Keith Snyder
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Day out

All our plans fell through yesterday (Mark & Lorna forgot they don't have air conditioning in their car, and Richard took a fall at the theater and sprained his ankle), so Butch and I left Mac and Mommy at home and tromped out to Austin Street, which is a kind of Ventura Boulevard East.

Are Art's and Jerry's delis still there? We've got a kosher chicken roaster, a kosher bakery, the Knish Nosh, and lots of Jews everywhere, but nothing to compare to Jerry's. (And I'm told even in the city, you can only get matzoh brei at certain times of the year.)

Why did you come to New York?

I came for the matzoh brei.

There is no matzoh brei in New York.

I was misinformed.

Mac only laughs if something's truly funny--like if I'm zooming him through the air and making noises like he's fart-propelled. That kills him. Butch is the easy audience; he grins when I walk in the door, and he shrieks like an industrial waste alarm when I chomp on his tummy. He's got an enormous smile and he loves everybody. So it's impossible to get from anywhere to anywhere else without stopping two dozen times, because no matter how industriously I apply the Thousand-Yard Stare, Butchie's yakking at everybody. Yak yak yak. Yak yak yak yak. When there's nobody to yak at, he yaks anyway.

The impulse to boss around the man with the baby crosses cultural lines, but older Asian ladies are by far the least inhibited. A couple weeks ago, I was sitting at the park with Mac on my lap and Butch in the stroller, and an older lady--Chinese, I think--came over and repositioned Mac's arm. It had gone around my side and toward my back, and I'd let him keep it there so he couldn't squirm or yank out my chest hair. We were both happy with the arrangement, but I guess he looked uncomfortable.

The older Asian lady at the store Butch and I stopped at on our way out didn't do that. She just held her hands out for him to grab--which he didn't, since we don't do that with him--and played with his feet. Usually nobody plays with Butchie's feet except Butchie and his parents, though his brother has been known to suck on them. (We consider this fair, since Butch often mistakes Mac's head for a breast.)

Humid day in the 90s, half a mile walk, Butch going yak yak. We got some shirts for me at Eddie Bauer. I'm apparently not waiting for buildup anymore; when the grandmotherly salesperson said, "Do you have protection on his skin?" I said "I'm a man, so I don't know anything about baby care," and didn't smile.

By the time we got to Cheese World, Butch was sacked out in the harness, and he stayed out while I dropped half a bill on brie, petit basque, prosciutto sandanielle, and the only good roast beef in the neighborhood. Everybody else carries Boar's Head--which I'd rank at the 50th percentile as company names go. Worse than Delectable Deli Treats. Better than Mule's Brain Singed Animal Remains. They had something near the register called Landjaeger--rectangular dry-sausage–looking things, buck-fifty each--so I got one to eat on the way to The Natural.

Nice. Chewy smoked meat, a little smoky grease down the gullet. New favorite. I walked (Butch lolled) over to The Natural and got some melon chunks, then back to Cheese World for six more Landjaegers, over to the Barnes & Noble because there's a changing table in the Men's room, and then to the newly renovated sliver of park running along Queens Boulevard near the post office.

If you don't live in New York, you may have the wrong picture in your head. Parks here are as small as a couple hundred square feet. This one's about the length of a block, but I don't think it widens to more than a hundred feet at any point. Last year, it was a mostly concrete area with a circle where kids skateboarded, but now it's very pretty. There's still a circle in it, but now it's dotted with stone tables with chessboards set into on them, and kibitzing Russians cluster around when the weather's warm. Butch and I found a bench in the shade a ways down the long walkway leading to the circle. While he sucked down a bottle, I had the same conversation four times with a Holocaust survivor, a nice, quite elderly woman whose gray eyebrows clashed with her faded blonde dye job. Butch was sleepy and hungry, and it was hot out--I saw a little heat rash when I took him out of the Baby Bjorn--so he'd been quiet since he woke up.

Does he cry? (Hear it as "cdy"--the Old Country R.)

Oh yes. He's sleepy right now.

You are Jewish?


I didn't mention that my boys don't have the right of return. Too complicated a conversation for this moment.

She moved here after the war. Been in Forest Hills since the 70s and likes living near an express subway stop even though she doesn't work anymore. I tell her we live over on 66th, and it's about a 25-minute walk. It's loud this close to traffic, and she doesn't have a big voice. She says something about Butch being lucky to have a good father, one who shows his emotions. I say thank you. She asks again Does he cdy?

We do this for the next half hour or so--You are Jewish? She gathers her purse a few minutes before finally standing and taking her leave. The Orthodox Jews in our neighborhood won't consider my sons Jewish because their mother isn't. The decision to circumcise was left to me. I said the Shema over them in the hospital when the nurse wheeled them out. I believe in tribal markings, and my boys are of my tribe. Whatever else they want to be is up to them.

We sit in the shade and I eat my pork sausage and play nose-booping games with my religiously-ambiguous baby boy. A week or two ago, the alter cocker who owns the company I work for was tossing me some crap about lack of sex after childbirth. I said let's just say I hope you're better at predicting the lighting fixture industry. This escalated a little (I'd rehearsed my comeback too much, so it didn't flow quite right), and finally he said, like he'd suddenly realized I might have a point, Oh, but you married a shiksa.

The little dude fell asleep again on the tromp back uphill into Rego Park--baby hanging off the front, diaper bag hanging off the back, bag of shirts, bag of meats and cheeses. Hunter Gatherer Daddy, back from the kill. He gave me an annoyed look in the cool, dark nursery when I couldn't quickly extricate him from the Baby Bjorn, but another ten seconds and he was out again, on his back in his crib, and I went into the living room to play with Mac and start my shift.

Everyone says enjoy them--it goes so fast.

Better believe it.

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