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The Last Mitzvah

 It’s  happened to every immigrant group in America. In the process of becoming
Americans you end up trading lox and bagels or spring rolls and fish sauce or tortillas and black beans for a Big Mac. Then, after you’ve given it up, the peasant food becomes trendy and expensive and you have to stand in line for what your grandmother could have made a lot better.

  My brother Richard called from California, “If we sent you an airplane ticket to Phoenix, would you go? You’re the only one who’s not coming.”
 I never considered cousin Tova’s wedding that big a deal one way or the other. Oh, I figured that it was important to her and all that, but I didn’t really see it as a cosmic event that was important enough to fly me down to Phoenix, if I would go. I’d only met Tova twice in my life, but I’ll bet I could pick her out of a crowd.
 “It’s the Last Mitzvah,”  Richard kept arguing after I’d already said yes. “After this we have a whole rash of funerals.” It’s good to plan ahead, I thought.
 I suppose his misuse of the word told me a lot about assimilation and passing from one `generation to the next. Because, like the Irish and Italians, the second and third generations had lost the language and traditions that their parents were so anxious to surrender.  What Richie meant was the last simcha. A simcha is a joyous occasion. A mitzvah is Yiddish for a required good deed. Maybe going to the wedding was a mitzvah, in a way.
 The next day I got a call from my Mom.
 “Uncle Butz [sort of like boots and rhymes with puts] just called and said that he and Aunt Lil were delighted that you’d changed your mind about coming to Tova’s wedding”
 The following day there was a call on my answering machine from him as well.
 I hadn’t changed my mind, really. Being disabled and living on Social Security Disability, I just didn’t have the cake to fly to Phoenix. No magic. Since the family wanted to send me a ticket, I’d  go West for a party.
 Within the week I was mailed the
   If you need a hotel, rooms have been blocked out at the Scottsdale Hilton. Call, 1-800-528-3119. Mention the T____/L_____ Wedding. $90.00 per night.
 Friday, October 27th
 —9 AM.... Men’s and/or Women’s golf at Rio Verde...$30.00             Cart included.
 —6 PM...Dinner (Scottsdale location to be announced)
 Saturday, October 28th
 —9:30 AM...Men’s golf tournament. Camelback                Resort...$45.00 Cart included.
 —ALL DAY...Women at leisure. Shopping, Hair, Nails, Sleep etc.
 —6 PM “THE BIG EVENT”...Camelback Inn, Scottsdale, AZ
                Ceremony, dining, dancing, etc...
                Sunday, October 29th
 —12:00 Noon...Meet at T____ House, Rio Verde.
 —1 PM...Brunch at the “Oasis”, Rio Verde.

 Apparently, the idea was to send Tova out in style—nothing peasant about this shindig.  It looks kind of gross extravagant, but I’m positive that they were expressing—demonstrating—love for their daughter in the way they know how to do it.
 I asked Mom about the golf tournaments, but she said, “You know, they all play golf.” I never could figure out who they all were. The “event” that killed my sister in law, Cynthia, was the Women at leisure. Shopping, Hair, Nails, Sleep etc..
 Looking at the “CALENDAR OF EVENTS” with one of my goyisha college       professor buddies before I left Minneapolis he said, “My God, it’s a conspicuous display of money.” From another perspective it’s just keeping the herds of out-of-town visitors busy until the wedding. Maybe, it’s also a conspicuous display of fitting in.  Golf is for real Americans.
 My Zayde used to take a truck full of produce that had to be shipped in to Minneapolis, apples, oranges, pears and grapefruit, out into the country to trade to the farmers for eggs and poultry  and machine parts. Then he used to take the machine parts back to the city and sort them into piles of copper, aluminum, and scrap iron because they each brought a different price. This was during the depression when he’d already lost everything.
 Years before, he told my Bubbie that he was making twelve dollars a week so that she would marry him. Actually, he was only making ten. She was a flashy seemstress from Rumania and was drawing the long bread. I think she made about twenty dollars a week. Talk about chutzpah. All his life he was taking big risks. And, some of them, like that one, really paid off. I could go on for hours and hours about what a ballsy, loving, smart, open man my Zayde (zeide)  was.  Obviously, Tova’s wedding would be a “conspicuous display of money,” but that came from an intimate knowledge of poverty.
