A Fish Out of Water

A Novella by Altimexis

Posted January 2, 2010

Baltimore Police Car

1. A Trip to New York

Looking back, it’s hard to believe how naïve I was back then - back when we lived in Baltimore. I spent the first sixteen years of my life there and yet I was still an infant in so many ways when we left. It’s hard to explain, but my life was such a sheltered one, even though the neighborhood was tough and I grew up knowing we all had to be careful and to watch where we went. We lived in our own little enclave - our shtetl, or ghetto - and for us, life was safe, or so we thought.

All of that changed one day when my younger brothers and I came home from the Yeshiva - the religious school we attended instead of the local middle school or in my case, high school. I was still fifteen at the time.

Our street was filled with cars with flashing blue lights.

“What the fuck’s goin’ on, Danny?” my brother Izzy asked. Izzy was short for Yitzchak, the Hebrew version of Isaac. Izzy was fourteen. Man, was I glad my name was the same in Hebrew and English, Daniel.

“I’m gonna tell Dad you used the ‘F’ word,” our bratty, twelve-year-old brother, Shimmy, complained. Shimmy was short for Shimuel, the Hebrew version of Samuel. Shimmy was constantly playing off our parents against us, and vice versa. He wasn’t quite sure whether he was a kid or a teenager yet - something that would likely sort itself out in the coming year.

So there we were, confronted by the sight of all these cars with flashing lights, and the three of us boys had no idea ‘what the fuck was going on,’ to paraphrase Izzy.

“I don’t know, but I gotta bad feeling ’bout this,” I said as we got closer and closer to our home.

Shit, there were three police cars parked right out in front of our house and the one next door to us, and even more unmarked cars with blue flashing lights on their dashboards. I knew from watching police shows that those had to be detectives’ cars. This was heavy.

Walking up our steps, I think we were all three scared shitless. We didn’t know what we’d find inside. I think my hand was actually shaking as I got out my key and brought it up to the lock. Opening the door, I saw my father inside in the living room, with a couple of men in suits sitting on the sofa. He leapt up and ran to us, throwing his arms around me.

“Thank God, you’re OK! Thank God you’re all OK!” He cried out. After he was done hugging the living daylights out of me, he did the same with Izzy, and then with Shimmy. “The girls are in the kitchen, with your mother,” Dad said, as if answering a question I wasn’t yet ready to ask.

I had four sisters - Sarah, who was sixteen, Leah, who was thirteen, Shoshanah, Hebrew for Susan, who was eleven, and Rachel, who was ten. For some reason, all my sisters except Shoshanah had names that were the same in Hebrew and in English, just like me. Anyway, Sarah, Leah and Shoshanah all went to the Hebrew Academy for Girls, and Rachel went to the Jewish Day School, which was the religious elementary school we all went to when we were younger.

“Dad, what’s going on?” I asked.

Turning to the men in suits, my father asked, “Are we done here?”

“We do have a few more questions, Dr. Weiss, but nothing that’s urgent,” one of the men answered. “I understand if you need to attend to your family. If you’d be kind enough to give us a call or stop by the stationhouse, we can come back and finish things up later, at your convenience.”

The man gave my father a card, and then the two of them left, quickly and quietly.

“So what’s this all about?” Izzy asked our father.

“It’s the Rosenblatts,” he answered. The Rosenblatts were our next-door neighbors. “Normally, no one would be home during the day, but Aaron was home, sick today.”

“Yeah, he’s been out all week,” Shimmy chimed in. Aaron was Shimmy’s best friend. They’d been best friends forever. They were inseparable. Aaron was as much a fixture at our house as Shimmy was at the Rosenblatts.

When I saw the tears streaming down my father’s face, I knew. Oh my God, I knew. How would my brother get through this? How would we get through this? Aaron was family.

I heard my father continue, but I didn’t hear the words as he explained what had happened, “… was home, too, taking care of him… found their bodies… valuables were missing from the house.”

“Those damn schvartzes! Those damn, fucking schvartzes!” Shimmy screamed out.

“Shimmy!” Dad, yelled. “That’s a terrible thing to say! We don’t know that it was a black person that did this!”

“Well who else would it have been?” I asked. “The only people that live in Upper Park Heights are blacks and Orthodox Jews, and the only reason we still live here is ’cause that’s where our schule is, and we have to live within walking distance to pray there on Shabbat. The rest of the Jews have all moved out to Baltimore County, and beyond,” I complained. Yeah, the rules of Orthodox Judaism are strict, and driving on the Sabbath, or Shabbat as it’s called in Hebrew, isn’t allowed. That’s why Orthodox synagogues, or schules as we call them, have to be right in the neighborhood, within walking distance of our homes.

