On Monday night, I pulled a late shift at the Slow Moshe, the neighborhood Jerusalem bar that I have been working at for three months now. Four hours after closing time, I awoke to discover that Bibi Netanyahu had executed the political coup of a lifetime. With political upheavals and their possible ramifications on my mind, I headed off to my Hartman High-School, my 12th grade alma mater, to discuss possible teaching options for next year with my former principal. At some point between pouring drinks and meeting with the various educational figures that helped me blaze the path I am now following, the celebrated children’s author, Maurice Sendak, sailed off to the Night Kitchen.
For years, Sendak was a star on the red carpeted stairs of my childhood home in Cleveland, Ohio. As my sister, Roni, and I sat with legs dangling from the landing, struggling to get comfortable, my mother helped lead Max and the various Wild Things of Sendak’s creation, on their wild rumpus. When he wasn’t busy putting us to sleep, Maurice Sendak taught us the alphabet and had us salivating, oh my once, and oh my twice, through the various months of the year. We memorized and spontaneously performed all of the Nutshell Library songs, sung by Really Rosie, who I would later identify as the voice for Carole King.
A little while after hearing of his passing, I found one of the Nutshell songs repeating itself in my head, distracting me from my tour guiding class:
“One was Johnny, who lived by himself, and liked it like that.”
Until the homework overload of High-School hit, I used to hang out in the basement with my invisible friends.
Originally a Jonathan, I changed my name to the Hebrew “Yoni” (short for “Yonatan”) to avoid the frustration of having to share a name with a pre-school classmate. During those bouts of basement imagination though, I reverted back to the name “Jon”- a home run hitting, lady killing, frickin’ awesome, alter-ego. Like the legendary Max, of Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are, my new identity allowed me to escape the daily grind and live life as if it were a movie, until I had recharged enough to return to the real world. But just as important- through the different characters that I created, I was able to explore the various facets of my personality and learn that they were all part of one Johnny.
In Sendak’s short counting tale, Johnny’s life of solitude is rudely interrupted by a numerical barrage of unwelcome guests. Johnny keeps his cool, counts backwards from 10, and by doing so manages rid his home of the uninvited disturbances. Beyond teaching children to count, the story of Johnny teaches us all not let anything interfere with the way we perceive of ourselves and choose to live our lives. From up there on his chair, Johnny faces adversity, and channels each and every one of his inner wild things to realize that one was Johnny, who lived by himself.
And liked it like that.