 In Generation of Swine, Hunter S. Thompson compares Phoenix to Hell. All I can say is he’s never been to Minneapolis on a slow Saturday night.  Phoenix wasn’t exactly rocking unless golf is your idea of fun. What I saw was a fat, conservative, retirement community, nothing more horrible and boring than that.   Phoenix could be any city from the air, except for the quality of the desert light.  Once you land, the airport doesn’t look all that different, either, aside from these oversized display transparencies of Hopi Indians, cowboys, some boot hill or other and the streets of Tombstone on the terminal walls. Also, there’s food with Mexican sounding names in the airport restaurants. And, I suppose you could run into a black woman in her sixties wearing a mink coat with cowboy boots and cowboy hat in any airport in America.  I just happened to see her and her turquoise necklaces and pins in Phoenix. You’d think that she was out of a song by Kinky Friedman and the Texas Jewboys, but she was real, I swear to God.
 You can probably make some comparison between the desert and the conservative attitude, that has frozen hiring for state employees and cut social services to deal with their budget deficit in a way that would make Reagan proud. You don’t want to be poor, disabled, or down on your luck in Phoenix.  But then, you don’t want to be down on your luck anywhere.
 I had to kill a couple of hours until my brothers’ plane got in but I figured that even in the Southwest they’d have a coffee shoppe.  They probably brew it up over a open fire on a simulated cattle drive. I moseyed on across the terminal lobby until I found a place to sit and drink my java.  A chipped, rusted tin cup would have been so much more in keeping than paper.
 While I watched the cowboys and college students and Mexican families, of course, it never occurred to me that as a crippled, middle aged cat in a black leather jacket with zippers, wearing pink shades, that I wasn’t exactly camouflaged into the landscape. My brother’s plane got in and we rented a van for the 45 minute ride to the motel. Richie drove, he likes the driver’s seat, and the other six of us piled in.
 On the ride from the airport my nephew, six year old Gabriel sang “Old King Cole was a merry old soul and a merry old soul was he.”
 “I know that song. Gerry and the Pacemakers, right?” I didn’t see myself turning into the corny old uncle. Like corny old uncles everywhere I thought I was cute.  Gerry and the Pacemakers were as unknown to Gabriel as the Eastern European shtetl was to me. Oh, I’d intermittently heard the word shtetl since I was a tad. But, my Zayde had lived in one, run away from one to America when he was 17 years old. Gabriel didn’t even respond to the reference to the British invasion.
 I’ll bet I seemed as strange to him as the old men had seemed to me when as a little boy I went to shul with my Zayde. After the service on Saturday mornings the men in their long woolen  topcoats would rush downstairs to tables set out with shots of Fleichman’s Whiskey— long folding tables set out with nothing but these shot glasses that stretched for miles and other tables with plates of herring, sponge cake and challah. Those guys hit the tables every Saturday morning like they’d just been freed from Dachau. And, I’ll bet some of them had actually been in the camps; lost wives and children there. Lived through stuff that was so horrible that the only thing you can do is turn it into a joke.

 As the van spun through the desert my brother Richie, from the driver’s seat, elucidated us on the saguaro cactus .  Both of my brothers relate by explaining parts of the world. Throughout the weekend Uncle Doctor BobbyGene explained all kinds of technological items like the air conditioning in the rented van, compared manual versus automatic transmissions and the kind of wind surfing and surf  boards that you could get here in the middle of the desert with those you could get at home in California.
 “This is the only desert that has saguaro cactus,” Richie continued the saguaro rap.  “Here and down into Mexico.”
 Richie was steppin’ the van fast fast fast. All through the weekend he drove as if he’d been in Phoenix all his life. He’d ignore whatever directions were given him to the wedding across town or the motel or the brunch. He’d study the map for thirty, fourty-five seconds and then he’d push the van like he’d just stuck up a liquor store.
 The architecture of the gas stations and Stop and Shops and real estate offices all seemed to be made out of fresh synthetic adobe. Those people are carving out a new nation in the desert. We came past a billboard that said:
             Rio Verde
             Two golf courses
 “Look at the dust devil.” Richie pointed.
 You almost expected to see Don Juan and Carlos Castanets trading dialogue under one of the saguaro.
 We pulled into the Lakeside Resort Casitas  in Fountain Hill. I think that they were originally built as condominiums and then they couldn’t sell them. But it made a swinging motel—excuse my ass, Casita. Little houses with living room, two bedrooms and a kitchen. 