“But just because the city’s mostly African American doesn’t mean that the criminals who did this were African American,” our father countered. “Yes, statistically, the odds are that whoever did this was a young black male, or maybe more than one, but the vast majority of African Americans are decent people!” Dad admonished us. “We Weisses do not stoop to stereotyping. Not the way Hitler did with the Jews. Is that clear?”

“Yes Dad,” I answered.

“Shimmy?” he asked my youngest brother.

“Yeah, Dad, but if I catch the schvartzes who killed Aaron, no place is gonna be safe for them.”

“You leave the police work to the police,” Dad admonished Shimmy. “Better to see the men who killed Aaron behind bars, than to see you behind bars for killing them.

“Yeah, Shimmy,” Izzy said with delight, “you know what they do to boys in prison, don’t you?”

“Huh?” Shimmy said.

“Izzy!” Dad interrupted, “Shimmy’s too young to hear that kind of thing.”

“No he’s not, Dad,” I threw in. “Kids hear these things from other kids at school. Believe me, they do. He’s prolly already heard stuff about sex you don’t want to know about. I did at that age,” I said as I colored up. “Better for him to hear the truth, but not today. I think today has been too traumatic on all of us.”

“Amen to that,” our father agreed.

We were all pretty numb in the days that followed as we went through the motions. Attending Aaron and his mother’s combined funeral service was particularly tough, but a Jewish funeral doesn’t end with the burial. A Jewish funeral is a seven-day-long affair that includes sitting Shiva, the seven-day period of mourning during which friends and family constantly stop by and make sure that the mourners are never left alone. Because we were so close to the Rosenblatts, we were treated as a part of their extended family and, as such, as mourners too. People visited us as much as they visited them and trays of food were constantly being deposited in both of our houses.

And every day, three times a day, we held a minyan - a ritual prayer service - in which we praised God. ‘Yitgodol v’ytgodosh sh’may robah.’ ‘Extolled and hallowed is the Lord our God.’ But what kind of a fucking god allows such a horrendous tragedy to happen? What possible purpose could Aaron’s death have served? Aaron was just eleven years old - a couple of months shy of his twelfth birthday. He was on the cusp of puberty. He’d never know what it was like to be with a woman - not that I knew what it was like, yet. Hell, he probably hadn’t even started jerking off. So much life left unlived. What could possibly have been gained from all of those years being taken away?

I’d long ago concluded there was no God, but growing up in an Orthodox Jewish community, that I was an atheist was a secret I was keeping to myself - that and another, even deeper secret, a secret at that time, I was even keeping from myself.

So we laid poor Aaron to rest, and we mourned his loss, and that of his mother, our next-door neighbors. The police investigated the crime, but they never did figure out who committed it.

Life went on, but it would never be the same. Poor Mr. Rosenblatt was left a single father with four children to raise. His oldest daughter, Cziffra, was my age. It’s a hell of a thing for a fifteen-year-old to take on the responsibilities of the mother of the household.

I always knew that Baltimore was a dangerous city, or at least that it was relatively dangerous as cities go, but having lived there all my life, I really didn’t have anything else to compare it to, and I’d never been witness to any of the crime and violence except in the news.

But losing Aaron like that - that really hit home. Aaron was family. It might as well have been one of us. Suddenly, none of us felt safe anymore. We no longer walked alone on the streets in our neighborhood, and we always looked all around us, wherever we went. Worse still, any time any of us saw a black person, we treated them with suspicion. We knew it wasn’t right, but it was a natural response to what had happened. For all we knew, in our minds at least, that person could have been Aaron’s killer.

Finally, our parents decided that enough was enough. They called all of us together for a family meeting toward the end of Pesach, or what the outside world calls Passover, the holiday celebrating the Exodus of the Jews from Egypt.

“Guys,” our father began, “your Uncle Mortechai has been trying to get us to move to New York for a number of years, and he does have a point. New York is the safest big city in America, and one of the safest cities in the world. It also has the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel, and a vibrant Orthodox community.

“A vacancy’s opened up in Neuroradiology at Beth Israel and a few months ago, I went to interview for the position. With these sorts of jobs, they form search committees and interview prospective candidates from all around the country. With my qualifications, it’s probably not surprising that I’m one of three finalists for the job, which doesn’t mean I’ll get it, but my chances are pretty good, which is why I’m coming to you now. Of course I would need to get a New York medical license, which means jumping through some hoops, but it’s more a formality than anything.”

