The dead never come back to life and I know that since I’ve almost died on several occasions from motorcycle accidents, beatings, and chemical misjudgments, although none of these near-fatal incidents must not have been too serious, because my soul was never enveloped by the tunnel of light.
When I returned to the USA from Thailand in 2008, my friends and family recited the list of the missing. Few of the deceased were close, however I was deeply saddened by the demise of Howie Hermann. The owner of our diamond exchange was a 15 year-old at heart.
Each Monday evening we met at the 2nd Avenue Deli for a sandwich and then drove over to the 20th Street shooting range. His other friends pulled off a few rounds on their personal weapons, but Howie would bring special guns for me.
Whatever I wanted, because I liked shooting a pistol and Howie liked having someone with whom he could shoot for an hour. He was as good as they get and his death was even more traumatic, since his loving son Josh had preceded him into the cosmos. I counted my blessings to have known them both, especially since Howard was a man of peace.
“Everyone in the world is the same.”
Howard treated everyone like they were family and I was glad to have him call me a friend.
Over the next weeks I noticed a few more faces missing from 47th Street and I asked for Lenny the Bum.
No one had seen him for months and finally someone said that he had passed away in 2007.
“He’s a Trombenik.” Manny my boss hated Lenny.
The Yiddish expression was new to me, but I divined its meaning, since Manny had worked from the time that he was old enough to wear long pants and Lenny begged for his living.
“Better he should be in Gan Eden without a penny to his name.” Manny wasn’t very religious, but his hard edge bestowed him with a belief of suffering in the after-life for bums like Lenny.
I’m a humanist. My heaven and hell exists in the now, but I was surprised to see Lenny back amongst the living in 2009 and he was angry at my listing him among the deceased on mangozeen.com.
I was surprised that he read my writing.
“I’m a big fan, but could you bring me back to life?” he pleaded with a whining tenor.
“Like Lazarus and you won’t smell as bad.” Lenny looked in better shape than when I departed the States in 2001, although his balding head was sporting an ugly growth and his weight had to be over 250.
“I don’t wash too much, but I have some place to live. I have to take care of my sister. If it was just me, I’d still be living on the street. I like the fresh air.” His clothing was clean and his breath was shy of the old bouquet of cheap brandy. “I stopped drinking too much. Now a little too much, but not often.”
Lenny asked about my kids in Thailand and I gave him another dollar. He knew his audience.
Over the past years we have discussed politics, Israel, heaven, Obama, Iraq, and my trips to Thailand. His stock advice made me a few dollars last year and I hold my sand about the personal stories that he tells me about his life.
This week Lenny and I have been engaged in a debate about Egypt and the threat to Israel from the change of regime.
“Lenny, this is not about democracy. This is about revolution and the rich versus the poor. Democracy has failed the Egyptians. It has failed the Iraqis and it has failed in America.”
“Maybe, but the Muslim Brotherhood is going to kill all the Jews.”
“Lenny, you’re too smart than to believe that propaganda.”
“Have you ever read the Koran?”
“No.” I haven’t read that book or the Talmud or Thomas Mann’s THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN or James Joyce’s ULYSEES and millions of other books.
“You know that Mohammad married an eight year-old?”
“Alyessa.” The Mother of Islam was young. Some people say that the prophet bedded her at ten. Others at 15. I could only counter with the truth, because the truth of history is understanding that nothing is true. “Abraham was 86 when he bedded Hagar and he threw her and his son into the desert. So don’t get high and mighty about the old times.”
My boss Manny rapped on the window.
He had no time for my discussions with Lenny. Every second with the Jewish beggar was one lost to his business and I re-entered the diamond exchange.
Later that evening I passed Lenny on my way to the bank. Angie had to buy school books and Fenway needed some medicine and Fluke and Noi were asking their mother was sweets.
Lenny stopped me in front of the 20 Exchange.
“Damian, you know the Arabs hate us. Mohammad killed all the Jews of Medina.”
“Because they backed the idolaters of Mecca.” I had been surprised to read how deeply the Jews of Arabia had figured into the rise and fall of Islam.
“Islam comes from the Bible.”
“And the Bible comes from the ancient religions. It’s all bullshit to me and the Christians and Jews and Muslims kill each other for their beliefs. There is only one good and one evil.” I was tired and had lose my track, but then asked, “How many Palestinians were on the plans of 9/11. How many at Dachau? Answer me that.”
“The grand Mufti of Jerusalem had 10,000 SS troops at his command.” Lenny shouted in the cold winter air and I made a note to check this riposte once I got home to Fort Greene.
Lenny might have been crazy, but he was no fool and I read online about how the Grand Mufti fled Palestine to Nazi Germany, where he encouraged Bosnian Muslims to wage jihad against the Serbs and Jews of Yugoslavia. The 1943 Hanzar SS Division were ruthless during the savage civil war during the Nazi occupation, horrifying their German overlords, but I could find nothing about Palestinians working for the Nazis.
Only the Grand Mufti who worked both sides of the fence between the Axis and Allies to restrict Jewish migration to Palestine.
“Lenny, let me ask you a question.” I confronted Lenny the next afternoon.
People on the street had heard about our discussion and stood close to hear what the Sheygutz and the Trombenik had to say about Nazis in Palestine.
We spoke for several seconds. I told him my findings.
“They still hate us.” He was talking about the Palestinians.
“As would anyone who stole their lands.” I was Irish and my antipathy for the English was buried by knowing too many good people from Britain, even if they thought the Irish were the first niggers. “You know Howard had nothing against anyone.”
“Howard was a good man. He didn’t let me into the exchange, but he was generous.” Lenny sniffed back a tear.
“He was good people, same as you, same as me, same as everyone, fi you give them a chance.
I had to get home and gave him a dollar. It was not a bribe and he said, “Thanks for bringing me back to life.”
“It’s an easy miracle with a live person.”
“I love you, Damian.”
“And I love you.”
Omnes vincit amor.
But anyone coming back from the dead knows that ‘love conquers all’.