HOLLYWOOD—This week’s Miller Time presents three Hollywood tales that illustrate the timeless wisdom and universality of Yiddish lingo.
Tzar gidul banim (The ubiquitous pain of child rearing)
Frenzied and hyper-ventilating, cutting across all ages, races and economic strata, men and women line up all too eagerly outside Yucca Recreational Center in Hollywood for 50 precious spots in the summer day camp. Some of those gathered this spring morning have been there since 7 a.m.; ordered here by strident wives. A prudent few bring lawn chairs to wait until doors open at 10 a.m.
One large woman from the Baltic States will repeatedly try to creep to the space at the head of the line. (In the Soviet days, the Baltics provided an advanced placement class in advanced line placement.) An ample woman from South Central will subdue the large Baltic specimen.
This quaint ritual occurs every spring at recreation centers throughout the city as parents, haunted by the terrifying prospect of naked tzar gidul banim, being one on one, alone with the kiddies all summer, run for cover. Here is a revealing exchange heard on Yucca Street last week:
PASSERBY – What’s happening here?
WOMAN IN LINE ”“ Summer Camp.
PASSERBY ”“ Summer camp for kids?
WOMAN ”“ No, for parents. (laughter) We get rid of the children.
The root cause is already classified and codified by Jewish folklore: evasion of tzar gidul banim, the ubiquitous pain of child rearing.
It was uncanny. Even as I strolled home from the movie theater on Sunset at 2 a.m., somebody would always be standing shirtless in the darkened balcony. Over a span of years, I observed the identical behavior in a string of tenants. A mysterious force lured them to stand on the balcony shirtless, night and day, in sun and rain. In Jewish folklore a dybbuk is a wandering soul believed to enter the body of a man and control his actions. Maybe the balcony apartment was possessed by a dybbuk, the spirit of an unhappy young actor who strangled himself when the Hollywood dream didn’t pan out and now brings each successive tenant onto the balcony, waiting to be ”˜discovered.’
Another neighbor had also been observing the balcony. In contrast with me, my neighbor had the astonishingly logical notion that the apartment had been occupied by a single tenant with exhibitionistic tendencies. My legend was way cooler. Nevertheless, I do worship truth, and in the case of the mysterious balcony there was a way to the truth.
“We’re going to settle this,” I told my neighbor. “I’ll talk to the yenta.” Roxie is the yenta—the neighborhood talker, possessed of a genius for holding together the strands of more lives than seeds in a pomegranate. She is the soul of the hood, remembering everyone’s names and children, their diseases and where what memorable things happened and what so-and-so was doing when it happened. Her encyclopedic grasp of our microcosm leaves me in amazement.
The next day I ran into her at the Laundromat. I immediately launched:
“You know the upstairs apartment with the balcony”¦?”
“Yes, the one where Chris and Sarah live”¦”
“How many tenants have lived there in the last eight years?”
“Chris and Sarah moved there in October 2001. They are wonderful people. He came here to sing, and the singing didn’t work out. He’s a waiter at a Japanese restaurant. She’s a sweetheart”¦ She works with deaf children.”
O.K. I made the part up about the deaf children, but you get the drift. The yenta knows everything. “Any time you walk by, you can wave. They’re great people.” If the yenta says so, you can count on it.
The Schnorrer (a beggar with pretensions to respectability)
Dressed in her Sunday best, a Chanel dress, pillbox hat with a veil, beige and a leather attachÃ©, this huntress of the almighty dollars trawls the Rite Aid parking lot for unsuspecting souls. And she’s got a cockamamie story about her car getting towed, she doesn’t have her insurance papers and she needs to pay $50 so it won’t get towed. After the second or third time, you get to appreciate the pure entertainment value. Nice try, schnorrer.