“But Dad,” I countered. “you’d be giving up a position at Johns Hopkins! You can’t do that.”

“Danny,” he replied, “Hopkins is a real pressure cooker, and believe me when I say the place has been slowly killing me anyway. I’d been thinking about leaving for a long time before Aaron and his mother were killed, for personal reasons, but now, when it comes to your safety, my career takes a back seat, period. Seeing Aaron murdered like that was a real wake-up call. It would kill me to think that my career advancement came at the price of losing one of you. I won’t let that happen.”

“So what happens now?” I asked. It was kind of funny, but even though Sarah was the oldest, I was always the one who took charge. Maybe it was because I was a boy, and being an Orthodox family, we were a bit sexist. However, for whatever reason, I was always the one acting as spokesperson for my siblings.

“If you approve, I’ll go back for a second interview next week. I’d like to take all of you along with me to see New York and get a feel for where we might live. After all, it would be your lives that would change, too. We’d be uprooting you from the only lives you’ve ever known, away from all your friends, moving you to a new place, and potentially to an entirely new way of life.

“New York’s very different from Baltimore. Yes, it’s a lot safer, but it’s much more ethnically diverse. You’d come into contact with more cultures. Ironically, the Orthodox Jewish community on the Lower East Side, where we’d more than likely live, is much smaller than what you’re used to. In fact, there are subsidies to get Jews to move there, to counteract the pressures of the other groups that have crowded out what used to be a nearly all-Jewish enclave. I think you’ll like it, but it’s different.”

And so it was that the seven of us and our parents all piled into our minivan the following Thursday for the trip to New York. The drive to the Holland Tunnel took only a little over three hours, but then we had to wait, and wait, and wait for quite a long time - the backup was interminable as we sat in smog-choked traffic waiting in line to enter the tunnel under the Hudson River. Finally, we crossed over into Manhattan, but then we had to get across Manhattan to the Lower East Side. There were signs everywhere telling us not to loop around through the financial district, which is what Dad wanted to do, but to use cross streets. Boy, what a mistake that turned out to be. Canal Street ran right through the heart of Chinatown.

I don’t care what the signs might say, Canal Street, is not a through street. It’s more like something out of the third world. There are shops with signs in Chinese all up and down the street, with stalls out in front, and people parking and double parking and pedestrians walking out into the street just because there’s no place else for them to walk. There are taxi drivers swerving to try to get through each intersection after the light has already turned red, and then finding themselves stuck there with no place to go, blocking traffic, and everyone using their horns to take out their frustrations on the drivers in front of them, who are often completely innocent.

If we move to New York, I think I’ll wait until I’m old to get a driver’s license, like maybe thirty.

The hotel that the hospital put us up in was nothing like what I was expecting. I guess they were limited in where they could put us, ’cause we wanted to be within walking distance of our uncle’s schule, but man, this place was sick. The hotel was called the Blue Moon, and it’s a restored tenement. In fact, it’s right next to the Tenement Museum. It’s also, like, a block away from the Essex and Delancey Street subway station, and less than a mile from Uncle Mortie’s apartment, so it was in a great location.

The whole hotel only has something like 23 rooms. Izzy and Shimmy had to share a room with a queen-sized bed, as did Sarah and Leah, and Shoshanah and Rachel. Being the odd man out and the oldest of the boys, I got a room to myself - age has its advantages!

The hotel rooms were really sweet! Man, they had floor-to-ceiling windows, and balconies with views of the bridges and the Empire State Building and the Chrysler Building, even though we were on the lower floors ’cause we couldn’t use the elevator on Shabbat. I’d never seen anything like it. If they were tryin’ to impress us, they were succeeding - at least with me they were.

The neighborhood where the hotel was, was quite a mix. I guess it used to be all-Jewish, and there were quite a few signs in Hebrew, but Chinatown had grown so much that there were also a lot of signs in Chinese. It was a real trip to see signs on some businesses in Chinese, Hebrew and Arabic! Talk about cultural diversity! We were also right by what was left of Little Italy, which wasn’t much - about a block is all, and that was just for the tourists.

Once we were situated in our rooms, had our luggage stowed and, of course, after having gone to the bathroom and washed up, we were ready to go out and look around. Our parents were going to be spending the rest of the afternoon and evening with members of the search committee and their spouses from Yeshiva University and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, the parent organization that owns the physician faculty that staff Beth Israel Hospital. Us kids would be overseen by Uncle Mortie, short for Mortechai, Mom’s brother, and his family.