 Mommy Mary was fixing food. Brother Richie has been a vegetarian for about 25 years. So is Carol, his girl friend—blew it again—woman friend. Brother Uncle Doctor BobbyGene’s wife, Cynthia, is also a long time vegetarian. And, Mommy Mary is a vitamin, health food freak so you know the weekend’s not going to be full of recipes from the old country.  In the fridge were already several packages of Grillers, vegetarian pretend hamburgers, for Uncle Doctor BobbyGene’s kids.
 Richie and Gene make a run for food and come back with:

 a bag of kiwi
 a bag of dates
 a bunch of bananas
 a bag of Bran-honey Muffins
 one box of Quaker 100% Natural
 Breakfast Strips, artificial bacon flavored textured vegetable protein,
 Two containers of yogurt
 assorted six-packs of Calistoga water with & without fruit juices
 Koala Springs Orange and Mango Juice
 Koala Springs Orange and Passionfruit Juice
 a gallon of spring water
 A big part of the powwow between me and Mommy Mary and the brothers was about food. Making dinner, making breakfast, getting ready for the official brunch. It was the first time in five years that Mom and me and my brothers had all been in the same city. But all conversations were carried on in medias res, as if we’d all just been talking just a little while ago and what’s for dinner. Mom used to write letters and there would always be a section about food. “I had a lovely salad with a little oil and vinegar and sprinkled it with      Gorgonzola cheese.”
 “You want to know why I always wrote about food?” Mommy Mary asks me after she’d been doing it for fifteen or twenty years. “It’s a SAFE subject,” she explained as if it was a pretty conspicuous joke only she didn’t know how to explain it because I obviously wouldn’t get it.    
 In order to make it easier on me, the   bachelor uncle, she shared her casita with Gene and Cynthia and their children and puts me over in the bunkhouse with Richard and Carol. Somehow I’ve gotten the bad rap as a child hater. She doesn’t understand that I actually love my      nephews and am able to be around children for minutes at a time.
 Mom puts her arms around me, “I see you had your shoes shined and stuff, but you didn’t get your hair cut.”
 “I got my hair cut yesterday.”
 She looked embarrassed as if she had made a terrible faux pas .
 “Fuckx pass, Mommy.”
  I am looking at Carol and thinking about the acronym JAP, Jewish American Princess. Carol’s last name is Yamasaki. Not a yiddisha girl. And Uncle Doctor BobbyGene’s wife, Cynthia, converted to Judaism. My X-wife was from one of them English religions. I know it wasn’t Catholic. I’ve never even been out with a Jewish girl. Wait! Tell a lie. Once in high school I got fixed up with someone. Still, it feels like the Lenny Bruce bit about how we all want a shicksas, or the rap about Blacks and blondes, don’t it?  You think on some subconscious level that’s not about fitting in(like golf)?  About belonging?  It would be dumb to reduce the feelings between two people to some ideas about assimilation. But, it would also be dumb to ignore them. Emes!
 I think me and my brothers are the only ones in the mishpochah, the extended family, who didn’t end up with members of the tribe. No, what am I thinking about? The mother of the bride, herself, wasn’t Jewish. But, as Mommy would say, “Let’s not get into that.”
 We had to be at the Camelback Inn around six for the ceremony. So, after lunch there was a little walking around, “where’s the pool,” that kind of junk, but mostly just killing time until the wedding. By late afternoon everything was centered around getting ready. Richie raced off into the desert (of course) to get his suit pressed, Gene and Cynthia had arranged for a bonded baby sitter, Mom prepared one last snack  and I lay on my bed trying to remember what was on the flip side of “Monster Mash.”

 Richie was feeling that Mommy Mary wanted to go hours too early. So, we all had a meaningful discussion about whether it was better to get there too early or too late. First, there were the persuasive techniques used when the opponent doesn’t fully understand the situation. Both sides used boredom. “Any fool can see that....” Richie and Mom are each bored because the other camp didn’t understand what was so obvious. Both agreed that we wanted to be on time. They    probably could have even gotten together on when that was. But since the other side was coming from such an unrealistic spot there is no way to       compromise. Finally, Richie just figured that the wedding was Mom’s trip and that we’d all come to make her happy and he deferred.
