care to count.  I’ll say it again because it is a truth I hold to be self-evident, but the self-evidencies of one mind need not transfer to another or any other.

Yet, I do not offer this as a rebuttal for the truth of what I say concerning our democracy and what we need to believe to hold it.  Democracy is as much faith as it is empiricism, perhaps more so.  I do have to believe in freedom. I do have to believe in the preservation of kosher pastrami.

Part Three

Intelligent people can come from anywhere. Stupid ones do come from everywhere. The Democratic ideal has been abdicated in favor of a pluralistic one, a hallmark of twentieth century politics everywhere, certainly; a current politique in favor among a broad spectrum of college educated administrators and fellow paper pushers (paper in the ether?) managing America’s affairs with a bureaucratic efficiency reminiscent of the best managerial traditions of our military. The military-social-complex is here. Intelligence in America is more in line with saying so than proving so. Democracy has thus been transformed in the image of the State, the newest form of God we worship, and worship we do.

Power in Democracy is numerical, we once believed. The power of belief in a Kosher Deli’s pastrami being the best is also numerical. We deferred to the idea that the people were a powerful entity in any country, let alone a country like the United States with a unique tradition of liberty, we were certain of, I don’t believe we hope for any longer. We were once sure that the people were the only “institution” of governing that had the potential to counterbalance the weight of the state; We the people meant something to each of us. It was the people and only the people who were dense enough to counterbalance the weight and mass of the state, l’etat en soi-meme. Cousin’s Kosher Deli delivered? I don’t remember. I always walked when my mother wanted anything from the kosher deli.

Now, all states serve themselves; a truth to be undenied today; a truth that had at least the potential to be countermanded, not something I’m sure of at present. They are, as fore-stated and after-stated . . . for themselves, by themselves, in themselves, of themselves . . . with themselves . . . self-contained for always, every state for always the mortal enemy of what is best in the soul of the individual simple separate person. This person must remain macrocosm, however, even to the people themselves in order for the people to maintain in counter-balance its power and density.

We who could be the people, though, are no longer the people as Jefferson had envisioned, as later ages have agreed needs expanding; there is no resemblance to Populus or to Demos, not in any way akin to how either maintained its distinction from what was public in antiquity, or what could have remained in the Jeffersonian We the people. And that remains an is true in spite of Jefferson’s contradictions or seemingly weak remedies for having taken the wolf by the ears; I don’t let slavery stand as a rebuttal for the truths of Jefferson’s maxims on Liberty; Jefferson spoke truth on Liberty in spite of how he contradicted himself by his actions. It was Jefferson’s self-evident truths on liberty that the anti-slavery movement used to help free the slaves.

Today we proudly parade ourselves as Publius, a great Public en masse, not Populus, conformity the first and last choice in our contemporary notion of being free. And with there being no truth, no allegiance to the traditions of Democracy in the world historically or in America culturally, any idea of the people as in We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect Union becomes either suspect for being traditional or modified for succumbing to a hyper subjectivity, a kind of evolving antidote or answer for former totalitarian hyper rationalism.

Give me liberty of give me death means nothing today. Give me kosher pastrami or no kosher pastrami makes more sense–perhaps we should be saying–perhaps we are saying, give me no liberty if you cannot give us liberty in its entirety?

You must know that public and people are not synonyms; I cannot count how many times I have to defend this statement no matter how often I use it in discussions of politics with friends and colleagues–imagining that people listen in our sound-bite culture, in a culture devoted to maintaining Twitter accounts, is absurd.

The masses who are everywhere alike as masses are also those who gravitate toward one form of pluralism or another, whether Bolshevik then, communist after, fascist or Nazis before or since; one totalitarianism successive with another after another in a long parade of political sleepwalking; pluralism can and has also become Americanism redefined inside multiculturalism and the political correctness of the new diversity, supposedly a rebuttal if not an answer for what has ben imagined the old universalism. Politics, therefore, for the individual, and throughout the twentieth century, has marched as one kind of somnambulism after another, and this remains true whether it has been American, Russian, or French; Chinese, German, or Chilean, every kind et cetera . . . Toi! mon hypocrite lecteur, le semblable.

They are always the same everywhere as masses are masses regardless of language, culture, history, political or religious belief; each mass is essentially ready to serve the state or squander the self-hood of its numbers as well in turn their collected identity as a people, the people for whom each is macrocosmically We. I am we, politically. All of this has been abdicated for a lumpen, numerical existence, one most honored and respected by bureaucrats, collectively in themselves bureaucracy. bureaucracy is not something apart from bureaucrats; that’s a sleight of hand bureaucrats perform more expertly than any dealer in a game of three-card-monty, any magician would pay to perform with the straight face of your local bureaucrat.

The problem is no state can do without them; they can conform to any state. You don’t think the Nazis or the Fascists in Italy or Castro got rid of all bureaucrats, do you? The horror of existence is the bureaucrats for Batista were the bureaucrats for Castro. Talk to any administrator who is your boss in any state-run bureaucracy or the likes and you will see the same people who went from pushing papers for Weimar in the beginning of 1933 and the Nazis at Christmas time. They are present everywhere, these lumpen masses, especially present every morning in our reflection.

Who is not willing to be less than himself at every other turn? Mostly we consider freedom to be liberty from responsibility, yet it is our responses, our actions, our choices, thus all in a set of our obligations that define us; so in our quest to be free, how could we avoid abdicating our responsibility and think we could remain free.

