Mort Laitner

The Schmata

Like Swiss clockwork, Avi and I meet on Tuesdays at 12:00 at The Pastrami Club.

You know the place, on the east side of University in Lauderhill.

You remember the mural—The Brooklyn Bridge, the Empire State Building, the Coney Island roller coaster—“The Cyclone.”

You recall this culinary establishment feels and smells like a NYC deli—with mingling aromas of cured meats and cheeses.

Yah, the place even has an obligatory dishrag hanging from one of the faucets in their three-compartment sink.

Well, every week, Avi and I sit in the same red booth with the Formica-topped table.

Every week Hanna, a sharp-witted, sixtyish, gray haired, Brooklyn born and raised waitress, greets us with her loud raspy cigarette voice,

“Hey, Sholem Aleichem and Isaac Bashevis Singer, welcome to the best deli in Broward. What are you boys going to have?”

“Hi Hanna. We’ll have the usual,” I reply.

“Avi, take a look at Hanna. She looks sad.”

Avi glances. “Nah, she’s just had a rough night.”

We raise, clink our bottles of Dr. Brown’s Diet Black Cherry Soda, and toast, “To life—L’Chayim!”

Our four-course lunch consists of: sour pickles and creamy slaw, stuffed derma blanketed in gravy, half a hot pastrami on seeded rye, a cup of coffee with a piece of Joyva Chocolate Covered Halvah.

You remember the halvah from your childhood visits to the candy store.

You recall Joyva’s sultan wearing a jewel encrusted turban and a large handlebar mustache.

Yah the one where the genie’s head rests on the letter “Y” in the word Joyva which is centered in a white mountain surrounded in a red and green sky.

“Avi, thinking about this meal is causing my salivary glands to kick in.

We’re all Pavlov’s dogs.

Lucky dogs because life is good, maybe great and definitely delectable.”

“Did you know that there is a museum in Russia that has preserved one of Pavlov’s dogs? Avi asks.

And that they display a stuffed dog wearing a surgically implanted cannula.

Do you even know what a cannula is?

“Yup,” I reply.  “The cannula is used to help determine how much the mutt salivated.” I reply.

“You scientists ordering the heart attack special again?” Hanna pipes in.

“Hanna why, do get a referral fee for recommending cardiologists?” Avi queries.

Hanna laughs as if she had not heard that joke a thousand times.

Avi continues, “Have you heard the new rock song by the Buggles “Cholesterol Killed the Deli Store.”

“Nope, but I remember, “Don’t Know What You Got Till It’s Gone” by Cinderella.

You old Jewish writers think you’ll never die, just like this deli, you think you’ll hang on forever,”

“Hanna, we’re just two wannabes writers schmoozing in your delicatessen.

Give us a break! We’ll hear that crap from the wives when we get home.”

Hanna listens to my plea and asks, “What are you guys reading?”

“Times Of Israel online,” I reply.

Without waiting for Avi’s response, she asks, “Are you guys writing anything?”

I pipe in, “I writing a story about “schmatas” for my Times Of Israel blog.

I visited a Colombian friend’s home and observed a blue and white dishcloth hanging over his faucet.  I watched that rag drip tears of soapy water into the sink and thought, ‘What a metaphor. It reminds me of my grandma’s kitchen in the 50’s—Astoria, Queens.'”

“Mort, I know you too well, it reminded you of a phallic symbol covered by a protective sheath.”

Avi and Hanna laugh.

“I’m glad to see ghetto life translates into other cultures,” I said.

“¡Si Señor!… poor folks around the world use dirty rags to clean their dishes. Sponges cost money, rags are free.” Hanna retorts.

“Male dogs mark their territory—Jewish women drape their faucets. It brightens the décor—puts some color in the room.” I sarcastically comment.

Hanna face contorts. I have hit a nerve,

“Jewish women, who spend 20 grand on a kitchen, don’t decorate with dishrags!”

Avi jumps in trying to change the subject, “Doesn’t the Talmud say anything about a house without schmatas?

“I don’t know. Why don’t you Google it.”

Then I add, “I’m trying to remember what writer said, ‘She’s as washed out as a dirty old rag precariously hanging onto life’s faucet.”

“Possibly Malamud or Roth.” Avi guesses.

My eyes fix on Hanna.

“Talking about life, isn’t life just like a schmata?”

“How’s that? Hanna smirks.

“Life cuts you up, soaks you to the bone, wrings you out, squeezes you to death and then throws you in the garbage.”

Hanna walks away, mumbling, “The readers of the Times Of Israel will love your schmata story.”

“Avi, enough about schmatas, let’s toast to the Pastrami Club:  May its doors always welcome the hungry and may it remain opened forever.”

With our checks in our hands, we stand and head to the cash register.

A misty-eyed Hanna approaches, “Boys, thanks for the toast, the kibitzing, the trivia, and for those generous tips.

Thanks for being loyal friends and customers.

I’ll miss you guys.”

She pauses, “But today, I’ve got some bad news. We’re closing next week.”

My throat constricts.

“Sorry, Hanna. Peace be with you — sholem aleichem,” I whisper.

Avi adds, “We’ll miss the best waitress in Broward County. Good luck on finding another job. Don’t forget to email us when you land a new job. We’ll follow you anywhere.”

Outside the deli, I stand on the sidewalk looking across University Drive, glance at my watch–1:30 and think, “Life ain’t that good, maybe not that great but definitely quite sad.”

Note to readers: If you lost your favorite deli or have a schmata story write me a note in the comment box after all the advertisements.

About the Author
Florida's Jewish short-story writer, speaker, film producer and retired attorney. He has authored, "A Hebraic Obsession", "The Hanukkah Bunny" and "The Greatest Gift." He produced an award-winning short film entitled, "The Stairs". Movie can be viewed online. ChatGPT says, Mort is known for his works that often explore themes of love, loss, and the human connection. Laitner has published several books , including “A Hebraic Obsession.” His writing style is characterized by its emotional depth and introspection. Laitner’s works have garnered praise for their heartfelt expression and keen insight into the human experience. Mort is in his third year as president of the South Florida Writers Association. He was a correspondent for the Fort Lauderdale Sun Sentinel Jewish Journal.
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