Uncle Mortie stopped by the hotel to pick us up at two o’clock, by which time we were all starving, in spite of having eaten a huge brunch before we left Baltimore.

“Rhea, my darling, it’s so wonderful to see you here in New York!” our uncle said as he approached our group. As our uncle and mom chatted away, I struck up a conversation with my cousin, Joshie, short for Joshua, who had apparently come with Uncle Mortie to welcome us. Joshie was seventeen and a senior in high school.

“So what’s it like, living in New York?” I asked.

“Don’t know how to answer that, Danny. I never lived anywhere else. What’s it like living in Baltimore?” He threw right back at me.

“I see what you mean,” I replied. “Well, it’s nothing like around here! We live in a house for one thing, on about a fifth of an acre, but there’s like, no front yard and no off-street parking. It’s nothing like the houses in the suburbs my friends in Baltimore County have. Still, we like it, except for what happened…”

“Yeah, I heard about that, man,” Joshie said. Gripping my shoulder, he continued, “That’s really sad, man. I can’t believe what it musta been like, especially for Shimmy, losin’ his best friend like that. I won’t say there’s no crime here, but it’s very rare.

“We have houses like that in New York, but in Brooklyn and Queens. You might want to talk to your parents about that if you’d like to keep livin’ in a house, man. You still can live in a house in Brooklyn, or in The Bronx, but I wouldn’t recommend the Bronx ’cept for Riverdale, which doesn’t have many Orthodox Jews… there aren’t too many of us livin’ there any more. Brooklyn’s where most of the Orthodox Jews are these days. There aren’t even many of us left here on the Lower East Side… it’s too expensive unless you’re poor and qualify for one of the projects.

“I really do hope you guys decide to live here, man. It’s a great neighborhood, and we have a great Yeshiva, a wonderful schule with a terrific rabbi, everything’s within walking distance… you won’t find that in Brooklyn… well, not so easily, and besides, there’s so much diversity here. Just goin’ to the grocery store and talkin’ to the people who shop there, you can learn to speak Spanish, Chinese, and a few other languages, too.”

Man, was his enthusiasm infectious!

“Danny, I swear you’re getting taller every time I see you!” our uncle said when he spotted me. “How tall are you, now?”

“Almost six feet,” I answered. Actually, I was five-ten and a quarter, but with shoes and my hair gelled, six feet was close enough.

“At this rate, you’ll pass up your old man pretty soon,” our uncle claimed.

“It won’t be long at all, Mortie,” Dad said as he threw his right arm around my shoulder. Dad was five-eleven, so we were damn near even. I figured that by the time I turned sixteen, I’d be looking down on Dad and by the time I turned eighteen, I’d be taller by a good two or three inches.

Just then, a black limo pulled up in front of our hotel.

“Danny, now I expect you and your brothers and sisters to behave for your Uncle Mortie, OK?” Dad admonished me as he gave me a stern look.

“Be good, Danny,” Mom added before she kissed me on the cheek, and then joined our father next to the limo. The limo driver opened the door for them and they got inside.

Why was it that I was the one responsible for making sure we all behaved? Sarah was the oldest. We were supposed to be Modern Orthodox, after all. We still enforced separation of the sexes, and women were still prohibited from becoming rabbis, but in every other way, women were treated as equals - they were expected to learn Hebrew and to study the Torah, the holiest of our sacred writings, the first five books of what Christians call the Old Testament, which were supposedly handed down by God himself to Moses at Mount Sinai. They were also expected to go through the ceremony of becoming a Bat Mitzvah - a Daughter of the Commandments - when they turned twelve, putting them on an equal footing with the boys, although the boys had to wait ’til they were thirteen. Personally, I thought it was a disgrace that women weren’t allowed to become rabbis. I’d heard that in the other Jewish denominations they were, but Orthodox doctrine could only be stretched so far.

Some day I’d have to tell my parents that I wouldn’t be staying true to the faith after I left home, but then I figured that would the least serious of the revelations they’d have to face when it came to their oldest son. At fifteen, there were things I was only just now coming to accept myself.

“Can we get something to eat?” Rachel practically cried out. “I’m hungry!”

Uncle Mortie couldn’t help but laugh, but the rest of us were too starved to see the humor in it.

“OK, I figured you’d be hungry, so I planned for us to stop for a late lunch. There’s a nice little Kosher Deli, right on the way to where we’re going,” he explained as we set out on our way.

