Errata Literary Magazine

Bucks County Writers Workshop


The Marry Month of May
by Don Swaim

t's May. But it ain't merry--or marry. Don't care how they spell it. None of them words means gornisht to me, on account of I don't wanna to be happy. I like it the way I am, baroygis--and no shidech for me. Ever. Don't wanna to add to the population. I'm in my dotage now, and Jersey's not as bad as they say although you gotta drive everywhere, and with my eyes failin' ... Garden State? Garbage State they mean. Anyway, here's the whole magilla.

May Day. For me it never meant some farkuckt tararam around a May Pole by a bunch of WASPS, sweet little girls dressed in crinoline and holding posies, self-conscious little boys in white shirts and striped ties. Not for a cynical Bronx Jew with the FBI trailin' me like I'm some mad bomber or somethin'. Screw the feds. A broch tsu dir! I was young once, but I never appreciated May Day, never danced around the May Pole, which struck me just as bobkes as both fire worship and the manger scene the school put up every Christmas. We were the only Jews within a ten-block radius of Arthur Avenue, where all them I-talians used to do me dirt. Christ-killer they said I was as they held me down and stuffed stuff in my mouth. At least they never killed me. Bloody as I was, I still told 'em kish mine tuche.

Sure, I know what May Day means for everyone but me. Balmy temps, tulips, daffodils, crocuses, celebratin' the arrival of renewed vegetation, the abundance of crops. Symbols of life's return after barren Bronx winters, the emergence of blooms and the honey bee. Lutes gently playin' for gentle (gentile), big tsitskeh broads in their baths. John Thomas, Lady Jane. Prom queens and kings clutchin' streamers and cavortin' around the emblem of life, the May Pole-a certain sex organ symbolized. Celebration of fertility, an idea not hardly recognized in the chaste mid-century when McCarthy and HUAC is doin' what they was manufactured to do: protectin' us from made-up enemies.

When I was a pisher they never told us the May Pole was the personification of a shlang. Our teachers never even knew. Most of the teachers I had were dumber than me, only I never realized it until later. They never actually made us do the kazatskeh on May Day. Volunteers only. We had a real playground of sorts, a vacant lot next to P.S. ... I forget the number, where they erected the May Pole. At all the other schools in The Bronx the pole had to be put up in the gym, which doubled as the auditorium. But we had an empty lot, where the I-talian War Veterans of America, Bronx Chapter Eleven, threw their spring carnival. Then, they welcomed us Jews with all our dimes and quarters. Tukhes lechers the I-talians were. Here's what May Day really means. A struggle for an eight fuckin' hour day, a workin' class holiday.

Eugene V. Debs, Socialist Party candidate for President, told my great-grandfather back in 1907 (and I got this from more than one family member) May oh-one marked International Labor Day, which belonged to the workin' class and was dedicated to the Revolution. May 3, 1886. Chicago cops fired into a crowd of strikers at the McCormick Reaper Works. Four dead, more wounded. Anarchists called a mass meetin' in Haymarket Square to protest the brutality. One-hundred-eighty cops stormed into the square and ordered the meetin' over. A bomb was thrown. One copper dead, a bunch more injured. The bulls fired any which way into the crowd, killin' one worker and bloodyin' more. I have one thing to say about the copper who gave the order to open fire. Migulgl zol er vern in a henglayhter, by tog zol er hengen, un bay nakht zol er brenen.

That's what my family thought of when May came, not some fairy-tale narishkeiten around a pole, but blood and pieces of flesh on concrete and cobblestone.

So I'm workin' as a refrigeration man for Fedders. The fifties. Little or no central air in homes back then. Window units mostly, although sometimes we break through the outside facade to install a machine. The ongeshtopt put in wall models, but just in places where they don't mind screwin' up the building's architecture. People don't remember, but it got hot in New York, like it used to get cold. On steamy days people like us slept, or tried to, on fire escapes and roofs. No one had terraces, just the ikers with their penthouses. Outside, no one could hardly breathe. I'm an old guy now, and here in Jersey where I currently survive, apartment terraces are called balconies. Remember the word flat? When I was a kinderlech they called apartments flats, the way the Brits did on account of they was always on the same floor.

So here I am--son of commie atheistic Bronx Jews who made me go to Hebrew school anyway, defenders of the Rosenbergs, admirers of Alger Hiss, supporters of Sacco and Vanzetti--me, some nishtikeit who almost made it through two semesters at CCNY as a chem major-now workin' as a fridge guy. I'm dispatched to Fifth Avenue and 63rd, party named Coulson, where I'm to work on a wall unit that crapped out. Maybe it's just a slow leak and needs a spritz of Freon, which I always got spare tanks of in the van on the street downstairs. The van's always gettin' tickets on account of there's no way for an upstandin' businessman to park legal in this town.

An imperious stacked shikseh who says she's Miss Constantia Coulson lets me in and orders me to get the thing fixed fast on account her elderly father's got gout and asthma and TB and the bubonic plague, and he needs the cool air for him to die comfortable. I go into his bedroom and the old guy's lyin' in bed bitchin' and moanin' and askin' for a Mrs. Widdup, and the daughter says, "Okay, Daddy, I'll get her, but I don't think she's good for you, and you ought to fire her."