  When we got to the Camelback Inn about a quarter to six, everybody was still standing on one of the patios waiting to go in. It looked like a crowd pushing on the doors of an auditorium. First there were the group shots with the instamatics. Thirty, forty people in a picture. “Gene! Cynthia! Come on. Get in this one.” There were cousins we hadn’t seen in a couple of years.
 A pianist wasplaying “If I Were a Rich Man” from Fiddler on the Roof as the guests were being seated. The bride’s family sat on the left; the groom’s on the right.
 I don’t want to say that it was exactly a goyisha wedding. After all, Uncle Butz wore a yamulka. And I think the groom did too. The  wedding was performed under the traditional  khoupa, the wedding canopy. But, there were no yamulkas for the guests. Can you imagine wearing a yamulka in the Camelback Inn in Phoenix?
 The ceremony was meaningful. And short. The Rabbi talked about kidusheen, “a commitment so fundamental and so deep it’s determined to transform the world.” I love that kind of stuff. Part of doing anything is believing you can do it. So, the Rabbi was just trying to shave the odds a little.

 After the ceremony, people started sliding down the hall to the banquet room. There was schmoozing in the hall on the way.  As we all came into the banquet hall and there was a scramble as folks tried to find their names by the place settings on the dozens of tables. For some reason I see the Marx Brothers running around this huge room looking at name tags all over the place for hours. “Thank you.” “No, thank you.” No, thank You!” That’s from Love Happy, isn’t it? But, that’s what it seemed like. 
 I wanted to know why Tova’s wedding was such a big deal. Aunt Annie says, “It’s the first time in 40 years that we’ve all been together.” Well, that didn’t sound exactly right to me. We’d just gotten together in Minnesota for Uncle Burt’s fancy schmancy birthday party last year. Although, a birthday is not a Jewish ritual, it was a gathering of the mishpochah...wait, Uncle Doctor           BobbyGene and Cynthia didn’t come out for that one, so technically she’s right...everybody else came though. Uncle Butz and Aunt Lil, Tova and her brother David  flew in for that one. 
 People came to Phoenix for the wedding from New York. People came from Texas. People came from California and people came from Minnesota. Although Tova’s wedding was the stated pretext, there was some other explanation why this many people made all that effort to be there. There is something  that everybody is  trying to make the wedding into—from Richie’s Last Mitzvah to Aunt Annie’s “It’s the first time in 40 years that we’ve all been together.”  Honest to God, I think it’s about belonging somewhere.
             On the way to the dinner, people were introduced by kinship charts. “This is Larry’s sister’s husband....” or “This is Annie’s Steve’s youngest daughter Andrea.” While everyone finds their assigned seats, the band plays a country club swing version of Michelle LaGrand’s “Watch What Happens.” There’s enough of them on the stage to have a football team complete with substitutes.

  What a gig. You don’t get the same    players from job to job, spending time on rehearsal would be ridiculous, you just play simple songs in standard arrangements so the players can be interchangeable. If everybody plays in the same key and you end at the same time you figure you did good, already.
 The band swings into  a bad version of “You light up My Life” as the first “official” dance of the bride and groom as bride and groom.
 At our table we are taking bets on whether dinner was going to be chicken or roast beef. Would you believe that after this big build up, I can’t remember. The pink, raspberry flavored butter rosettes were probably meant to distinguish the dinner, as was the raspberry flavored salad     dressing.  Billy Mark, Uncle Burt’s son, made a show out of demanding that the waitress bring him real butter. I think he got at least four of five waiters and waitresses going on that one.
 As the dinner started to throttle down, the music started again. Richie nailed it cold what the band would do.  Swing tunes then country club, swing versions of rock and roll songs. A couple of circle dances, including the Hora . About forty-five minutes after dinner the band started driving their version of the ubiquitous Kansas City.
 The groom’s father got up to talk while the band sat on stage. He started by saying now that he is past sixty, he’s worried about approaching senility “...which has two symptoms: one, a loss of memory and I forget the other one.” Then he segued into the heartwarming part of his speech about how his wife believed in him when he didn’t even believe in himself. As he was speaking, my cousin Billy Mark did a running cynical          commentary and repeated key words in this funny bored voice.
 Billy Mark likes it corny and sloppy when he’s the one doing it. He talks a lot about family and says, “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” He’s really into family, but something about the groom’s father didn’t seem to qualify as mishpochah to Billy Mark.