Whoa, we were walking! This was unexpected. I guess Joshie was serious when he said everything was within walking distance.

“There are three major east-west streets that define the Lower East Side, guys,” Uncle Mortie explained as we started walking. “HOUSE-ton, which is spelled like Houston, the city in Texas, is the northern border of the neighborhood. Everything north of Houston is called the East Village, as opposed to Greenwich Village, or simply The Village over on the other side of Broadway, which is kind of the dividing line, but you don’t need to know that… at least not unless you live here.”

“That’s where all the fags live, isn’t it?” Shimmy asked.

Suddenly, I felt hot in the face. I was sure I must have colored up, and only hoped no one noticed, but then Uncle Mortie said, “You shouldn’t use that word, Shimmy. New York is a very diverse place with people from many different backgrounds, and although a lot of gay folks do live in The Village, they live all over the city, including in our own neighborhood. There are even some legally married gay couples living in our building. We may not agree with their lifestyle, but there’s plenty of scientific evidence that it may not be a choice, and if nothing else, our people have always respected science.”

“But… but how can fags get married?” Shimmy asked.

“Stop calling them that, Shimmy,” Uncle Mortie admonished my brother once again. “I’m not going to tell you a third time.”

“But everyone calls them that in school,” Shimmy countered.

“That doesn’t make it right,” our uncle stated emphatically, “any more than it’s right to call us ‘kikes’. Now as to the legality of gay marriage, whether you agree with it or not, while New York doesn’t yet allow it, New York State recognizes same sex marriages performed elsewhere. Gay people need only go as far as New Haven, an hour to the north, and then return here as legally married couples by state law.”

While all of this talk was going on, I was watching my youngest sisters’ faces for their reaction. I was sure Izzy knew what gay marriage was all about - after all, kids at school talk about sex and anything to do with sex at his age - but I wasn’t so sure about how much the girls knew, and particularly Rachel.

Sarah and Leah were obviously following the conversation - I could tell from the looks on their faces - but Shoshanah and Rachel were another matter. Both of them seemed to have a bewildered look when Uncle Mortie started scolding Shimmy for talking about ‘fags’. Rachel actually scrunched her face up when he used the phrase ‘same sex marriage’, and then a look of total shock overwhelmed her as she registered just what those words actually meant. Somehow, I had a feeling I was going to be the one who had to explain it all - it always seemed to work out that way.

“The second major east-west street is Delancey, which you’ve already seen. That’s the street that leads to the Williamsburg Bridge… one of three bridges that connect Manhattan to Brooklyn. The third street is Grand Street, which is the one we’re walking down now,” our uncle continued. “Grand Street is the ‘Main Street’ of the Lower East Side. Delancey and Houston may be much busier streets, but Grand is much more the center of Jewish life. You’ll find kosher groceries, butcher shops, delis and restaurants on Grand Street. Not nearly as many as there used to be, but still more than any other place in Manhattan.”

We could certainly see what he meant - there was a kosher bakery as well as a couple of kosher restaurants on the block we were passing at that moment.

“Now these ugly buildings coming up on your right,” Uncle Mortie said, “are the first of the cooperatives of the Lower East Side. There are actually four separate cooperatives that constitute Cooperative Village, not to be confused with Co-op City in The Bronx. Co-op Village was built in the post-World War II era as low and middle-income housing, primarily for the people who worked in the garment industry, most of whom were Jewish.

“These buildings may not look like much from the outside, but they’re as tall as any in this part of Manhattan, and from the upper floors, the views are some of the best in New York City… bar none. Most of the apartments have terraces, too, and some of them are huge. You usually have to pay a premium for that.

“Here we are,” he said as we walked into a place called ‘Noah’s Ark Original Deli’. “Leo,” Uncle Mortie called out to one of the guys behind the counter, “these are my nephews and nieces. They can order anything they want. Just tally it all up and put it on my bill.”

The place had a very extensive menu and I ended up getting a pastrami on rye, with sides of potato salad, baked beans and coleslaw. The sandwich was huge, and it came with a whole dill pickle - not a pickle slice. That was a nice touch. After we all got our food, Uncle Mortie said, “Since it’s such a nice day, let’s go eat outside.” We walked about a block down the street, and then Uncle Mortie produced a key that he used to open a gate that let us into a beautiful, modern picnic area. The food was outstanding - in fact, the pickle was probably the best I’d ever had.

“Actually, we live in one of the other co-ops… not this one,” our Uncle continued, “but I was able to cajole one of the realtors into lending me their key so I could show you guys around today. I knew this spot would be perfect for a picnic, and besides, at this time on a Thursday, no one else is using the space.

