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Summer Job: Chapter 34

Dov Haller

The older man smiled gratefully. “You know, the way you tell the story is everything,” he whispered to Chaim, “we can’t disappoint the kids.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

C haim had gently suggested that Hershel should start the story, and then allow Chananya Singer to finish it. But Hershel Levinsky wouldn’t think of surrendering his story-telling tradition at the first Melaveh Malkah of the summer to anyone else.

Hershel would have preferred standing to sitting, and he really wanted to pace the middle of the dining room like he had in the old days, but he didn’t have the strength. He sat on the small stage, gripping the microphone, telling the incredible story of the break-in of 1979, when some out-of-work roofers drank too much at old Gabe’s Diner off Route 209. As usual, Hershel Levinsky poured more effort into the details than the actual story. “It wasn’t a restaurant, it was really just a small hut with a dart board and some drinks, some booze. And believe me boys, this wasn’t just a cup of kiddush.”

He tried the joke again. “It wasn’t kiddush, and it wasn’t the Purim seudah either,” he said, but still, no one laughed. He seemed insulted and his shoulders sagged.

“They drank, one shot, then another,” Hershel said, his voice weak. He appeared eager to get to the good part, how they’d come to break in to the Jewish boys’ camp and steal all the money. Hershel liked to imitate their voices: over the years, he’d given them names, evolving from John and Joe to more imaginative choices like Ralph and Barney.

“Look, they had no money, they were drunk, and the camp wasn’t protected. Back then, we didn’t even have the gate, you could just walk right in.” Hershel shuddered, as if to add an element of fear. Chaim got up and poured a glass of water, which he placed in front of his shver. Hershel looked grateful.

He hadn’t even gotten to the main part: it was a Thursday night. Thursday night! The older counselors had decided to stay up late learning, and Moish Bellinger was one of them. Moish Bellinger, who sold tiles in Far Rockaway and had never again achieved the celebrity afforded to him by the story, didn’t just have the best outside shot in the mountains. He was also a black belt in karate. Hershel started coughing and Chaim hurried over. “Daddy, take it easy, go slow.” The older man smiled gratefully. “You know, the way you tell the story is everything,” he whispered to Chaim, “we can’t disappoint the kids.”

Chaim looked around. He’d been here in past summers for the telling of the story, and he remembered the boys sitting wide-eyed, drawn into the drama and tension. Not tonight.

The kids were shifting from side to side. Over to his left, two boys were building a plastic-cup pyramid, taking bets from bunk mates. At least two counselors were sleeping. Bunk Yud Alef was mixing the orange drink with ketchup and sugar and daring younger boys to try it. Hershel Levinsky wanted to demonstrate how Barney and Ralph had staggered onto the camp grounds, drunk, so he tried to get up. He pushed the arms of the chair to lift himself, but then wilted and fell back down heavily.

“Daddy,” the words flew out of Chaim’s mouth, “I have an idea. I’ll ask Yudi to finish telling the story.”

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