 The band played “You Belong to Me” with about as much drive as a Nash Rambler. The kid singing screamed, “Jo Stafford” as they hit the climax of the song. By the way he put a lotta force into her name you could tell that he thought he was real coolsville as he hit the high point. “You Belong to Me” is not a song that you would      normally think of as having a climax, if you would normally think of it at all.  As he repeated Jo Stafford’s name I thought the kid’s got to be in his twenties and the song was popular about        thirty-five, forty years ago. It wasn’t that big a deal then. What’s all the excitement and climax about?
 Richie was still out dancing with everybody. Danced every tune. He’s a fourth degree black belt, Aikido sensei so he explained it as “blending with the energy.” I can dig it, he was into cousin Tova’s wedding as an exercise.
 While he was blending I sat at our table. Cousin Jackie and her husband Eddie sit down and talk about how their kids are going off to school . Jackie and I are the same age. My little brother Richie’s son, Ray, is at Berkeley. I know we’re middle aged, but there’s something about the kids all going off to college that seals it.
 I made the dumb mistake of trying to talk to Mommy Mary about how I was feeling,  “Jackie and Eddie’s kids and Ray are at college....”
 Mom goes right to the heart of the matter and says, “Yah? So?”
 It’s like my friend Sunnyland’s burlesque. He puts on a slight Jewish accent, holds an  imaginary phone and says, “Yah what else? (Pause) Yah what else? (Pause) Vhat else?”
 Then it got late enough for the band to slip in a swing version of “I Know What Girls Like” or something else really contemporary that’s only five or six years old.
 I told Richie, the driver, that I had to crash. A man of my age can only stand so much fun. He did the “Just one more dance” number four times before they dropped the flag for the ride back to the casita.
 The next morning Carol started giving me the raspberries while Mom made breakfast, “Hey Bill, get this in your notes.” She’s laughed as she listed the kinds of yogurt and flavors of the bagels. “Blueberry, peach, strawberry  yogurt. And, onion and poppy seed bagels. Have you got that?” then she laughed.
 As we begin the protracted breakfast, Uncle Doctor BobbyGene looked in the yellow pages for surfboards and windsurfing gear. He can only do it so long. After about a half an hour he quit.  How many surf board shops do you think there are in Phoenix?
 “I think it’s pretty funny in Phoenix that a skateboard shop sells surf boards. Oh, I see an Alpine ski center that has sailboards.”
 “So, what’s the deal,” I asked. “Surf board stuff in the middle of the desert?”
 “They rent sail boards at Lake Calhoun, right? It’s probably pretty mild there compared to surfing Maui.”
 As usual, I couldn’t connect the answer to the question. What’s happening? Are there like certain images that have entered the collective consciousness? The cowboy, the tycoon, the surfer. 
 I didn’t have time to meditate on the national self image because it was time to leave for the brunch. Everybody was supposed to meet at Uncle’s Butz’s house and then go to the golf club.
 “When are we supposed to be there?”
  “12:30 to 1:00,”  Richie answers. “That’s not a brunch,” he says with a forceful, judgmental tone. “That’s a late lunch.”
 On the ride to Uncle Butz’s, Gene kept turning on and off the air­-conditioners in the van. Boy, he sure knows how to use those air-­conditioners.
 We shot past streets with Southwest
 sounding names like Tonto Trail and Saguaro. The new architecture was still mimicking adobe.
 As we were driving to brunch Mommy Mary looked out over the endless saguaro and says, “This is all Indian reservation.” I don’t know how she knew.
 Richie, with his maps, was navigating from a full gallup. Taking a right here, a left there, he pulled into some residential street off the main trail and said, “That’s it.”
 There was this house only slightly smaller than the Roman Coliseum and parked in front was  this golf cart with Arizona licence plates and headlights.  Up and down the street there were all these late model cars with a smattering of Cadillacs and Mercedes. So, this is obviously the joint.
 We went in and Aunt Lil told us everyone was gathering on the patio off the pool. I looked across the living room and just the other side of the outfield, in a section to the right of the walled swimming pool there was a Jacuzzi with a patio off that. The pool itself wasn’t particularly large or elongated and was probably only sizeable enough to run a medium sized cruiser on it. There was patio furniture with these wide pastel stripes—we’re talking tasteful here—a matching umbrella on one of the tables. But no table cloths, after all you don’t want to press a point.
