Friday, February 7, 2014

Raisin Challah

I cannot overstate the significance of the Silver Lake Trader Joe's. Just about everything I know about people in the neighborhood, which according to the local council, we are no longer permitted to refer to as the Eastside, I have gleaned by bumping into friends while stocking up on Joe Joes and fat free feta. Last week I described a friend's efforts to extract her car from the notorious parking lot while her son, experiencing a psychotic episode, careened down Hyperion. I have learned that the annex lot, half a block a way, is less treacherous and I am returning to my car there when Spuds calls. “Have you heard anything from Bard?” he asks. I immediately think drug bust or expulsion but he goes on to tell me that two girl students have been killed in nearby Tivoli. As they walk down the highway to catch a late night shuttle back to campus, an intoxicated driver plows them down and flees the scene. I am lucky to have parked in the less conspicuous parking lot as I completely lose it to the point where I hear Spuds, usually quite composed, snarfling a bit himself on the other end. After his own horrifying freeway accident last summer it is such a comfort to dump Spuds in a dinky town and without a car. I think of the girls' parents getting that call. Years ago the president of Bard lost his own daughter, near the campus, to a drunk driver. We saw her grave when we visited. I will never resign myself to how powerless I am to keep my children from harm's way. I weep with relief that my own boy is safe and the sense of the unimaginable path of grief in store for two other mothers.

Bard is a tiny school so this is a hard, hard hit. Spuds himself is also in Tivoli the night of the accident but a friend drives him back to campus. Spuds knows the girls very casually but his roommate has known one since childhood, and oddly the other hails from Chicago and attended high school with one of Joe College's Redlands friends. There are campus vigils and days of grief counseling. Spuds is shaken but acknowledges that the girls were not his close friends. He notes the propensity of his peers, particularly those of the female gender, to over-dramatize and inflate their connections to the victims of such tragedies.

When Spuds was in high school, he befriended a quirky kid that most of the others on campus considered to be a colossal pain in the butt. One of his college essays describes discovering a commonality with the boy through their mutual love of music. Several months later the boy took his own life. Spuds was called upon to eulogize him. Kids had never given the boy the time of day wept copiously, sort of an un-dry run at genuine grief. Perhaps this experience has helped Spuds keep his own emotional perspective on the death of the two Bard students.

I am driving home the following day and my phone explodes with calls and text messages. Phillip Seymour Hoffman has died of an overdose. Hoffman was the subject of another of Spuds' college essays. Spuds witnessed Hoffman being mugged at 2:00 a.m. from the window of a 5th story flat we'd rented in Greenwich Village. He'd called the police and waited with Hoffman until he was composed enough to return to his own apartment across the street. Even without the fleeting personal connection, both of the sprats adore Hoffman and they are unsettled by his death.

I know that the week's sorrow is transitory and that perhaps a small comfort is that these sorrows are toughening their skins. I am thankful that they reach out to each other and also to me at times of sadness and of joy too. Joe College texts me a few months ago to discreetly announce, in what I imagine is quite a departure from the standard 21 year old lexicon, that he and a girl I am particularly fond of are now “an item.” He calls me this week and joyfully announces that he has been chosen as a Residence Advisor for the next year, which entails dealing with lost keys and crises in the dormitory in exchange for free room and board.

Work study employment has eluded Spuds. Because he is quite experienced in film handling he has reached out to the director of the campus film archive. The professor has been on sabbatical and has just returned to campus. Spuds makes an appointment and I provide a bit of reference material and drill him a bit on some practices and terminology. It has snowed nearly every day and the romance of this has worn very thin with the boy. He trudges across campus for his meeting at the film archive, waits for an hour before deciding he's been stood up. He emails the professor politely requesting to reschedule and receives a terse, unapologetic response instructing him to meet up after a late night screening. Spuds says he has lots of homework and that it's freezing. I tell him that if he's getting a bad vibe that he shouldn't pursue it. I look up the screening schedule and see that there's a short, a silent feature and a two hour artsy Polish film all followed by a discussion with the director. The silent is Murnau's Sunrise which is, given the length of the program,  about the same time that it will end. Maybe Spuds can try for something in the library or the cafeteria.

Spuds calls me the next day and reports that after rushing through his classwork, he makes his way over to the archive. After a crappy week, there is a stroke of luck. The director of the Polish film, along with the 35mm print, are no show, resulting in a good program of reasonable length. Spuds catches up with the professor finally who he actually finds to be very pleasant. And I doubt if many of the other students are able to chat about edge dating, vinegar syndrome and optical sound. The professor is overjoyed when he learns Spuds is a freshman, “so we'll have you with us for four years.”

The Trader Joe's has challah now and sometimes I buy it there. Unfortunately, the bathroom is often being cleaned and therefore inaccessible so I often cross the street to Gelson's instead. When the kids were in preschool we stopped there Friday mornings (back when it was still called Mayfair) for Shabbat challah and flowers. While Joe College's first sentence was “At night we see stars,” the more practical Spuds said “Tomorrow we go to Mayfair.” There was a guy we called “the angel man” who blathered on to the kids. He was creepy but never to the extent that justified a demand to have him 86ed. Now when I stop there the challah I buy is a tiny one, the size of a sandwich roll and it has raisins, which the kids dislike. Nursery school families are still here shopping for the pre-school Shabbat. The parents are weary from attending to the vigilance that this age group requires. I could proclaim to them how fast it all goes by but they are too exhausted to drink it in and anyway, they'd think I'm just as creepy as the angel man. Our shabbat table at home, with our teeny challah is set now just for two. I suppose that some day this might not make me sad. We light the candles and I bless the sprats from afar, a different manifestation of eternal vigilance.   


John L. Murphy / "FionnchĂș" said...

Well, that "Sunrise" remark brought an audible chuckle. I'm glad that the week is looking up after a series of downs. Strange how our family overlaps with students in Illinois and a famous actor in NYC. Let's hope future news is less woeful and more uplifting. xxx me

Mike Maginot said...

Nice pun. I made challah back in November and was quite pleased with the results. The recipe I used was for two loaves. Since, I'm a solo act until April, I can't see making that much bread. I also recently spent quality time at the Trader Joe's and Gelson's you mentioned. I was quite pleased with Gelson's bakery and Joe's cheese selection. You have reminded me that I have six Murnau silents on the "to be viewed" shelf. Glad the boys are doing fine...all tragedies aside. Good to see you at the Penny party.