“So the deal is that these buildings may not look like much, but they’re in Manhattan, they have large floor plans with large terraces and some of them have incredible views, and up until the 1990s, they sold for the same price they did when they were first built in the 1940s and ’50s.”

“You’re kidding me, right?” I asked.

Smiling, Uncle Mortie answered, “Pretty hard to believe, isn’t it? That was the deal… when you bought a place here… you had to sign an agreement to sell it back for what you paid for it. It was supposed to keep housing on the Lower East Side affordable. Trouble was, as people got older and wanted to retire, they couldn’t afford to buy anything anyplace else. An even bigger problem, however, was that the buildings were aging, too, and were falling into disrepair.

“Ultimately, they couldn’t resist the lure of all the potential money to be made from people over on Wall Street, which is just about a mile away, and the residents voted to lift the ban on selling for a profit. In return, however, they agreed to pay a flip tax… a hefty portion of the profit had to be returned to the cooperative, to be used to improve the facilities. When property values skyrocketed, profits were huge and that money was used to make some badly needed improvements. The windows were all replaced and the physical plant was upgraded. Here at Seward Park, they built an underground parking structure and created this beautiful playground and picnic area on top of it. Over at the East River Co-op, where we live, they replaced all the elevators and renovated the lobbies and hallways.

“But that’s probably a lot more than you kids wanted to know about Co-op Village,” he concluded.

“Way more,” Izzy agreed.

“Well I found it interesting,” Sarah piped up.

“Actually, I thought it was interesting, too,” I agreed.

“You would, Danny,” Shimmy chided me, “you’re such a girl.

“Wha… what do you mean?” I asked.

“You know, except for your skateboard, you’re not into any sports,” he argued. “Hell you’re not even interested in sports. You spend all your time holed up in your room practicing on your flute…”

“It’s a recorder,” I corrected him.

Excuse me, a recorder. If that isn’t a girly instrument, I don’t know what is…”

“You know what, Shimmy, you’re a first-class jerk,” I countered. Yeah, that really put him in his place, but just as I was saying that, outside the gates to the picnic area, back on the sidewalk on Grand Street, I got a glimpse of the most amazing sight. It was a boy, but not like any boy I’d ever seen before.

He looked to be about my age, and he had flaming red hair, but he was dressed in a crisp white dress shirt, black dress slacks and he had long side curls hanging down from where he would more than likely one day grow a beard. He wore wire-rim glasses and on top of his head was a black hat.

This kid was a Lubavitcher, a member of an ultra-orthodox Hasidic sect! Sure, we had a Chabad house in Baltimore, but I’d never seen a kid dressed like this before. The amazing thing - completing the overall picture - was that he was on a skateboard! The kid moved with absolute grace. He moved with such precision as he rolled down the sidewalk, easily dodging baby carriages and other moving obstacles. His moves were fluid - almost gymnastic. He seemed so sure of himself, and he was wearing his dress clothes - or perhaps that’s what he always wore - but he didn’t wear a helmet, nor did he wear any other protective gear. I was impressed.

Just before he disappeared from view, he looked back in our direction and our eyes locked, and in that instant, I became aware that he was aware I’d been staring at him. Did he realize it was because I was a fellow skater, or did he think it was something else? I was worried he might think it was because he was a Hasid, or even for other reasons.

Of course Shimmy had to emphasize that point by asking, “Is he your new boyfriend, Danny?”

“Sheked,” I answered him, Hebrew for ‘shut up’, as I gave him the finger out of view of my uncle, but plainly in view of both Izzy and Joshie.

Still, there was something about that boy that had captivated me during the couple of minutes I’d seen him. He might not have been anything to look at, but in that moment I knew that my life would never be the same again.

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope in editing this story and Low Flyer in proofreading it, as well as the support of Gay Authors, Awesome Dude and Nifty for hosting it. I would also like to thank Rigel for correcting some of my errors with respect to traditional Orthodox Judaism. This story was written as part of the Gay Authors 2009 Novella Writing Contest.

Disclaimer: This story is fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals is purely coincidental and unintended. Although a number of the locations, businesses, institutions and residences described in the story are real, the author in no way implies the actual behavior of the owners, managers or other individuals at these establishments. Some of the characters in the story may discuss or engage in homosexual acts, some of whom are underage. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. Opinions expressed in the story are those of the characters and they do not necessarily reflect those of the author, nor of the hosting website. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of this story in any form.