 Aunt Lil asked us if we wanted a drink. Not me. I haven't even had brunch yet. But they were drinking some kind of orange juice and liquor or tomato juice and liquor. Could I just have some espresso and a syringe? 
 After a while everybody set out in caravan for the golf club and brunch. Somehow Richie got us separated from the main herd and we were trying to figure out where the club was.
 “Where is it? Do you think the golf club is one of these around here?”
 “Those are probably just people’s homes,” Richie said. “Rich people’s homes.”
 Then we were in the parking lot. People kept drifting in. I don’t want to say that it all happened pretty fast, but it was pushing one o’clock and that was supposed to be breakfast under a fancy name.
 On the edge of a big room past the entrance was an L-shaped buffet table exactly the right size to hold brunch for eight or ten big round tables full of people. Standing behind that was a server in his white shirt and pants with a large white chief’s kerchief tied around his neck. He was wearing a light, green iridescent golf hat and he seemed to say “sir” a lot. Sure more than I’d like to. Spread out on the table in front of him were,
 chopped green scallions
 plates of Nova Scotia Lox which back in civilization runs about sixteen dollars a                     pound. Piled HIGH plates.
 “Minnesota Whitefish”
 sliced tomato’s
 bowls of:
             cream cheese
             cream cheese with scallions
 and a tray with three kinds of melon plus orange sections.
 The guy in the green iridescent golf hat was making omelets to order. You know, what can be the big deal about some scrambled eggs? Well, I ate two omelets with mushrooms and onions that were just killer. Weird, but the omelets made me think about the Fitzgerald line to Hemingway about how the rich are different from us. “Yes, they eat better omelets.”
There was this funny gee in the buffet line wearing a golf hat with oak clusters that said commander in chief. “Take some and leave some.” he said.
 He came up to me in the buffet line and took hold of my white sport coat lapel. “That’s a very nice suit of clothes. Pure Silk?” he asked.
 He changed his tone of voice. That’s when I figure out that it’s been a hip put on. “That’s the way it was when the Jews first came over.  They were into, you know, used clothes. Then into ready-mades. There were only a few fields open to them. My name is Leonard Hudson. Call me “Razz.” I met you before at Burt’s party.”
 “I’m sorry I don’t remember,” I said.
 “I must not have impressed you.”( laughed) Got me again.
 I walked over and sit down at one of the tables. They were talking about a young lady in somebody’s  accounting department.
 “...hell, we could all have been shtupping her.” And I heard  this very familiar macho macho locker room ra ta. This was a golf club after all. It happens every time, I swear to God. There would always be a time at these gatherings where the tone of voice changes—alright this is real shit now—and the intercourse becomes like Japanese pornography woodcuts where the guys are walking around carrying their shlongs in wheelbarrows. I’m not saying that I don’t believe my relative’s stories or anything. But if any of them could write they could make a couple of bucks on the side....
 Uncle Burt came over to the table with his smile and sat down. He said that Eddie—that’s his daughter Jackie’s husband, remember—had gone out to look at shopping centers. “Everywhere he goes he looks at shopping centers to see what they’re doing in the big city,” Uncle Burt said. (laughed)  Eddie’s schtick is owning shopping centers. It’s a living. 

 Uncle Burt who winters in Miami and probably hasn’t seen snow in years talked about the misery of winter and the ice and cold for a minute.
 Then somehow the whole conversation got off to riding trails in the Sierras v. Eaton Ranch in Minneapolis. That’s a thirty year and two thousand mile jump. I almost expected to hear these yiddisha  cowboys talking about Brooks Brothers chaps. Yup. I think Uncle Doctor BobbyGene and Cynthia own some champion Arabians but they talk about them like it was the cat. When we were growing up, Eaton Ranch with their gentler than merry-go round nags was the wild west already.
 It’s kinda funny watching Richie talking about his youngest son, sixteen-year-old Jade, being the proud papa. (“Just let me show you this hip picture of him...”) Jade and a couple of buddies are calling themselves Jews With An Attitude, after the rap group Niggers With An Attitude. You should see Richie kvell. Talk about delighted. I mean, that IS pretty hip for a kid.
