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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Praying in Strange Places, a new story

My short story "Praying in Strange Places" was published in Derailleur! Here's how it starts. I know, it starts with Chapter 5 and goes down to 1. Not consciously trying to be weird, just came out of my fingers that way. 


A Hollywood backlot last week. I was there to visit a friend, who’d recently gotten a semi-regular job as a minor character on a major sitcom. Actually, she was my best friend’s girlfriend. But I was in L.A., and my friend wasn’t, and the girlfriend invited me to come to work with her. They were rehearsing, running through the same three-minute scene an infinity of times. I sat in the empty audience bleachers and watched them walk around a fake living room. I envied the ability to be able to do what they did, to rewind time again and again to make it perfect. Inside the hermetically-sealed warehouse, I got the sense the sun was going down. I went outside, to the hallway, and found a place to pray. Three steps back, three steps forward, I transformed that little area into a chamber for G-d to inhabit. I stood still and swayed back and forth.
    The place I’d picked to pray was one of those narrow alcoves, a Cubist lump where the wall hiccupped inward for no apparent reason. The wall faced east, toward Jerusalem, and I fit neatly inside. It was only after I’d gotten far enough into the prayers so that I couldn’t move--once you did your dance of the three steps, I was frozen in place until the concluding section hit--when I realized, inside my sandwich of three walls, I was literally two steps away from the men’s bathroom. I pushed it out of my mind, to keep focused on the prayers. One of the stars of the series brushed past me and into the bathroom. Our shoulders actually touched, even though the hallway wasn’t that narrow. I wasn’t sure why, if he was coming onto me, if he was drunk, if he was just clumsy like I was. I tried not to listen, but, can you close your ears, how can you willfully not hear something? The stream of liquid was long, unbroken, stretching to whole minutes. A strange thing: I’d long had this thought, I’d love to be an actor, except for the long periods on stage and the infrequent, time-mandated pee breaks. I’d wondered how they did it. That was how. Did you know there’s a prayer we say for going to the bathroom, thanking G-d for creating the system of openings and closings in our bodies, acknowledging that if those tubes and combines didn’t work exactly the way they did, we’d be poisoned, immobilized, unable to live? We say that prayer every time we urinate or defecate, after washing and leaving the bathroom. It was not, however, a part of the normal afternoon prayer. The prayer I was saying right now.

    The series star extracted himself from the bathroom, shook his hands in the air upon leaving, far enough away from his body so no loose drops were shaken onto his outfit. He gave me a long, hard look, as if he’d heard my every thought, my entire rambling eschatological intrusion into his pee break, the kind of look he probably routinely gave to paparazzi, a look that said, Don’t you have anything better to do with your life? Nope. No, I thought, I do not.

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