The old guy says, "She's good, dammit. She's good. Don't tell me what's not good. I'm not dead yet, Stantia. I'll fire you before I fire her."

"You can't fire me, Daddy, I'm your daughter."

"Wanna bet?"

So Widdup comes in and she's like twenty years younger than the old guy but twenty older than me, but she's still a krassavitseh, big ass and bangs, and a Caribbean lilt to her voice. When I eye her Miss Coulson notices and tells me, sir, pay attention to your work. Out of my eye I see Widdup's slobberin' all over the old guy. And he likes it. She does too. He suddenly looks a lot better than when I first came in. Widdup's his housekeeper, it turns out. She flits around fluffin' his pillows and refreshin' his water, but it's plain no matter what she does, even if she does nothin', it makes him feel better.

Hell, I could shtup Miss Coulson and Mrs. Widdup too, goyeh and shvartzer, and in the same bed at the same time. I ain't particular, even though Coulson's pale, thin and dry while Widdup's brown, round and wet. I may not be fussy, but Widdup's a pillow-fluffer, and I prefer pillow-fluffers.

Here I am, a mere shlosser, tryin' to make it cool for all them shtik goys, while I really want to burn 'em, the very class that's always made it hot for us workin' people. And because my folk are Reds the feds are trailin' me, wonderin' what I'm doin' in some k'nacker's apartment on Fifth Avenue, leafy Central Park across the street, when I should be somewhere in the Bronx slums makin' up bomb plots against the noble republic. Of course there ain't no air conditioners in the Bronx, except in Riverdale, which don't count, so FBI or not I gotta work, even if it's on Fifth. After I get the air conditioner purrin' like a cougar I'm in the kitchen puttin' my tools away. Miss Coulson prances in and tells me to write up the bill on her father's account and have it sent, which I can't do on account of he's in arrears.

"Just do it, my man. Otherwise it will be an issue I shall have to discuss with your superiors."

I think, gai tren zich, but don't say it. "Still no can do, lady. Check or cash only. That's what my boss told me."

"Do you do everything your boss tells you do it?"

"When it comes to my job Fedders is all."

Then she begins to kvetsh. "We're a little short of available cash right now. My father ... Well, you saw how ill he is. His wealth is tied up in non-negotiable bonds."

What do I care? So I tells her, "Lady, I'm just a refrigeration man." "In that case, what can I do for you?"

No dumkop, I'm quick to respond. "You can start by takin' a look at this." I admit openin' my fly wasn't part of my job description, nor was it a particularly delicate thing to do, but who expects delicacy from a commie Fedders guy from The Bronx?

"You're such a crude man," she says. Moments after she shrinks in revulsion, the horror of it all, she leans forward and seemed to enjoy what first appears to have revolted her. She was a true putznasher.

"Dershtikt zolstu venen," I whisper into her ear.

That May Day turns out to be my finest day, when the rich and the poor come together, if you understand what I'm sayin'. What happened in her old man's kitchen was dynamite, but not as much as much as what was timed to go off in Union Square an hour later. The FBI was right to tail me, but I was way ahead of them. They musta thought I was a real schlemiel. For gezunterhait!

A broch tsu dir! - A curse on you!
Baroygis - Angry, petulant
Bobkes - Small things, triflings, peanuts, nothing, worthless
Dershtikt zolstu veren! - You should choke on it!
Dumkop - Dumbbell, dunce (Lit., Dumb head)
Farkuckt - Dungy, shitty
For gezunterhait! - Bon voyage! Travel in good health!
Iker - Substance; people of substance
Gai tren zich - Go fuck yourself
Gornisht - Nothing
Goyeh - Gentile woman
Kazatskeh - Lively Russian dance
Kish mine tuches - kiss my ass
Kinderlech - Diminutive, affectionate term for children
K'nacker - A big shot
K'vetsh - Whine, complain; whiner, a complainer
Krassavitseh -- Beauty, a doll, beautiful woman
Magilla - Long story
Migulgl zol er vern in a henglayhter, by tog zol er hengen, un bay nakht zol er brenen - He should be transformed into a chandelier, to hang by day and to burn by night
Nishtikeit - A nobody
Narishkeiten - nonsense
Ongeshtopt - Very wealthy
Pisher - Male infant, a little squirt, a nobody
Putznasher - dick sucker
Schlemiel - retard
Shidech (pl., shiduchim) - Match, marriage, betrothal
Shikseh - Non-Jewish girl
Shtik goy - Idiomatic expression for one inclined to heretical views, or ingnorance of Jewish religious values
Shlang - penis
Shlosser - Mechanic
Shtup - Push, shove; vulgarism for sexual intercourse
Shvartzer - black person
Tararam - Big noise, big deal
Tsitskeh - Breast, teat, udder
Tukhes lecher - Ass-kisser


Bucks County Writers Workshop