 Then Richie came over and started talking to Uncle Burt about money.  Uncle Burt won a couple of big hands and has alota lotta money.
 “In the 60’s we were going to change the world through politics,” Richie said. “But politics is about controlling wealth. If you don’t even know what wealth is, that’s a very limited view.” This is the middle aged hippie talking now.
 Maybe I missed something because in my notes Uncle Burt says, “Most of us go through that. Most people don’t [share?] like we do. Most people are built to contain and hold and build up and get bigger and bigger. That would be fine until they start to disallow other people.”
 Then there are a couple of “That’s rights” in my notebook. People must have been agreeing with him. Like I say, Uncle Burt has a lotta money. Then he goes off about the money saying, “I’d rather be lucky than smart.” Would you believe that I had to ask him what he meant? So he pointed out that smart don’t necessarily make you rich.
 Then for some reason he started eminiscing about the old Able Engineering and The Vac Spray Labeling Machine companies.
 “I don’t know if you remember Verna.” She was the old bookkeeper and she used to take care of them like a mother hen. “That’s what makes an organization, is the people.”
 Then Uncle Burt quoted Zayde, his father, saying, “You’re only born to die. You’re only a visitor here so enjoy it while you can.” And he looks over at me with that smile and asks, “Did you get enough notes, Bill?”
 I didn’t write down what I answered.
 The party and the weekend were obviously winding down and Uncle Butz came over and sat at the table radiating this constant nimbus of sweetness. There’s nothing syrupy about Uncle Butz. The softness that comes off him is wholehearted and genuine.
 I started giving him the needle about golf in Phoenix.
 “There are people who don’t play golf here,” he said.  “But not very many.” I’m not even sure that he knew I was baiting him.
 Gene made his voice overly sincere and starts telling Uncle Butz about a Heineken beer he had bought Gene twenty years earlier when he was 17-—something dad never would have done. That story’s obviously not about beer. Uncle Butz, noticeably moved, had more tears in his eyes and started talking about the amount of food left on the buffet table.
 Uncle Doctor BobbyGene said, “I’ll bet you’re glad you don’t have any more guests to entertain.”
 “This is it. You might as well make the best of it, I don’t have any more daughters.”
 As he said that, Mommy Mary whispered in my ear, “Uncle Butz’s heart is so full.”
 Uncle Doctor BobbyGene must have made some crack about the family because I heard Richie say to Gene, “They’re just people. Some of ‘em are groovy. Some of ‘em aren’t. Some of ‘em are like you and some of ‘em aren’t.” Richie’s still blending.
  I suppose my version of blending is communication. Mom’s always talked about its importance probably because she and my dad didn’t have any. I made an end run around the university and got a degree in communication. Who do you think I wanted to talk to?
 But there was something about the Last Mitzvah that felt like opening the lines of        communication that makes community, makes the family, makes the mishpochah. At the university I had learned some fancy schmancy theories about communication as a survival tool, a mitzvah..  You’ve got to learn stuff someway or other.
 To this crowd, education is only valuable to get you a job. At one point, years ago, Billy Mark made some comment about my being in Grad School. He preformed the standard bored shrug and said, “Well, you need a pedigree.” He apparently didn’t need a pedigree, having money.
 Billy Mark’s attitude was all over the brunch. Eddie, cousin Jackie’s husband, came over to the table and said to Cynthia,  “Hello Doctor.” He didn’t think he was being a bit salty.
 Kind of frustrated, Cynthia said, “You say that every time.”
 Oblivious, Eddie said, “You’re all doctors, aren’t you?”
 Both Billy Mark and Eddie were disconfirming—devaluing—the education and the people who have it.  What that’s about is too obvious.  It would be like standing here with my shvantz in my hand to explain it. They both respect that education and fear it.
  Something got lost back in the shtetl where the scholar, the Rabbi or the Chassid were the most respected men. Learning was the name of the game. In this company, my Masters Degree is a pedigree. Remember a pedigree traces your history. Who you are, what you came out of. Son of....,Son of.... What counts here, like in the rest of the country, is how you make a living. Uncle Doctor BobbyGene’s medical degree at least has a cash value.
 What I’m talking about is something very much larger than, “They don’t give scholars the respect they did when I was a boy.” I’m talking about a major shift in values. In identity. Same old stuff: community, belonging, history, roots. The intangibles that always get traded for a handful of potage or a handful of golfballs.