Part Four

American pluralism is where being American now means that the people have lithified, where they have become a monolith of the most massive proportions. Pluralism here is a brand of politics seriously devoted to praying before the icons of our media, in imitatio de stelle, and we do look to our media icons for guidance, as some used to look to saints. We do pray in devotion before them, their images pressed as icons through our various media. What then are our TV personalities other than pseudo-live-motion saints, chapels in a box with an aerial tuner.

There is a ritual life in our entertainment world aligned secularly, one we gratefully participate in. True enough, for sure; but then there is often nothing more difficult to see than the truth. The media president has been one thing every four years–and President Obama is as much a media president as any other, if not more so than many others; he is a media darling and therefore receives gracious treatment by broadcasters. But what about the media man and the media woman, the media American; the media person complete with media personhood, a media sense of self, a media informed sense of duty of obligation of freedom of liberty of pedagogy of voting behavior of ethical conduct et cetera . . .

Warhol, Warhol, prophet of our future. Of course he is–who else would you say?

TV evangelists have always bugged the American liberal establishment because the former are simply more overt forms of what the latter is politically, secularly. What any of this other stuff–and stuffed derma my mother used to send me to the deli to get; I used to get her a lot of take out from Cousin’s, the franks we used to eat a lot of when I was a boy–yes, what this about Jury Duty has to do with going to get Pastrami on club with pickles and cole slaw I would venture to guess if I were idiot, but I am not an idiot, and so I do know that this herein as it has been presented has nothing at all to do with my craving for kosher pastrami on club with mustard and sides of pickles and cole slaw . . .



I love the cole slaw at the The Avenue T Deli in Brooklyn, most of the Jewish delis having gone the way of most Eastern European Jews in New York, those that are left have become white like wonder bread and forget about finding a good Jewish (read Ashkenazi) Deli, if you can find any kosher delis at all, that is, if you are not going to go to Orthodoxville, in Boro Park or Williamsburg. I remember the pastrami on club at Cousins in East Flatbush when I was a boy going to school at PS 208 on Avenue D, and we would be let out for lunch, and sometimes when I would not go home, which I could because for some time during my elementary school days, grammar school as we called it, I lived on East 48th Street between Farragut Road and Foster Avenue (only one and half avenue lengths away), and then right across the street from the school on the corner of East 48th and Avenue D, the school being on Avenue D between East 48th Street and East 49th . . . ; and so, when I would not go home for lunch like I said I could, I would go to a nearby place to eat, and Cousins was on Avenue D between Utica Avenue (East 50th Street) and East 51st Street, if I am remembering correctly, how many years ago this being I could count but won’t, not now, not here, not with the intention of telling about how good the pastrami at Cousin’s was, and it was good, delicious, more than delicious–what is more than delicious, succulent, mouth watering? what is there to say to tell you how this pastrami was is now in the mind.

The waiters were as grumpy as could be, and the grumpiest always taking my order no matter what table I sat at, and I think in a way being a protective-watcher over me because my parents came their with me and were excellent tippers, I mean the best, guineas always being better tippers than micks my Irish/French American mother would say (my dad a good tipper, excellent like I’ve said, but my mother insanely better because she was always in the cause of service people doing for us what we did not want to do for ourselves and that that should cost something and that they should be rewarded, saying things to me like you wouldn’t want to do this job, or something else like this job is hard, or you wouldn’t want to be a migrant farmer picking fruit in California, which I wondered about, thinking for  a time that if waiters did not wait tables in New York, the alternative was to pick fruit in California)  and I say things like this to a college kid and he just says I am an idiot.

But pastrami I liked when I was a kid better than corned beef, and I do like corned beef, but I guess I prefer pastrami, but it has to be good kosher pastrami, and I went to the Carnegie Deli recently, and not only was I unimpressed by their pastrami, I wondered where I was when in this Kosher Deli because all the wait staff were Chinese. I do remember incredible matzo ball soup from a take out place near the King’s Highway Q and B train station. It is no longer there, but about 25 years ago, it was one really fantastic stop for Matzo ball soup and other delicacies . . . delicatessen is Yiddish and German for delicate eating; Yiddish and German being inter-dialectical, both having come middle high-German, which is German from the Highlands and not the lowlands or the Netherlands and around. Yiddish does come from modern German; they both have a common source and one is not closer to that source than the other.

I still have a hankering for kosher pastrami, but of course, good kosher pastrami. I will not go to the Carnegie Deli that must be owned by Chinese or something–why is every waiter in the place Chinese? They are, all of them Chinese. I won’t go to a Ukrainian Restaurant when I want tacos. I have no problem with Chinese waiters or all of a places waiters being Chinese when I am getting dim sum in Brooklyn, but . . . no. I am still in search of good kosher pastrami. I want to have a Kosher Pastrami on club at the Avenue T Deli in Bergen Beach, at the edge of Canarsie . . .

I’ll call friends so we can drive there and have what i am now craving–a lot more than I am looking forward to fulfilling what some assholes call their civic duty–schmucks propagating some half-baked, semi-literate, under-educated notion of what my duty to society is–fuck them and fuck you. The faster I get out of here, the better I will feel about what my civic duty could be, should be, will be–how much the State is full of shit stinks through every effort here it makes to convince us this is what we should be doing.

I want a good kosher pastrami sandwich. I want good government, and yes, still naively I believe, one that can serve the People as a People and not only a curtailed and in-formed Public, yes, a government of the People, by the People and for the People . . . never perishing as has good Kosher Pastrami in New York City.


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