 There’s something about the gathering for the last mitzvah that shows a yearning for a mishpochah, . One of my college professor buddies would call it a hunger for community or belonging. And, you can see that these people would like to be close and show respect and they just can’t do it. They really don’t know who they are. You can get a hint because they’re so anxious to change their names and quit eating the old country food. It makes it easier to live in America. (“My aunt still knows how to make that.”)
 In return for working on the modern American Assembly line of the mind you get to trade off those old country ways that you’re really anxious to get rid of anyway.
 Somewhere there’s got to be a Chassidic version of Oedipus’s, “Who am I, What am I, Where am I going?” In Yiddish, I’ll bet.
 Thinking about the Wedding and the golf games and the country club band playing “If I were a Rich Man”,  somehow Mick Jagger’s throwaway line from You can’t Always get What You Want pops into my head.
 “Sometimes you get what you want but you lose what you have.”
 It’s  happened to every immigrant group in America. In the process of becoming Americans you end up trading lox and bagels or spring rolls and fish sauce or tortillas and black beans for a Big Mac. Then, after you’ve given it up, the peasant food becomes trendy and expensive and you have to stand in line for what your grandmother could have made a lot better.
 Try to tell the Vietnamese and other Asian Americans to watch out. They couldn’t hear it any more than the Eastern European Jews could. Trade a Mercedes for the shtetl? A Trans Am for a rice paddy? What is this mishigas? You’ve got to be kidding.
 There’s something desperate and hungry about all these people, pretending nothing’s wrong. (“How’s everything?”  “Great. Wonderful!”—Billy Mark always says,  “Terrific!”) They don’t believe they’ve lost anything. In fact they’d get annoyed if you’d suggest that something was lacking.
 In our family  there were all these people changing their names. Some clerk in the navy misspelled Goldfus as Golfus, so my father kept it that way. Richie changed his name from Richard Golfus to Richard Moonchild, and that to Moon. He not only changed his name, he went halfway across the world to Japan, became the sensei with a Japanese wife. His son changed his name from the hippie Raven to Ray.  My youngest brother, Robert Lewis Golfus, knew some guy named Gene Johnson as a kid who had blonde straight hair, you know, and he’d flip it. So, brother Gene wore a nylon stocking over his hair at night to straighten it and he would flip it all the time. He changed his name to Gene and turned into this six foot, blonde and tan goyisha doctor.  My cousin Karen Brant changed her name to Rose. Her dad, Carl Brant, had changed his name from Harold Golfus and his brother Stephen had changed his name from Sol. My cousin Mike Gepner changed his name to Shuggie O’Brien and then to Marco DiOrsini.  Kegan, reading this, asked, “is that Chico?” because that’s the name he used to use in high school.  Mommy Mary got a little pissed off with me and said, “I wouldn’t make any reference to that. That’s something Marco’s put in the past.”  Part of the game is to never, never talk about the mishigas that everybody can see. We don’t want to mention the emperor’s new name.
 In the sixties, like those who changed their names, we were all going to rebuild our identities . Let’s go out in the woods and make candles. Let’s remake our histories.  Let’s remake our diets and our bodies and our lives. Now, we’re out selling insurance and playing the blues on weekends. The lucky ones. We try to change our names, we try to change our past, we pretend that none of it matters.
 But it matters so much; who we are, where we came from, as well as who we belong to.
 Our parents thought they could put their past in the past. My Zayde was a Russian peasant at a time when they put Jews in the army for twenty-five years. I’m proud to come from a long line of draft dodgers. His children thought they had become modern, real Americans. Today, after a trailblazing career in the corporate world—"that was a real challenge particularly when I was doing it."—Mommy says she has returned to identifying as a peasant after trying to be an American Yankee. She says, “I’ve come to accept simple and basic values about honesty, integrity and treating my fellow man with respect.  But I think I always had those values.”
 The stragglers are leaving the brunch, moving slowly out of the club. Some of them are getting into their cars and driving off waving.  On the patio of the golf club you’d see somebody reach over and squeeze a shoulder or an arm. A lot of them are black belts at just smiling and nodding. Nevertheless, some of ‘em did try to touch.

 Marco put his arm around his uncle’s shoulder, gavea loud geshrei and asked the Talmudic question, “Alright, who we gonna marry off next?”